When Tourism Australia launched the ‘Restaurant Australia’ strategy in 2015, Nathan Gogoll was impressed to see the efforts to put food and wine in focus. But he questions whether the Australian wine industry actually got any traction from the promotions.

TOURISM AUSTRALIA RESEARCH, conducted across 15 of Australia’s key tourism markets, shows ‘great food, wine, and local cuisine’ is a major factor influencing holiday decision-making (at 38 per cent), ranking just ahead of world-class beauty and natural environments (37 per cent).
To narrow the perception gap between those who have visited Australia and those who have not, Tourism Australia developed the idea that Australia could be the world’s greatest restaurant – ‘Restaurant Australia’.
The main piece of promotion was a three-minute video that matched stunning scenery with mouth-watering food shots and all the action of it been gathered, prepared and served. I thought it was a terrific promotion built on a solid strategy.

But then I double checked how wine experiences were portrayed in the video.
Turned out there wasn’t a lot on offer. I got a stopwatch out and measured the amount of time a wine glass, bottle of wine, vineyard or winery made it into the video. It was less than 30 seconds of the three-minute total, made up of seven seconds of winery and tasting room footage; half a second of vineyard scenery and the remainder of the measure featuring wine glasses or wine bottles as a prop on the table, occasionally in a hand but never near the lips.
I counted a dozen bottles of wine that snuck in, but most of those were on the tasting bench as Keith Hentschke swirled a glass and hosted guests at his Hentley Farm cellar door.
There were actually more boats in the video than bottles of wine.

I do understand that promoting the consumption of alcohol is a touchy subject, and acknowledge a lot of wine ‘experiences’ on offer are tied to a restaurant setting or tasting room situation which might not create stunning video footage. But why couldn’t wine and wine experiences have been more prominent than boats? Surely with all the resources at Tourism Australia they could think outside the square and show something better than a romantic wander down the mid-row?
Ummm, no. Fast-forward to February this year and the latest big production video release from Tourism Australia has been gorgeously narrated by Chris Hemsworth. Remember the research that said ‘great food, wine, and local cuisine’ was a bigger factor in holiday decision-making than ‘beauty and natural environments’?
Yeah, nah don’t worry about it. This video is all about coastal scenery. Food and wine represent less than 13 seconds of this latest three-minute promo.

Boats were back, big time. In fact there was more footage of boats than food and wine combined.
I’m sure behind the release of the feature video there will be back-up pieces that drill down to seafood and even maritime climates where stunning wine is made. Maybe.
Then there would be a chance to introduce wines that go with seafood, or the wine regions of Australia influenced by a maritime climate. Yeah, right.

I can’t help think the lack of a marketing budget for Wine Australia is an issue here.
In 2014/15 Tourism Australia spent $89.5million on advertising plus $26.1million on publicity.
In the same financial year, Wine Australia spent $2.8million on marketing costs and $240,000 on communications.
Even though the budget lines have slightly different labels, to me that looks like a war chest of $115.6million compared to a piggy bank of $3million.
Look at it another way… For every $100 Tourism Australia spends on promotion, Wine Australia manages $2.60.

Tourism accounts for about three per cent of Australia’s GDP (gross domestic product) and the wine industry somewhere between 0.3 and 0.8 per cent of GDP, depending on who did the sums and when they did them. (There’s more insight into this from Page 22)
In other words… for every $100 tourism generates within Australia, the wine industry manages somewhere between $10 and $25.
Now imagine if Wine Australia had one tenth, or even a quarter, the advertising and publicity budget of Tourism Australia. And think about how many more wine consumers might have been influenced around the world if there was $11.5million or spent promoting Australian wine each year.

I know growth in export wine sales can’t just be achieved by showing consumers some beautiful images and have a sexy voice over from somebody like Chris Hemsworth in the background (although I’ve heard Nick Dry has just done some voice-over training). But don’t all the wineries battling in the US and UK markets deserve a little bit of consumer publicity support?
Last time I looked Australian wine regions boasted some stunning landscapes and plenty of interesting characters. Isn’t brand building all about storytelling and imagery these days? Can ‘brand Australia’ expect Jancis Robinson to drive demand? Does the average consumer who spends a ‘fiver’ on a bottle of Australian Chardonnay at Tesco even know who Jancis is?
Is it even possible to promote the wine industry to a broad audience without dumbing it down, getting all geeky or causing a stir for the promotion of alcohol? Perhaps it’s all too hard… but I thought Aussie wine deserved more of a run in the ‘Restaurant Australia’ campaign than the boats got.

But there’s hope on the horizon! Wine Australia recently welcomed a $50million funding announced by the Federal Government when the WET Rebate reforms were announced. Wine Australia Chair Brian Walsh welcomed this initiative and said he was looking forward “to working closely with the grape and wine sector to design and implement the $50 million support package to help boost domestic wine-related tourism and export assistance”.
Through the funding, Wine Australia plans to coordinate a range of initiatives to help regional wine producers and export-focused businesses to continue to grow.

Nathan Gogoll wrote this article as an introduction to the March 2016 edition of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine (but updated it with the latest funding news more recently).
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