Factors Influencing Wine Tourism: A North Carolina Regional Case Study

Wine tourism is a fast-growing industry, with many established and especially developing wine regions seeing an influx of visitors and associated increases in tourism revenues. Wine tourism is very helpful for individual wineries to sell their wines directly to the consumer, while at the same time increasing the overall economy of an entire region. There have been many studies on what motivates people to visit individual wineries in

Photo courtesy Flickr user Alpha

Photo courtesy Flickr user Alpha

given regions, however, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to have a more thorough understanding of why people visit wineries in a particular area.

Other than visiting to either taste or purchase wine, which is a blatantly obvious reason why people choose to visit wineries, it is not well known exactly how much this reason influences wine tourists decision to visit, and how much other possible reasons also influence this decision. Specifically, how do other services provided by the winery plus general area recreational and entertainment opportunities interact with the desire to purchase a particular wine to increase the chances of a winery visit by a tourist.

In general, studies have shown that wine tourists are often a mix of in- and out-of-state visitors who are part of a relatively high socioeconomic group. In addition to tasting the wines, it is generally accepted by the currently literature that wine tourists are seeking a broad range of experiences and not just a simple wine tasting. It is believed that the wine itself is obviously an attractant for these tourists, however, other factors appear to influence wine tourists to travel to a particular region, including a greater variety of products in the winery, the experience at the winery, and general tourism opportunities in the area.

What is less clear is exactly how all of these factors influence a wine tourists’ decision to visit a particular winery and how these factors influence one another to increase wine tourism in a given area. Understanding these interactions may help wineries develop a more robust marketing plan in order to maximize their profits while also increasing visitor satisfaction and their likelihood to return again in the future.

A new study published in the journal Tourism Management aimed to address these unknowns in how wine and other services/opportunities influence wine tourism in an area by making two big predictions:

  1. “In the decision to visit a winery or wine region, wine tourism benefits and destination attributes related to consumption of core product will be rated more important than winery-based augmented services benefits, which in turn will be more important than ancillary tourism services benefits.”
  2. “The three types of benefits will show significant but decreasing correlation with future winery visit intentions in the order of core wine product being the most strongly associated, then augmented services, and lastly, ancillary services.”
Figure 2 from Byrd et al 2016

Figure 2 from Byrd et al 2016

To quickly define the specific terms mentioned above: the “core product” refers to the wine itself, “augmented services” refers to services and activities within the control of the winery, including vineyard and winemaking activities, customer service, and social or wine club events, and finally the “ancillary services” refers to services and activities that are mostly out of control of the winery, including other regional tourist activities, local entertainment, lodging, and transportation.

In general, the study presented today aimed to get a better understanding of how direct and indirect services related to a winery and general region influence wine tourism visits in a developing wine region (in this case, North Carolina) and how these results might influence the marketing strategies of individual wineries as well as regional and state tourism marketing offices.

Brief Methods

This study was conducted at 23 wineries in North Carolina during the spring and summer of 2012.

At these wineries, trained researchers approached visitors and asked them to complete a survey on their own and return it to them before they left. 1028 total visitors were approached, with 832 of them consenting to the survey (81% response rate). Survey questions were related to demographics, what motivates someone to visits wineries, and intentions to visit the winery, any NC winery, and whether or not they intend to recommend the winery to someone else.

Selected Results

  • 80% of survey respondents considered themselves tourists living outside the area.
  • 7% of respondents lived in North Carolina.
  • The most highly ranked benefit of winery visits identified in the surveys was “to taste NC wine”.
  • “Having a day out” and “resting and relaxing” were relatively highly ranked.
  • Figure 4 from Byrd et al 2016

    Figure 4 from Byrd et al 2016

    The most highly ranked benefits included:

    • Core benefits: “to taste NC wine” and “to buy NC wine”
    • Augmented benefits: “to enjoy the beauty of rural NC vineyards”, “to learn about wine and winemaking”, “to go on a winery tour”, “to attend a NC winery event”, “to be able to talk to a winemaker”, and “to visit the wine trail”.
    • Ancillary benefits: “to experience NC agriculture, farms, or local food”, “to visit a historical or cultural attraction”, and “to participate in outdoor recreation”.
  • Core benefits were most highly ranked and augmented benefits next highly ranked, according to the survey results. Ancillary benefits in general were the lowest ranked.
  • In terms of augmented benefits, “good customer service” and “winery staff is knowledgeable about wine” were very highly ranked.
  • In terms of regional benefits, “the wine region is close to my home”, “there are a large number of wineries to visit in the immediate area”, and the “availability of nearby fine dining and gourmet restaurants” were the highest ranked.
  • In terms of other ancillary benefits, dining and lodging were somewhat high in ranking, though was still lower than all augmented benefits.
  • Shopping, arts and crafts, and other non-winery related tourist activities were the lowest scored.
  • 82% of respondents indicated they would visit the winery again, and would visit another NC winery in the future as well.
  • 3% of respondents indicated they would recommend a NC winery to another person in the future.
  • The correlations between augmented and ancillary benefits with future visit intentions were statistically significant, though the correlation was relatively low.
  • The importance of customer service correlated the greatest with intentions of future visits by wine tourists.
    • 2% of respondents said customer service was very important toward their decision to visit a winery again, to recommend a NC winery to someone, and to buy NC wine in the future.
  • The variety of wines was highly correlated with the intention to purchase NC wine in the future.
  • Ancillary benefits (including other non-related tourism factors) were not correlated with future intentions of wine tourists.


The results of this study indicate that there are many factors that drive tourists to a winery or wine region, with the importance of such factors being broken down into three categories: core, augmented, and ancillary factors. The results showed that core benefits such as tasting the wine and purchasing NC wine were the most important factors for getting someone in the door. Augmented benefits, i.e. other factors that can be controlled by the winery such as the vineyard setting or attending a winery event, were the next most important factors for getting tourists through the door. Finally, ancillary factors like visiting a historical or cultural attraction or getting out to enjoy outdoor recreation were considered important, though not nearly as important as all other core and augmented factors.

In terms of what brings people back again and again, customer service was one of the most highly ranked factors. If you don’t have good customer service, people aren’t going to come back. It is a very simple concept that is seen in nearly every business, though is

Photo by Flickr user Roderick Eime

Photo by Flickr user Roderick Eime

often overlooked or ignored when developing a solid marketing plan.

Understanding what brings people through the doors is very important for winery marketers and for regional or state-wide tourism departments, especially for younger and developing wine regions like North Carolina. Luckily for the individual wineries, the results of this study suggest that the most important reasons why people chose to visit their wineries is (mostly) under their control. For example, getting a chance to taste the wine and interacting with knowledgeable staff were ranked very high, both of which can be controlled by the winery (to some extent).

Investing in knowledgeable staff and providing customers with a pleasant tasting experience goes a long way in getting people to visit the winery. Providing more social opportunities for customers, access to wine clubs, and wine education programs can also improve the overall experience at a winery, though certainly for those with a tighter budget these might not be financially feasible. At the most basic level, the results of this study suggest that a marketing plan for wineries should include a strong emphasis on customer service, having a knowledgeable staff, and providing a consistently pleasant tasting experience for the wine tourist in order to improve sales and to guarantee future visits by those tourists.

In a nutshell, it’s the wine that brings people through the door and the customer service and experience that brings them back for more.

Note: this study was performed in the specific region of North Carolina so results may or may not be applicable to other wine regions. More research should be done in other wine regions to determine if these motivators for winery tourism are similar or if other regions need to take drastically different measures to ensure they continue to receive tourists in their regions.

Also, direct bottle sales were not measured in this study, only “intention to purchase” was measured in survey form. This could potentially change the results.

Finally, learn more about North Carolina wine here!

What do you all think of this study? Feel free to share your comments and experiences below!


Byrd, E.T., Canziani, B., Hsieh, Y-C., Debbage, K., and Sonmez, S. 2016. Wine tourism: Motivating visitors through core and supplementary services. Tourism Management 52: 19-29.