Bringing Food Tourism into the Travel Equation
PHOTO: Food tourism continues to become more popular among travelers. (Photo courtesy Thinkstock)
At the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) business development event, AdventreElevate in Saguenay, Quebec, the topic of culinary travel and the business of food tourism was a major focus. Not only did delegates eat well, sampling some of Quebec’s traditional delicacies, but a panel of culinary travel experts addressed travel agents, tour operators, media attendees and other guests to discuss the business of food and travel and how to best incorporate a region’s culinary traditions into an itinerary.
In 2015, the ATTA put together the “Taste of Adventure” research project on food tourism and its impact on the travel industry and the survey’s key takeaways were an important starting point for the panel at AdventureElevate.
The survey showed that 71 percent of adventure itineraries included an experiential food focus, that culinary-focused itineraries generated more revenue and that itineraries that visited wineries, breweries and distilleries were among the most requested.
Food is a leading hook in travel. It is everywhere in the media, splashed across magazines, streaming on television and dominating the digital world.
“Food porn is part of our common culture vocabulary,” said Jim Kane of sustainable travel company Culture Xplorers and the moderator of the panel. “It cuts across every economic level.”
In discussing some of the top draws of culinary travel, Kane noted some other key findings from the ATTA’s Taste of Adventure survey.
“Food transcends borders,” he said. “Of the top five destinations in the survey, they represented four distinct regions around the world, all with varying GDPs. Food also transcends generations. It adds value to travel experiences and it increases the daily rate guests pay for their experience. When looking at a range of costs, food tourism was at the top of the rate scale.”
Kane also said that food adds context. Fifty percent of the survey respondents added a food component because it contributed to a deeper understanding of place.
“Food taps into what connects us as human beings,” he said. “It is a vehicle for deeper understanding.”
Panelists were asked if food travel could be a driver of local economies. And panelists agreed that the answer was “yes.”
“For us that’s one of the most important aspects,” said Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development at Wilderness Travel.
She explained that Wilderness Travel created a hike that ends in the homes of the guides, porters and cooks who assist hikers on their journey in Peru.
“It was an organic way to bring the money into the local economy,” she said.
“Food can diversify the market,” said Carl-Eric Guertin, director general of Economusee. “They can rely more on the tourism industry and food adds value to the travel market.”
Panelists also discussed creative ways to incorporate the elements of food into itineraries with examples such as sledding through a maple forest and then cooking with maple syrup that came from the forest.
Chris Johns, author of the Canadian cookbook, “Far North,” explained how one chef turned spot prawns into a culinary trend in Vancouver.
“Spot prawns are suddenly in incredible demand because of a local chef,” he said. “They created a festival around the food, which is now one of the largest culinary festivals in Vancouver, drawing visitors from around the world. Tour operators can build in food experiences easily by incorporating a visit to the wharf while the fishermen come in and sampling what they’ve brought in.”
READ MORE: Adventure Travel and the Foodie Culture
Panelists also discussed how the importance of food has altered the travel landscape and how tour operators and travel planners need to have balance when planning their itineraries.
“Don’t lose site of your core identity,” said Banks. “We run hiking trips and we never forget it. But food is a big component.”
She noted that when Wilderness Travel groups hike in Mont Blanc the guides bring local food for the picnics, which has become a way that they use food as an experience that is organically created by the nature of the region.
“It depends on the destination and the trip,” she said. “We can have anything as simple as a dinner with a family to a formal dinner with a renowned local chef, but we never lose sight of the hiking aspect.”
Creating the Culinary Experience
The panel also discussed the challenges of finding and creating a great culinary travel experience, noting that the local artisan needs to have the mindset of hospitality, and the importance of offereing a good experience for the visitor.
One of the keys is adaptation. When creating an experience, you need to be able to adapt to want the visitor wants and to be able to freshen and change up your product as the experience evolves.
“If the artisan produces just the past, they are going to pass into extinction,” said Guertin. “They need to innovate and be creative.”
“You know your clients and your destination management company knows the location – you need to be co-creators to create the right experience at the right level for your clients,” said Banks.
Eating with locals can ground visitors in the destinations and the experience.
“Engaging with and co-creating with a DMC can help you come up with memorable experiences that you and your clients would never find on their own,” added Banks.
“Food is visceral and emotional and you are connecting with people on a really emotional level,” said Johns.
But while cuisine offers a deep connection to a location, panelists also discussed keeping your priorities in order and not losing sight of your ultimate goal with the itinerary that you create.
“Sometimes food is the shining carrot of success. You have to keep it appropriate for your clients,” said Banks. “If they think that they are signing up for a bike trip and you stop for several hours at a chocolate factory, you are crossing a line of expectation for your guests.”
Panelists noted that it is important to make it clear to clients through words and images what to expect. Don’t go too far and find the balance within your trip design. Don’t go beyond what that trip experience is.
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