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Big names talk Big Data at Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference

The convener of this year’s conference has lined up several high-profile international and local speakers, some of whom will discuss the role of big data as part of the event’s wider theme of innovation.

If we don’t know what we don’t know, how can we tap into the true potential of South Africa’s wine and food tourism, argues tourism maven Margi Biggs. The convener of this year’s The Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference has lined up several high-profile international and local speakers, some of whom will discuss the role of big data as part of the event’s wider theme of innovation. The conference takes place on 17 October at Spier, near Stellenbosch.

Margi Biggs

Convinced that big data is pivotal to helping the industry catch up on its global competitors, she says: “Data is the key to unlocking real-time, unmitigated insights into existing and potential markets. Data can give us information that frees us from confirmation bias and that can catalyse new ways of reaching consumers. Now’s the time. We just can’t afford to keep on letting our competitors steal a march on us.”

UNWTO, the World Tourism Organisation that is also focusing on data, innovation and the digital impact on tourism this year, has found Africa’s tourism competitiveness to be lagging its competitors and operating below its potential. Biggs believes South Africa can play a leading role in reversing the situation.

This year’s headline speaker will be renowned big-data specialist Cathy Huyghe, co-founder and CEO of Enolytics LLC. Huyghe, who is also a columnist for Forbes as well as Inc, and who has written for the Harvard Business Review, consults to a range of wineries, wine marketing bodies and beverage businesses in the Americas and Europe.

Cathy Huyghe

She stresses that big data is no longer the exclusive domain of well-resourced corporates and that it can drive better business decision-making. In addition, she highlights that given today’s technology, and the platforms available to consumers to convey what they think about wine, it just doesn’t make sense anymore to have a blind spot around consumer behaviour and sentiment.

“When harnessed strategically, big data can provide a highly cost-effective way to build insights for well-targeted interventions by all types of business, regardless of size. The skill lies in knowing the type of data to seek and how to interpret it. By integrating different sources of data, it becomes possible to identify previously unrealised opportunities and obstacles.

“Working with data specialists can help in developing a far more comprehensive picture of consumers than ever before. It allows decision-makers to discover what triggers certain consumer behaviours and choices, their spending thresholds, responses to competitor offerings and more. Data can help wine businesses identify who their competition actually is and not necessarily who they think it is. It can also uncover correlations that would not otherwise have been apparent. All these insights can help to create far more powerful, targeted and relevant sales and marketing strategies.

“How deep you drill in your analysis depends on your requirements, but it is possible to identify country-, category-, wine-style- and brand- and even label-specific trends.”

Although not one of the speakers, Alan Winde, Western Cape minister of economic opportunities, whose portfolio includes tourism, also advocates for ramped-up digitisation, big data and machine-learning to help hard-pressed South African producers to market more effectively at a time of persistent rand volatility. “It is essential to spend smarter to get results. Tourism in the Western Cape is our fastest-growing sector, employing over 200 000 people and generating R17-billion for our economy each year. We believe the potential is there to grow the number of direct jobs to over 200 000.”

Tim Harris

Another high-profile speaker to address guests will be Wesgro CEO Tim Harris, who also serves on the board of Silicon Cape, Cape Town’s technology promotion initiative. Focusing on Cape Town’s public-private management of the water crisis in relation to tourism, his talk will be entitled “The power of a single voice; don’t let a crisis go to waste”.

“January 2018 marks the decisive moment when as a province, we embraced the opportunity to change our relationship with water forever,” Harris says.

“The ‘Cape Town Model’ for dealing with climate change shows how tourism can be an important part of the solution. Our strategy very much included tourists as part of the water-wise solution, calling on visitors to truly embrace what it is like to live in our city and province by encouraging them to ‘save like a local’. The overwhelmingly positive response points the way for other metropoles around the world to apply what we have learned,” he concluded.

Other conference speakers include online story-teller Chris Joubert; Spicer de Villiers, who owns A Single Thread, a boutique communications agency active in local wine; and Marisah Nieuwoudt, wine tourism manager for VinPro, the organisation that represents around 3 500 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders.

Also addressing delegates will be Dr Donovan Kirkwood, an ecologist and biodiversity conservation specialist; chef and West Coast foraging specialist Kobus van der Merwe; and Dr Serge Raemaekers, a marine biologist who has developed a fresh seafood sustainable value chain to service Cape Town restaurants.

Go to to view the conference programme and line-up of speakers.

For more information on the conference, or to register online, visit

Social media:
  • Twitter and Facebook: @winefoodconf
  • Instagram: @businessofwineandfood
  • Hashtag: #wfconf2018


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