Switzerland has been a laggard for wine tourism, which has been successfully expanding in France and Italy for several years. France, for example, went from 7.5 million wine tourists in 2009 to more than 10 million in 2016 – with an increase of 40% more foreign tourists. Wineries everywhere are suffering from greater competition and lower consumption; wine tourism hold out economic hope.
There have always been good initiatives to link tourism and the wine business in Switzerland, but sporadically and scattered across the country.
Five years ago canton Vaud decided it was time to catch up. A rather complicated (this is Switzerland) series of political manoeuvres over three years resulted in the cantonal council supporting a pilot project with a loan of CHF2.5 million. It wasn’t a handout, and six non-profit semi-private bodies were to work together. Skepticism was rife, but so was enthusiasm for the idea of creating a system that would include training wineries and people in the hotel/restaurant business, setting up quality controls (Swiss quality would be a must). More financial support was found, from the groups involved, bringing funding up to CHF6 million.
Several things happened during those five years. A key change is one of outlook – what was initially seen as a mission to put Vaud in the spotlight as a wine tourism destination has now shifted to doing this for all of Switzerland. For a start, the focus will be French-speaking Switzerland.
Concretely, eight wine trails have been created in Vaud. Education, especially training courses, have resulted in certification of projects, with a quality charter. Henri Badoux winery in Aigle, to give one example, has created guided e-bike wine tours through the vineyards to learn about different grape varieties. Château de Chillon near Montreux, has set up events and wine tastings that tie its history to that of wine in the region. Various other, smaller but creative projects have been started. A network of these projects, with logos, newsletters and promotional materials, now exists.
The future is Swiss wine tourism
The big question has been, what happens once the pilot project funds are gone? The answer to that came in mid-March, when the pilot project presented its five-year final report. The six original partners have set up a non-profit, Association Vaud Oenotourism, to ensure they keep working together and to develop non-commercial products.
A limited company, Swiss Creative, has been established to focus on the commercial side, identified as an area where the canton has been lacking. In a typically Swiss private-public partnership, it will work closely, as the body overseeing wine tourism projects, with tourism offices, whose job is promotion. Yann Stucki will be kept on as part of the team of Swiss Creative. Stucki headed the pilot project and by extension Lausanne’s entry into the Great Wine Capitals of the world.
That takes us to the next step, moving on from Vaud to Swiss wine tourism, which is seen as crucial to succeed in the international market. Vaud and Valais have begun to work together and in September 2019 Valais will host the third annual Swiss Wine Tourism Awards, in Chamoson.