Rebecca LeHeup is involved with the Ontario food and tourism industries. Currently Rebecca is the Executive Director for Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA.) She has a wide range of experiences that lend great credibility to her professionalism. Rebecca has traveled widely, developed special tourism programs, and developed Culinary Tourism Management programs.
Read an interview with Rebecca LeHeup and discover someone with passion for “taste the place.”
Has the interest in Eat Local transferred to Drink Local?
“The consumer’s interest in connecting with local food has certainly broadened to include local “drink.” In Canada not only have we seen an increase of traffic to wineries and the consumption of VQA wines, we have also seen a surge in the number of craft brewers, cideries and artisan distillers. Wine-related tourism welcomes more than 3 million visitors each year, generating more than $1.2 billion annually in tourism revenue and employment. Consumers are not only looking for a unique style, they want a novel taste and a connection to place. Craft beer continues to be the fastest growing segment within the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) beer category, with current growth rates over 10 percent per year. As of 2014, there were 19 craft cideries in Ontario with more slated to open in 2015. Even more interesting is the growth of the artisan distiller. At a recent American Distilling Institute (ADI) conference: micro-distilleries have grown from 50 in 2005 to around 300 in 2013 (in the US), and that number could grow to 1,000 in less than 10 years. The Canadian industry is set to enjoy similar growth to that of craft beer in the ’90′s. There are over 26 micro-distilleries in Canada as of January 2015.”
What connections do you see between wine, tourism and art?
“There is a significant connection between wine, arts and culture that can be threaded together to support tourism development and tourism destinations. Based on a Travel Activations and Motivations Study (TAMS 2006) ‘food tourists’ are 3 times more likely to attend a theatre performance or take in a historic site. In Prince Edward County, Ontario we developed the Taste Trail in 2005 and followed the same model when developing the Arts Trail in 2008. The two trails are co-branded and linked in their marketing efforts. Many of the business operators value the connection between the two trails as the traveler on both trails is often one and the same, having a value for creativity and authenticity.”
If a winery does not have a restaurant on the property, in what ways can wine experience providers offer a wine and food experience?
“There are a number of ways in which winery operators can add to their “taste of place” without having to invest in a restaurant on property. They can partner with a third party to set up foodservice operations – very popular in Ontario in the past several years is to bring a food truck on site for peak season. The wineries ensure that they partner with an operator that delivers a quality product that pairs with their wines. Another option is to offer foodservice that is simpler to execute such as a cheese board to pair with their wines or perhaps a cheese and charcuterie board. The key to the success of this type of “taste of place” offering is to use ingredients and artisan products from within the region of the winery, to build on the authenticity of the experience.”
How do you suggest expanding wine tourism in the off-season in cool and cold climate regions?
“I am a firm believer in understanding your assets and those of your supporting community. Building tourism visitation off peak season is always a challenge; however, when you look at your destination through the lens of a visitor and clearly see ALL of the tourism assets, you can build product to draw people to your destination regardless of the weather. You can pair every experience with an authentic “taste of place” as every traveler has to eat, regardless of why they are visiting your destination. The example of pairing wine and art is a great one. Or building upon the uniqueness of your terroir to develop a tourism product that operates year round. In Ontario – a great example is the Apple Pie Trail. The trail connects businesses (restaurants, bakers, artists, cideries, wineries and more) that offer an authentic “apple” experience. (The region is one of the largest apple production areas in Canada.) Each season, packages and experiences from the areas natural assets (paddling, mountain biking, skiing and Scandinavian Spa) are paired with the Apple Pie Trail. Consumers are always looking for ideas and want to be told where to go and what to experience. This type of food tourism product development does just that. It gives travellers a reason to go to the Blue Mountains winter, spring, summer or fall.”
What is the potential for Ontario to host a future IWINETC?
“I believe there is great potential for Ontario to host IWINETC in the future. We have a wine industry that is gaining international acclaim – it continues to grow and produce world class wines and wine tourism experiences. We are a destination with a rich “culture of cultures”, our food identity is diverse just like our population. Regardless of how your taste of Ontario is influenced, when those crafting your “taste of place” use the fresh, local ingredients from the province you will be delighted! Ontario is a BIG province with many unique offerings for the international traveler. For IWINETC to come to Ontario, Canada it would give us a chance to showcase all of the good things (food, wine and ideas) that grow in Ontario.”
What are your aims and objectives by participating at the International Wine Tourism Conference?
“My objective in attending IWINETC to to connect with likeminded individuals who share in my passion for food and drink tourism, to learn from them and share my experiences. I hope to gain inspiration, new ideas and new connections in food tourism while attending IWINETC.”
Don’t miss Rebecca’s presentation, “EAT(tm) – Developing a “taste of place’” at the International Wine Tourism Conference in Reims, France !