The View from Geisenheim: Sustainable Wine Tourism

Results of a worldwide survey

Why doing a survey on wine tourism and sustainability? Both topics have a huge economic importance and both have further potential. Wine tourism is a fast-growing market. Sustainability is one of the challenges we need to solve most urgently. In a joint study, Prof. Dr. Gergely Szolnoki, Dr. Maximilian Tafel and Anne-Christin Stelter (Hochschule Geisenheim University) as well as Niklas Ridoff and Calle Nilsson ( bring these two aspects together and asked how to implement sustainable wine tourism successfully.

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Eco friendly tourism (Photo: j-mel/AdobeStock)
Eco friendly tourism (Photo: j-mel/AdobeStock)


  • Sustainability in wineries is of great importance for wineries.
  • Wine tourism is a relevant element for sustainable development of a winery.
  • Dimensions of sustainable wine tourism: 40% of the participating wineries consider environmental aspects as the most relevant, 30% economic and 30% social aspects. 
  • Most popular measures of sustainable wine tourism are: biodiversity, long-term business strategy and open as well as honest dealings with workers.
  • In the next five years, the interest of consumers in sustainable wine tourism will increase significantly.


Why do we focus on wine tourism and sustainability?

For a growing number of wineries around the world, wine tourism is an important part of their business. In Germany, for example, the direct and indirect incomes generated by wine tourists is estimated to be around five billion € annually. Internationally, depending on the country, it is even higher.

Although sustainable development is a buzzword within the tourism industry, experts struggle with some basic questions such as: what exactly is sustainable wine tourism, how do wineries assess its importance and what measurements should be used? The Geisenheim survey provides further insights.

Study Design:

Researchers from Geisenheim University conducted an international study together with the global company The large-scale online survey took place in November 2021. A total of 1,579 wineries from 42 countries participated in the multiple choice study. The survey covered both small and mid-size as well as large wineries.

The aim of the survey was to understand how producers rate the criteria of sustainability and what they do to implement them. Furthermore, they are asked about the importance of wine tourism and about specific examples of its successful implantation. The expected importance of sustainable wine tourism in the future was also an important aspect of the study.

Wine Tourism for More Sustainable Wineries

The general importance of sustainability was assessed as very high. 93% of the participating wineries thought that sustainability is somehow important, almost 60% rating it as “very important”.

However, when asked if wine tourism activities can support wineries to become more sustainable, the answer was not as clear. Only one out of four indicated that the contribution could be “very significant", while 37% answered with "significant". Another 38% see a "moderately" or "less" significant role here.

General importance of sustainability
General importance of sustainability

Three Pillar Model and Effective Measures

One of the generally recognized benchmarks for sustainability is the “three pillar model” which is based on the idea that sustainable development can only be achieved if environmental, economic and social goals are implemented simultaneously and on an equal footing. This model was also used in the Geisenheim study. As it is not easy to implement all three criteria equally and at the same time, the survey asked wineries how they would balance the importance of environmental, economic and social pillars in regards to sustainable wine tourism? The environmental factor got the highest weight of 40%. The other two factors, economic and social, reached 30% each. This balanced relation reflects the principle of sustainable development – it is a guarantee that all three factors play an important role in the development and none of them is under or overestimated.    

Most effective measures contributing to sustainable wine tourism
Most effective measures contributing to sustainable wine tourism


Environmentally, the greatest potential for sustainable development was attributed to

  • the promotion of biodiversity,
  • the use of regional products,
  • the careful use of energy and
  • organic certification.

Surprisingly, the impact of the carbon footprint was considered as less important, even though visitors often travel by car or plane and hardly use public transport. This result was surprising as transport is generally considered a significant factor in global warming. This is where wineries differ from their customers. For tourists, climate-neutral travel is becoming increasingly important. According to a 2017 study by TUI, 86% of Europeans want to reduce their carbon footprint when traveling - even if there is often a discrepancy between the intention and the good deed.


To reach economic sustainability, the development of a long-term business strategy was considered as essential. This gives reason for hope. The past has shown that sustainable wine tourism requires perseverance and solid planning. Other important factors cited are the establishment of wine tourism as a profitable business unit and the use of new technologies in production.

The regular profit and loss calculation has surprisingly little impact according to the survey, although it would help wineries keep an overview of their winery's profitability. This happens frequently in the wine industry that small and mid-size wineries in particular, neglect financial/business analyses.   


Finally, the following four social measures are considered most conducive to sustainable wine tourism:

  • open and honest dealings with workers,
  • cooperation with regional businesses,
  • compliance with labour protection laws / human rights and
  • monitoring visitor satisfaction.

Workers' rights and laws were mentioned twice in the top category. That distinguishes wineries from tourists. Although awareness is rising, not too many travellers choose their travel destinations based on the local human rights situation, at least not on a long-term basis.

Most effective vs. planned measures contributing to sustainable wine tourism
Most effective vs. planned measures contributing to sustainable wine tourism

Measures to Promote Sustainable Wine Tourism

In a second round, the participants were asked which measures they are planning to implement in their wineries in the near future.


The careful use of energy (water, electricity and fuel) ranked first with 46%, followed by the promotion of biodiversity (44%) and the use of regional products (42%).

It is interesting to note that "Keeping the carbon footprint small" (33%) is again ranked as the least important measure.


As in the previous question, the winegrowers stated that they want to develop a long-term business strategy in the future (43%), use wine tourism as a profitable business (43%) and use new technologies in production (41%).


The most surprising answers were given with regard to social sustainability. 42% of the wineries plan to cooperate with regional companies in the future, 40% said they would monitor visitor satisfaction. Implementation and perceived importance diverge significantly. When it comes to implementation, it could be argued that measures promoting economic success are given top priority. Measures to be open and honest with the staff (39%) or to comply with human rights (39%) were less popular.

Drivers and barriers to sustainable wine tourism
Drivers and barriers to sustainable wine tourism

Drivers and Barriers

To become more sustainable, we have to fill the gap between words and deeds. This requires positive incentives and a hands-on approach. Entrepreneurs should be in a position to overcome impediments. What are the drivers to do that? And what are the major barriers?


Two of the main drivers focus on return visitors: building trust and reputation as well as increasing visitor satisfaction. This is quite pragmatic and helps to build a business up. It is also interesting, however, that intrinsic motivation plays an important role: “making the world a better place” and ”demonstrating corporate social responsibility” are also cited as key drivers for sustainable wine tourism. This can be used as a classical win-win situation, where the image of the winery is enhanced and at the same time something good is done for nature and community.


With regard to barriers to the implementation of sustainable wine tourism, a very heterogeneous picture emerges.

  • Financial resources:
    One of the main barriers is the lack of financial resources. Should further investments therefore be subsidised by the state?
  • Infrastructure:
    Even more difficult is the lack of infrastructure. Without transport and accommodation, there is no basis to build a sustainable tourism system. How are wineries supposed to make their tourism offers sustainable if there is no way for tourists to get to the winery in a sustainable way?
  • Staff:
    Another obstacle is the lack of adequately qualified staff. This shortfall has two dimensions: 1) the motivation and know-how of the managers; 2) the attitude of all employees in the winery. Tourism requires a far-reaching service orientation and a mind-set that is not yet present in all wineries. And sustainable development only works if both the managers and the employees are committed to it. A rethink in this area might be necessary.
  • Information:
    The lack of information and guidelines is seen as the most important barrier to sustainable wine tourism. Sustainability is difficult to grasp and wineries need information on how to implement sustainability and sustainable wine tourism. This information will be critical for future development.
Visitors" perception of sustainable wie tourism practices
Visitors" perception of sustainable wie tourism practices


For the last question, the perspective was turned to the consumer. Producers were asked to assess the consumers' interest in sustainability in wine tourism. Results showed that producers assume their potential customers have a great interest in it (62% said "important" or "very important"). Even clearer are their expectations:  Producers predict a huge increase: consumer interest in sustainability in wine tourism shall be 87% in five years ("important" or "very important").

“Sustainable wine tourism is a complex system and a long-term process. We all know that it will not happen overnight. But it is never too early and never too late to take measures that contribute to this development.”

Prof. Dr. Gergely Szolnoki
Geisenheim University


  • Sustainability plays a crucial role for the wineries.
  • Wine tourism is seen as an important tool to make the entire business of a winery more sustainable.
  • However, there is still room for improvement when it comes to sustainable wine tourism offers.
  • Ecological, economic and social components are balanced in sustainable wine tourism development.
  • The promotion of biodiversity (ecological), the development of a long-term business strategy (economic) and an open and honest approach to employees (social) are, according to the producers, the most effective measures to promote sustainable wine tourism. 
  • Among the future measures that the wineries want to implement, the careful use of energy, the development of a long-term business strategy and the cooperation with regional companies are the most important to establish sustainability in the business.
  • Sustainable wine tourism practices will become increasingly more important from the visitors' point of view.

The study can be downloaded here.



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