Juan Antonio Leza: “We must avoid wine tourism turning into a fad and burning out when we are still in the process of doing things well"

The oenologist and agricultural engineer, Juan Antonio Leza, at the head of the GÓMEZ CRUZADO winery participated in the round table discussion "3 Keys to Wine Tourism: Challenges, Reality and Profitability" at the 14th Seminar on Quality in Uruñuela

12 of April of 2019

Fifty years ago wine tourism was already a topic of conversation, a fact documented by the journalist Álvaro Ruibal in the his article "Liberal Vineyards". And today, wine tourism continues to spark debate. Just this week, Emilio Barco, a professor at the University of La Rioja moderated a round table discussion during the 14th Seminar on Quality in Uruñuela. The conversation focused on three issues: challenges, reality and profitability; and used Ruibal's article as a starting point, paying tribute to his foresight regarding the significance of wine tourism today. Juan Antonio Leza, the agricultural engineer and winemaker at the helm of the Gómez Cruzado winery in the Barrio de la Estación district of Haro, commented in regards to the three key issues of this debate: "We must avoid the risk of wine tourism turning into a passing fad and burning out when we are still in the process of doing things well". 

Leza cited statistics from the Wine Routes of Spain to paint a picture of today’s wine tourists: 65 of winery visitors are over 36 years old, the majority of visitors travel as couples, and 54% spend the night in the region. Wine tourists spend an average of €400 per person and their excursions last an average of 2.5 days, for an average expenditure of €160 per day per person, as compared to €125 per day for other general tourists. "This population represents an economic resource well within our reach. But at present we run the risk of losing our focus in terms of failing to treat wine tourism as a significant economic resource," Leza warned.

"Wineries do not view wine tourism as a separate business, belonging more to the hospitality sector than the winemaking business. Wine tourism can be a complementary business for a winery. It must be separated from the winery business and analyzed individually, or it is difficult to realize its real potential," Leza explained. For Leza, wine tourism needs its own business plan, a well-equipped staff in qualitative and quantitative terms, and wide-ranging opening hours, including Sundays and holidays, tailored to meet travelers’ preferences. It should also be based on a clear definition of product, which is still a pending issue.

Leza urged for "investment and long-term perspective". He also noted the need for "patience" in a business wherein "profit turnover is not immediate". In addition to clear economic profitability based on investment and wine sales from travelers, wine tourism can be a highly profitable business in other ways and also represents "a way to tell your story and make your brand more well known", especially in the case of smaller wineries such as Gómez Cruzado. "Anyone who visits a winery and has a satisfactory experience walks away with a lasting memory of the brand and will then serve as an ambassador for that brand," Leza emphasized.

He also stressed that wine tourism "can be a key financial tool to balance out the company’s books throughout the year" and can compensate for the seasonality of wine production and sales, which is reflected in the sector’s seasonal liquidity.

Call them travelers, not tourists

Leza underscored the difference between travelers and tourists: "La Rioja needs fewer tourists and more travelers who arrive with an empty backpack and want to fill it up with enriching experiences: in addition to our wineries, we can offer travelers beautiful walking, lovely views, good restaurants, and more.”

Regarding the sector’s challenges, Leza lamented that "Rioja is still not a very attractive destination for many travelers". He went on to note that he supports the regional government "waving the wine flag" to promote the sector while also connecting it with other regional features, thereby crafting a comprehensive regional narrative, consolidating and maximizing everyone’s efforts and energy. Collaboration with neighboring regional governments is also fundamental, Leza stated, as well as a coherent approach. "It does not make sense to aim to become a World Heritage Site based on our landscape and human history, while at the same time concentrating more and more plots" Leza insisted. He also mentioned the threat posed by the proposal to install a high-speed train system among the Rioja Alta vineyards.

Leza encouraged members of the private sector to travel abroad using their curiosity to "learn by observing what is working well in the regions like BordeauxOportoNapa and Sonoma where they work well".



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