Tourists hot on trail of classic wine


The classic New Zealand Wine Trail is gaining international traction, popping up in more itineraries as the regional venture cements itself as a popular travel option.

Tracy Johnston, marketing manager for the regional tourism venture, said the number of international travel agents highlighting the central New Zealand itinerary had blossomed.

Started seven years ago as an idea to get people off the beaten track and into regional wineries, the trail, a marketing cooperative between Hawke’s Bay, Tararua, Wairarapa, Wellington and Marlborough regions, promotes a package of wineries, hotels, and tourist destinations from Napier to Blenheim crossing wine country that accounts for 70 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production.

Interest from international travel buyers at last week’s Trenz New Zealand tourism showcase was encouraging, Ms Johnston said.

“My appointment schedule was chocka and the calibre of those appointments was the envy of a few [tourism operators].”

Several travel agents, particularly from the US and British markets, had shown her brochured itineraries, including one Danish company that dedicated four pages to showcase the regional tour.

But a lack of targeted data about the initiative meant it has been impossible to gauge accurately whether it was making headway.

Ms Johnston said it was hard to know which tourists were “on the trail” and how many were frequenting the regions coincidentally.

The route was drawing enough attention, however, to garner interest from other wine regions in linking into the trail somehow, she said.

Kris Larmer from regional tourism agency Hawke’s Bay Incorporated said having official signposting installed along the route gave tourists something tangible to follow, and the feedback from independent travellers showed it was making an impression.

A $24,000 government grant to the Wine Trail paid for the signage along the 380-kilometre route.

Ms Larmer said her time at the Trenz conference had been monopolised by people eager to learn more. “Trade [buyers] are all over it. They can see the potential.”

Ms Johnston said anecdotal evidence showed the primary goal of the trail, to get people off the State Highway 1 default route into the eastern regions, was working, but without data no one knew how much.

She said the plan was to build the initiative into something internationally recognisable, akin to France’s “champagne route”, within three years, and the early signs were positive. “People are really starting to pick up on the wine trail story.”