The highly successful Responsible Visitation Campaign (RVC) has come to an end, but the conversation about keeping vines healthy in wine tourism locations is just beginning.

The RVC, funded by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) and Vinehealth Australia, with additional support from the South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA) and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA), was launched in February 2018 and involved four key stages:

  1. Research
  2. Industry training
  3. Activations
  4. Public awareness

“We started with research to get a clear picture of the level of knowledge of vine health topics in the wine tourism sector and among tourists,” said Inca Pearce, CEO of Vinehealth Australia.

“During the research phase it became apparent that conversations about vine health generally aren’t occurring between wine tourism businesses and tourists. As a result, most tourists don’t understand the risks they can pose to vine health by walking or driving into a vineyard.

“It became evident that we needed to clarify the message about expectations for visitors when visiting a wine region. The wine industry’s position is that visitors should not walk amongst vines unchecked, to minimise the risk of entry of pests, diseases and weeds in vineyards.

“It also became clear that we needed to create an education program for wine tourism staff to ensure they know what to say to tourists about keeping vines healthy.”

The Wine Tourism Biosecurity training program resulted. A total of 229 participants from the Barossa, Adelaide Hills, Clare, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Coonawarra, Limestone Coast and Yorke Peninsula attended a free training session. Participants included cellar door staff/managers, visitor centre staff/managers, regional association staff/executive officers and staff from other relevant wine and tourism organisations.

During the training, six campaign test sites were set up with consumer-friendly ‘healthy vines’ signage.

A public awareness campaign followed, titled ‘Who’s Hitchhiking With You?’ which aimed to build a partnership with tourists about the protection of South Australia’s vines and wines. Specifically, the campaign:

  1. Educated tourists about the importance of keeping vines healthy, in partnership with cellar door owners, managers and staff.
  2. Promoted South Australia’s clean, green and phylloxera-free status.
  3. Guided tourist behaviour, with the key directive being ‘Please don’t walk amongst our vines’.

The campaign sees Phil, a human-sized yellow phylloxera bug, hitching a ride from vineyard to vineyard with various groups of tourists. The campaign was promoted in videos, flyers, media articles, advertising, websites, social media and the official launch at Angove Family Winemakers in McLaren Vale (a test site).

Overall, the Responsible Visitation Campaign:

  • Identified a gap in industry knowledge among tourism/sales/marketing staff in biosecurity and vine health areas.
  • Identified issues in the way the wine industry is promoted, i.e., with images of tourists in vineyards.
  • Facilitated the development of a Wine Tourism Biosecurity training program for the wine industry that has national relevance.
  • Facilitated the development of tourist-friendly language that demonstrates Australia’s commitment to biosecurity, which can be used to enhance the cellar door and vineyard experience, rather than detract from it.
  • Delivered increased biosecurity awareness and capability among wine tourism staff.
  • Created a blueprint for biosecurity awareness that can become a framework for national best practice.
  • Facilitated the development of a range of tourism-friendly collateral for ongoing use by the wine industry, including signage, flyers, adverts, videos, images and written content.
  • Promoted active discussion of the experiences wineries offer their tourists and the potential impacts on vine health.

“We’re thrilled by the uptake of healthy vines messaging. For example, Gourmet Traveller Wine’s new Winecraft website features a great article on ‘cellar door etiquette‘ which includes information about not walking into vineyards without permission,” Inca said. “But there’s still much work to be done in the wine tourism space.”

Following the Responsible Visitation Campaign, Vinehealth Australia has recommended seven key activities be undertaken to protect the health of Australian grapevines in tourism areas. Those recommendations are:

  1. Solve the issues in the way the wine industry is promoted, i.e., with images of people walking/picnicking in vines. Promotion of the wine industry should not encourage tourists to walk into vineyards unchecked.
  2. Develop and roll out a national Wine Tourism Biosecurity awareness campaign to educate visitors not to walk into vineyards, potentially based on the Responsible Visitation materials and ‘Who’s Hitchhiking With You?’ campaign.
  3. Mould the existing Wine Tourism Biosecurity training program into a national cellar door training program, for tourism, sales and marketing staff. Roll out the training program in every wine region in Australia. Spend time with visitor centre staff in each region delivering the ‘healthy vines’ message.
  4. Conduct a national ‘tourism sector biosecurity audit’ to ensure all tourism products carry consistent wine tourism biosecurity messaging. Solve the inconsistencies in promotion, e.g., remove images of tourists in vines, and remove references to walking amongst vines.
  5. Roll out Wine Tourism Biosecurity Signage nationally. Print and supply signs to every cellar door in Australia.
  6. Create a biosecurity plan for major events held in or near vineyards and train winery and event staff in biosecurity awareness and activities before, during and after the event.
  7. Allocate a base amount of annual funding to maintain the Wine Tourism Biosecurity training capability in South Australia. Extend the training to tourism operators such as bus tour companies and ensure all regional grape and wine association staff are trained.

The RVC Final Report will be available on the Vinehealth Australia website in coming weeks.