Over the past few years, food tourism has been a buzzy trend in the travel industry. Not only is it appealing to a large population of travelers, but it also has the potential to boost in-destination spending, and therefore, positively benefit local economies and small businesses. Despite the buzz, the conversation around food tourism has hardly changed since it first started to spread years ago. Not to mention, there is still some confusion about what food tourism really is and how destinations and other stakeholders can get involved.
In this report, we focus on addressing four questions under the food tourism umbrella: How big and important is the food tourism market? What are the new trends related to food tourism? Who should be be involved in and benefit from food tourism? What are the best practices for various stakeholders? We attempt to answer these questions drawing from the second, expanded iteration of our proprietary food tourism consumer survey. Then, we turn toward breaking down the new definition of food tourism into five components, drawing mostly from a number of in-depth interviews with industry stakeholders and experts. These perspectives then contribute to the final section of the report, in which we have identified 10 best practices for food tourism stakeholders.
Skift Research’s Food Tourism Survey 2019 collected responses from 2,000 respondents who live in the U.S. The survey was fielded to internet users age 18 and over. Respondents were asked whether they’ve taken a leisure trip in the past 12 months that included at least one-night’s paid stay and was 50 miles or more from home. We refer to this group as “recent travelers” (N=1,373) to compare to the total population (“all respondents”, N=2,000). The survey was fielded by a trusted third-party consumer panel provider.
What You'll Learn From This Report
- What food tourism means and how it has evolved over time
- Who the stakeholders are in food tourism
- A comprehensive look at who food tourists are today, how they behave, and what they prefer
- Skift Research estimates for food and beverage expenditure by U.S. travelers
- Size of U.S. food tourist population
- The kinds of food and beverage based activities food tourists are most likely to participate in
- The percentage of food tourists who have taken a vacation with a food and beverage experience as the main purpose for the trip
- A five-part breakdown of the new definition of food tourism
- 10 best practices for food tourism stakeholders today
- Benjamin Ozsanay - CEO & Co-Founder, Cookly
- Camille Rumani - COO & Co-Founder, Eatwith
- Didier Souillat - CEO, Time Out Market
- Erik Wolf - Executive Director, World Food Travel Association
- Helena Williams, Ph.D. - Researcher, Tourism & Hospitality, Texas Tech University and CEO, Gastro Gatherings
- James Imbriani - Founder, Sapore Travel
- Javier Perez-Palencia - CEO and Chair of the Board, FIBEGA Miami 2019 International Gastronomy Tourism Fair
- Joanne Wolnik - Tourism Development Manager, Ontario’s Southwest
- Michael Ellis - Chief Culinary Officer, Jumeirah Group
- Robert Williams, Jr. PhD. - Susquehanna University and Senior Partner, Mar-Kadam Associates
- Trevor Jonas Benson - Director of Food Tourism Innovation and lead consultant, Grow Food Tourism at the Culinary Tourism Alliance
In 2016, Skift Research published a report called Food Tourism Strategies to Drive Destination Spending. This was at a time when “food tourism” was taking off as a buzzy trend in the travel industry. Now, almost three years later, we’re taking a look at where food tourism is today, how it’s changed, and best practices for stakeholders.
Food tourism is often approached with the destination in mind, as Skift Research did in 2016, and developing and promoting it is often cast off as the sole responsibility of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) or regional tourism offices (RTOs). Clearly, these organizations have important roles to play, but they don’t exist alone when it comes to food tourism. In the new era of food tourism, many stakeholders have the opportunity to help develop, promote, and eventually benefit from this type of tourism.
In this report, we lay out what food tourism is today and how it has changed from years past. We build this definition from an in-depth understanding of who food tourists are today, drawing from the second, expanded iteration of our proprietary food tourism consumer survey. After providing a comprehensive look at the consumer side of the equation, we turn toward breaking down the new definition of food tourism into five components, drawing mostly from a number of in-depth interviews with industry stakeholders and experts. These perspectives then contribute to the final section of the report, in which we have identified 10 best practices for food tourism stakeholders.
Food Tourism Demystified and Defined
These are a few commonly used terms that encompass food and beverage tourism experiences:
- Culinary tourism: Some sources prefer using this term because it more clearly encompasses beverage-based experiences in addition to food-based.
- Gastronomy tourism: Similarly to “culinary tourism,” some sources prefer this term because of its all-encompassing connotation. This term is most commonly used in Europe.
- Food tourism: As of 2012, the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) began using the term “food tourism” or “food travel” to describe “the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place,” or put differently, “the act of traveling to experience unique food and beverage products and experiences.” Rather than the type of experience being the differentiator, what matters is the uniqueness of the experience itself and how it is particular to the destination.
For this report, we will follow the lead of the WFTA, which stopped using “culinary tourism” in 2012 when its research indicated that English speakers tend to associate this term with exclusivity and elitism, neither of which should be inherent to food tourism. “Gastronomy tourism” can also be interpreted this way, especially to English speakers outside of Europe. For these reasons, we chose to stick with food tourism, as we believe it better reflects the variety of food- and beverage-based travel experiences we will discuss in this report.
So then what counts as food tourism? This is where the lines can get blurry. Almost all tourists need to eat at an eating place while traveling, so almost all contribute to the local food economy in some way. Broadly speaking, these can all be counted as food tourism.
A bit narrower than that, some sources define food tourism as food and drinking activities that are unique to a region/destination and include aspects beyond simply eating or drinking. With this in mind, food tourism experiences most commonly include cooking classes with locals, food and drink tastings, having meals in locals’ homes, eating at local restaurants or street food vendors, food and drink tours and trails, collecting ingredients or participating in harvesting local produce, visiting farms or other types of food producers, visiting food markets or fairs, and visiting food manufacturers such as distilleries, factories, and wineries.
An even narrower scope through which to look at food tourism is whether it is deliberate food tourism or incidental food tourism. Deliberate food tourism only includes food and drinking activities that are the main motivator for a traveler to go to a destination, while incidental are those that travelers participate in, but were not the main purpose of the trip. We will discuss these terms in more detail from the consumer perspective later in the report.
Each of the above ways of describing food and beverage related tourism is correct. Variations in data on food tourism can often be due to different definitions and scopes used for the research. Later in this report, we will provide data on these three ways of counting food tourism.
Another important part of food tourism to mention here is the variety of stakeholders that are involved. Developing and promoting food tourism is often discussed as responsibilities of destination marketing organizations (DMOs) or regional tourism offices (RTOs). However, this report will emphasize that there are multiple stakeholders that can, and should, have a part in building and participating in a region’s food tourism space. Of course, DMOs and RTOs can and should play important organizational and planning roles, but tour providers and operators, traditional travel agencies, online travel agencies and booking platforms, peer-to-peer platforms, hotels, local restaurateurs, and more have the opportunity for involvement in food tourism.
While this lays out the basic elements of food tourism that we’ve built this report around, it’s very likely that we will need to revisit what we’ve summarized in the near future. The term, scope, and even stakeholders will constantly evolve as destinations, cultures, and trends change over time. Later in this report, we will examine the nuances of what defines the new era of food tourism that exists today compared with a few years ago. But first, we will take a look at the current state of the food tourism space for context.
The State of Food Tourism Today
Food Tourism Is a Lucrative Market
Just how big is the food tourism market? As we laid out above, there are three ways to size up the food tourism market. In the broadest sense, it includes all food and drink based activities that travelers partake in, whether it’s eating at a chain restaurant, taking a food tour, or visiting a local brewery.
To get a sense of food tourism’s contribution to local food economies in this broad sense, Skift Research looked at all food and beverage expenditure by U.S. travelers for domestic and international travel. We analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey to determine how much money American travelers actually spend on food and drink while traveling. While this data includes spending on all food and drink while traveling (i.e. not just the local, unique experiences that many consider “food tourism”), it nonetheless gives us an idea of the potential economic impact food tourists can have and how it has changed over time.
Our estimates show that U.S. travelers spent $58 billion on food and drink while traveling in 2017 (the last year for which data was available at the time of writing). This represents a 5.8% compound annual growth rate from 2012.
To look at this another way, we calculated the share of total travel expenditures spent on food and beverage by U.S. travelers. Here, we see an overall upward trend from 2012 to about 25%, where it has more or less hovered since 2015. This falls in line with the WFTA’s estimate from its 2016 Food Travel Monitor that global travelers spent about 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages, and this can be as high as 35% in certain destinations or for especially food-centric travelers
We then turn our attention to a narrower, more local scope of food tourism. While researching for this report, we found that despite the rising popularity and interest in food tourism across many related sectors, there is very little data on a clearly defined food tourism segment. We conducted our own survey for the purpose of providing some necessary context to the trends.
According to our food tourism survey, 96% of respondents have participated in some kind of experience that would fall under this slightly narrower food tourism umbrella (i.e., dining out at restaurants that serve local cuisine is included). This increases slightly to 98% for those respondents who have traveled for leisure in the past 12 months, who we call “recent travelers.” This falls in line with the WFTA’s 2016 Food Travel Monitor finding that 93% of travelers could be considered “food travelers” at some time, based on their participation in food or beverage experiences. This estimation, however, does not include travelers who only dine out in-destination.
For more nuance, the chart below shows the type of food and/or drink related experiences that our respondents have participated in while traveling, divided again by recent travelers and the average for all respondents. Unsurprisingly, most respondents have dined out at a restaurant that serves local food while traveling, with about 80% of recent travelers reporting this.
Next, we focus in on the narrowest scope of food tourism. We asked our respondents whether they’ve ever gone on vacation with a food and/or drink related travel experience as the main purpose of the trip. Among all respondents, one-third responded that they have. For respondents who have traveled in the last 12 months, 42% said so. This is a very significant number for relevant stakeholders who work to use food experiences to attract tourists.
When looking at the specific types of experiences that these travelers planned their trips around, wine tasting claims the first spot, with 52% of respondents saying they’ve gone on trips with that activity as the main purpose. We will discuss more details later in the report.
Food Tourism Experiences Grow in Popularity
Food and drink experiences have long been an important part of travel. However, food tourism is reaching new levels of popularity and is manifesting in more exciting ways than ever. Data from TripAdvisor, for example, showed that food tours and cooking classes were among the top-five fastest growing tour categories in 2017, each with 57% bookings’ growth on the platform. Food tours also saw the most growth by gross booking value that year.
Food and drink-related activities also show high levels of popularity on Airbnb’s Experiences platform. According to an Airbnb spokesperson Skift Research spoke with in February 2018 for our report The State of Tours and Activities 2018, bookings of these types of Experiences accounted for around 29% of the platform’s total bookings at the time.
Not only are bookings of food tourism experiences growing, but there are also signs that traveler satisfaction with them is high. TripAdvisor recently released the winners of its 2018 Travelers’ Choice Awards, which includes awards for experiences listed on its platform. The winners are determined using an algorithm that takes into account a business’s reviews, opinions, and popularity with travelers over the last year. On the list of the Top 25 Experiences in the World, seven of those selected are either entirely food based, or include a unique, local food portion within the experience. The number one spot, in fact, was taken by an entirely food-based experience: a cooking class and lunch at a Tuscan farmhouse which includes a tour of a local market in Florence.
The Rise of Niche, Food- and Beverage-Related Businesses
Outside of food tourism experiences designed purely for travelers, we see growth in other food- and beverage-related businesses. In Skift Research’s 2016 report Food Tourism Strategies to Drive Destination Spending, we called out the “rise of beer, spirits, and coffee tourism.” This trend was largely being driven by the explosive growth of craft breweries at the time. Since then, this growth has slowed, but still remains steady, with small and independent craft brewers maintaining 5% growth in the first half of 2018 in the U.S. according to the Brewers Association, showing that the demand is still there.
Food halls are another niche, local food- and beverage-related business type that is undergoing huge growth currently. Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest U.S. commercial real estate brokers, has been tracking food hall development in the U.S. since 2015. In that year, it noted 70 projects. By the year’s end in 2017, this number went up to 118 and was expected to reach 180 by the end of 2018. The firm estimates that there will be 300 food halls in the U.S. by the end of 2020.
The growth of craft breweries and food halls may not be entirely due to the rise of food tourism, as many locals also enjoy these venues. However, it is safe to say that the same interests that are driving food tourism are contributing to the growth of these types of businesses. Craft breweries, food halls, and the like also become attractions in and of themselves, thereby also contributing back to the rise in food tourism.
Industry Sentiment About Food Tourism Today
Clearly, food tourism deserves our attention. Stakeholders in the space agree. According to a survey of DMOs, educational institutions, marketing and consultancy firms, accommodation providers, the meetings industry, food and beverage providers, and wineries in the UNWTO’s Second Report on Gastronomy Tourism, the majority of respondents agree that gastronomy is a driving force for tourism development (with an average of 8.19 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “strongly agree”).
Even so, many respondents to this survey didn’t feel that their marketing efforts in this area were adequate. For example, while 70% of respondents said they have targeted food tourists as a specific market segment, only 10% think that this segment receives enough promotion in the destination. Further, just 46.5% report that they have a food tourism strategy in place, while just under 25% say they allocate budget specifically for attracting food tourists. These survey results emphasize the need for all stakeholders to contribute toward developing and promoting the food tourism in a region. We will discuss this more later in the report.
Who Are Food Tourists Today?
Because food tourism activities vary so much, it’s difficult to say exactly who food tourists are from a demographic perspective, as it varies so much depending on the activity. From our own survey, we found that Millennials and young Gen Xers make up the majority of our U.S.-based respondents who have ever participated in a food tourism experience other than dining out at chain restaurants. The age distribution is the same for food tourists who have traveled in the past 12 months.
Today’s Food Tourists Are Curious and Crave Unique Experiences
Throughout our interviews with food tourism stakeholders, we heard the theme that food tourists are curious people who desire unique experiences that revolve around food. Camille Rumani is the COO and co-founder of Eatwith, a peer-to-peer app that connects travelers and locals around food experiences in 130 countries. She describes the guests who use Eatwith as “People who, for example … want to get off the beaten path, I would say, do something that is a bit different, but also have the feeling, they don’t want to be a tourist. … they will also value the fact that it’s not the same thing that they’re doing as anyone else.”
Joanne Wolnik, tour development manager for the regional tourism office, Ontario’s Southwest, echoed these sentiments when describing the typical food tourists in her region: “It’s people that are curious, people that have an appetite to learn new things. This is the same whether they’re coming for a tasting experience or their coming to make chocolate truffles, it’s people that want to learn.”
Today’s Food Tourists Aren’t All “Foodies” or “Gourmets”
It is easy to make the mistake of conflating food tourists with foodies, but today, these two groups don’t fully overlap. A study by Fogelson & Co., a food brand strategy and marketing agency, articulated the larger trend of moving away from using “foodie” to describe people who have a deep connection to food. The study explains that “foodie” used to depict a niche minority, but a deep interest in food is now mainstream. Further, it argues that a “foodie” is often thought of as being a person who is in “some sort of exclusive gourmand group of hyper-passionate food people,” when in fact, this is not the case for many consumers who feel connected to food.
To compensate for this disconnect, Fogelson & Co. recommends a new consumer category: the “food connected consumer.” This group views cooking and eating as fun experiences and as opportunities to explore. In fact, 63% of these surveyed consumers reported that they love to travel.
This distinction between the traditional “foodie” group and the new “food-connected consumer” is important when thinking about building and promoting food tourism. Trevor Jonas Benson, director of food tourism innovation and lead consultant for Grow Food Tourism at the Culinary Tourism Alliance, explained that he has observed the success of destinations that look beyond foodies. “No longer are destinations concentrating on a very small percentage, hyper-niche market of foodies and gastronomic interested people … but they’re starting to understand that any and all experiences can often be enhanced through food and drink.”
Our survey results further illustrate this point. We asked respondents which category of food and/or drink related activity is most appealing to them when traveling. The results show that the often more casual categories of “Markets, festivals, and speciality grocers” was selected the most, followed by the also casual category of “Gastropubs, burgers, and beer,” while “Gourmet, upscale, classic” falls to the fifth position among all respondents.
We asked a variation of this question for our 2016 report, Food Tourism Strategies to Drive Destination Spending, and similar trends were observed. However, “Gastropubs, burgers, beer” took the top spot then, and “Gourmet, upscale, classic” ranked one spot higher (please note, however, that respondents were not given “Other” or “None” options in 2016).
Still, the point remains, that while food tourism can be upscale and gourmet, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, more people prefer more casual types of experiences.
Today’s Food Tourists Can Be Divided into Two Main Groups: Deliberate and Incidental
A common way to segment food tourists is based on whether food and/or drink related experiences are their main motivation for travel or not. These groups are often referred to as “deliberate food tourists” and “incidental food tourists.” Skift Research spoke with Helena and Robert Williams, Ph.D.’s, researchers and academics with expertise in food tourism. They have researched the differences between deliberate and incidental food tourists extensively. Helena explained that deliberate food tourists will plan out their trips for weeks to include as many food experiences as possible, or a few of the most interesting ones: “They’re thinking about the food related experiences, not what restaurant they’ll eat in but can they go to a cooking class, can they go to a plantation, can they go to a winery, will there be some other cultural experiential thing they’ll learn about.”
Incidental food tourists, on the other hand, would still likely fall into the “food connected consumer” group we discussed above, but they are traveling for another reason, such as to visit friends or family, go to a conference, etc. Because they still appreciate food though, they will look for any free time they have to fit in food and/or drink related experiences.
Distinguishing between deliberate and incidental groups is important for food tourism stakeholders looking to develop and promote themselves to “food tourists” because they are likely to be interested in slightly different kinds of experiences and also need to be targeted in different ways and at different times in their journey.
The data below (which we discussed as Exhibit 4 above), for example, shows that the most common food and/or drink related travel experiences are those that have the option to be planned well in advance, but are also commonly done spontaneously (dining out at a restaurant that serves local food and visiting a local food retailer). In other words, these are experiences that are appealing to both deliberate and incidental food tourists. Those that require more pre-planning tend to fall toward the bottom of the list (cooking class, food tour).
The popularity of these experience types changes when we look at those that were the main purpose of a vacation. Wine tasting moves to the top spot and food tours is the fourth-most common experience type that travelers have planned trips for specifically.
Joanne Wolnik of Ontario’s Southwest described how her organization uses this type of distinction when developing food tourism in the region. She explained that her team not only works to make sure that there are local, exciting options for tourists who are looking to dine out, but also that there are plenty of reasons for deliberate food tourists to make a trip to the region as well. “This is the side that we are really trying to grow. We’ve got awesome people that are here already doing really cool things … so we are building reasons for people to travel for food specifically.”
Today’s Food Tourists Often Plan Their Trips Around Food
Whether they’re incidental or deliberate, food tourists today are more commonly choosing destinations at least in part because of their food offerings, even if this is not the main purpose of a trip. They are also often planning other parts of their trips around food and drink experiences. As Camille Rumani of Eatwith explained, unique food offerings used to be a “nice to have. Now they [destinations] need to have that. People are really looking for it, and they also choose destinations more and more based on the food offerings.” Javier Perez-Palencia, CEO and chair of the board for the international food tourism festival FIBEGA Miami, summed this up by saying “Gastronomy is an attraction.”
Skift Research also spoke with Michael Ellis, Jumeirah Group’s chief culinary officer and former global director at Michelin Restaurant and Hotel Guides. From his experience in both roles, he has observed the emerging trend of travelers basically going on “gastronomic pilgrimages,” where they choose a destination like Copenhagen specifically to eat at Noma, or Madrid to eat at DiverXO. Even for incidental food tourists, it’s common for them to use the food experiences they do incorporate as starting points to plan their other activities. “Everything else will come from there,” he explained, “whether it’s shopping, or cultural, or sporting events, whatever they want to do. That will be organized around where they have their lunch or dinner reservations.”
An area’s food offerings are also an essential component food tourists consider when choosing accommodations. Robert Williams explained that it’s important for hotels to realize that this is becoming more common. “What hotels are beginning to do is instead of trying to be all inclusive, they realize that … some of their customers look for the food experience first … versus the other way where you pick the hotel in the location and then see what you can do while you’re there.”
Interestingly, the total trip expenditure of incidental food tourists might not vary that much from that of deliberate food tourists, despite their varying levels of motivation by food. This was something that Helena and Robert Williams found through their extensive research on the subject, a finding that Helena refers to as “one of the most profound things to come out of my research.” She explained that the spending by these two groups is pretty comparable, and that the spending of incidental food tourists, “if not equal, it’s more than the deliberate traveler because they’re already there for some other reason and their time is more compressed, but they still want these wonderful experiences.” In a 2018 paper they published in the Journal of Gastronomy and Tourism with Jingxue (Jessica) Yuan, two surveys of self-identified food tourists revealed that 60% spent the most money on a deliberate food tourism trip, while 40% reported that it was an incidental trip. This research further emphasizes why both groups of food tourists are important to target and attract.
Defining the New Era of Food Tourism
Now that we have a better picture of who food tourists are today, we will focus on what food tourism is today beyond the general definition we discussed at the beginning of the report. It’s impossible for food tourism to remain static, as cultures, the environment, and consumer demands are in constant flux. Drawing mainly from our interviews with expert stakeholders, we’ve identified five key components that define the new era of food tourism. For each component, we’ve included relevant perspectives from stakeholders and case studies.
Food Tourism Is About More Than the Food Itself
The types of experiences that define the new era of food tourism are about more than just food or beverages. Our interviewees brought this up repeatedly in multiple ways. This is the biggest part of the new definition of food tourism and is multifaceted. Today, the food tourism experiences that best exemplify what food tourists want meet at least one of the following criteria: they overlap with other types of tourism (such as cultural tourism, historical tourism, agritourism, etc.), they have a hands-on learning aspect, and they are social.
- They overlap with other types of tourism:
In the UNWTO’s Second Global Report on Gastronomy Tourism, it is suggested that food tourism should be placed “as a horizontal layer of … destination marketing and product development strategies instead of a vertical one.” Ideally, the report suggests that food experiences should be integrated within other experiences, and not “treat[ed] as a standalone product.” Our interviewees expressed similar ideas.
- DMO/RTO: Joanne Wolnik, of Ontario’s Southwest explained how her team divides experiences into three categories: culinary, waterfront, and significant events. She explained that “the main two are waterfront and culinary … but we’ve created a lens where [an experience] usually has to overlap with one of the other two. So culinary is quite a high priority.”
- Travel Agency: James Imbriani, founder of the luxury food-themed tour company Sapore Travel, told Skift Research, “Destinations have a lot of things to offer other than just food and wine. Even if we plan something more historical, if we can tie in food, we like to try.”
- Tour Platform/Operator: Camille Rumani of Eatwith explained that she has been seeing more experiences on the platform that are hosted in unique spaces, like art galleries, rooftops, and even an old London underground station. Looking forward, she foresees that people will become even interested in experiences with interest beyond food: “for example, dinner with a concert, or seeing a play at the same time, or integrating food and music. We see that becoming very, very popular.”
- Case Study: Time Out Market
Time Out Market was conceived by Time Out Group, best known for its city-specific online and print magazines that cover entertainment, events, and culture in global cities. The first market opened in Lisbon in 2014 and includes a selection of the best food and drink the city has to offer curated by Time Out editors and presented in a food hall type style. A repeated marketing message of the Time Out Market, however, is “this is more than just a food hall.” In addition to food vendors, the space also includes an academy where cooking classes are taught and a large studio space where concerts and other shows, fairs, conferences, and more are specially curated to represent the city as best as possible. “The magazine is all about food, beverage, chefs, art, culture, music, exhibitions, what’s hot in town now. So we’re bringing the magazine to life physically” said Didier Souillat, CEO of Time Out Market. With this strategy, Time Out Market Lisbon has become the number one tourist destination in the Portugal, and attracts locals as well. Beginning this year, new Time Out Markets will begin opening in other cities around the world and will mimic the mix of offerings in Lisbon, but with localized twists.The mix of offerings within a Time Out Market differentiates it, attracts people initially, and keeps them coming back. As a Time Out Market representative explained, “It’s not just dinner on a Thursday night. It’s dinner and a show, dinner and a reading, dinner and a cultural moment.”
- They have a hands-on learning aspect:
Experiences that best illustrate food tourism today incorporate hands-on learning. According to Helena Williams, “Everyone is searching for this immersive experience … They really want something that engages them more with the local people and the local culture.” Hands-on experiences help create mental ties making the experience and the place more memorable to food tourists. Whether it’s learning a new skill, like how to cook a dish, or learning about a food or culture, food tourists value experiences with an educational aspect the most.
- DMO/RTO: Joanne Wolnik of Ontario’s Southwest told us, “The main thing about food tourism that I’m seeing is that people want something new to them, unique, they want to learn, and they want to go home with new skills. I’m hesitant to say the word transformational again, because I know that’s a little bit trendy right now so I’m being careful, but it’s a new way from them to engage in food and with food.”
- Case Study: Ontario’s Southwest
Joanne Wolnik shared some examples of food tourism experiences in Ontario’s Southwest region that illustrate this part of our definition perfectly. One experience is called The Sweetest Smell on Earth, which is run by a maple syrup harvester. The experience, which is offered a limited number of times, begins with a trip on a tractor to maple trees, where participants learn how to tap the tree, collect sap, and are taught historical information about the process. They then are taught how to make their own maple candies and they get to keep a bottle of their own syrup. Next, they’re served a meal by a local chef who incorporates maple into each dish.Wolnik explains that the hands-on, educational parts of this experience make it really resonate with participants: “ … they have bragging rights because they have their own bottle of maple syrup that they bottled themselves, they know how to use the product beyond just putting it on pancakes and waffles, and it really empowers them to use the product. So not only are they learning something new, but now when they go home, it’s changing their behaviors and their habits. So there is a transformational piece to it.”
- They are social experiences:
A component that makes food tourism experiences today especially desirable and memorable is the social interaction that is involved with them. Whether it’s facilitating social interaction among travel companions, fostering connections between disparate groups of travelers, or creating opportunities for travelers to interact with locals, the best food tourism experiences are social experiences.
- Tour Platform/Operator: Social interaction is a key component of the peer-to-peer experiences available on Eatwith. Camille Rumani told us that this was one of the main motivators for starting the company. “We saw that because usually you’re a tourist when you’re traveling, it’s such a paradox to travel so easily nowadays in cities where millions of people are living, but you don’t actually meet anyone when you’re traveling to Barcelona and to New York. You’re usually wondering what’s behind the closed doors, and we wanted to facilitate this experience.”
- Benjamin Ozsanay, CEO and co-founder of the cooking class platform Cookly, expressed similar sentiments: “Over time, we realized that our users and partners were looking for a connection. … This human connection was something we think is missing in ‘food tourism’ as it commonly perceived. We think it is much more than just trying the local street food or visiting the hottest new restaurant. It is about making a human connection across cultures … the essence of travel”
- Case Study: TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travelers’ Choice Awards Top Experience in the World
As we mentioned earlier in the report, the top experience in the world according TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travelers Choice Awards was a food-based experience called “Cooking Class and Lunch at a Tuscan Farmhouse with Local Market Tour from Florence.” The description of this experience on TripAdvisor gets right to the core of this part of our food tourism definition. It is described as a “hands-on experience,” where travelers can “explore cuisine in more depth than you would by simply eating in restaurants.” Traveler reviews praise the experience as “interactive,” “educational,” and “social.” They lauded that they “met some lovely people” and enjoyed “hearing about the history in addition to tasting the food.”
- They overlap with other types of tourism:
Food Tourism Emphasizes the Story Behind the Food
This part of the definition is very closely related to the previous point, in that food tourism experiences today shouldn’t be about just tasting food or beverages, but should go deeper. This aspect of food tourism is about cultures and communities authentically telling their stories through food as a way to attract and interact with tourists. As Trevor Jonas Benson of the Culinary Tourism Alliance described, “we’re seeing a return to the use of language such as ‘authenticity,’ which is really indicative of destinations and communities starting to reclaim what it is that makes them special.”
Food is perhaps one of the easiest ways for people to share something that reflects themselves, their city or region, or their culture. In the words of Camille Rumani of Eatwith “food really reflects the DNA and the soul, I would say of a culture, and basically of people.”
The importance of this aspect of food tourism today is obvious just by looking at the ways food tourism companies describe themselves. Among our interviewees, for example, Benjamin Ozsanay of Cookly described the company this way: “We cultivate a community of users with a love of food, who want to learn about different cultures through local recipes and cooking traditions.” James Imbriani of Sapore Travel also emphasized that his company creates “meaningful, cultural exchanges through food and gastronomy,” and that this is what food tourism should be at its essence.
- Case Study: Cookly
In addition to incorporating more of the story behind the food into food and drink related experiences, this part of our definition can also be translated through marketing and branding. Cookly, a platform that connects food loving travelers with food professionals for cooking classes serves as a case study of this. The platform recently changed its logo from a chef’s hat to a mortar and pestle. While the company’s founders originally envisioned connecting travelers with cooking schools, CEO & Co-Founder Bejamin Ozsanay explained, “over time, we realized that our users were looking for more of a connection with the food, culture, and local traditions of a place. The mission was not just about taking a cooking class on your trip, but immersing yourself in the local community and sharing knowledge about the world. Our new mortar and pestle logo reflects our brand’s evolution.”
- Case Study: Cookly
Food Tourism Is Conscious and Thoughtful
Conscious consumption is permeating throughout many industries, and travel and food tourism aren’t immune. In fact, the new era of food tourism is defined by its conscious and thoughtful nature. The best food and drink experiences for travelers today consider environmental sustainability as well as community and economic impact. This is especially important in developing destinations with fragile ecosystems. Sharing culture and interacting with travelers is beneficial to locals, but without care for the environment and a direct economic impact, these things are meaningless.
- Travel Agency: James Imbriani of Sapore Travel explained how conscious consumption has impacted food tourism: “Also we’ve seen the shift in mindset, even when it comes to the food you’re cooking and eating at home, where people care a little bit more about where their food came from, the processes behind them, how they’re made, the care and love producers put into their products, as opposed to just blindly consuming things. We’ve seen that people are more willing to travel to find these things out, and for me that’s exciting.”
- DMO/RTO: Joanne Wolnik and her team at Ontario’s Southwest aim for economic, social, and environmental benefit as a result of food tourism experiences in the region: “We don’t want to devalue what our operators and artisans and all of our partners are bringing to the table, because ultimately, the whole point of tourism should be the benefit that the travelers bring to the local community both economically and socially, and we strive for environmentally as well.”
- Hotel: Michael Ellis of Jumeirah Group is highly aware of the desire food connected travelers have for local products: “People want to, wherever they are, they want to eat like locals, they want to have a local experience. They want to have locally grown products. They want to have ingredients that, if possible, come from not too far away from where they’re being consumed.” The challenge here is that most of Jumeirah’s hotels are in desert environments, like Dubai. “… there’s not a whole lot that’s produced here. Most things are imported,” he explained. Even so, Ellis sees this as a challenge worth overcoming. “But, having said that, we are in the process now of identifying local producers for a wide variety of products including organically grown vegetables and poultry and eggs. … we are really excited about our ability to bring locally, organically produced, sustainably developed products into our restaurants.”
- Ensuring that food and drink travel experiences — whether it’s a food tour, a meal at a hotel, etc. — are conscious and thoughtful about the local environment and communities might present some initial challenges. But, in the end, they can be the deciding factor for food connected travelers, especially those who are millennials and younger. Research by tour operator Intrepid Traveler found that 90% of millennials consider a travel company’s ethical commitments when booking, and Gen Z is already showing signs of being conscious consumers. A study by McKinsey found that 65% of Gen Zers try to learn the origins of anything they buy and 80% won’t buy products from companies that have been involved in scandals. As these groups continue to become a larger share of the travel market, we can anticipate that this part of food tourism will grow in importance.
- Case Study: Feast On by Culinary Tourism Alliance
The Feast On certification program was launched by the Culinary Tourism Alliance in 2015. Skift Research discussed the program in our 2016 report. Its growth and success since then warrant us to revisit it as a case study now. The program works mostly with restaurants, and also commodity groups and local producers, to verify that they are buying and celebrating food local to the Ontario area.
- Participants who meet the stated criteria pay a small fee and in return “we celebrate them through many different ways: through communication, through events, etc.” explained Trevor Jonas Benson who helped create the program. This program is one example of how food and beverage businesses can convey to locals and tourists alike that they approach food with their communities in mind. As the program’s website expresses: “Supporting our local economy and Ontario’s farmers is important; especially for the food service industry. It builds our local food identity, it puts dollars back into our communities and it limits our environmental impact.”
- As of September 30, 2018 the program has certified 137 restaurants, up from the 120 cited in our 2016 report. Perhaps the best way to measure the success of the program is by the expenditure of its participants on local Ontario food purchases, which all are required to report. In 2018, this number totaled $25,140,000 up from the approximately $15,000,000 cited in 2016. This is all money that is staying in the local region and going directly into the communities these businesses are a part of.
Food Tourism Can Promote Exploration Outside of Main Areas and Attractions
One way for food tourism experiences to be conscious and thoughtful to the environment and local communities is to encourage exploration outside of main areas and attractions in a destination. This is something that food tourism is already doing and we expect it will become an even more important part of these experiences in the future.
The size of the current and potential food tourism market is a bit of a double-edged sword. Erik Wolf, CEO of the World Food Travel Association explained, “This can be great news to destinations that are willing to plan carefully for success, but it also can add fuel to the overtourism fire in popular food-centric cities like Portland, Oregon and Barcelona, Spain.”
Encouraging tourists to get outside of the main areas of a destination doesn’t only benefit the local community, it’s also something that more and more food tourists are desiring. Benjamin Ozsanay of Cookly attributes this to the “exploding popularity of travel-culture-food shows like No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and Salt Fat Acid Heat [that] has thrust culinary tourism into the mainstream and we have seen increasing numbers of travelers across all markets searching for similar experiences.”
- Travel Agency: Getting tourists outside of main areas and attractions has benefits beyond easing overtourism. These are the types of experiences food travelers want and they can also be a benefit businesswise. At Sapore Travel, James Imbriani and his team like “to focus on destinations that are a little less typical when it comes what you generally think about in culinary tourism. … even focusing on different regions, like Sicily instead of mainland Italy. These are the kind of places we like to feature, and from a business perspective, these are the kind of places where expertise is a bit more valuable as well.”
- Tour Platform/Operator: For Benjamin Ozsanay’s team at Cookly, local partnerships are key to forming relationships in more remote regions so they can get their guests off the beaten path. “Local partnerships are very helpful for us to connect with the smaller local communities that are often left off the tourist map.” One such partnership is with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). He explained, “By working together with TAT we can discover more small communities and in exchange we are able to help them grow their local economy as well. Anyone can join Cookly, as long as they are able to provide a well planned out class with equipment and a passion to share their food knowledge and culture.”
- Case Study: Benvingutas a Pagés (Welcome to the Farm)
Welcome to the Farm is an annual event in the Catalonia region of Spain. During one weekend of the summer, hundreds of farms and other food producers (olive oil producers, wineries, cava makers, honey producers, etc.) throughout the region open to visitors to offer the opportunity to taste and learn about the local food. Restaurants and accommodation providers throughout the region also participate and promote the use of local products.
- An interactive website for the event provides multiple ways for participants to plan their farm visits. A map shows all of the participating producers within districts of Catalonia, producers are divided by category for those looking to explore just one or a couple in depth, and a number of pre-planned routes have been created by the event’s organizers. Each mapped out route is targeted toward different groups (like foodies, cultural tourists, photography/nature lovers, families, etc.) and they take about three days for visitors to get through. This event and the resources available to participants encourage them — and make it easy — to explore beyond Barcelona, where they will then have the opportunity to connect with local communities and learn the stories behind the region’s famous cuisine.
Food Tourism Doesn’t Mean Just One Thing
After everything we’ve discussed already, this part of our food tourism definition is probably not surprising: Food tourism isn’t just one thing. It’s not all about gourmet experiences, just like it doesn’t have to be about eating street food, or going on a designated food tour. Experiences of all kinds can encompass the new definition of food tourism that we’ve laid out, giving the food tourists of today more options than ever before. Even within one destination, an authentic, meaningful experience can take many forms, be it a trip to a local farm or a meal at a restaurant that celebrates local produce. Our interviewees expressed this in their own ways.
- Travel Agency: Just because Sapore Travel focuses on luxury food travel experiences for a higher-end clientele, it doesn’t mean that they limit the activities throughout a trip to the high-end of things. “I think people are more willing to get outside of their comfort zone these days. Even in the luxury market, people are more willing to,” Imbriani explained. Later, he added “In a place like Mexico City, for example, you can have a Michelin-Starred, fine-dining meal at a place like Pujol, or similar, but you can also eat in a market and have just as memorable of an experience.”
- Hotel: Michael Ellis of Jumeirah Group brought up the point that “authentic” and “local” don’t necessarily mean eating at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It all depends on the destination, and most have many facets of what makes them unique. “The gourmet, high-end, if you’re in Paris, that’s very much of a local experience. … People go to Paris for that experience. But you know, people don’t necessarily go to Bangkok, or Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur, or Miami for that experience.”He continued to explain how a luxury hotel group like Jumeirah can take advantage of the many kinds of “authenticity” that exist in the destinations where its properties are located: “I think that’s the most important thing is that you can be a luxury hotel group and offer something for everybody, but the important thing is to make sure whatever you’re offering is of the highest quality, whether it’s a street food experience or a gastronomic experience, it’s got to be authentic and it’s got to be at the best quality level.”
Best Practices in Food Tourism
We identified 10 best practices for stakeholders looking to develop, promote, and/or participate in their region’s food tourism scene. In this section, we will briefly discuss each one (in no particular order), providing perspective from stakeholder interviews, case studies, and additional research throughout.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach
Because of the importance of locality and authenticity to food tourism today, the process of building and promoting food tourism should differ from place to place. It is necessary for destinations and stakeholders to determine who their food tourists are (Are they deliberate? Incidental?), whether the existing food and drink businesses and resources are enough to attract and please them, and whether or not these offerings are being communicated clearly. In some places, product development might need to be a focus, while others might just need better messaging of the food and drink experiences that already exist.
Build the infrastructure that’s needed to support food tourism
Before a region, or any stakeholders within it, can expect food tourists, they can all play a part in ensuring that the area has the infrastructure necessary to support them. In a 2019 article by Helena and Robert Williams and Jingxue (Jessica) Yuan published in the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, a pyramid is used to illustrate the infrastructure that is needed in order for memorable food tourism experiences to be developed and marketed successfully. The foundation of the pyramid is health and safety, which includes things like clean water and proper sanitation practices and systems. Above that is transportation and lodging, meaning safe accommodations near and transport to and from food tourism experiences. Once those two elements are in place, communication should be the focus. This can mean ensuring internet access in order to reach travelers, and also from a strategic standpoint, how they are communicating their offerings.
Everyone has a role to play
Developing and promoting food tourism is often regarded as responsibilities of tourism boards. As we have seen throughout this report, however, many kinds of businesses are stakeholders in this space, and therefore should have an active role in it. We will discuss partnerships and collaboration more a bit later, but here we want to focus on one type of stakeholder that is often omitted from the food tourism conversation: hotels.
Through our research and interviews, we have identified two different ways that hotels can get involved in the new era of food tourism: They can bring the community and its cuisine into their properties, or they can facilitate opportunities for their guests to have food tourism experiences in the communities they’re part of.
One way hotels approach the first method is to focus on creating the type of experiences that food tourists desire in the food and beverage offerings at their properties. Michael Ellis of Jumeirah Group thinks that hotels are increasingly becoming food tourism destinations in their own right: “The line between independently owned and run restaurants and restaurants in hotels is more and more blurred. … people want to be able to not just stay in a hotel, but they also want to have great F&B [food and beverage] offerings … You now have restaurants in hotels that are attracting locals and you see this all over the world.”
In addition to focusing their food and beverage offerings in this manner, hotels can also bring unique and local food experiences into their properties in other ways, like offering cooking classes for guests or retail opportunities for local food manufacturers.
Hotels can also look outward and help their guests get into the community for food tourism experiences. Whether it’s providing transportation to hard-to-reach areas, or setting up guided tours, hotels can assist guests in finding the meaningful and local activities they desire. Rumani of Eatwith told Skift Research about her company’s partnership with Marriott. Through this partnership, a selection of Eatwith experiences are available on the Marriott Moments activity platform for hotel loyalty members. There are currently 200 Eatwith experiences available on the platform and Rumani says it will increase to 800 soon. Curating these experiences for hotel guests and making them easy to find when guests book rooms is a simple way for Marriott to encourage its guests to venture into the communities outside of the hotel and interact with locals.
Local partnerships are key
For all types of food tourism stakeholders, local partnerships and collaboration are key. Partnerships are key from two different perspectives. Organizations like DMOs, RTOs, and consultancies or associations that focus on developing food tourism have the ability to foster collaboration among local stakeholders that might not otherwise do so themselves. Joanne Wolnik of Ontario’s Southwest explained how her team does this: “Our region is big, geographically, so people three hours away generally don’t know each other, but if they’re doing the same thing or they’re doing similar things, or we know that they could partner to accomplish things together, we always love putting them together and making that introduction.”
Trevor Jonas Benson and his team at the Culinary Tourism Alliance also emphasize the importance of collaborating with the local stakeholders in their client destinations: “The development of the work itself, of the projects, is a collaborative process,” he stressed, “It’s got to be the people who are going to be ultimately benefiting from it and producing those outcomes that have got to be involved in the process from start to finish.”
From another perspective, we have tour operators, booking platforms, and travel agencies that essentially take tourists into many different locations for food tourism experiences. Local partnerships are also essential for these types of companies, even though they may take more work to establish. We already mentioned how Cookly, the cooking class platform, has partnered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand in order to gain access and form further relationships within the country’s more remote regions.
For Sapore Travel, James Imbriani says that local partnerships are “really essential” to the business to be able to operate successfully and safely. “Ultimately, if I don’t have people on the ground that I trust to take care of clients that I’m sending there, then I’m not going to send people there. I need to know that when I send people there they’re in the hands of people that I trust and also that trust us as well.” In order to find the people to trust, he and his team make many visits to the countries they send clients, “to really hash out what it is we’re looking for and to find people that have a similar vision.”
Focus on what makes you and your destination unique
For food tourism operators and businesses, it’s important to focus on what makes the experience unique, as well as what makes the cuisine of the destination unique. When developing food tourism products, Joanne Wolnik recommends considering “how are you making sure that your itinerary is truly an experience and not just a tour, how are you taking it one step further?” She explained, “The idea behind that is that we know that in tourism, your competition is whoever is doing the same thing as you but closer to the traveler’s home. So by being completely different, we open ourselves up to a totally different market.”
Imbriani echoed this when we talked to him about how a food tourism company like Sapore Travel can continue to stand out in the market as it becomes more crowded over time. “I think the biggest thing is offering experiences that are a little bit differentiated from the rest of the market. Less focus on these just kind of generic cooking classes and restaurant reservations, and more focus on meeting with producers, and things like that. The biggest thing is being able to offer a unique product.”
Erik Wolf, CEO of the World Food Travel Association emphasized the importance of focusing on what makes an area’s cuisine unique in order to attract food tourists: “We also see entrepreneurs, and their destination marketing offices implicitly endorsing, giving tourists everything they could possibly want rather than focus on an area’s specialty.” He gave the example of tourists in Barcelona who look for an opportunity to eat paella “which is actually a dish originating in the province of Valencia, three hours south. They leave seemingly satisfied after having found paella, but it may only be a shadow of what an authentic paella experience would be.” When food businesses focus on their destination’s true, unique specialities, it encourages exploration into less commonly visited places, like Valencia rather than Barcelona.
- Case Study: Communicating Unique Cuisine Through Marketing
Focusing on what makes a region’s cuisine unique is crucial. Making sure that potential food tourists are aware of this is just as important. One way to do this is through marketing and branding messages. Time Out Market, for example, is opening a location in Brooklyn this spring. Didier Souillat, CEO, explained how one of the main marketing messages that will be used to attract tourists and locals to the location is “New York on a plate.” The idea that this message gets across — that a visitor can literally get a taste of a whole city with one experience — is powerful and attractive.
- Visit Sweden has recently launched a food tourism experience that follows this same idea (plus many others that we have discussed in the report). The experience is called The Edible Country. Created and hosted by four Michelin Star Swedish chefs, the experience takes participants into the wilderness in seven distinct regions of the country where they prepare a nine course meal made from things they catch and forage from nature around them. In addition to incorporating the hands-on, educational, and local aspects that we’ve discussed throughout this report, the way it is marketed and branded communicate Sweden as a destination that can be meaningfully experienced through this food-based activity.
- Case Study: Communicating Unique Cuisine Through Marketing
Figure out what “authentic” means for you
As we discussed earlier in the report, food tourism isn’t just one thing, and a big part of this has to do with the many meanings of “authentic” across and within destinations. Because of this, it’s important for food tourism stakeholders to figure out what “authentic” means to them. What part of the region’s cuisine should you focus on? How can you take advantage of locally produced food and drinks? This is something that Time Out Market is approaching smartly in its upcoming Brooklyn location. This location will be the only Time Out Market location of those slated to open in the coming years to feature a Kosher vendor. According to Didier Souillat, “We’re about being local, so you can’t be more local than that.”
Michael Ellis of Jumeirah Group has also had to grapple with figuring out how to bring authentic cuisine into Jumeirah properties. This is especially challenging, yet exciting, in Dubai where there doesn’t seem to be much awareness of what “Emirati cuisine” is due its the huge population of expats that have brought their own cuisines with them. “I would like to find some Emirati dishes. You know, 100 or 200 years ago, what were they eating here that maybe we can modernize and bring to and show our guests? … I’m excited to use — whether it’s palms, or dates, or camel milk, or some of the other things that are found here — I think we can have some fun making modern versions of Emirati dishes.” Other food tourism stakeholders can do their own research to figure out how they can take advantage of unique and authentic cuisine in their own way.
Nurture existing food resources to become parts of food tourism
This is one things that stakeholders can do to help develop the food tourism space in their destinations to positively benefit the community. Stakeholders of all kinds can examine what already exists in a region: local restaurants, producers, manufacturers, and even food-passionate individuals who aren’t currently making money this way. They can then come up with ways to nurture these resources to help them have a more active role in the space.
Helena Williams explained how restaurants can do this. By adding a chef’s table, a periodic cooking class, or more specifically, something like “a fish restaurant that will let you go to the dock early in the morning and show you how they select their fish, and then you select the fish and come back later for dinner, and that chef has prepared that fish that you selected.” The restaurant itself may already be a culinary attraction, but “Those are the kinds of things that could easily be added to an existing wonderful experience,” making it more memorable and encouraging travel specifically for the experience itself.
Stakeholders can also help food-passionate individuals enter food tourism, which will benefit them and also their communities. Williams also provided an example of how this could transpire: Maybe there’s a woman in a community who makes the best dumplings, from her kitchen or another unofficial space, but her food wouldn’t necessarily be available to tourists. In a case like this, other stakeholders can help connect her with a network that can help provide support to expand her passion into a business within the food tourism space in her community. Whether it’s the tourism board helping to promote her as a food business or a hotel bringing her to teach cooking classes or sell her dumplings, she can become a part of food tourism with the support of other stakeholders for the benefit of everyone.
Peer-to-peer platforms like Eatwith can also help everyday people who are passionate about their food and cultures play a role in food tourism. Rumani of Eatwith explained that when it comes to the platform’s hosts, “Most of them, I would say 98% of them are amateurs, like me. I do host sometimes as well, and it’s like people who love to cook, are super proud of their culture and story, family story.”
- Case Study: Ontario’s Southwest
The maple syrup experience case study from Ontario’s Southwest that we shared earlier in the report is not the only one from the region worthy of discussing. Another example shared with us by Joanne Wolnik is an experience called Tree to Table: A Canadian Conversation. This experience is a great illustration of this best practice category because it shows how even a region’s non-food-specific resources can be nurtured to play a role in food tourism.
- This experience is hosted by a charcuterie board maker in Oxford County in Ontario, which is considered the dairy capital of Canada. Four at a time, participants come to his property, where he shows them how he sustainably sources wood from the indigenous forest for his craft. Participants then design their own board with his artist wife, and then he teaches them how to make their own board in his workshop. Throughout the experience, participants get to try locally foraged teas and some other local recipes made from regional products. Following the boardmaking portion, the group enjoys an outdoor feast that Wolnik describes as being “filled with local jams … local cheeses from different artisan cheesemakers, meat from sustainable meat producers. So everything you’re eating is local. Even the chives and pansies that are in the butter, local breads made from locally milled grains.”
- By hosting this experience, this artisan is able to expand his business and customer base while also sharing his region’s culture and history. Participants get to learn a new skill, understand the region through its food specialities, and bring home a souvenir they made themselves.
- Case Study: Ontario’s Southwest
Food tourism should be collaborative, not competitive
We have already talked about how important local partnerships are for stakeholders interested playing a role in food tourism. That best practice especially focused on how organizations of different kinds can come together toward the common goal. Now, we turn our attention to how collaboration between stakeholders more generally can make a region a real destination for food tourism. If our focus on every stakeholder having a role to play hasn’t made it clear, food tourism should be collaborative, not competitive, even for similar types of businesses in a region.
Helena and Robert Williams have supported this statement through their research. In an article published in the 2018 Journal of Gastronomy and Tourism authored with Jingxue (Jessica) Yuan, they present results from surveys of food tourists. From the results of the surveys, they present what they call the 6+ Gastro-Cluster Destination Development Model. This model proposes that if at least six food tourism attractions in a two hour radius co-market themselves under a single brand image, it increases the likelihood that food tourists will consider the area worthy of a trip: The study concludes that “to attract serious, overnight, self-identified gastro-tourists, which results in sustainable economic development, 6+ clusters are needed.”
- Case Study: Food tourism trails
Food tourism trails (or culinary trails, or beverage trails) are an example of how this “cluster” idea can play out in real life. We talked specifically about beverage trails in our 2016 report, where we mentioned the examples of the Denver Beer Trail, the Austrian Schnapps Trail, the Columbus Coffee Trail, and the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. Trails like this are made up of food or beverage businesses that fall within a specific culinary category all within fairly close proximity to one another.Joanne Wolnik explained that the culinary trails in Ontario’s Southwest show “the critical mass of operators, experiences, and offers that are there for people to do. It’s just a more cohesive message than to go out and say ‘We’ve got 35 wineries’ or ‘We’ve got two distilleries, 20 breweries, and 18 wineries.’ We just try to package it up so it’s more exciting.” She explained how trails in the region, like the Oxford County Cheese Trail, act as attractants for tourists to visit the area and support it in other ways: “They have to be doing more than that [just eating cheese] the entire time they’re there. We know that the Cheese Trail is the reason they came, but while they’re there, they’re also doing A, B, and C, and benefiting the local community in those ways as well.”
- Case Study: Food tourism trails
Think beyond tourists
Hopefully, the importance of thinking beyond tourists is obvious at this point. Food tourism requires input and collaboration from all kinds of stakeholders, who can all play a part and benefit from it. Even when developing food tourism experiences, the focus shouldn’t only be on tourists. In most destinations, tourism ebbs and flows, so tourists are not always going to be a steady stream of customers for food and drink businesses and experiences. Locals and domestic travelers need to be considered as well.
When Skift Research asked Didier Souillat of Time Out Market whether he and his team focus more on tourists or locals as its target audience, he responded, “It can’t be only one. Tourists won’t go to places where locals are not because they think it’s too touristy for me. The locals won’t go if there’s too many tourists.” Even with the Lisbon Market, where 70% of visitors are tourists, he says most of the advertising is directed at the local community.
Even with food tours, like the examples we have provided in Ontario’s Southwest, locals and domestic travelers can be just as attracted to them as tourists. They provide a deeper look at things they may already feel they are familiar with, while also providing unique, hands-on activities that they have likely never had the opportunity to participate in before.
Cater to specific niches
Once the infrastructure is in place to support food tourism and food tourism experiences have been developed that follow the guidelines we’ve presented in this report, stakeholders can start thinking about catering to specific niches of food tourists. This could include niches of dietary restrictions/preferences, like vegetarians or vegans, or special interest groups. In November 2018, Skift reported on vegetarian and vegan tours being the “next wave of food tourism,” as the major tour operator Intrepid Travel plans to launch fully vegan tours in Italy, India, and Thailand this year. In destinations like these, vegan cuisine is already common, so creating products with this segment in mind can still maintain regional authenticity while also being a key selling point for these specific groups.
Food tourists with special interests outside of dietary preferences can also be targeted in this way. For example, since marijuana became legal for commercial sale in Colorado, a host of tourism products related to the substance have emerged, many of which are culinary related. The tour operator Colorado Cannabis Tours, for example, features an experience called “Beers, Brews, and Cannabis Tour,” in addition to an “Introductory Cooking with Cannabis” class and a “Cannabis Infused Dinner Party.” While the segment of tourists interested in these experiences may be a small subsection of all potential food tourists, the specificity is more likely to inspire them to travel even from great distances for these experiences that are difficult to find elsewhere.
Endnotes and Further Reading
- BeverageDaily.com, “Brewers Association: Microbreweries and taprooms are ‘clearly the growth engine of craft,” May 2018.
- Bisnow, “U.S. Food Hall Market Expected To Triple By 2020,” April 2018.
- Booking.com, “Going Local is the essential ingredient for an unforgettable foodie adventure,” June 2018.
- Business Wire, “Move Over Foodies … Make Room for the Food Connected,” October 2018.
- FoodNavigator-USA.com, “Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: ‘Food connected consumers’ could have broader reach than ‘foodies,’” October 2018.
- New York Times, Eating and Drinking Your Way Through A Trip, and Learning Something in the Process, May 2018.
- Scottish Tourism Alliance, “New plan to increase food and drink tourism,” 2018.
- Skift, “Chefs as Destination Ambassadors Appeal to Travelers’ Foodie Obsessions,” January 2018.
- Skift, “Vegans Find New Options as Part of Next Wave of Food Tourism,” November 2018.
- Skift Table, “The Next Generation of Food Hall Design,” December 2018.
- TripAdvisor, “2018 Travel Trends Report: Experiences, Tours & Activities,” 2018.
- TripAdvisor, “Top 25 Experiences — World,” 2018.
- UNWTO, Second Global Report on Gastronomy Tourism, 2017.
- World Food Travel Association