Tastes of Niagara: Building Strategic Alliances Between Tourism and Agriculture
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SUMMARY. Given the diverse structure within the tourism industry, the establishment and maintenance of strategic alliances has become an important approach to remaining competitive and innovative. The relationship between tourism and agriculture is complex and the purpose of this paper is to investigate "Tastes of Niagara: A Quality Food Alliance," an evolving strategic alliance among the Region's food producers, processors, distributors, hotels, wineries, restaurants and chefs. The objective of the alliance is to promote the use of local products in the tourism industry. Key informant interviews were conducted with members of the alliance documenting the importance and difficulties in establishing and maintaining successful strategic alliances. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-342-9678. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
STRATEGIC ALLIANCES AND TOURISM
Strategic alliances have been well researched with much of the work conducted at the dyadic level relating to the causes and consequences of partnerships (Gulati 1998). In the current business environment, Magun (1996) argues that firms are faced with three alternate growth strategies: internal expansion and business start-up; acquisitions and mergers; and strategic alliances. In recent years, of the three options, strategic alliances have become increasingly prominent. Gulati (1998,293) defines strategic alliances as "voluntary arrangements between firms involving exchange, sharing, or co-development of products, technologies, or services. They can occur as a result of a wide range of motives and goals and can take a variety of forms, and can occur across vertical and horizontal boundaries." The more obvious reasons for the rapid development of strategic alliances are related to resource pooling; economies of scale or scope; and cost and risk sharing among alliance partners. Magun (1996) argues, however, that the more subtle, deeper, and permanent driving forces behind the rapid growth of alliances can be attributed to: globalisation of the world economy; acceptance that competition by itself does not necessarily promote optimum innovation-led growth; and the realisation that both competition and co-operation between firms is needed to ensure growth in an uncertain and dynamic world. The need for complementary specialised inputs have forced firms to change their business strategies to create organisational flexibility in value-chain activities such as R&D, distribution channels and strategic alliances (Magun 1996). With respect to tourism, Smith (1993) argues that it is the organisation of the components of the industry (facilities, services and hospitality) which are combined to provide an experience of value for the customer resulting in the overall tourism product. One of the main objectives within the Tastes of Niagara Alliance is to generate a high quality tourism product through a value chain which promotes the use of local agricultural products within the tourism industry.
Within the fragmented tourism industry Selin (1993) argues that communication has largely been underdeveloped. The causes of poor communication have been attributed to geographic and organisational fragmentation; long chain distribution systems; jurisdictional boundaries; ideological differences; centralised government decision-making; competitive rhetoric; pay for representation systems; and emphasis on one-way communication. Despite these barriers, steps have been taken to increase linkages between the sectors. Strategic alliances in the airline industry such as the Star Alliance (Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways, United Airlines and Varig) and in the sectors of travel agents, lodging and information technology (Computer Reservation Systems) illustrate the trend of co-operation emerging in the industry (Go and Williams 1993).
Crotts, Aziz and Rashid (1998) examined the importance of maintaining successful relationships between buyers and sellers in the international travel trade in New Zealand. Similar to research trends in economics incorporating social relations (Grabher 1993), the authors found that commitment is an important element in the buyer-supplier relationship. They found that social bonds, co-operation, trust, communication, performance satisfaction and comparison level of alternatives were statistically related to supplier commitment. The organising committees of Tastes of Niagara Alliance have identified trust, commitment and communication as important components of the Alliance. The following section further sets the framework for the case study by examining previous work on the relationship between food and agriculture and the importance of forming strategic alliances with local suppliers.
FOOD AND TOURISM
The relationship between tourism and agriculture is complex (Telfer and Wall 1996) as the agricultural sector not only provides inputs into the tourism industry, the rural landscape can also evolve into a tourism product. While there is a general recognition that there should be an increased reliance on local resources, studies warn of the leakages that can occur when the tourist industry relies on imported foods (Belisle 1983, Taylor et al. 1991, Wilkinson 1987). Many of the participants in rural tourism are small and have limited budgets and need to work together in order to promote their product. Hjalager (1996) for example found that individual rural tourism providers had marketing difficulties. In some cases rural tourism providers had to opt for marketing channels such as local tourists boards, summer cottage intermediaries or other tourist enterprises with complementary products if there were no colleagues available to work together in joint initiatives.
Models have been developed which illustrate the linkages between the sectors of tourism and agriculture. In a developing country context, Lundgren (1973) proposed an evolutionary three-stage model of entrepreneurial development based on the demands for local food from hotels which hypothesised that, over time, there would be increased reliance on local food. Following an initial stage where a new large metropolitan hotel complex is established with integrated systems that rely on foreign suppliers, a locally based and controlled system evolves. In the intermediate stage, the development of local agricultural wholesaling and marketing firms allows for the involvement of local suppliers. In the advanced stage, local wholesaling is further expanded and leads to the stimulation of agricultural production and hinterland development. The model developed by Bowen, Cox and Fox (1991) outlines the market linkages between the following sectors: external economy; visitors; visitor industry; production of agriculture and agriculturally based services; and resources (natural resources, labour, capital and entrepreneurship). Commenting beyond traditional direct linkages, the authors note that non-market linkages including the aesthetic value of agricultural land as a commodity for tourism are not included. Finally, Telfer (1996) has diagrammed the numerous linkages involved in the purchasing of local agricultural products for large-scale hotels.
As Belisle (1983) suggests, food represents approximately one-third of tourist expenditures and the degree to which the tourist industry relies on imported food can have a significant affect on the social and economic impacts of tourism. Bowen, Cox and Fox (1991) have generalised the reasons for using imported agricultural products as ones of availability, price, consistency and the quality of local products. The barriers to increasing local food production for input into the tourist industry include economic, technological, behavioural, physical and marketing obstacles (Belisle 1983). Telfer and Wall (1996) have suggested that the degree to which local agriculturally related firms have the ability to trade with the tourism industry is related to the scale of enterprises, the interrelationships between entrepreneurs with differing access to resources, and the sizes of enterprises and their associated linkages.
In previous studies (Telfer and Wall 1996, Telfer 1996) it has been demonstrated that large-scale hotels are able to link into existing food distribution channels in developing countries and utilise local agricultural products. The hotels in both studies used existing as well as generating new vertical linkages with the agricultural sector through strategic alliances. The Tastes of Niagara Alliance has attributes of both vertical and horizontal linkages as there is co-operation along and across the value chain. Magun (1996) suggests that the vertical alliance value chain between producers and their suppliers or distributors is focused more on maintaining flexibility and adding value while horizontal alliances are focused more on protecting their core competencies. The paper now turns to investigate the various relationships within The Tastes of Niagara Alliance, an organisation that has important economic and social functions in the community.
THE NIAGARA REGION
The highly urbanised Niagara Region in Southern-Ontario, Canada is an area of contrasts. Noted for Niagara Falls, one of the major tourist attractions in the world, the Region also has historic and cultural centres in Niagara-on- the-Lake, heavy industry in Welland, a regional centre in St Catharines, and an extensive canal and hydroelectric power network (Gayler 1994). While the image of the Region is focused on Niagara Falls, it is also unique in that two Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario), the Niagara River and the Niagara Escarpment border it. The three bodies of water moderate the winters extending the growing season (Shaw 1994). The Niagara Escarpment also assists in airflow preventing cooler pockets of air from settling in low-lying areas. Part of the Niagara Region is known as the Fruit Belt of Canada (Chapman 1994). Being a Temperate Zone, the Region is able to produce a wide range of products including peaches, plums, cherries, grapes, apples, apricots, nectarines, kiwi and a wide range of vegetables. These favourable conditions help form the heart of the local wine industry. The mild winters have also given rise to the largest greenhouse industry in Canada, generating fresh produce year round. In addition, chicken, quail, pork, beef, fresh water fish, ostrich, venison and lamb are all raised in the Region.
The diversity of agricultural practices has led to the development of agri- tourism in the form of farm and winery tours. The wine industry in Canada has undergone radical changes with the introduction of the North American Free Trade Deal and GATT rulings (Aspler 1995) which has resulted in the development of a cottage wine industry. Baird (1995:84) stated that "Vintners pour endless glasses of sample wines, and many provide lunches and dinners in their restaurants overlooking the vineyard." Wineries and restaurants are taking an active role in the development of a regional cuisine (Duncan 1995). McLaughlin, Roberts and McKay suggest that (1995) Canadians want affordable food produced in an environmentally friendly manner. They also want to take leisurely drives through the countryside where foods are grown to enjoy the hamlets, villages and wood lots. The development of the Wine Route connecting over 27 wineries and Agricultural Adventures (a two-day farm open house of 16 area farms) are indications of the development of rural tourism in the Niagara Region
EVOLUTION OF THE TASTES OF NIAGARA PROGRAM
The "Tastes of Niagara: A Quality Food Alliance" is a non-profit strategic alliance among food producers, processors, distributors, hotels, restaurants, wineries and chefs in the region. The overriding goal of the organisation is to improve "the social and economic well-being of Niagarans through increasing the visibility and preferential purchase of Niagara agricultural products both within the Region and outside of it" (Vision Niagara 1996, 7). The movement is based on developing a Niagara-based regional cuisine using high quality local products. The program started in 1993 and evolved out of the Agri-Hospitality Committee of Vision Niagara Planning & Development Inc., a non-profit, volunteer organisation. Initially the program was focused on connecting chefs in the region's more expensive restaurants with some of its more unique food products. An initial meeting of chefs, food producers and processors organised by Tastes of Niagara identified the need for increased communication between various groups (Vision Niagara 1996). A series of tours of farms and food processing plants were conducted to introduce chefs to local area products. The purpose of the tours was to provide chefs in the area an opportunity to see first hand the type of products available locally and in some cases how they are processed. The tours provided an opportunity to strengthen economic and social relationships within the organisation. Past regional farm tours have included: a vegetable farm and grain milling operation, a strawberry farm, a cheese processing plant, a greenhouse operation specialising in peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, a peach farm, a quail farm, a hydroponics operation, and a wild game farm. The program has grown rapidly to include a wide diversity of strategic partners as indicated in Table 1.
In order to meet the overriding goal of improving the social and economic well being of people in the region through the preferential purchasing of Niagara products, the committee set forth the following goals and objectives for the Tastes of Niagara Alliance:
rimary Producers of Food Products Wholesalers and exporters
Vegetable Producers (Field & Green house)
Herb & Edible Flower Producers
Red Meat Producers (Beef, Venison, etc.)
Fish Producers and Fishermen
Mixed Grain Producers
Producers of Organic Food Products
Abattoirs and specialty meats
Hospitality and Tourism Industry
Hotels and Inns
Hospitality & Tourism Education
Wholesalers and exporters
Chain and independent grocery stores
Roadside (farm-gate markets)
Processors of Food Products
Canned, frozen, dried/dehydrated foods
Fruit and Vegetable juice
Grape and Fruit Wine
Cheese, milk, yoghurt, other dairy
arm and winery tours
Bed & Breakfast
Consumers (area residents and tourists)
Food and wine writers
Farm and other equipment suppliers
PROMOTING TASTES OF NIAGARA
The program puts efforts into marketing Niagara's local cuisine throughout the year. Chefs and producers work with Niagara wineries to offer food and wine tastings for the public and to produce special events. For example, Tastes of Niagara was responsible for putting on a dinner for an annual conference of the Federal-Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Agriculture. A sample of the 1998 Tastes of Niagara Special Promotions are presented in Table 3.
A newsletter is published which promotes communication among chefs, producers and the public by reporting on tourism and agricultural events. During the summer of 1998, Tastes of Niagara hosted 6 weekends at Chateau des Charmes Wines Ltd., one of many wineries on the Niagara Wine Route, highlighting local foods and wines. The organisation is also moving into the area of brokering for special events. They recently hired a full-time special event co-ordinator. The Alliance helps arrange food for conferences and seminars by approaching various producers and chefs to work together to organise events. The Alliance has a policy of rotating the honours between member producers and chefs so that various companies receive publicity. The local cable television station has become a source for promotion with Tastes
TABLE 3. Selected Tastes of Niagara 1998 Special Events and Promotions
Toronto Wine and Cheese Show 10 area chefs using Niagara's produce perform cooking demonstrations
Tastes of Niagara team with Heart Niagara to provide a lunch using Niagara produce for 600 participants in the Bloom Festival Road Race
Tastes of Niagara, Strewn Winery and Cuisine Canada present an evening highlighting Niagara Producers and Growers
Tastes of Niagara prepares a Showcase at Fort George for the Provincial and Federal Ministers of Agriculture from across Canada, Chefs, wineries and growers participate
Chateau des Charmes (winery), Niagara College Maid of the Mist Centre (chef school) and Tastes of Niagara partner for six weekends in July and August to offer food and wine
Fourth Annual Showcase Chefs, wineries, growers and food producers join to promote Niagara cuisine to an expected sell-out of over 800 guests.
Source: Tastes of Niagara Agri-Hospitality Resource Guide, 1998
of Niagara chefs regularly appearing to showcase local wines and related products. The organisation has made special appearances in food and wine trade shows in Canada and abroad.
One measure of success for the organisation has been the yearly growth in the Annual Show Case held every August. The 4th and most recent Annual Showcase represented twenty-two restaurants and twenty wineries. A sell-out crowd of over 800 attended. Chefs prepared sample dishes using products from the Niagara Region. The event has grown from 120 visitors at the first Showcase to predictions for over 1,000 visitors for 1999. The cost of the evening is $45 CDN which allows the visitors to sample as much food as they want. They are provided with a complimentary glass of wine in a souvenir glass and tickets are sold for additional wine samples (Benner 1998). The organisation now boasts five community corporate partners and fourteen sponsors for this event.
The organisation is preparing two additional projects that are more ambitious. The first is the Niagara Food Products Information and Distribution Centre. Plans are to be phased in over time once funding can be secured. The local Distribution Centre will act as a clearing-house where producers drop off products to be stored in refrigerated units for purchase. The Distribution centre will be responsible for co-ordinating information between producers and buyers as to product availability and demand. The purpose of this project is to developa local method for purchasing local products. Currently, many products are shipped out of the region to Toronto to large markets and later returned by distributors to Niagara. Tastes of Niagara staff would like to see the Distribution Centre developed into a stand alone independent business.
The second major project is entitled "Niagara's Taste of the Month." This program is designed to produce, promote, and market Niagara food products in quantities and packages that can be delivered or shipped as gifts and promotional items. Each month, a different product or combination of products will be assembled to represent "Niagara's Taste of the Month." The program will increase awareness of the quality and diversity of products available in Niagara. The project is to become a free-standing business under a license from Vision Niagara. The target markets for the product include visitors to the region as well as businesses who are seeking promotional, incentive and gift items. Advertising outlets will include wineries, food outlets, restaurants, members of Tastes of Niagara, and various media outlets. While these major projects have yet to fully materialise, both will rely heavily on the co-operation of all Alliance members to succeed.
To further investigate the linkages between the sectors involved in Tastes of Niagara, 38 qualitative interviews were completed with producers, processors, restaurant operators, chefs, wineries and members of the organising committee (20 producers, 14 chefs, 4 wineries). Both the 1998 Tastes of Niagara Annual Board Meeting and the Annual Tastes of Niagara Showcase were attended where current issues and concerns were discussed. Producers and processors were interviewed while the researcher participated in Rural Routes: An Agricultural Adventure. This two day event (August 22-23, 1998) involves 16 area farms and related agricultural businesses open to the public for free farm tours. Hosts of the tour included: a wild game farm, a herb farm, a quail farm, greenhouses, livestock operations, and a grower's demonstration farm. Respondents interviewed were asked to discuss the nature of agritourism and the links between tourism and agriculture. Supplementary questions were asked and respondents were asked to explain their answers. They were also asked for comments and suggestions on the initiative and strengthening ties between sectors. As Veal (1997) indicated, qualitative in-depth interviews are less structured than a questionnaire based interview and every interview in a research study, although dealing with the same issues, will be different. As a result, at this stage in the research, statistical analysis is not performed. The results of this preliminary investigation will serve as the foundation for more detailed future research. The following sections outline the main findings from the interviews
The broader concept of agritourism, the Alliance, and efforts to continue to improve and strengthen them enjoy wide support in the community. While there were differences between all respondents as to what constitutes agri- tourism, there is a concern that there needs to be a lasting link which will inform the local entrepreneurs of the potential contribution that agriculture can make towards tourism. All of the farms visited stressed the importance of introducing products to the tourists and educating them as to how the crops are grown and harvested. One of the producers felt that a governing body, possibly with municipal assistance, should inventory all agritourism establishments and events and provide training workshops and seminars for local farmers wanting to become involved in agritourism. In terms of communication, the Agri-Hospitality Guide has proved to be a useful tool according to the chefs for identifying sources of local products and has helped link together a very diverse group of industries.
The Tastes of Niagara organisation has proven to be a key strategic alliance for those involved and the opportunity to work co-operatively has raised the profile of regional cuisine in Niagara. Niagara cuisine has also recently been featured in Maclean's, a Canadian weekly newsmagazine. Further documenting the continuing evolution of food, wine and tourism, Vine- land Estates Winery is planning to open an international culinary institute with lodging for 70 students, visiting chefs and agritourists (Chidley 1998). A proposal discovered during the interviews would see the construction of a Farmers Market to serve year-round to promote Niagara's farms, wineries and horticultural industries. It would direct visitors to farm tours, pick-your- own orchards, B&Bs, local restaurants and events. The controversy with the project, however, is that the location for the proposed centre is on prime agricultural land.
All of the respondents viewed the promotion and development of communication between members and consumers as the main task for the Alliance. Members wanted the Alliance to take steps to increase communication with the public and generate new marketing initiatives. The need to work together was clearly reflected in the informal interviews with farmers who all indicated they have limited funding for independent marketing which is similar to the findings of Hjalager (1996). Tastes of Niagara staff is viewed as a sounding board for the Alliance. Those interviewed felt the staff should continue to have a strong administrative role with the development of the newsletter, special events, and the Agri-Hospitality Guide.
Suggestions for improvement centred on increasing communication between farmers and local restaurants. One comment was made that all members need to be viewed as being part of the same community. Respondents proposed several mini-alliances between wineries, educational institutions, hotels and restaurants. "Elegant Traditions" is one such scheme which currently links a local festival theatre with B&Bs and a winery. There was also a suggestion for increased joint marketing efforts between local wineries and wineries in upstate New York. A desire to draw tourists to the agritourism sites throughout the year was expressed. There is a need to gather better data on who is visiting the various establishments. Some suggested an increase in the number of tours of farms with B&Bs.
Interviews revealed a number of initiatives to further illustrate expanding linkages within the Alliance. A quail farm joined forces with two different restaurants at the Annual Showcase. Four wineries, the Vintners Quality Alliance and the Pork Provincial Marketing Board partnered in preparation for the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. Each of the four wineries along with area chefs created four recipes using pork paired with local wines which were served at the Showcase. The group has produced a brochure detailing the partnership and recipes offered. One new winery has opened a cooking school and displayed wines and dishes at the Showcase prepared at their school. To promote links in the local community, the cooking school recently invited local B&B operators to a free cooking demonstration.
Several concerns were also raised by respondents surrounding agritourism and the Tastes of Niagara initiative. The Niagara Region is highly urbanised and development is putting pressure on prime agricultural land. One of the respondents indicated the need for a study on the impacts of tourism in the region and its relation to agriculture. Concern was raised over the development of new restaurants at wineries. As boutique wineries continue to develop there is a natural extension to open restaurants on site. Two of the restaurants interviewed indicated they have already been serving and promoting local wines. With the wineries opening restaurants in addition to their wine shops, there is worry that some of the established restaurants may lose customers to the wineries. One of the wineries on the other hand was worried that there may be an over development of wineries causing over supply. These concerns echo statements of Magun (1996) indicating that those involved in horizontal alliances are concerned about protecting core competencies.
One of the small independent farmers expressed concern over the prices they received from the market-place and how little control they often have.
The smaller farmer was worried about competition from larger farms and the strength of larger wineries on grape prices. One respondent cautioned about the danger of farms becoming too commercialised and losing their authenticity. Another farmer expressed concerns that the high tourist season occurs during the farms' busiest period, raising issues of liability.
One of the main difficulties facing Tastes of Niagara is a lack of funding. There is hesitation to raise membership fees as the program is relatively new. However, the lack of funding is preventing involvement in a wider range of activities such as the Distribution Centre and Tastes of the Month. The development of the Distribution Centre would require a substantial financial commitment by individuals and companies. The new firm would need a cold storage facility and it must have the ability to co-ordinate daily shipments varying in size by season.
One of the goals of the Alliance is to determine the types of information required by all parties if the organisation is to move towards establishing the Distribution Centre (Auld 1998). Responses of members indicate the complexity within the Alliance and reflect on the larger complexity of the relationship between tourism and agriculture. Growers, producers and processors would need to know chefs' and consumers' needs, demographics of surrounding areas, trends in society, new farming techniques, availability of new technology, government's product standards, distribution systems, and quality control. Chefs and restaurants would need to know seasonal availability of local, regional and imported products. They require names and locations of local processors, how the products are produced (green-house, hydroponics, pesticide use), quality control methods, distribution system, pricing and payment requirements, and finally, involvement in special events. Information required by the public to help promote the entire concept includes: product variety and availability, growing practices, retail and farm gate information, location of rural routes, location of wineries, and information on upcoming events, and relevant Internet addresses (Auld 1998).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The development and maintenance of horizontal and vertical strategic alliances is becoming critical for both the tourism and agricultural sectors for businesses to be competitive. The tourism industry is diverse and relies on many industries to successfully deliver a high quality product to the consumer. The relationship between tourism and agriculture is complex and food and wine have also become tourist attractions. A review of Tastes of Niagara has shown it possible to overcome many of the barriers that exist between industries to form lasting partnerships within a community. As indicated by Chid- ley (1998), it is important that in the establishment of regional cuisine all parties work together. As the strategic alliance of Tastes of Niagara has illustrated, partnerships can evolve and become stronger and broader in scope. What started as a desire by chefs to use local products has evolved into a large organisation committed to promoting local cuisine. Similar to the evolutionary model of Lundgren (1973) alliances between agriculture and tourism grow and evolve. The Alliance maintains a quality product through a value chain starting in the field and ending with the customer.
There are strict guidelines for members dictating the use of local products and giving recognition to area producers. Alliance members take part in joint marketing campaigns, creating special events, developing linkages with local producers, creating new partnerships, and developing new products. An important element in the success or failure of programs is funding and the Alliance relies on corporate sponsorship and special events to generate money in addition to membership fees. Opportunities also exist to partner with governmental agencies associated with tourism and agriculture.
Benefits associated with strong alliances are many. Restaurants use high quality local products helping to develop regional cuisine. If quality and quantity can not be maintained, import substitution may occur. Access to high quality food benefits the customer as well as the farmers as they may have new markets in which to sell their products. Use of local food in the restaurants can be used as a marketing technique to attract customers and it also presents them as a good community citizen. The tourism industry is often criticised for having high leakages and limited connections to the surrounding community. By establishing linkages with local food and beverage suppliers the local multiplier effect may increase thereby increasing the positive economic impact of the tourism industry. Once tourists have been exposed to various regional foods and wines, they may also wish to purchase these local products thereby further stimulating the agricultural sector.
The formation of Tastes on Niagara has generated new products. The organisation is now involved in brokering for special events to further highlight the products of Niagara. Participating businesses are receiving increased recognition in the local community and abroad Chefs and wine makers are taking products to international trade shows. There, joint marketing efforts are particularly important for the smaller firms that are unable to undertake large scale marketing initiatives.
Difficulties arise in developing strategic alliance between the tourism and agricultural sectors. It takes a great deal of effort and time to develop lasting economic and social relationships. However, the Alliance is growing and the public is becoming more interested in regional cuisine. Difficulties outlined above in developing the Niagara Distribution Centre are characteristic of the problems similar alliances would encounter. Utilising local agricultural products raises issues of seasonality for both products and the number of tourists.
Restaurants change menus and local farmers need to be prepared to meet demands of small orders frequently. The difficulty of linking small producers with the tourism industry presents challenges associated with scale of operation and reliability (Telfer and Wall 1996). Hotels and restaurants may find it cheaper and more convenient to purchase imported products rather than spending time to seek out local sources. Even with the success of Tastes of Niagara, some of the participants want to create even stronger links between members. Vertical linkages within agritourism are concerned with strengthening ties, however, those involved in horizontal linkages are concerned about potential increased competition within the Alliance. Without consultation and careful development plans, conflicts could develop. Development of restaurants at wineries is raising some concern. Fund raising for the Alliance's special events and marketing programs is difficult, making the use of sponsorships and governmental assistance critical.
Much of the work focusing on leakages resulting from the use of imported goods has been written in a developing country context. Facing uncertainty over the quality and quantity of supply, many establishments are forced to import products generating high level of leakages (Belisle 1983, Taylor et al. 1991, Wilkinson 1987). In a developed country context where highly complex distribution systems exist, leakages may also result as it may be easier and cheaper to purchase imported food. In the case of Niagara, much of the local produce is shipped out of the region to the larger markets in Toronto before it is later returned to Niagara by distributors. The Tastes of Niagara Alliance has illustrated that with a high level of commitment from members, steps can be introduced to increase the direct reliance on local food and thereby reduce the high level of leakages often associated with the tourism industry. Similar to the findings of Telfer (1996) and Telfer and Wall (1996) in a developing country context, this study has shown that if vertical linkages are to be developed and maintained between tourism and agriculture a high level of commitment is required by all of those involved.
At a broader level, the focus of much of the work on alliances in the tourism industry has often been on larger companies such as airlines, travel agencies, lodging companies or in the areas of information technology ignoring the alliances between smaller firms. Food represents an important component of the tourist experience and this paper has illustrated that strategic alliances between businesses involved in the production and distribution of local agricultural products can be an important component in the delivery of a high quality tourist experience. This paper also presents a number of future research questions relating to the long-term management of voluntary strategic alliances. Smaller firms wanting to remain competitive and innovative need to carefully examine the value of strategic alliances within the tourism delivery system.
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