Istrian Officials Share Oleotourism Insights at Events in Spain and Italy

According to Istrian tourism officials, 190,000 people visit olive growers and producers on the peninsula each year. Now, these officials are sharing strategies in Spain and Italy.
Tourists experience the Istrian olive grove Brist
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Jul. 13, 2023 12:50 UTC

Nothing suc­ceeds like suc­cess, and the mete­oric rise of Istria’s extra vir­gin olive oil on the global stage is a prime exam­ple.

Along with Italy’s Lake Garda, Istria is among the north­ern­most olive-grow­ing regions of the Mediterranean basin. The north­west­ern Croatian penin­sula has under­gone an olive-grow­ing rev­o­lu­tion in the past 30 years.

From a total of 254,000 trees, through inten­sive plant­ing, today we have reached around 1.8 mil­lion trees,” Denis Ivošević, direc­tor of the Tourist Board of Istria County, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Tourists of All Ages Are Heading to Groves and Mills This Summer

In par­al­lel with new plan­ta­tions and agrotech­ni­cal mea­sures, farm­ers and millers have been trained to pro­duce, label and mar­ket high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

Part of the effort to pro­mote their prod­ucts inter­na­tion­ally comes from the sig­nif­i­cant par­tic­i­pa­tion of Istrian pro­duc­ers at inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

More than half of the 105 awards earned by Croatian pro­duc­ers at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, the world’s largest qual­ity con­test, came from Istria. This fig­ure has steadily risen over the years.

We are the only region in the world with the same, if not more, extra vir­gin olive oil som­me­liers than wine som­me­liers,” Ivošević said.

Although they have the high­est aver­age price of extra vir­gin olive oil, approx­i­mately €22, Istrian oils are in demand due to increas­ing oleo­tourism, which the region has suc­cess­fully devel­oped.

Of our best oleo­tourism oper­a­tors, about ten have 10,000 to 12,000 vis­i­tors each year, con­firm­ing that oleo­tourism can be just as inter­est­ing and prof­itable as wine tourism or vis­it­ing cer­tain exhi­bi­tions, gal­leries or muse­ums,” Ivošević said. In total, on an annual level, we have around 190,000 vis­i­tors.”

Efforts in the region to develop olive oil roads and other tourism forms have not gone unno­ticed, either. At recent oleo­tourism trade events in Spain and Italy, Istrian offi­cials were invited to share their expe­ri­ences and best prac­tices.


The meeting in Matera

In Spain, Ivošević said Istrian oleo­tourist oper­a­tors were invited to Jaén, the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing province, located in Andalusia, Spain.

The province is smaller than Istria but home to an esti­mated 66 mil­lion trees and typ­i­cally yields about 20 per­cent of global olive oil pro­duc­tion, roughly 600,000 tons per annum. However, last year’s yield was excep­tion­ally low.

Jaén is aptly called the olive oil cap­i­tal of the world, with end­less rows of green trees sprawl­ing in every direc­tion. By some esti­mates, the province hosts 15 olive trees per per­son.

Considering such impres­sive num­bers, it is log­i­cal that the world’s largest and most impor­tant olive trade fair is held here: Expoliva. The fair lasts three days, with more than 20,000 peo­ple vis­it­ing annu­ally.

In addi­tion to the impres­sive exhi­bi­tion and fair space where vis­i­tors can see and learn about the lat­est achieve­ments in olive grow­ing, a large part of the event is ded­i­cated to award­ing the best olive oils, edu­ca­tion courses and con­fer­ences on the devel­op­ment of oleo­tourism.

Interestingly, Ivošević said this oleo­tourism has yet to develop in the world’s largest olive-grow­ing region fully because the pri­or­i­ties are on the side of vast amounts of pro­duc­tion and gen­er­ous state and European Union incen­tives.


As a result, pro­duc­ers in Jaén were eager to learn from oleo­tourism rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Tuscany, Mykonos and Istria.

Istrian oleo­tourism rep­re­sen­ta­tives were also present at two other events held in Matera, a pic­turesque town in Basilicata close to the bor­der with Puglia. Puglia is Italy’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region, home to 11 mil­lion trees and an aver­age annual pro­duc­tion of about 177,000 tons.

Istrian offi­cials attended the annual assem­bly of Città dell’Olio, an asso­ci­a­tion that includes more than 400 Italian olive-grow­ing munic­i­pal­i­ties, and an extra vir­gin olive oil tourism con­fer­ence hosted by the Network of Mediterranean Olive Oil Cities.

At both emi­nent events, I pre­sented the achieve­ments of Istria in the field of oleo­tourism, which impressed all the pro­fes­sion­als present at the lec­tures,” Ivošević said.

The con­fer­ence gath­ered oleo­tourism offi­cials and inter­ested par­ties from across the Mediterranean basin, includ­ing Croatia, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Montenegro, Turkey, Portugal and Italy. The goal was to iden­tify com­mon oleo­tourism stan­dards to cre­ate a body to ser­vice the grow­ing sec­tor.

Among those in atten­dance was Roberta Garibaldi, the pres­i­dent of the Italian Association of Gastronomic and Wine Tourism, who pre­sented the find­ings of her organization’s recent study.

Although Italy pro­duces high-qual­ity oil from north to south, with more than 500 vari­eties of olives and 4,319 active mills, it has not yet devel­oped an offer of oleo­tourism ade­quate for the demand,” Garibaldi said.

Just think that 64 per­cent of Italians are inter­ested in oleo­tourism itin­er­aries and oppor­tu­ni­ties, but only 8 per­cent had the oppor­tu­nity to do so,” she added. So there is a gap of 56 per­cent that needs to be filled by lever­ag­ing already con­sol­i­dated expe­ri­ences. For exam­ple, through qual­ity-based prod­uct clubs, to encour­age the mar­ket­ing of emerg­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and facil­i­tate hotel and flight book­ing.”

The results of the lat­est research are also inter­est­ing. Interest in more tra­di­tional expe­ri­ences is declin­ing, and tourists increas­ingly want a direct rela­tion­ship with pro­duc­ers, get­ting to know the areas they visit and dis­cov­er­ing his­toric homes with olive groves.

However, buy­ing prod­ucts at an attrac­tive price is still the main moti­va­tion that encour­ages tourists to visit oil mills. The per­cent­age of those who are attracted by the pos­si­bil­ity of tast­ing oil in com­bi­na­tion with domes­tic prod­ucts and food­stuffs rises to 70 per­cent.

Meanwhile, 68 per­cent of Italians said they are inter­ested in vis­it­ing a his­toric mill, 64 per­cent indi­cated they pre­fer offer­ings that include walks through olive groves and 51 per­cent said they would visit an olive oil museum.

The report added that many tourists want to com­bine these expe­ri­ences with more tra­di­tional hol­i­day activ­i­ties, includ­ing vis­its to spas and other relax­ing treat­ments.

Compared to pre­vi­ous reports, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant changes is the num­ber of respon­dents, 59 per­cent, who said they would like to meet the farm­ers and pro­duc­ers, a 10-per­cent increase com­pared to 2019.

If inter­est in more tra­di­tional expe­ri­ences pre­dom­i­nates at age 55, inter­est in active expe­ri­ences pre­dom­i­nates among Millennials and Generation Z, with 60 per­cent express­ing inter­est in can­dle­light din­ners in the olive groves and 54 per­cent want­ing to be involved in the har­vest.

The poten­tial of this sec­tor, thanks to its cen­turies-old his­tory, con­nec­tion with the ter­ri­tory and land­scape, and the ben­e­fi­cial prop­er­ties of the prod­ucts, seems to be mostly unex­pressed,” Garibaldi said.

Overall, the report found that the olive sec­tor has the great­est poten­tial for growth among all types of food and wine expe­ri­ences. However, a sig­nif­i­cant gap remains between inter­est and avail­abil­ity.

Michele Sonnessa, pres­i­dent of Città dell’Olio, agreed and said the event in Matera was a suc­cess because it laid the foun­da­tions for fruit­ful and last­ing coop­er­a­tion between the ten Mediterranean coun­tries inter­ested in cul­ti­vat­ing oleo­tourism.

The time is ripe to take a step for­ward and turn olive tourism into a com­mu­nity expe­ri­ence that includes the pro­duc­tion chain and hos­pi­tal­ity,” he said. Oleotourism thus becomes com­mu­nity tourism,’ an oppor­tu­nity to give value to extra vir­gin olive oil and greater prof­itabil­ity to olive grow­ers, and to pro­mote our regions rich in his­tory and iden­tity.”

The first offi­cial meet­ing of the newly-cre­ated Euro-Mediterranean olive tourism forum will be held in Puglia in 2024.


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