April 13: The 10th edition of the 2-day International Wine Tourism Conference on April 10-and 11 opened on Tuesday with a record registration of 307 delegates from 29 countries, with participation by wine tourism operators, travel agents and journalists and educators, with a sprinkling of other wine professionals at the Budapest Marriott Hotel, with ample opportunity to taste Hungarian wines, writes Subhash Arora who is participating in the Conference for a 3rd time
Organised annually by the Wine Pleasures, a Spanish company specialising in B2B meetings between buyers and sellers and owned by Anthony Swift, an Englishman who is settled in Barcelona, the event appears to have created quite a buzz this time with the participants staying in the same hotel as the venue of the Conference. With Hungarian Tourism Agency as the main sponsor, the event is an excellent opportunity to showcase Hungary as a wine tourism destination and taste a wide variety of Hungarian wines and cuisines, and dispel the view that Hungary makes cheap wines that it did for decades when it was a part of the socialist block.
The event kicked off with a welcome reception and dinner on a boat on the famous Danube River where the participants had an opportunity to make new friends and meet the old over excellent Hungarian cuisine and the ravishing night-time view of the beautiful city. Those who had come in earlier in the day were given a 3-hour tour of the city in the afternoon-it was time for the novices to learn that Budapest was a combination of two cities Buda and Pest (pronounced as pesht) divided by the beautiful Danube River meandering through the city of 2 million, with well- designed tram-tracks and streets for cars on both sides. Buda is greener, has more residents and several palaces whereas Pest has hotels and restaurants that the city is known for, including Budapest Marriott Hotel, the venue and our designated hotel for 3 nights.
The Conference kicked off with Anthony Swift welcoming the delegates and quickly introducing Zsombor Gál, heading the wine division of the Hungarian Tourism Agency talked about Destination Hungary in the opening plenary session. He talked briefly about the history of Hungary and its connections with the Soviets, but also emphasised the 6 regions and 22 districts that are the exciting wine producing areas. He also emphasised besides the stunning views of the vineyards and the culinary delights, the steaming thermal spas for the health conscious. He also focused on the stunning architecture, folk art and Europe’s most exciting capital with the after-dark night life.
It was followed by another inspiring talk by Felicity Carter- editor-in-chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International magazine published from Germany. She focused on the changing environment of wine tourism and stressed that the wine tourism had now gone beyond the cellar door and the customer expected experiential tourism.
There were 3 streams of talks after that-once could choose for instance, from a panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Gabay MW, on the importance of wine festivals (in Hungary), which I attended. There were two more at the same time- Japan’s Wine Tourism was handled by Chuanfei Wang from the Sophia University, Japan and another inspiring talk by Istvan Szepsy, the brilliant winemaker son of the international well -known Tokaj producer with the same name who had started his own winery in 1987 after being a key figure in the Royal Tokaji Company. Wine festivals are a key to wine tourism in Hungary and Elizabeth had picked three important personalities in organising the festivals. Pál Rόkusfalvy runs a winery in the nearby town of Etyek and starting with a small festival in the city and went on to have 4 festivals every year with up to 15000 people attending each festival. Zsophia Laposa runs a winery and has different festivals while Zilai Zoltian was the third participant. It was an interesting discussion about how they have made the festivals successful in their own way and how they help the producers sell their wines.
Judith Lewis of deCabbit Consultancy talked about social network platforms for customer acquisition and retention-so important in today’s competitive wine tourism environment where the larger number of visitors can mean higher sales. She focused also on how to run an effective Facebook Campaign. Laurence Cogan, who is an educator in the School of Wines and Spirits Business in Dijon, the Capital of Burgundy talked of Wine Tourism in Cote Chalonnaise, the wine sub-region of Burgundy. This was an example of a region that has not seen much of tourism-certainly insignificant compared to Burgundy but it is beginning to change with effective private and public initiatives, she said.
Treasure Hunting in Hungary
Highlight of the day was an excellent Grand Tasting of different wine from diverse regions through eight wines presented by the Tokaj producer Ronn Wiegand MS MW who spent 30 years in Napa before returning to his native land where his wife runs a winery. Aided by Agnes Herczeg of Fine Wine Consulting, who read out the region of wine to be presented and the known produces, he took us through Hungary and its winemaking prowess. Each wine was described with the price tag, making one understand how the country has been suffering so far in terms of Branding and Marketing and the gems that are available here. The Presentation was nothing short of being brilliant and with a capable sommelier service, was the best part of the Conference today. The full-house of over 300 people enjoyed this wine journey through Hungary.
Evenings at the IWINETC are full of activities too and the first day meant a one-hour ride to Lazars Horse Farm founded by the horse-cart racing champion brothers who have won several races. An excellent dinner of goulash and a huge platter of chicken, duck and pork on a bed of rice and pureed potatoes and condiments like broccoli fritters, which found most people unable to finish the platters, had people enjoy the evening . They also had a group of musicians regale the guests with Hungarian music. It had of course, as highlight an equestrian event organised by the hosts, which was very interesting despite the cold that required each on to be wrapped in blankets.
The Conference has more than just the lectures and tastings. Outside the Conference Halls, there is an Exhibit Area where one could taste wines from other parts of Hungary. One could also taste wines from other countries, including Greece, Armenia and Basque country in Spain.
If tomorrow and the following couple of days of B2B Workshops and FAM trips to a couple of wine regions-I have chosen the trip to Eger and Tokaj, are as exciting as the first day, this 10th edition of IWINETC, promises to be the best Wine Tourism Conference organised by Wine Pleasures. Let’s enjoy it by the day.
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