Culinary Tourism 101: The Basics
by Eric Pateman
During your last holiday, or even the last time you went out for dinner, how many of you took pictures of food, markets or culinary-related images? According to various studies, more than 50% of the population takes pictures of their food, and if you are a millennial, that figure jumps to almost 70%!
Travelling, eating and sharing your stories is becoming more and more prevalent. This explains why, according to UNWTO’s Gastronomy Network Action Plan, over 88% of destinations are considering gastronomy as a strategic element in their image and brand. That means almost 9 out of 10 countries, cities and regions are fighting for the same customers — not only in our own markets, but with destinations around the world, too. This makes for a very crowded playing field! So, how do you differentiate your business or region from your competitors, whether they’re around the corner, or around the world?
Building Culinary Tourism: Where to Start
Below are a couple tough questions I asked decision makers on recent consulting trips to New Zealand and Australia. Regions of these countries are building culinary tourism strategies to hopefully help attract more business and increase average spend in their regions.
- What makes your cuisine and region unique?
- Why should I choose to visit your region over the dozens of other similar regions around the world?
Even in rooms filled with top-tier marketers, business owners, chefs, farmers, and various government officials, very few people, if any, could actually verbalize their unique selling propositions (USP).
I heard statements like “we have the best produce,” “we cook with what is local” and “we are culturally diverse.” Sound familiar?
Well, guess what! Those are the same lines I hear in every city and region I visit around the globe. You need to dig deeper and come up with something that really differentiates your city or region. Eating locally and seasonally is a basic requirement to even be in the game of culinary tourism. So, what makes you truly different?
We live in a global food economy with products available anywhere, anytime (in season or not), in a world that is at risk of becoming very monotonous if we do not celebrate the things that make us unique. That does include regionality, seasonality and so on, but it also needs to include a true expression of the place, its people and its history.
If you are considering creating a culinary tourism strategy, here are five basic things you need to keep in mind for it to be successful.
1. Establish Leadership and a Plan
Before you can start marketing yourself as a destination, you need a project leader and a plan for how you are going to get there. It is remarkable how many places I travel to that see themselves as a culinary destination but they do not have any leadership or even a plan in place. The most successful countries and regions (and even individual businesses) with a great culinary brand have an organization that is leading the charge with a plan in place.
2. Embrace Collaboration
While you can have a person or an organization lead the charge, you require a community to come together and all share in the plan and story if you are going to build a brand that resonates locally, regionally and internationally. One person (the leader) will get followers, but it is when everyone comes together and follows that you can create a movement. The movement (whether that’s in a company, a city or a country) is what can change things!
3. Understand Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
If you cannot define the unique selling proposition (USP) for your region, how do you think you can sell it and share your story? Your USP provides a reason for visitation. You need to look at why you are different (and hopefully better) than your competitors. What is it that would make someone choose you over somewhere else?
4. Focus on Product Development
Very few places around the world have the depth of product to be a top culinary destination, and you are only as strong as your weakest link. If you are going to tell the world your city, region or country is a world-class culinary destination, you need to invest not only in marketing but also in making sure the product available is actually world class.
Local governments and businesses need to make it easier to innovate and help existing businesses grow. They need to offer fair living wages and affordable housing to staff and talent. This will be one of the biggest challenges globally as the sector continues to grow at record levels.
5. Ensure the Value Chain Remains Viable
In most cities and regions around the world, the value chain seems to either be broken or very stretched in supporting all of the levels required to keep it unique. The end price most consumers pay for food, whether that’s at the grocery store or at a restaurant, is not enough to support the costs involved in producing it. Those include a living wage for staff, the distribution system required to get the food there and most importantly, fair compensation for the farmers, foragers, fishers and producers who grow and catch the food we eat.
If we do not continue to increase the end price we pay for food (as a percentage of our total income), we are in danger of the system collapsing. Our unique, local, seasonal products will disappear and we’ll see an even larger labour shortage as the viability of a career in the industry disappears. If this happens, we will be reliant on cheaper, imported food products and labour who only see the industry as a stepping stone to another career. We may even see the replacement of workers as new restaurant concepts like SPYCE take off with robotic systems.
Once all of the things above are in place, then you can focus on the marketing. This is the fun part—when you get to start telling the world why they should come visit your region, meet your incredible people and experience your taste of place!