Growing the wine industry
It must have been one of the best research assignments in the state university system.
Dr. Erick Byrd and six students spent summer 2012 visiting wineries across North Carolina. Their goal: to learn more about who was visiting and why, so they could help owners develop informed marketing strategies, increase tourism and maximize revenue across the state.
The group found that most visitors to the state’s vineyards had little to no knowledge of wine. Instead, they were drawn to a strong visitor experience and exceptional customer service.
“People might not be able to tell the difference between one red wine and another red wine, but they can tell if someone is spending time with them and being nice to them,” says Byrd, an associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Bryan School of Business and Economics.
“We found that people go to wineries for a romantic experience, a pristine landscape, to meet a wine grower and to learn a bit about wine. Of course, everybody also likes to go home and tell a good story about their visit. That customer service element creates a complete experience.”
From May through August 2012, the team surveyed more than
800 visitors at 23 selected wineries from the beach to the mountains. They found the average visitor was white, female, highly educated and fairly affluent.
Across North Carolina, the wine industry is growing, with about five new wineries opening annually, many of them in the Piedmont Triad/Yadkin Valley region. Revenue from wine tourism grew 27 percent between 2005 and 2009. It is also an important driver for other tourism.
“For people who are trying to get away and find a day trip or a short vacation in this area, wineries are a key aspect to the entire destination,” Byrd said.
Five undergraduate students and two graduate students were vital to the project, helping to shape the questions, conduct the survey, enter the data and even provide individualized reports for some of the wineries.
Diana Phelps ’13 joined the study as a rising senior majoring in math and economics. She counts the experience as a key factor in helping her to land a full-time job doing economic research with the Research Triangle Institute.
“Whenever I see an article about this study or about a North Carolina vineyard, I remember that I was a part of that,” Phelps says. “It feels good to be able to make a difference in my home state.”
Dr. Bonnie Canziani, Dr. Yu-Chin “Jerrie” Hsieh and Dr. Keith Debbage also participated in the study, which was funded by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, and UNCG.
Byrd, who has a special interest in rural tourism, hopes that North Carolina wineries can capitalize on some of the findings when it comes to marketing themselves, either individually or as a region.
“For tourism to be successful in a community, it should build on the resources the community already has and preserve the landscape,” Byrd says. “The wine industry does that perfectly.”
See the full report at www.uncg.edu/bae/or/NC-Winery-Visitor-Tourism-Study-Final-Report.pdf.