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Wine tourism a growing attraction for China's travelers

travel Updated: May 30, 2012 14:58 IST
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When Gregory So signaled the start of Vinexpo Asia-Pacific here Tuesday he told the gathered throng the event would be all about three words -- China, China, and China.

But Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development was preaching to the converted. Inside the city's massive Convention and Exhibition Centre there might be 1,000 exhibitors from 28 countries here for the three-day event, but most of the talk is about how to get into China and what is coming out of China.

And that includes the country's rapidly growing band of cashed-up wine-lovers.

"We are seeing more and more Chinese people come to Bordeaux and the reason they are coming -- and one of the main reasons they are coming to France -- is because of wine," said Yan Vacher, general manager of the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux & Spa.

Vacher is among those in town for Vinexpo who are here to promote wine tourism, a mainstay of the tourism industry around the world for about as long as people have traveled but something relatively new for a nation whose people have only relatively recently been able to set out across the world freely and only even more recently have fallen in love with wine.

"At the moment I would say around six percent of our guests are Chinese but we got to that without even having to try -- they just came," said Vacher. "Now we are trying to attract them, we expect that figure to rise to 15 percent within five years. Everyone in the industry expects China to be like the United States when it comes to wine. Only a few decades ago in the US no one really drank wine -- now 30 percent of the population does."

Vacher's property offers a Wine Concierge Service that arranges chateaux visits and private tastings as it tries to tap into China's passion for French red wine, particularly from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Similar packages have become popular offerings at hotels throughout both regions -- the Burgundy Wine Board offers a Chinese version of its website to help tourists find out about tours and accommodation -- and last year Michelin released the first Chinese-language edition of its French Wine Tour guide book.

"The Chinese who are coming now are very well educated about wines, they have the money to spend on them and they really want to learn all about them," said Vacher.

But the French are not having things all their own way. China's own Grace Vineyard in the northern Shanxi province is at Vinexpo this year and its sales manager Frederick Chi said the company was here trying to convince the country's wine lovers that if they want a true winery experience, they don't have to travel half way around the world.

"We have regular tours and seminars and wine tastings," Chi explained. "Our industry might be small at the moment but our vineyard offers everything you can get in France, except the history."