Getting a Piece of the Food Tourism Pie

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How far would you be willing to go for a truly amazing sandwich? How about a stunning seafood feast? A luscious slice of lemon cake?

It turns out that a lot of people would go pretty far. Say, across the country—or even the globe. Whether you call it food tourism, culinary tourism, or simply traveling in search of fabulous food and drink, it’s become a major trend.

More Than Gourmet

Food tourism isn’t just for gourmands. So what is it, exactly? At its simplest, food tourism means that cuisine is a factor in travel planning. This is true whether it determines the entire destination and itinerary, or influences decisions during the trip. For example, “food tourists” will book a room at a hotel because of its special restaurant, or visit a town to try its signature dish. True foodies may plan entire trips around what they eat and drink, whether it’s a wine-tasting excursion or a tour of street food culture.

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Thanksgiving Travel

This trend is on our minds because Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this week, which means they’ll be consuming a lot of turkey, cranberry sauce, and hotel rooms. In the U.S. alone, upwards of 39,000,000 families will hit the road to visit loved ones, get away, or both. Wherever they go, they eat upon arrival. Many of them, in fact, will choose to eat at restaurants or in hotels on the big day. They’re willing to pay a premium in order to skip the cooking and the dishes.

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Food Tourism Around the World

The holidays see an uptick in consumption across the board. But it’s not the only time of year that travelers seek out novel food and drink experiences.

Social media has played a big role. Travelers can easily share snaps of their meals with friends far and wide. Indeed, such experiences have become the hallmark of a vacation. A quick scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll see plenty of these “food selfies.” A rising interest in local foods and the “slow food” movement, along with a general enthusiasm for the foodie lifestyle, also fuels this trend.

Earlier this year, Skift released a report on food tourism that offered up some interesting stats. For example, in 2012, tourism expenditures on food services in the U.S. soared above $201 billion. That was nearly a quarter of all travel income! Thus, food service is the highest category of travel spend. The report also went on to note that 39 million U.S. leisure travelers choose a destination based on culinary activities, and an additional 35 million search for culinary activities in their chosen destination before traveling there.

Interestingly, not all travelers pursue culinary travel with a sense of adventure. Some may avoid certain locales because they perceive that familiar cuisine won’t be readily available. This is especially true for Chinese tourists, the Skift report notes. Hotels like the Hilton Los Angeles/San Gabriel have responded by adding dumplings and congee to the menu, as well as making tea kettles available on request.

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Seasonal Specials and Cooking Classes

 The holiday season is an ideal time to capitalize on your on-site restaurant, if you have one. Promote a special holiday feast. Offer seasonal cocktails or breakfast items. Eggnog with your coffee, perhaps? Even small details like this tend to inspire social sharing.

Posting food-related content on your website is another fun, simple way to tap into this trend and to get seasonal. From highlighting locally sourced ingredients to sharing family recipes or menus inspired by your region, this is an easy way to interest foodies who visit your website.

Even if you don’t prepare food on-site, try featuring photos or information about cuisine in your area, whether it’s a well-known restaurant, a beloved doughnut cart, or a unique local beverage. Lastly, you can encourage interaction by asking visitors to share favorite food experiences while traveling (text or photos), or traditional recipes of their own.

It’s also worth noting that cooking classes are an increasingly popular aspect of food tourism. Check out this list of international hotels offering cooking schools for their guests. Even if you don’t have facilities for this, it’s still an interesting possibility for cross-promotion with nearby restaurants or specialty food shops.

Whatever you’re eating this week, we hope it’s delicious.

Bon appétit! Or should we say … Buen provecho! Сайхан хооллоорой! Dobar tek! Guten appetit! 食飯!

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About Irene Keliher

Irene Keliher specializes in planning and writing user-friendly content for the web, particularly for eCommerce and online travel.

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