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Food as a tourism marketing agent

Dr. Peter Tarlow, T&M's Tourism Tidbits  Apr 03, 2016

There is little doubt that food is a major part of the tourism experience.

If tourism is about seeing new sights and having new and unique experiences then the culinary world is a major part of the tourism experience. Because eating is an essential part of living, food or culinary tourism has a broad base of appeal.

In fact, often when visitors return home, one of the first questions that people ask is ‘how is the food?” The interaction between tourism and food is often called culinary tourism.

In reality this is a broad term that often means different things to different people. Often scholars define culinary tourism along the lines of: visitors having the opportunity of partaking in unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences.

Culinary tourism tries to provide authentic local cuisines that represent both the tastes and smells of a nation as a part of that locale’s cultural offerings and heritage.

This definition, however, may speak more to a locale’s “haute cuisine” than to the eating experience of the average local resident.

The World Food Tourism Association supports this assertion, noting that “only 8.1% of all foodies self-identify with the “gourmet” label.” Thus the association argues that most people enjoy good food and drink but there is no necessary relationship between the enjoyment of a culinary experiences and the cost of that experience.

Often the most interesting culinary experiences come from a variety of social and economic classes. Furthermore, every community has a culinary food potential, although often visitors or tourists do not get to experience it and at times the local population under appreciates it. To help you create a local culinary tourism experience that will add pride to your own community and at the same time, provide unique travel experiences, Tourism Tidbits offers the following ideas, cautions, and experiences.

- Culinary tourism tends to work best when it is combined with other aspects of tourism. Although we all love to eat, when visiting a location we usually want to do more than eat. Pair your tourism culinary offering with other compatible and complementary offerings. A good example of food and tourism activities is the ski business. That business does a good job of encouraging people to ski during the day, use up calories and then not feel guilty about their caloric consumption during the après-ski period.

-Know your own food traditions. All too often locals either do not realize that a particular food expresses the unique flavor of a locale and all too often are ignorant of the food’s history. Combine the eating experience with the cultural or historical experience. Create food centers that allow people to experience not only the local tastes but also the local atmosphere. Create ways that people cannot only sample the local cuisine but either take samples home or purchase the receipts.

-Make sure that people know what they are getting. Although food consumption is big business we live in a world of multiple eating restrictions, be these restrictions due to religious, ethnic, medical, or health reasons. A location can lose all the good will obtained through culinary tourism simply through misinformation or through a poorly trained staff. Food is both an issue of pleasure and comfort, but also highly emotionally charged. Poor food training or lack of sensitivity toward food avoidance needs can result not only in an unhappy customer, but in worse case scenario, a law suite.

-There are multiple subsets to culinary tourism. Culinary tourism has multiple sub-categories. For example there are places that emphasize their beer tourism such as Germany, wine tourism such as California, France, Italy or Portugal, chocolate tourism such as Switzerland. Each of these culinary tourisms is subset of the larger world of culinary tourism. All of these locations have a number of things in common. These include: (1) they base their tourism on numerous locations where visitors can both sample and compare. Thus, for wine tourism to work, there must be a cluster of vineyards in close proximity ton each other, (2) there is coordination with other components of the tourism industry, from tour companies to international guides, (3) the beer halls, vineyards, chocolate stores must collaborate with each other.

- Assure that local foods are fresh and wholesome. There is nothing that can destroy culinary tourism faster than a reputation for lack of hygiene or for being a place in which people get sick. Make sure that the water supply is adequate and potable. Emphasize foods that are fresh, local, organic, and sustainable. Using seasonal foods means that your culinary tourism product changes with the seasons and that you can encourage repeat visitation. Remember to keep things as uncomplicated as possible. When it comes to culinary tourism remember the simpler and easier to understand the better.

-All forms of culinary tourism are especially appealing to rural areas. These are areas that often lack indoor attractions, are close to food sources, and often have preserved local traditions. Rural food tourism locations that are most successful have found ways to protect their food ecology and offer interesting and hardy meals at reasonable prices. The keys are (1) excellent and friendly customer service (2) unique or wholesome foods, reasonable prices, and local marketing so that the outsider knows not only where to go but also hours of service. Rural culinary tourism can easily be linked to heritage and historical tourism. These locations may not require a great deal of paid labor and often provide unique experiences. For example, church suppers create a tourism experience, a social experience and a way for the local church to gain additional revenue.

Food as a tourism marketing agent

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