By Magali Canovi
As wine continues to play an important part in people’s lifestyles, an increased interest in visiting the places of production has been witnessed, resulting in a rapid growth in popularity of wine regions around the world (Molina et al., 2015). As a consequence, numerous wine regions – from Napa Valley in the U.S., Barossa Valley in Australia, Langhe and Tuscany in Italy to Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Champagne region in France – are leveraging their enogastronomic excellence to promote their territory and develop as a tourism destination. Wine is considered a central element in the development and promotion of tourism and is likely to contribute to the creation of wealth at the national, regional and local level (O’Neill & Charters 2008). While wine tourism allows visitors to experience a distinctive product, it also promotes economic growth at the regional level and provides local wineries with the opportunity to increase their sales and develop tourism-related businesses Wine tourism has thus been acknowledged to be an ‘extension of the complex relationship between wineries, wine regions and visitors/consumers’ (Bruwer & Alant, 2009).
Langhe, situated in the southern part of the Piedmont province (see fig. 1), is a region long renowned for its quality wines. It is characterised by ‘old world’ winemaking practices and traditions. Langhe secured its reputation during the early 1990s when Barolo was recognised as ‘one of the world’s great wines’ (Rosso, 2014), which led to an increased interest by tourists – initially from central Europe – in visiting these places of wine production. The inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014 of the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato vineyards further enhanced Langhe’s reputation as an internationally renowned tourism destination. In fact, the region continued to attract enogastronomic tourists from around the world – as demonstrated by an 81% growth of tourist arrivals to the region between 2006 and 2016 (DMO Piemonte, 2017).
At the local level, Langhe winery owners have started to take advantage of this opportunity, offering a number of tourism-related activities, such as winery visits, wine tastings, cellar-door sales, B&Bs and/or restaurants. Although wine tourism is seen as a lucrative industry, creating wealth and generating substantial economic growth (O’Neill & Charters, 2008), the success of wine tourism – particularly at the local level – largely depends on how effective and efficient marketing and promotion strategies are implemented and exploited. In Langhe, due to the continuous development of the wine tourism industry, wineries have increasingly leveraged social media for boosting their visibility and attracting a growing number of tourists to their winery.
Twenty interviews were conducted with winery owners, regarding their perceptions of social media in promoting wine tourism in Langhe. The large majority of participating wineries had developed a corporate website (95%) and is currently engaging in a combination of social networking sites, including Facebook (80%), Instagram (55%) and Twitter (50%). Wineries’ websites and social networking sites are extensively used to share product and service information, display photographs, promote the winery’s products and tourism activities, share family stories as well as sell products and services online.
Winery owners’ attitudes were shaped by their perceived benefits of as well as barriers to the adoption of social media. Perceived benefits include the social, economic and emotional value gained from the use of social media platforms, while the barriers relate to the strong agricultural mentality among winery owners as well as the time-consuming nature of social networking sites.
The empirical evidence showed that the use of social media platforms is likely to provide winery owners with social benefits such as greater connectedness, engagement in social interaction, building long-term relationships/friendships with tourists, as well as improved social image and reputation of the winery. Besides the social value gained from the use of social media platforms, the importance of the economic benefits of social media became evident. Particularly, winery owners started to develop online stores on their websites to encourage tourists and consumers to buy their wines online.
Although the majority of interviewed winery owners portrayed a favourable attitude towards and perception of social media, a number of barriers related to the adoption and use of social media were also found. The engagement in social media activities has been found to conflict with owners’ dominant agricultural mentality. Conventional winery owners – particularly the older generation – display an old/traditional way of thinking and are reluctant to change their practices and adopt social media as a marketing tool. Indeed, in some cases, winery owners highlighted their reluctance to engage in social media activities, noting that they have no need to include social media as part of their marketing strategy, due to their favourable market position and high-quality wine production. Inextricably linked to the dominant agricultural mentality, some winery owners perceive the time-consuming nature of social media as a barrier of its effective adoption.
All in all, however, the findings reveal that winery owners undoubtedly recognize the opportunities and benefits of social media in promoting their wine tourism activities, thus embracing a positive perspective towards social media. The majority of participating wineries has adopted and implemented – in addition to their corporate website – a combination of social media tools, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Indeed, a generally high awareness among winery owners emerged, regarding the crucial role of the web 2.0 at each stage of wine tourists’ decision-making process: from initial information seeking to pre and post communication with tourists. Winery owners perceive social media as a beneficial tool for marketing and promoting wine tourism, as it assists them in generating interest, increasing visibility, improving reputation and attract an increasing number of tourists to the winery. Although the strong agricultural mentality and the time-consuming nature of social media were identified to be fundamental barriers of adoption, in no instance did winery owners question the usefulness and efficiency of social media platforms.
Read more about this study at: https://doi.org/10.1080/10548408.2019.1624241
Magali Canovi is a research fellow at the ESCP Europe Business School in Turin, Italy. She received her Ph.D. in Tourism Management from the University of Chester (UK). She holds a Masters degree in International Hospitality Management from the University of Derby (UK). Her research interests include wine tourism, rural tourism diversification, identity in tourism and stakeholders’ attitudes towards tourism development, with a particular focus on family businesses. She has worked on a number of projects in Italy, focusing on how family businesses engage in strategic decision-making, notably within the context of wine tourism. She is currently working on multiple projects in this area linked to rural tourism, entrepreneurship and family business.
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