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The spirit of a place in a bottle

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The new age Indian traveller is open to travel around the globe to savour the flavours of local wines and whiskies, giving new meaning to the term ‘experiential tourism’. By Rituparna Chatterjee

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Shibani Phadkar

Today’s evolved Indian is travelling like never before and so is his increasingly discerning and sophisticated palate. Indians are not only evolving rapidly but are also becoming more cosmopolitan – with a keen desire to indulge in not just the local cuisines but also in whisky and wine trails across different regions of the world. A 2012 food and travel survey conducted by TripAdvisor revealed that 33 per cent of the 1000 respondents across India have attended a wine/ whisky trail while on a holiday. Among those who hadn’t, almost 50 per cent expressed their interest in attending one if given a chance. Another encouraging trend is that 25 per cent respondents said they had chosen a holiday destination specifically to experiment with the local food. From Cape Town in South Africa, Napa Valley in USA, Hunter Valley in Sydney, Australia, to Portugal, France, Italy, Ireland and Scotland, Indians are increasingly exploring popular and emerging wine and whisky destinations across the world. However, this market is still niche with the number of travellers being a few hundreds. But interestingly this market is growing steadily. “We have already observed a 20 per cent upswing from the segment of travellers opting for food and wine experiences and expect it to grow by about 10-15 per cent in the next few years. While we saw its origins in classic wine tours of France or more contemporary new age wines of California, Australia, 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 safari-spa-wine and fine dining itineraries of South Africa,” states Shibani Phadkar, senior vice president – products and operations, leisure travel (outbound), Thomas Cook India.

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The Barossa Valley in Australia holds strong allure to food and wine aficionados on account of its fresh food produce and finest wine offerings. Virginia in USA, a popular winery destination, is also being recognised for its nascent distilleries manufacturing some of the most exquisite whiskies. Other emerging whisky and wine destinations are Mendoza, Argentina; Aegean Islands, Greece; California, Mexico; Baden-Baden, Germany; and Texas Hill Country, USA. “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 whisky 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

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Vishal Suri

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

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Catherine Oden

Apart from travel agents and tour operators, even most tourism boards today have identified more than one way to woo the discerning Indian traveller. In a step towards this direction, they are now offering travellers with more unique wine and whisky experiences. For instance, with a 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 also making the wine tasting experience interesting with blind wine tasting, wine casinos and tastings 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 promises 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. For the future, we would also like to forge associations with prominent wine clubs to find mutually beneficial avenues of working together,” opines Catherine Oden, former director, Atout France in India. She adds that over over the 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.

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Hanneli Slabber

Cape Town, a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast, offers a number of wineland experiences, and 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 three 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 like the 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.

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Scotland is synonymous with its most iconic brand – the Scotch whisky. Apart from tasting the best in the land of whiskies, most visitors to Scotland are keen to know about the history of Scotch whisky, how it is made, which are the most famous distilleries, and other interesting information. For the last two and a half decades the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre (SWHC) has been offering the inimitable whisky experience to visitors from around the world. SWHC was launched in July 1987, in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. 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 per cent,” reveals Julie Trevisan Hunter, deputy and marketing manager, The Scotch Whisky Experience at SWHC, adding, “We are also home to the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky and a visit to this is included in every tour experience.” The Scotch whisky experience includes the silver and gold whisky tours covering all aspects of Scotch whisky. Guests can dine at Amber restaurant with its whisky bar where many whisky and food pairing packages are offered. However, reinventing the whole experience is essential for attracting repeat visitors. “We invest in the attraction every year having spent over GBP five million in the past five years and are constantly changing and updating our interpretation, increasing language provision and interactivity and introducing new tours, tastings and food experiences. There is always something new,” says Hunter.

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Huzan Fraser Motivala

Another whisky destination, the island of Ireland is famous for its high quality whiskies, whether it’s blended or single malt. “Two of the main distilleries we promote in the India market are the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland and the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and Cork in the Republic of Ireland,” mentions 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 the associated sights and smells, tutored whisky tastings and a specialist whisky shop. “Travellers can also relive the story of John Jameson and Son through the history, the atmosphere and above all the taste at the Old Jameson Distillery in the heart of Dublin where guests receive a signature Jameson drink and volunteers are selected to participate in a tutored whisky 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 whisky pubs, hotels, golf club bars and specialised whisky shops,” she adds. Also featured in the whisky trail is the Jameson Experience in Cork, Kilbeggan Distillery Experience in Kilbeggan and the Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre in County Offaly.

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Working strategically

From organising B2B workshops and familiarisation trips to counselling travel agents on creating various wine and whisky 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 and travel companies from all over the world including India. Pre-workshop, familiarisation tours are also organised to wine growing regions enabling the visiting delegations to have a first-hand experience of the touristic assets of the regions,” mentions Oden.

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Dr Riccardo Strano

In 2014, Cape Town Tourism accompanied South African Tourism on a roadshow across India. “Whilst 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,” informs Slabber. Likewise, Italy which is popular for its old world wines is also looking at penetrating further into the India 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. Moreover, we have to organise educational tours and familiarisation trips to Italy, invite opinion makers to important events, and so on. Advertising is also equally important,” states Dr Riccardo Strano, director – Asia and Oceania, ENIT – Italian National Tourist Board.

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Gaining exclusivity

With this niche segment steadily growing in the India market, is there potential for travel agents to specialise in wine and whisky tours exclusively? Suri believes, “Many wine and whisky regions around the world have found it financially beneficial to promote such tourism. Wine and whisky tourism is not only about a trip to taste, buy and learn about wines and whiskies but is also an opportunity to showcase the rich cultural diversity of the land. Travelling the whisky trail of Scotland and Ireland is interesting and a great learning experience, even if you aren’t a devoted whisky drinker.”

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