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ALMOST A YEAR IN AS VINPRO WINE TOURISM MANAGER, WE CHAT TO CHARISMATIC MARISAH NIEUWOUDT ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES AND GOALS.

BY BRONWEN SHAW

It’s almost a year since you were appointed as Vinpro wine tourism manager. Can you give us a general overview of some of the things you’ve achieved or implemented over the past year?            Our initial focus was on putting in place an implementation plan with practical, measurable outcomes in our six work streams, drawing on the Wine Tourism Strategy.

Some of the marketing highlights include making major strides in terms of trade engagement with a presence at World Travel Market (WTM) Africa in April, Indaba in May, a wine tourism presentation in Chicago at the Association for the Promotion of Travel to Africa (APTA) along with a Wosa-hosted wine tasting and several other cross-sectoral trade activities.

The Visit Winelands digital platforms evolved in terms of functionality, look and feel, and reach to prospective day-trippers and overnight visitors to our wine routes. For example, by the end of September we had 4 650 Facebook fans compared with 88 fans at the end of September last year.

Another highlight was redesigning and printing the South African Wine Routes Map, featuring all 22 wine routes across three provinces plus the SA Brandy Homes, for distribution at key access points to the destination and in-market locations abroad.

I’m most grateful for the support I’ve received from my colleagues at Vinpro and Wesgro, where I’m based two days a week, the Wosa team and the wine route managers who serve on the South African Wine Routes Forums (SAWRF).

I’m sure you’ve also encountered a few challenges over the past year. Which would you single out?The biggest challenge has been to find the capacity to make the most of the great momentum we’re experiencing!

On a more personal level, have you been affected by or learnt anything in particular from these experiences?
The main thing I’ve learnt is to embrace change and motion.

You have a several impressive qualifications to your name. What made you decide to take on the job as wine tourism manager at Vinpro?                                                                                                           I’ve spent almost 20 years in the tourism industry – first in the hospitality industry in the UK and then back in SA – and have always leaned towards good food and wine. Academically, my focus has also been on wine and food tourism so when I saw the position for wine tourism manager at Vinpro I was very excited. With my background in destination marketing and research I was also a good fit for the role based on the strategy. At the end of the day I think I steamrollered them into giving me the position with the level of preparation I put into the interview!

Vinpro as an organisation has an exceptionally good reputation and stellar team that has taught me an enormous amount.

Where to from here? Are there any exciting projects in the pipeline?                                                 We’re working on a number of projects. I’m most excited about the Wine Tourism Industry Toolkit we’ll be launching in April and May next year. It’s modelled on a great resource that Wine Tourism Australia (WTA) created for its industry in 2005 and we’re delighted to be working with Robin Shaw from WTA on this project.

The toolkit supports our objectives of developing industry capacity and enterprise capability while offering the industry practical benefits. These include increased revenue from wine sales by adopting best practice direct-to-consumer sales initiatives, additional revenue streams by developing a suite of wine tourism-related experiences, and greater brand awareness by offering quality experiences that are reviewed favourably in mixed media.

We’re also putting a lot of effort into gathering more customer and performance data to use in our and the industry’s planning and decision-making. We’re reviewing proposals for a skills audit of the tourism arm of the wine industry, which will enable us to develop the right skills in one of our biggest assets – our people.

Do you have a life partner? Any kids?                                                                                                          I’m married to my best friend, Philip, and we’re the proud parents of a two-year-old little girl, Stella, several cats and the world’s most destructive puppy called Basjan.

What effect has working in the wine tourism industry had on your lifestyle?
We’ve become far more adventurous with the wine styles and cultivars we enjoy at home. Our day trips, road trips and weekend breaks are dedicated to exploring our wine routes to experience as many wine farms as possible and learn more about their unique regional food and wine personalities.

Who is Marisah when no one is looking?
Pretty much the same as Marisah when everyone’s looking – an open book. I’m an enthusiast and passionately curious about life. This makes me a nightmare opponent when playing the board game 30 Seconds! I’m tempted to say that I’m much quieter when no one is watching, but I’ve been known to have out-loud conversations with myself.

What are your pet peeves in life?
The common garden snail and slow drivers in the fast lane!

Tell us something about yourself no one knows.
I dream of taking up fencing as a sport.

What do you do when you’re not working?                                                                                                      I’m committed to being the best mom I can be while working full time. You haven’t lived until you’ve queued outside Stodels with all of the other parents of small children on a Saturday morning, waiting for them to open so you can feed the llamas – and buy coffee!

What are your guilty pleasures in life?
Scandinavian crime fiction, pastries and lazy Sunday mornings.

(To download a digital copy of the map go to visitwinelands.co.za.)

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