International cuisine is one of the main reasons why travellers choose a destination. As part of the cultural experience, it allows them to understand the essence of a city or town using all five senses. With a spectacular local meal, you can breathe in the fragrant smell of native herbs and spices, see the vibrant colours of indigenous fruits and vegetables, hear the sound of sizzling traditional dishes, feel new textures on your tongue, and—most importantly—taste irreplicable flavours of delicacies that have been passed down from generation to generation.
It’s no wonder then, that gastronomy tourism has become its own segment of travel, bringing the travel industry a wealth of benefits beyond great food, including improved local economy, agriculture and cultural preservation.
Yolanda Perdomo, Director of the Affiliate Members Programme for the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), agrees, explaining in the 2017 UNWTO Global Report on Gastronomy Tourism that “Gastronomy tourism has been continuously increasing and its importance has been recognized by many destinations; in addition to its economic benefits, gastronomy has demonstrated to be a major source of identity and pride for local communities, drawing on an intangible heritage.”
Moreover, “It is also able to attract tourist flows to less visited regions, consequently generating spending in a way that is more equitable throughout the entire region… [It] fosters inclusive and sustainable economic growth, social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction, resource efficiency, cultural values, diversity and heritage.”
Clearly an essential factor to a destination’s success in more ways than one, gastronomy tourism should be at the forefront of any DMO’s agenda, which is why we’re sharing some current trends that are making waves in this industry below. Check them out:
A Foodie Focus on Millennials and Gen Z
Millennials are widely recognized as the driving force behind gastronomy tourism. A generation that has grown up in a globalized economy, they have a broader range of food choices within their reach and are far more experienced in international cuisine than previous generations. This has led to a whopping demand for authentic and local food experiences that cannot be replicated in mass form.
In fact, according to GlobalData’s consumer survey Q3-2018, “Generation Z and Millennials find local cuisine more influential when choosing a destination, compared to generation X and baby boomers.”
In their report, “Key Trends in Culinary Tourism” GlobalData offered insight into this statistic, stating: “Millennials are a trend-setting generation in food, among other sectors. From demands for ethically produced food and customization to quick meals, the love of discovering new cuisines, and being the driving force behind the vegetarian and vegan movements, the generation has redefined the ‘food experience’ globally, completely transforming the way we eat…. [Their] quest for transformative and experiential travel can explain why local gastronomy plays a fundamental role when they plan their next holiday.”
DMOs are capitalizing on this generation’s culinary passion by offering up more food experiences, as opposed to just restaurant guides and suggestions. Some of the more popular experiences include:
Local-Led Food Tours
Foodie tours are big news these days, and more often than not, they have a local influence, either being led by local foodie aficionados or run by companies that promote bespoke-to-the city culinary experiences.
The competition is fierce in this arena, too. For example, if you search best food tours in New York on Trip Advisor you get over 80 results—and they run the gamut—ranging from food-specific tours, such as pizza tours, to location-specific food tours like Greenwich Village food tours. There are even Flatiron Food, Architecture and History Tours. In essence, there really are no bounds when it comes to marketing local cuisine with the best that the city has to offer, and this is great news for DMOs looking to promote something new and unique.
Food Trucks and Street Food
Food trucks and street food are all the rage internationally. A cheap alternative for start-up local cooks to showcase their skills and local cuisines, both of these segments of the food industry attract travellers from all regions of the globe.
Food trucks have become synonymous with affordable high-quality food because they tend to focus on fewer dishes done really well at a fantastic price point. Some are so famous that they have been featured on popular food shows, are frequently listed on top ten lists for things to do in the city, have their own festivals and are now featured in food guides like Zagat.
Moreover, they can invigorate a city’s food culture, as was the case with Kogi Korean BBQ in LA. Founded by the famed Roy Choi, this food truck fleet is often cited as the reason why food trucks became mainstream, offering up high-quality Korean-Mexican fusion food that had critics raving from coast to coast. The popularity of Kogi was able to reinvigorate the Korean culinary scene in LA too, spurring many other Korean restaurants to open and share their take on American-Mexican-Korean fusion.
Similarly, street food is gaining steam as a culinary experience that truly immerses travellers in the culture of a locale. It allows visitors to speak to local merchants, walk around bazaars and peruse the many spices, ingredients and types of food while being surrounded by the real sights and sounds of the city.
In Asia, these street food markets have been around for decades, but they are now garnering serious consideration from critics for their quality of food. For example, two street food vendors in Singapore, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, have been notably featured in the Singapore Michelin guide alongside the most prestigious fine dining establishments in the city. Other places like Vancouver, Canada have jumped on board with this trend and launched their own annual street food festivals, showcasing a broad range of international cuisines from the city’s multicultural background.
From Tuscany to Portland, cooking lessons are rising in popularity among travellers who seek a unique foodie experience. Bolstered by popular travel food documentaries like SALT FAT ACID HEAT, these lessons offer individuals a new perspective on local gastronomy by allowing them to learn the art of traditional cuisine using their own hands. From learning how to make the perfect gnocchi from a 90-year-old Italian grandmother in Tuscany, to creating the ideal farm-to-table haute cuisine in Portland, cooking lessons make the food-travel experience more educational. They also allow travellers to interact with real locals, giving them insight into how the native cuisine influences the surrounding culture, starting with the ingredients and going all the way through to the cooking techniques and eating etiquette.
One of the most famous examples of this is Chef David Sterling’s cooking school, Los Dos, in Mérida, Mexico. Los Dos is devoted to the cuisine of the Yucatán and offers classes where students get to see Maya techniques and ingredients on a market tour, receive culinary instruction from locals, and then experience authentic Yucatán meals featuring rare, indigenous ingredients.
Whatever the gastronomy tourism focus for your DMO, the end result should give visitors authentic food and beverage experiences that highlight the history, culture and diversity of the locale. In the best cases, this will have a domino effect and help invigorate the economy, agriculture and cultural vibrancy too.