An employee of a winery sprays wine barrels in the estate’s cellars to keep humidity up in Stellenbosch, about 80km southwest of Cape town. Picture: REUTERS
An employee of a winery sprays wine barrels in the estate’s cellars to keep humidity up in Stellenbosch, about 80km southwest of Cape town. Picture: REUTERS

Wine tourism in SA is booming despite the industry facing drought and falling yields.

Wine is one of SA’s largest agro-based exports, with 100,000ha of vineyards, mostly in the Western Cape, accounting for 4% of world production. The industry contributes R36bn to GDP and employs 290,000 people.

Wine tourism is growing fast in many wine-producing regions around the world. Tourists visit vineyards, wineries, festivals and shows to taste local wines and learn about the winemaking process.

According to a recently released Food and Wine Tourism Market Report by Wesgro, the Western Cape’s trade and investment promotion agency, and food and wine travel operator Explore Sideways, 63% of tour operators believe the market grew in 2018. Growth in the wine and food tourism sector in 2018 surpassed that of previous years, with operators indicating growth of 10% — 50% in 2016-2017, whereas 2018 saw a growth of more than 60%. 

Of the 30 tour operators who participated in the survey, all agreed that wine and food tourism played a role in motivating travel patterns to the Western Cape. According to respondents, the leading wine routes in the Western Cape were Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Constantia.

Based on the respondents, average daily spend among wine and food travellers was R500-R2,000 in 2018. On average tourists spent more than R60,000 per trip in 2018, compared to the R40,000-R50,000 mentioned in 2017.

Wesgro’s Nwabisa Thiso said the results of the survey are encouraging, especially when taking into account that consumers have been under pressure financially, and the negative effect that drought messaging had on tourism to the Western Cape during the start of 2018.

“While the results are not indicative of what is happening in the wine and tourism industry in general, it is obvious that the sector is having a effect on job creation, as well as rural development,” said Thiso.

The report recommends that more attention be directed towards wine tourism in the Western Cape, as has been done in the cycling tourism industry.

“A healthy tourism industry is dependent on a wide variety of activities for tourists. Cycling in the beautiful Western Cape is very attractive to many tourists, but others prefer food and wine and others want both. It is therefore essential that both are promoted as part of a holistic experience, which should include our beautiful beaches and other natural resources,” said Thiso.

Marisah Nieuwoudt, wine tourism manager at producer body Vinpro, said SA should take advantage of the opportunities offered by wine tourism.

“SA produces some of the best wines in the world and our cellars and restaurants are winning one international award after another. It makes sense that we take advantage of our distinct offering and the natural beauty of our country to benefit from the growing popularity of wine tourism,” said Nieuwoudt.

“Tourism has a low barrier to entry for employment, so holds large opportunities to create jobs for semi and unskilled workers, especially in the youth sector where jobs are crucial.” 

phakathib@businesslive.co.za