Grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion

Italy plies vis­i­tors with wine as it eyes tourism catch-up

Global Times - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

Eat­ing lunch in Italy’s Bol­gheri wine coun­try, it is not hard to un­der­stand why the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors to this bu­colic cor­ner of Tus­cany has dou­bled in five years.

“Peo­ple have al­ways come in the sum­mer for the beaches,” says Ric­cardo Binda, cut­ting into a suc­cu­lently ten­der slice of Floren­tine steak, grilled over em­bers.

“Now we’re get­ting vis­i­tors all year round. It’s some­thing new that has de­vel­oped as the rep­u­ta­tion of Bol­gheri’s wine has grown.”

Binda is the general man­ager of the lo­cal con­sor­tium of wine­mak­ers in an area known for its pro­duc­tion of high­qual­ity Bordeaux-style reds.

Sourced from eighth gen­er­a­tion mas­ter butcher Dario Cec­chini and hung for 100 days, the T-bone he is eat­ing is a pop­u­lar choice.

On a sunny Oc­to­ber af­ter­noon, the Os­te­ria Mag­ona is packed and abuzz with the min­gling mur­murs of quiet foodie con­tent­ment and wine-fu­elled chat in English, French, Ger­man and Ja­panese.

It’s a scene to glad­den the heart of Dario Frances­chini, Italy’s cul­ture and tourism min­is­ter, as he pre­pares the ac­counts on what is ex­pected to be a record year for tourism.

The sec­tor ac­counts for around 10 per­cent of the coun­try’s GDP and has be­come a sig­nif­i­cant en­gine of growth for an econ­omy emerg­ing from years of stag­na­tion.

A bumper sum­mer sea­son saw a 16 per­cent surge in the to­tal num­ber of vis­its to the coun­try’s long coast­lines, with the num­ber of cus­tomers com­ing from over­seas up a lit­tle more than 5 per­cent.

World Wine Town

But with just over 52 mil­lion for­eign vis­i­tors in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the UN’s World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Italy still lags be­hind its com­pa­ra­ble neigh­bors France, with 82 mil­lion vis­i­tors last year, and Spain with 75 mil­lion.

The min­is­ter is also acutely aware that much of the re­cent growth in tourism can be at­trib­uted to ter­ror­ism­re­lated se­cu­rity con­cerns that have di­verted tourists from Tu­nisia, Egypt and Turkey.

Against that back­drop, au­thor­i­ties are look­ing to bol­ster year-round ar­rivals and tar­get vis­i­tors in search of more than a sun tan.

For­eign di­rec­tors have been brought in to re­vamp some of the coun­try’s ma­jor mu­se­ums and art gal­leries, while a ma­jor up­grade of the Fran­ci­gena pil­grim’s route re­flects an ef­fort to draw in more hik­ers and cy­clists.

But ac­cord­ing to de­signer and en­tre­pre­neur Franco Malenotti, the coun­try is not mak­ing the most of its cel­e­brated wines and rich culi­nary her­itage.

“Eno­gas­tro­nomic [ food and wine] tourism is a big new trend,” Malenotti told AFP, cit­ing re­search that points to a ma­jor surge in Asian and Latin Amer­i­can food­ies head­ing for Europe in the next few years.

“Italy should be in the avant-garde in this sec­tor. But it’s not. Why? Be­cause we have done al­most noth­ing to fos­ter and pro­mote it.”

Malenotti’s eclec­tic ca­reer has in­cluded de­sign­ing Bat­man and other Hol­ly­wood cos­tumes as well as own­ing the cult fash­ion la­bel Bel­staff.

His lat­est ven­ture is a “World Wine Town,” an ac­com­mo­da­tion and res­tau­rant com­plex con­structed around a re­cently opened mu­seum ded­i­cated to the story of Bol­gheri’s wines and de­signed by Os­car-win­ning cin­ema set de­signer Dante Fer­retti.

Airbnb boom

With more than 1,000 wines on tap, Malenotti is bank­ing on the com­plex draw­ing in peo­ple like Ger­man cou­ple Su­sann and Rainer Sch­midt.

“You want to taste and try the wines, but also to learn some­thing,” says Su­sann, glass in hand af­ter a stroll round an ex­hi­bi­tion in which holo­grams of fa­mous wine­mak­ers such as Piero Anti­nori and Ni­colo In­cisa della Roc­chetta re­count their roles in mak­ing Bol­gheri’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Malenotti was in­spired by the ex­am­ple of Bordeaux’s Cite du Vin.

“What­ever prod­uct you are sell­ing, you need a back story. It is called sto­ry­telling and it is very im­por­tant in mar­ket­ing,” he said.

“Af­ter com­ing here the ma­jor­ity of tourists go on to visit the winer­ies. In places like the Napa Val­ley [in the US], es­tates get more than half their sales from the cel­lar door, here in Bol­gheri it is only 5 per­cent. That shows how much there is still to do.”

As well as keep­ing restau­ra­teurs busy, boom­ing wine tourism has also im­pacted the lo­cal econ­omy by creat­ing a new de­mand for ac­com­mo­da­tion that the tra­di­tional ho­tel sec­tor has yet to meet.

In Castag­neto, the vil­lage clos­est to the mu­seum, Malenotti es­ti­mates that three quar­ters of the prop­er­ties are partly or fully avail­able to rent on Airbnb-style plat­forms.

“It is a very dis­rup­tive trend, but not nec­es­sar­ily a bad one: the peo­ple re­ally live in the area, buy stuff at the shop down­stairs, eat out.

“And al­ready there are ser­vice com­pa­nies spring­ing up of­fer­ing to do

the check-ins kind of rentals.” clean­ing and The wine town the and laun­dry check-outs, project for will th­ese the be open­ing of com­pleted over a school the next for som­me­liers. year with the “I worked with Dante on many Hol­ly­wood films and I’d also seen the great suc­cess he had with his re­design of the Egyp­tian mu­seum in Turin, which has dou­bled its visi­tor num­bers and is now one of the most vis­ited mu­se­ums in all of Italy,” said Malenotti. “It is what peo­ple are look­ing for. Once va­ca­tions were about go­ing to a disco, re­lax­ing, hav­ing fun. “Now cul­ture and well-be­ing are the things driv­ing today’s tourism. So Italy should re­ally be lead­ing the world.”

Photo: AFP

Bot­tles of wine at the Sen­sory and Mul­ti­me­dia Wine Mu­seum in Bol­gheri, Italy

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