In February 2021 two respected “wine” ladies from Plovdiv – Krasimira Kodukova (Wine Tour Maker) and Gergana Todorova (Winetours.bg) – conducted a research on WINE TOURISM IN BULGARIA. In my opinion its results might be useful and interesting even outside of my country. So I have translated the analysis in English and am bringing it to your attention. This is a LINK to the article in Bulgarian.
The creation of this survey has been provoked by the desire to compare the answers of wine professionals with the answers of wine lovers to a very interesting and at the same time important question: What are the flagship wine grape varieties for Bulgaria – white and red?
However, we have decided to expand the scope of the survey and include wine tourism in order to “hear” the opinion of wine lovers and travelers. The expectations of wine travelers exceed the supply (offers) of this type of tourism / service in Bulgaria. Customer feedback helps always to upgrade the quality of the product.
PROFILE OF THE RESPONDENT
The initial idea was to put a title WINE TOURIST PROFILE, but this would not be correct. Although in the national survey conducted among wineries in early 2020, most wineries identified Bulgarians as predominant visitors, the truth is that in better developed wineries (for wine tourism), foreign visitors have bigger share. The explanation – there is an available/approachable information about the winery and the services offered in English on leading tourist platforms, as well as the good collaboration with travel companies, working mainly with foreigners.
Thus, we separate the wine tourist in Bulgaria from the Bulgarian wine tourist. And since the situation has forced us all to focus on local tourists, we believe that the answers given in the survey will reduce the time and effort to attract wine lovers.
The survey has been distributed on social media, wine and travel groups, mailing lists to wine lovers, in order to collect answers from people, who are keen on wine and for whom wine tourism is not unknown.
The survey was completed by 231 persons (Bulgarians) in February 2021. More than half are at the age of 41-60 years, 1/3 are 26-40 y.o and 8% are 61-75 y.o. Nearly 2/3 are females and 1/3 – males.
It is not surprising that the respondents from the big cities Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna dominate, but in general the answers come from all over the country, even from small towns. Nowadays questions about the frequency of participation in a wine event or a visit to a winery will be, to put it mildly, incorrect, so we have added the remark BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. However, obviously the pandemic does not change the behavior of most of the tourists!
Ca. 28% of the respondents answered, that they visit a wine event (tastings, exhibitions and wine events NOT in the cellars) between 2-3 times a year, 20% choose the answer “5-10 times a year”, and 19% answer that they attend a wine event only during exhibitions, festivals and holidays such as Trifon Zarezan (the major Bulgarian wine holiday, celebrated in February). Only 13% take part at a wine event once a month.
More than 1/3 of the respondents visit a wine cellar 2-3 times a year, 32% visit a winery every time they are in a wine region for some reason, and 13% 5-10 times a year. 8% visit the cellar once a month.
WHERE ARE WE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE CELLARS AND WHAT ATTRACTS US?
To the following questions may be given more than one answer, so instead of a percentage, the number of answers will be indicated.
If we assume that the interest in wine tourism and in particular in a winery is being aroused, then here is what influences the desire of wine lovers to visit a specific winery:
128 people cite an article about the winery in a wine and/or tourist blog, which ranks this answer first. Surprisingly (more or less) 110 people answered, that the news about awards from international wine competitions makes them want to go to the winery. For 109 of the respondents, an article about the winery in a wine and/or lifestyle magazine provokes their interest.
Although the videos have been widely cited as a means of attracting interest, in the survey only 52 people indicated the answer “video from the cellar“, but the attention of 79 people was provoked by a “video about the region“. Only 17 people indicated that the travel awards of the winery are a factor in their decision to visit a winery.
INTEREST HAS BEEN AWAKENED – IT’S TIME FOR INFORMATION!
Here is how the respondents reply to the question “Where do you most often look for information about wine cellars, open for tourists in Bulgaria?”:
156 people are searching for information about the cellars directly on their websites and social networks, which once again proves the importance of their proper management. The lock-downs have had a positive effect on the digital presentation of the wineries and there is already a lot of information about the tourism they offer on their websites. The lack of such information is pointed out by most people in one of the following questions.
The second desired source of information about the cellars and their tastings are the sites, blogs and platforms for wine & wine tourism – 128 people.
94 people rely on a recommendation from an acquaintance, and 66 of the respondents are searching in catalogs, such as KA & TA and DiVino Guide to find the next cellar to visit.
ATTRACTIVE POINTS FOR A VISIT TO A WINE CELLAR
Here is what attracts tourists at most, in descending order:
- Wine tasting (175 people)
- Tour in the cellar and vineyards with a wine guide from the winery (147 people)
- The overall experience (128 people)
- The food and its pairing with wine (125 people).
- Getting to know the history, nature and wine production in the region (122 answers)
IT’S TIME TO TRAVEL
193 of the respondents prefer to visit a wine cellar individually, with their own transport, which, as it turns out, is going to be probably a trend in the upcoming years. The fact that wine tours are not widely offered by travel companies to some extent predetermines such an answer, but for many wine lovers the personal contact/attitude is sought after.
83 people point out “Tailor-made tour for you (a group of acquaintances)”, and for 63 people “Organized wine tour shared with a larger group of tourists” is the preferred way to travel.
The most common means of booking of a visit to a cellar (146 responses) remains the phone. With one phone call the tourist makes it easier to find answers to all his questions, even if they are published on the site of the winery, but sometimes the phone number is the only contact, provided by the winery.
The following 2 answers certainly facilitate both the tourist and the staff of the cellar, resp. the organization of work: 100 people prefer to make an online reservation on the website of the winery, and 74 respondents travel with vouchers for tastings and weekend packages from a site for wine experiences, which also belongs to the direct online reservations. 64 persons prefer to visit a winery without prior notice, which certainly makes it difficult for them to choose, given that “booking in advance” is often required by the wineries.
We are listing in descending order the most common obstacles in organizing their wine adventure in a cellar, which wine travelers point out:
- There is no information about the possibility/offers for tastings on the winery’s website (86 people)
- The cellar does not work on weekends (85 people)
- No signs on the road (82 people)
- No accommodation near the winery (77 people)
- The road to the winery is in bad condition (64 people)
THE “NEW NORMAL”
Here is what these 231 wine lovers shared as a reply to the question “Did the pandemic change your criteria when choosing a winery to visit, resp. what is important for you?”:
- KOVID does not change your desire and requirements to visit a winery (130 people)
- Outdoor tastings (106 people)
- Observance of the hygienic recommendations of the health authorities for disinfection of the premises (76 people)
- Individual visits, without meeting with other tourists (44 people)
- It is possible to meet other tourists, but with a mask and a distance between them (28 people)
VIRTUAL WINE TASTINGS
It was the restrictions that were imposed on us that “gave the floor” to virtual meetings and tastings. They have occurred in Bulgaria slowly, but it seems that the interest of the Bulgarian wine consumer is missing or cannot be well aroused. Nearly half of the responding wine lovers have not participated in virtual tastings, but do not deny them, while 37% of participants definitely do not accept the idea. 23% say they take part in virtual wine events. Here is an original answer received from Varna: Virtual tastings are same as virtual sex: educational, but unsatisfying!