PARIS (Reuters Life!) - French authorities are targeting tourism as part of an effort to bolster the country's wine industry against rising global competition.
While France is already the world's most popular tourist destination, with wine a major part of its appeal, the trade thinks it can go a lot further in tapping into visitor interest.
The government will unveil on Tuesday a body to promote wine tourism, headed by international tourism and leisure industry veteran Paul Dubrule.
He is the co-founder of French hotel group Accor and author of a government-commissioned report on developing tourism around wine.
"We've fallen behind (other countries) in terms of marketing our offer," said Camille Barnier, head of wine tourism at Burgundy wine association BIVB.
"We've rested a bit on our laurels."
Promoting wine tourism is part of a government five-year plan unveiled in 2008 to modernize the wine industry in France and make it more competitive on the world market.
Among the government's aims are to raise wine exports to 16 million hectoliters by 2013, versus 13.5 million on average in 1990-2000 and increase the price ratio of French wine to more than twice world prices, versus 1.9 during 1990-2000.
A priority of the new wine tourism committee will be to improve links between wine producers and tourism operators like hotels and restaurants. A lack of coordination between different players has limited the take-off of tourist activities by wine producers, said Jeremy Arnaud, marketing director for the Cahors wine trade. "The issue now is proving that this can be a new source of revenue for producers."
This is particularly the case in regions like Cahors that do not have a well-established tourist image such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, Arnaud argued.
Among initiatives to raise its profile, Cahors has created an annual half-marathon around its vineyards -- taking inspiration from a similar race in Medoc -- and has filed for the historic name of "black wine" to be become a label for top of the range Cahors wines.
"The challenge of wine tourism is to get a clientele that passes through to stay two or three days," Arnaud said.
In the more prestigious regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, wine tourism has a successful track record.
Sales related to tourism account for about 13 percent of 1.1 billion euros in total sales of Burgundy wines, BIVB's Barnier said.
Like Bordeaux, the region promotes via a quality label those wine producers who agree to offer visitors a level of service including reasonable opening hours and information in different languages.
But for the Bordeaux trade, developing wine tourism is more about boosting its long-term image rather than short-term income, said Anne Marbot, head of information at trade body CIVB.
"Sales directly at the domaine are marginal," she says. "(Wine tourism) is above all an image and communication tool for wine growers."
Editing by Marcel Michelson and Paul Casciato