From the European hospitality industry to spending time working in vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms in Canada and the United States, Hilarie Larson has a passion and experience for wine. Her presentation, Promoting Your Wine Tourism Business Through Sales, Service & Knowledge explores how wine experience providers can promote and retain customers. Hilarie contributes wine related articles to several websites including folly.com.
As one of the speakers at the upcoming International Wine Tourism Conference in Reims, France we had a chance to speak to Hilarie about her experiences and presentation.
How did your wine journey begin?
I would have to say it began when I was 18 and moved from Vancouver, Canada to Zurich Switzerland. Being ‘of age’ I was able to experience local wines and then, as I began to work in the Hospitality and Travel industry, I was lucky to enjoy amazing wine and cuisine at many of the local Guild Houses and fine restaurants. Working with an inbound/ground handling company for three years took me to Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, where the wine cellars of the Rhine were always on the schedule. I fell in love with the vineyards as well as the wine.
Describe the ultimate winery experience and what are two biggest mistakes wine experience providers make?
That’s a very personal thing, but for me, the best winery experience is one in which I get to spend quality time with the winemaker. Walking through the vineyards is essential to understanding the wine – the smells, sights, sounds – everything. I’m a bit of cellar geek, so I appreciate checking out which barrels the winemaker uses, the choice of production equipment and that sort of thing. And tasting with the winemaker is always a standout in my eyes. Making wine is such a personal endeavor and getting to know the winemaker and the land is, for me, the best all around way to understand a wine.
From a customer service and retention standpoint, I would say the two biggest mistakes are:
- a) Not keeping their regular customers or club members engaged. So much effort is put into attracting the customer or having them sign up for the wine club/mailing list but is not continued. Keep your customers close and make them feel like part of your family.
- b) Many wineries use Social Media to advertise new releases or upcoming events, but this cost effective outlet can be so much more. Sometimes I think the ‘Social’ element is lacking – engagement with your customers is key. Don’t just sell to them, entertain and inform them, too.
You have experience in staff development for tasting room personnel, is it important that other wine experience providers such as wine tours, hotels and restaurant also have a knowledge base of wine?
Extremely important. Essential.
In a wine country area, peripheral businesses such as hotels,restaurants, tour companies and so many others need to work together to cross promote. I’m a great believer in basic wine education for all front line staff for these related business. They don’t need to be ‘experts’ but should know the basics with a focus on the grape varieties, wine styles and producers of their region so that they can provide well-rounded, seamless and stellar customer service. That’s the goal – a seamless experience for the guest.
What is the best way to provide staff development for these wine experience providers?
I’ve worked with local Convention and Tourist Bureaus to supply this type of information to their members. Workshops and seminars with support/reference material are always good. Another fun and educational option are short day-trips of the region. What better way for, say regional hotel staff, to learn about the region than to have a local wine tour operator take them out to some of the wineries to see what they offer. Or, wineries hosting servers from local restaurant to a tour and tasting. These types of personal interaction really enthuse front line hospitality teams. They remember their experience and pass the good news on to guests. That’s a real ‘win/win’ for everyone.
What are you aims ad objectives by participating at IWINETC?
I have several objectives:
By participating as a speaker, I’d like to share my personal experiences and observations to get people thinking and feeling inspired to create their own ways to improve the travel experience for their visitors.
Of course, this works both ways. This opportunity to speak to a widely based audience is both exciting and humbling.
As a conference participant, I look forward to listening to some fascinating speakers, absorbing a variety of points of view on wine tourism and naturally, sipping some amazing local Champagnes. After all, studies show Champagne consumption boosts brain power!
Article: Terry Sullivan, CWAS WineTrailTraveler.com