In the spirit

By: | Published: November 1, 2015 12:08 AM

The new-age Indian traveller is enthusiastically exploring popular and emerging wine and whiskey destinations across the world

TODAY’S EVOLVED Indian is travelling like never before and so is his increasingly discerning and sophisticated palate. Not just that, Indians are also becoming more cosmopolitan, with a keen desire to indulge in not just local cuisines, but also local whiskey and wine trails across different regions of the world. A 2012 food and travel survey conducted by TripAdvisor revealed that 33% of the 1,000 respondents across India had attended a wine/whiskey trail while on holiday. Among those who hadn’t, almost 50% expressed interest in attending one.

Another encouraging trend is that 25% respondents said they had chosen a holiday destination specifically to experiment with the local food. From Cape Town in South Africa, Napa Valley in the US, Hunter Valley in Sydney, Australia, to Portugal, France, Italy, Ireland and Scotland, Indians are increasingly exploring popular and emerging wine and whiskey destinations across the world.

However, this market is still niche, with the number of travellers being a few hundreds. But interestingly, the market is growing steadily. “We have already observed a 20% upswing in the segment of travellers opting for food and wine experiences, and expect this to grow by about 10-15% in the next few years. While we saw its origins during classic wine tours of France or more contemporary new-age wines of California, Australia and New Zealand, today there is a veritable smorgasbord of wine-cheese-chocolatier experiences in Switzerland, champagne trails in France, culinary tours around Italy’s Piedmont truffle festival and fine-dining itineraries of South Africa,” states Shibani Phadkar, senior vice-president, products and operations, leisure travel (outbound), Thomas Cook India.

Barossa Valley in Australia holds strong allure for food and wine aficionados on account of its fresh food produce and the finest wine offerings. Virginia in the US, a popular winery destination, is also being recognised for its nascent distilleries manufacturing some of the most exquisite whiskies. Other emerging whiskey and wine destinations are Mendoza, Argentina; Aegean Islands, Greece; California, Mexico; Baden-Baden, Germany; and Texas Hill Country, US. “Interestingly, we have seen a strong uptake for special interest tours from India’s Gen Y and equally so from our senior citizen Gen S clientele and ad hoc group of friends,” adds Phadkar. Though the interest for wine and whiskey trails is growing among a select segment of travellers, very few Indians opt for them as a standalone product. Most of them prefer combining these experiences with their regular holidays, as they believe in getting value for money.
Unique experiences

With this category of tourism set to expand in the Indian market, travel agents are exploring the possibility of offering well-framed packages. “Indians opt for tours of winelands that are paired with activities such as harvesting, cultural heritage or gourmet experiences. We design tailormade Scottish, Italian and French holidays to suit their needs. We provide options such as self-driven whiskey and wine tours on request. Travellers can explore distilleries in Ireland, or can even plan a holiday that combines both Scotland and Ireland. We get a lot of queries for wine tourism in France and Italy, as these are more evolved and preferred destinations in this segment,” says Vishal Suri, chief executive officer, tour operating, Kuoni India.

Apart from travel agents and tour operators, most tourism boards, too, have identified more than one way to woo the discerning Indian traveller. They are now offering travellers unique wine and whiskey experiences. With the view to promote a holistic image of France as a destination for wine trails, Atout France—in addition to acquainting the Indian traveller with famous wines—is making the wine-tasting experience interesting with games such as blind wine-tasting and wine casinos at unusual locations. “Visitors can expect vineyard visits, gastronomic meals with pairings of local delicacies and wines from the region, and activities such as hot-air ballooning, which provides panoramic views of resplendent vineyards. Even the hospitality experience can be made special with a choice of accommodation options, ranging from bed-and-breakfast properties to luxurious chateaux in vineyards that make the entire wine trail experience truly memorable,” says Catherine Oden, former director, Atout France in India. She says in recent years, the regions of Reims-Epernay-Champagne, Strasbourg-Alsace, Dijon-Burgundy, Beaujolais-Rhone Valley-Rhone-Alpes, Provence, Bordeaux-Aquitaine and Loire Valley have gained popularity among Indian travellers.

Cape Town, a port city on South Africa’s south-western coast, offers a number of wineland experiences. The region is the source of many legendary Cape wines. Apart from the Franschhoek and Paarl routes on the outskirts of the city, there are some key wine routes that are a half- to full-day trip for visitors—Constantia, Durbanville, Stellenbosch and Helderberg. Beyond these routes, there are other wine regions too like West Coast, Swartland, Robertson and Overberg. “To date, the trend we have seen for visiting Indian travellers is that they like to combine wine farm visits and tastings with activities such as blending your own wines, wine and food pairings, horse trails, and a general focus on activities for children and families,” says Hanneli Slabber, country manager, South African Tourism in India.

Scotland is synonymous with its most iconic brand: scotch whiskey. Most visitors to Scotland are keen to know about the history of scotch whiskey, how it is made, which are the most famous distilleries, etc. For the last two-and-a-half decades, Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre (SWHC) has been offering an inimitable whiskey experience to visitors from around the world. The heritage centre has seen a substantial increase in the number of arrivals from India in recent years. “In 2012, we welcomed 3,250 visitors from India and, in 2013, the market increased by 56%,” says Julie Trevisan Hunter, deputy and marketing manager, The Scotch Whisky Experience, SWHC, adding, “We are also home to the world’s largest collection of scotch whiskies and a visit to this is included in every tour experience.” The scotch whiskey experience includes silver and gold whiskey tours covering all aspects of the whiskey. Guests can dine at Amber restaurant, where many whiskey and food pairing packages are offered.

The island of Ireland is another whiskey destination famous for high-quality whiskies whether blended or single malt. “Two of the main distilleries we promote in the Indian market are the Old Bushmills Distillery in northern Ireland and the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and Cork,” says Huzan Fraser Motivala, India representative, Tourism Ireland. Bushmills Irish Whisky is made at Ireland’s oldest working distillery in County Antrim, northern Ireland. The Bushmills Brand Experience encompasses guided tours around a working distillery with all associated sights and smells, tutored whiskey tastings and a specialist whiskey shop. “Travellers can also relive the story of John Jameson & Son through the history, atmosphere and taste at the Old Jameson Distillery, where guests receive a signature Jameson drink. Volunteers are also selected to participate in a tutored whiskey comparison and earn a personalised Whisky Taster Certificate. Additionally, we also promote the Ireland Whisky Trail, which is a free touring guide to Ireland’s distilleries, best whiskey pubs, hotels, golf club bars and specialised whiskey shops,” she adds.

Working strategically

From organising B2B workshops and familiarisation trips to counselling travel agents on creating various wine and whiskey itineraries, tourism boards are tapping diverse platforms to improve the demand for these experiences in the India market. “We often welcome wine-growing regions as part of our annual B2B workshop that takes place in New Delhi and Mumbai. Our workshop enables these regions to reach out to potential agents. An annual global workshop is also conducted in France known as Destination Vignobles, which brings under a single roof different French suppliers working in the domain of wine tourism from all over the world, including India. Pre-workshop familiarisation tours are also organised in wine-growing regions, enabling the visiting delegations to have a first-hand experience of the touristic assets of the regions,” says Oden.

In 2014, Cape Town Tourism accompanied South African Tourism on a roadshow across India. “While we shared a lot of information on the destination, we also listened to what it was that would-be visitors would like to know about,” says Slabber. Likewise, Italy, which is popular for its old-world wines, is also looking at penetrating further into the Indian market. “Italy has 20 different wine-producing regions. We have to push our wine trails more in the country. To achieve this, we need to invite people to Italy to participate in cooking classes and wine-tasting events,” says Riccardo Strano, director, Asia and Oceania, ENIT—Italian National Tourist Board.

Gaining exclusivity

With this niche segment steadily growing in the Indian market, is there potential for travel agents to specialise in wine and whiskey tours exclusively? Suri says, “Many wine and whiskey regions around the world have found it financially beneficial to promote such tourism. Travelling the whiskey trail of Scotland and Ireland is interesting and a great learning experience even if you aren’t a devoted whiskey drinker. Therefore, there is huge potential in experiential tourism of this kind. Indians are open to unique travel experiences. Self-driven tours, which feature wine-tastings, are popular amongst travellers. This opens avenues for travel agents to specialise in wine and whiskey tours.”

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