Food Tourism Strategies to Drive Destination Spending

by Greg Oates, Luke Bujarski + Skift Team - May 2016

Skift Research Take

Destination marketers face a new imperative to refine and align their culinary experience branding and marketing strategies to connect with today’s digitally savvy traveler. Even non-traditional tourist destinations must commit to smarter branding and marketing strategy, in order to capture sustained tourism in-flows. Here, stakeholders must work together to hone their content strategies and build local networks to bring out the best of what destinations can offer.

Report Overview

The purpose of this report is to help destinations and their tourism partners develop better branding and marketing strategies around food tourism and authentic culinary experiences. Destinations are missing out on longer stays, more repeat visitation, and higher average visitor spending if they’re not packaging and promoting their food tourism product in line with 2016 trends.

The biggest shift in the evolution of food tourism strategy today is segmentation. What appeals to one foodie won’t to many others, so it’s paramount for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to delineate the different verticals within their unique culinary travel experiences. A sample of those might include: gourmet/fine dining; fast casual and gastropub; farmers’ markets and food festivals; organic and vegan; and wine, beer and spirits, etc.

As illustrated in our survey in this report, the majority of Americans identify most with casual food, craft beer, food markets, and food festivals, dramatically more than traditional segments such as fine dining restaurants and wine tourism. Meaning, if DMOs are emphasizing their upscale restaurant inventory more than anything else, they’re speaking to a minority and could be missing the mark on what mainstream travelers want out of any given destination when it comes to the food experience.

In 2016, food tourism continues to revolve more around the rise of spirits, craft beers, and other alcoholic drink categories. Beverage trails, first made popular by destinations such as Kentucky and its Bourbon Trail, are surfacing in other parts of the country. Beer culture in particular is booming in America. Craft beer, especially, has grown into a massive consumer market.

Brewers reported a 13% increase in volume in 2015 — the eighth consecutive year of double digit growth. In response, destinations are developing travel experiences that combine local breweries and brewpubs to tap that interest. Other cities are creating similar product experiences around coffee, spirits, liqueurs, etc., to rebrand their identities for foodies.

Based on those two shifts, DMOs are responding by developing more segmented and sophisticated digital content that speaks directly to a wider range of culinary niches and consumer tastes. Looking ahead, also expect to see a significant jump in video storytelling due to its engagement success on online, inspired by the mega-popular food travel shows. DMOs are morphing into media companies these days, and they’re starting that process with great food and great culinary-themed stories celebrating the local destination narrative.