What Is Culinary Tourism?

18 Aug
Erik Wolf, International Culinary Tourism Association, will provide a plenary address at DCI’s 2011 Annual Conference in Durango this fall. Culinary Tourism for Towns of All Sizes will be held on Friday, September 23 at 11:15am.
Food is the , sexy new topic of conversation everywhere in the world, and Colorado is no exception. Did you know that there is an entire industry that exists to help businesses to promote their food products as attractions to visitors and locals alike? 
Culinary tourism is the pursuit of unique and memorable culinary experiences, often while travelling, but one need not go far from home can be a culinary tourist — trekking across town to try out a new restaurant is also considered culinary tourism. If that’s too lofty, then think of it this way:  if an area has unique food and drink, these are part of the area’s cultural assets and they need to be preserved and promoted.
Culinary tourism encompasses culinary experiences of all kinds; restaurants, cafes, wineries and breweries – of course – but also cooking schools and classes, culinary tours, cookbook and kitchen gadget stores, culinary events, culinary attractions, farmers markets, culinary lodging, food and drink clubs, culinary media, and food manufacturers.
More than ever now there are food and cooking shows on televisions throughout the world. There also more well-known celebrity chefs than ever, and also a large increase in the popularity of local farmers markets. Consumers are becoming more educated; now aware and concerned about things like food miles — the distance ingredients have traveled, to land on the plate in front of you. This illustrates the increasing importance of food knowledge everywhere.
Other trends include the demand for highlighting local food on menus, and consumers desire to learn everything they can about the ingredients in a dish.  Do your wait staff know everything about each dish you serve, such as where the ingredients come from, and if they are not local, then why are these ingredients sourced from outside the region?  You might expect locals to understand the beef on your menu is from the Colorado farmer down the road, but how will a visitor to your area know? 
Consumers and travelers alike seek unique and memorable experiences – something they can tell their friends about.  If you present them with a story about their dish, they are more likely to call it an experience than a meal, which makes it memorable.   Think about your own favorite meal experience – what was memorable about it?  The décor?  The presentation?  The food?  Service?  Price?
Culinary tourism is a market that continues to grow every year.  Visitors know of Colorado’s natural beauty, but the state’s food and drink businesses need to boast more the state’s unique and memorable culinary products.  When an average 25% of every visitor’s spending is on food and drink, how can we ignore the potential for growth in this industry?  If we understand the motivation of a culinary traveler and what they are looking for, we can leverage our businesses and send visitors home to tell their friends about the amazing experience they had -– what better, more cost-effective marketing can you get than word of mouth?
Erik Wolf serves as the President of both the International Culinary Tourism Association and FoodTrekker Publishing.  www.culinarytourism.org  and www.foodtrekker.com.

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