THE BLOG
02/24/2013 09:54 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2013

Food Tourism: Is This Travel Or A Buffet?

In the past many people traveled to visit their families, attend a celebration such as a wedding, birthday or religious ceremony or to enjoy a few days of quiet and relaxation at some place away from home.

In the last decade, there is emerging another exciting reason to travel -- to discover and taste the food in cities, rural areas and countries throughout the world. Often referred to as "culinary tourism", this emerging interest is visiting destinations primarily to taste and experience different foods are rapidly growing in popularity.

Ten years ago "culinary tourism" was viewed as a form of special interest tourism -- a niche market that combined the best of travel with the enjoyment of discovering new foods and beverages. In a recent interview with Erik Wolf, President and CEO of The World Food Travel Association (formerly the International Culinary Tourism Association) Wolf said that within the last decade the definition of culinary or food tourism has evolved to include "those people who travel almost exclusively to search for and enjoy prepared foods and drink."

This may include all unique and memorable gastronomic experiences, not just those promoted as a "must try this food" in destination marketing materials. The culinary tourist is happy sampling foods prepared by the vast variety of specialty food trucks that are multiplying across the country, (over 800 different food trucks in Portland, Oregon) the out of the way roadside stops, or tasting regional appetizers made at a local bar such as the cheeseburger fries served at a small bar in Nebraska.

Culinary tourists will travel both domestically and internationally to visit the local produce markets, meet with the local farmers to see how fruits and vegetables are grown, observe organic and sustainable food practices, learn about how exotic spices are grown or used in food or watch how specialty foods are prepared. A favorite experience of the food tourists is participating with a chef in the preparation of an authentic meal or to learn how to bake a regional delicacy.

The World Food Travel Association is currently updating their research that was conducted five years ago to learn more about the culinary tourist. The 2007 research showed that Deliberate Culinary Tourists account for about 10% of community visitors, (travel focused primarily on food and wine) while another 10% travel because food is important but not the only factor to the traveler. It is predicted that the survey will provide a better understanding of exactly who the culinary tourists are, why they travel, and economic impact of their travel for food.

Are the culinary tourists really the Explorers who are always looking for something new to experience, the Baby Boomers who are seeking and educational or interactive experience, or many of the Millennial who have traveled since they were young and been exposed to exotic foods from around the world and are no longer content with a hamburger?

Whatever their passion or wherever they travel in search of a culinary experience, the culinary tourist is returning benefits to the local community -- from helping the local farmers, to creating new restaurants or dining experiences, overnight stays in local hotels, and at the same time educating visitors about the local cultures and the way of life. One of the biggest benefits is the development or expansion of local businesses, restaurants, guided driving or walking tours, and authentic experiences that are a result of their quest for an outstanding culinary experience. Travel is about collecting experiences and taking home memories of the destination they visited.

When you think of travel do you fondly recollect that special food you tasted or glass of wine from a local vineyard?

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