Do your homework
There is only one real question to ask when considering a greater investment in wine tourism: “Will it contribute to the commercial viability of my business?”
To answer that question, it helps to carry out or access some research in three key areas:
- What motivates people to visit wineries and wine regions?
- How does your region rate in terms of visitor appeal and how do you rate within it?
- What do people who already visit you think, and what would make more people come more often?
Identifying target markets and consumer segments
It’s important to identify the target markets and consumer segments for the specific tourism product(s)/experiences offered at your cellar door and to understand what motivates them to visit wine regions and wineries. And there may be more than one target market or consumer segment that your product(s) will appeal to. Alternatively, you can take the approach of identifying the consumer segment (or segments) that you wish to target, finding out what type of experiences appeal to these consumers (i.e. what do they really want and what will attract them) and creating cellar door tourism products that will motivate them to visit you. The shotgun approach of trying to be everything and appeal to everyone is usually a waste of resources and marketing funds, and often results in the product appeal being mediocre to everyone.
National and State tourism organisations devote large amounts of their research budgets to identifying target markets and the consumer segments they’re going to target their marketing campaigns and communication messages to. So it makes good business sense to leverage the money these organisations are spending and be aware of the consumer segments that these organisations are devoting their resources to communicating with. Look to align at least some (if not all) of your cellar door product offering with what these consumers are looking for. Your State and regional tourism organisations can assist with advice on identifying target markets and consumer segments.
You and your region
Examine local brands, operators and competitors. Then weigh these against your opportunities for leverage; your location and the strength of the local economy. What/who is your direct competition? Is there adequate consumer demand (or are you able to create adequate consumer demand) to support your business?
Market research can be conducted in-house or by professional researchers, and the good news is that a great deal of information is already available (cheaply or free) from industry, government agencies and tourism organisations.
Research also includes going out to other cellar doors - in your region and further afield. It is impossible to benchmark yourself against others if you simply don't know what's on offer. Go as a potential customer rather than an industry compatriot (this might not work in your own region of course - so take some friends).
Cellar door research
If you already have a cellar door operation, the tasting process is ideal for gathering information about your visitors. By integrating specific questions into normal conversation, you can actually gather important data.
For example, if you know that most of your visitors come from the northern area of your capital city, you can concentrate some specific marketing activities in that area. Locally, if you find that most people come to you as a result of the brochure and offer you've placed in the Visitor Information Centre, then you can quantify the cost of this activity.
You can create simple forms to survey visitors about their perceptions of your property. This could include evaluating the signage, parking, grounds, quality of service and facilities and much more.
Bear in mind, that the quantitative information you collect will represent a snapshot in time (since you probably won't be getting visitors to do it every day) and therefore might not be as useful in determining trends.
Collecting visitor data (PDF)
The numbers game
Conversion rate and yield per person are other important measures. Most cellar door operators know their total sales, but not the true cost of achieving that sale. Each person who walks in the door represents an acquisition cost. Without measuring the actual number of visitors converted to sales, you can't really know how successful your selling methods are, or the actual cost of attracting them in the first place.
Yield is about how much each visitor spends with you. Repeat visitors tend to spend much more than first time visitors, so knowing this can assist you in targeting these visitors more effectively with incentives, and working harder on first time visitors to establish loyalty.
How many of your total visitors sign up for your mailing list? Do they purchase on the day of visit or wait for offers to be sent out? It doesn't take long to see trends provided you actually make the effort to gather the data in the first place. Anecdotal data doesn't count for much because it's subjective - just like wine appreciation. Your observations on a busy weekend may be very different to those of staff working during the week.
Applying the information
Conducting your own research and analysing general visitor research is great, but applying it is what counts. Once you know a bit about your visitors you can tailor experiences that appeal to them.
For example, a Canadian winery conducted extensive consumer research using “high and low involvement” segmentation. High involvement wine consumers are commonly regarded as "connoisseurs" who demonstrate a high degree of knowledge and interest in wine, and regular wine drinking habits. Low involvement consumers typically demonstrate a low requirement for wine knowledge and drink wine infrequently.
In relation to cellar door activities, results indicated that the high Involvement consumers wanted quite separate facilities to general visitors, expected preferential treatment at the cellar door and events, wanted first option on tickets to special events and access to special offers through regular email alerts.
Armed with this information, the winery created an exclusive wine club and a tailored communication program to cater for this segment. Separate tasting areas were made available for the use of members and their guests and fees charged accordingly.
The low involvement consumers on the other hand, were more interested in experiential activities at the cellar door such as winery tours and tutored tastings. Specific tasting areas were also designed for these visitors to cater for their needs in a non-intimidating environment.