What is Food Tourism?
Culinary tourism or food tourism represents when visitors have a food experience while they’re travelling. It’s about building the destination brand based on its food experiences and offering food based experiences for people to enjoy while in the destination. This could be signature restaurants, winery tours, cheese trails, craft beer experiences, apple picking and cider tasting. These are all types of things we speak about in this podcast episode on what is food tourism and how you can consider a food tourism or culinary tourism a strategy for your destination or tourism region.
Food tourism is driving people to visit specific destinations. It can be a vehicle for economic development for a region. Today we welcome Food Tourism Developer Lindsay Young we will we chatting about attracting visitors through food tourism.
Lindsay: Culinary tourism or food tourism really just represents when visitors focus on or have a food experience while they’re traveling, so ultimately, the way that we look at it, every tourist is a food tourist, because every tourist has to eat while they’re traveling, usually three times a day, but sometimes four. I mean I tend to eat like about five times a day when I travel, but that’s the thing, it’s really any kind of food opportunity or food experience that people have when they’re traveling.
HollyG: What we’re seeing now and what we’re really talking about is how food tourism is driving people to visit specific destinations. Is that sort of the trend that we’re seeing now?
Lindsay: Absolutely, no question. I think food is now top of mind for certainly a specific subset of travellers, certainly the more foodie type travellers it definitely is a motivating factor and Restaurant Australia, the campaign put out by Tourism Australia is actually a really good indicator of the success of promoting a destination’s food offerings, because they have seen that once people were more aware that Australia actually had awesome food they were more likely to go there, they were more likely to put it higher on their list.
It’s something that in Canada, here, like when we think of Australia we think of it as Great Barrier Reef, the Outback. We really think of it naturewise. I had no idea the amount of food that exists in Australia and just how spectacular it is. It definitely made it more of a desirable place for me to go, because like I’m terrified of snakes. I don’t want to go to the Outback at all. I am so not … I mean I’ve heard it’s amazing, but like it is a scary place for me. Once I realized what the food offerings were in Australia it made me much more interested and much more willing to put my fear aside and venture there.
Absolutely, people are like no pun, well, pun intended, I suppose, they’re hungry for it. It is, if not the primary motivating factor, it’s certainly a primary decision making factor in terms of where people are going. If they have a choice between three places then they will probably, someone who really prioritizes food will probably lean towards a destination that is going to have the best food experiences.
HollyG: Yeah, sure. What’s happening in the region that you are in at that moment? What is some of the things that Culinary Tourism Alliance are doing in term of food tourism?
Lindsay: The Culinary Tourism Alliance, we started as the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance in the Province of Ontario, here in Canada, and we’ve realized that the opportunities really extend beyond just the Province of Ontario. We’re starting to work beyond here right here at home and into other parts of the country and other parts around the world.
Initially we started just with smaller destinations, counties, regions, smaller cities, really to help them understand what they actually had, what they’re existing assets were and position them in a way that was appealing to visitors; really turn those assets into a product or an experience. A couple of really cool examples from here in Ontario. The first one is the Oxford County Cheese Trail. Oxford County is, I think it’s a couple of hours west of Toronto and it was once, I believe, the dairy capital of Ontario…
Definitely a place for cheese and a place for dairy production. They had all of the kind of the raw materials. Another pun, that one was totally unintentional, but they had all of it, and it was just a very … It made for an inconsistent experience. The way they were presenting their offerings it just wasn’t quite marketable and so we worked with them, this was prior to me joining the organization, so our team worked with them to kind of reevaluate the program or reevaluate the product, the cheese trail, and make it so that it was what we call market ready. Essentially ready to host visitors, something that can be easily found online, it’s easy to understand what it is and it’s a tangible product that isn’t too difficult for a consumer to experience.
It involves redoing their marketing materials and kind of redoing the structure of the trail and the program, if you will, and they’ve seen a huge amount of success from the changes that were made. That’s definitely one thing that’s bringing people in from all parts of the province, to come and see what all this awesome cheese is and not just dairy farmers and the cheese makers, but also cheesemongers and businesses like hotels and attractions that are incorporating local cheese in cool ways.
HollyG: That’s a really good point actually, because I guess when you think about food tourism we mainly just think about food producers, but I guess who are some of those second tier sort of tourism businesses that could get involved in some sort of trail or some sort of food initiative?
Lindsay: The way that we look at things when we’re developing food tourism strategies and product and experience suggestions for our clients is we look at what we call the food tourism value chain. You’re exactly right, Holly, it’s not just about food producers, it’s about accommodations, attractions, and festivals and events, restaurants, growers and producers. There are a number of different businesses and organizations where food is a factor and it, yeah, it may not be the primary thing, but there’s a component there and there’s still a way to engage the visitor. Even if maybe the first thing that you do isn’t food, if you have a fantastic food component people will come.
“Food Tourism, it’s not just about food producers, it’s about accommodations, attractions, and festivals and events, restaurants, growers and producers.” says Lindsay Young
HollyG: I love that and that really, gives more scope to a destination, because they might think, oh look, I’ve only got four or five foodie things that are directly really related, but if you can look at it a little bit outside the box in that second tier or, as you say, the food tourism value chain, then it’s starts to maybe develop into a bit more of a stronger product.
Lindsay: Absolutely. I mean it is that diversity, right? You’re right, it is a stronger product, because there’s only so … Okay, let’s say you’ve got a trail that is a wine trail. Now I don’t necessarily personally agree with this, but there’s only so many wineries you can go to. I on the other hand, I can keep going, but it’s neat to see how wine is incorporated in other places and what other people are doing with it, whether they’re cooking with it or whether they are serving it in an interesting food pairing at a restaurant. Yes, it definitely strengthens the offering if there’s a more diverse experience at play. Absolutely.
HollyG: I guess we’re used to seeing some of the things like, maybe, like a wine trail or something like that, what are some of the other, I guess, food niches that you are seeing in other destinations?
Lindsay: Craft beer is immense right now.
Yeah and I think it’s the same kind of, in a lot of places. Of course in the States it’s huge. Craft beer is certainly growing a lot in Canada, particularly in Ontario. I just on the weekend went to an event called Cask Days and it happens every year in Toronto and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. They’ve got craft breweries from all over Canada, and a few from the States, that come in and they bring one cask of something really cool, really different and when it’s out it’s out. Some really innovative stuff. They do kind of partnerships and like co-brews and it’s so popular. The event has gone from a really, really small event to a massive event every year. I was actually talking about this with someone today, the amount of craft beer events in Toronto alone is mind boggling, like you almost can’t keep up. Yeah, so it’s-
HollyG: I think we’ll probably start to see that with gin as well. I don’t know about you, but gin is really, really, really growing hugely in popularity over here. Everybody is talking about gin this and gin that.
Lindsay: Oh cool. See now I have to sadly admit that I’m not a gin fan. I appreciate it.
HollyG: I wasn’t so much until I did actually start looking into it a little bit more and tasting a few different ones. I had no idea of the variety and, yeah, complexity. It’s quite interesting. I hear what you’re saying for sure.
Lindsay: Well, okay, then maybe I’m going to look forward to like the new, the gin Renaissance here in Canada, because that might bring me over to the dark side.
Lindsay: Yeah, it’s any kind of craft beverage I find right now is really, really hot. That’s definitely something that we’re seeing a lot of, craft beer, you got craft spirits. No question. Yeah and collaborations and partnership as well I think is another interesting trend that we’ve observed, not just within industries, like not just within from one brewery to another, but even breweries working with wineries to do barrel-aged stuff and then working with bakeries or working with cheesemongers or whatever it is to do cool different products. That’s another thing that we’re really starting to see. People love that. I don’t know, I’m sure it’s quite similar in Australia, but in Ontario, in Canada, people love it when people work together. They’re just like, “Oh my God, have you seen what so and so is doing with so and so? That is the coolest.”
HollyG: That’s great. What do you look for in a destination? Yeah, I guess what are the things … If there was some smaller destinations that were listening to this podcast, thinking, hmm, I wonder if really focusing on food tourism is for us, what sort of things should they sort of be looking for or what sort of things do you look for?
- Absolutely understand your assets and understand what makes you unique, because that is what is going to attract people, no question.
- Play to your strengths.
- Don’t necessarily try to do what everyone else is doing, because if it doesn’t make sense for your destination it’s going to be pretty obvious and ultimately it won’t be sustainable and it won’t succeed in the long-term.
- Really understanding your strengths, your assets, your unique selling points, your USPs, and playing to that.
- Then understanding, obviously, the market trends and the market demands and people are only getting more interested in food and food experiences, but you have to give them a reason to travel.
For instance, anywhere outside of Toronto, anywhere within maybe a two or three hour drive of Toronto, really has to look at the Toronto market, because the Toronto and surrounding area is about six million people, and it’s pretty substantial, lots of interest, lots of disposable income at the Millennial generation right now, but we need a reason to leave the city, because it’s very easy to get of the mindset of, well, we’ve got everything here. Because we kind of do, but we also don’t, you know? But we don’t know what we don’t have and so not only is it important for destinations to understand their assets and understand what makes them unique, but then figure out how to attract those people, figure out how tell their story in a way that is going to lure people in, especially if they’re close to bigger markets, because the market is there, you know?
There’s a huge opportunity there. There’s a ton of people and people are all about bragging about what they did on the weekend and somehow it seems as a bit of a conquest if you found something cool in a random place. It’s like a bit of a badge of honor, so like kind of pulling one person in leads to another, it leads to another, it leads to another. Yeah. Yeah.
HollyG: You mentioned at the start about that ability to be found online for a destination, what are some of things that you do with destinations or that you’re seeing in terms of what sort of presence they should be having online?
Lindsay: It’s actually really, really important, Holly, and I’m glad you actually brought that back, because that’s something that we’re seeing. Some destinations are better than others in terms of what we call web market readiness and their presence on social media. What we really look for is you need to be discoverable online, so whether or not you have a website or let’s say, Facebook actually works quite well as a bit of an alternative for a website, because you can post your hours, your contact information, you can upload a menu, if that’s part of what you do, you can host events, you can put pictures.
If having a website is too much or you don’t necessarily want to go there, at the bare minimum have a Facebook page, because people need to know where you are, like what you’re address is and ideally be able to see a map. They need to know when you’re open so they can come find you, because I have had experiences where I’ve gone, I’ve driven to somewhere or I’ve shown up some place and they’re not open and I didn’t have anyway to find that and it’s really sad and it actually gives you a bad experience. Then I’m going to tell my friends, “Oh well, they weren’t open so don’t bother with them.”
Having that information accessible, but then talking about what you’re doing, and it doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be sophisticated, but just showcasing your product, showcasing what’s unique about what you’re doing, showcasing your experience. People doing stuff, whether it’s people at a tasting bar or people taking a walk along your pathway to the vineyard or whatever it is you want to use images online, whether it’s through social or your website, to showcase a tangible experience.
HollyG: Yeah, and as you say, you want to show people actually doing that experience or having that experience.
Lindsay: Absolutely. There’s a lot of talk, and I mean I’ve written about it, but there’s a lot of talk about how particularly in travel, and I think the same goes for food, that images are your image and that’s really how you sell people. That’s how you get them to buy a tour or get them to come to your restaurant or get them to come to your destination is through photos, because they can’t actually have a tangible experience before they purchase or before they commit and so photos are the way that you get them to come in. It’s not like trying on a sweater at a store, so absolutely just having … The key things I would say would be having somewhere online where you have your hours, your email, your phone number, your location and then photos, photos of what you do; at the bare minimum.
HollyG: Because of that, are you seeing a lot of these businesses that are involved or the destinations involved using tools like Instagram?
Lindsay: Yes, we absolutely encourage the use of Instagram for food and for travel experiences. I mean I wouldn’t say it’s a no brainer, because I think there are a lot of people that still social media is a bit of a minefield, but it’s definitely where I think there’s a lot of value, because it’s a great way, it’s where people are, it’s where people are discovering experiences and it’s a great way to really showcase what you’re doing. Yes, we really think that it’s probably the one platform to focus on, aside from if you want to use Facebook as your kind of default website-
HollyG: Or having a website essentially.
Lindsay: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. I mean we definitely use Instagram a lot. Our Instagram handle is still @ontarioculinary, even though we’re now the Culinary Tourism Alliance, but we absolutely use Instagram a lot to really showcase all of the amazing things that are happening in the province and stuff that we’re doing as well with our consulting work. Food photos on Instagram sometimes they’re unbelievable and I’ve totally gone places because the food looks good online.
HollyG: Oh, totally.
Lindsay: Well, I was going to say like but then the challenge is is that you have to meet those expectations though. It’s all well and good to have beautiful food or a beautiful experience, but that’s another thing we work with our clients on is really delivering on that expectation, because I think it’s actually worse if you get someone in the door and then don’t deliver than if you don’t get them in the door at all.
Lindsay: That’s one thing I would caution with Instagram, not to scare anyone away from using it, but just be sure that if you’re making it look really, really good it better also be good in person.
“One thing I would caution with Instagram, be sure that if you’re making it look really, really good it better also be good in real life!”
HollyG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah and that’s it. It’s about actually portraying the real experience, not making something up. Do you work with destinations and with businesses? How does the structure go or the role of the industry and governments and that sort of thing work when you’re doing a project?
Lindsay: Typically with the work that I’m doing, which is our consulting work, which we work with destination clients to develop their food tourism strategies. Typically the clients are government of some varying levels and then we work with them and through them their stakeholders, so their business owners and other, I guess, organizations that kind of sit within the destination. It’s very, very important in some of the work that we’re doing, when we’re delivering a strategy that’s a multi-year strategy, that’s multifaceted and has components of product and experience development, but also elements of economic development. It’s very, very important to have that government buy in and for them to really believe in what they’re doing.
I would say whomever is responsible for executing any kind of larger strategy really, really needs to believe in it, because that will inspire everyone, everyone that’s involved in the project. It’ll inspire the business owners. They’re more likely to commit if they know that this project really has legs and is really believed in. Then it’s also very important from our side, we do work, we do connect with the stakeholders, we do connect with business owners at several points during our strategic development to really ensure that they understand what we’re doing and understand the goals, but also understand kind of the expectations of the level of commitment from them and how important they are in terms of executing a successful strategy.
Lindsay: Yeah, it’s everybody. It’s all levels, really, that have to kind of buy in and commit and really, really care.
HollyG: What are seeing in terms of success and also how are destinations measuring whether this sort of program is successful for them?
Lindsay: Success for us is really measured by long-term sustainability. We’re not really interested in kind of band-aid solutions or quick fixes. We look at food tourism as a part of or as a vehicle for economic development for a region. It’s, yeah, definitely a long-term kind of a sustainable strategy and once things are kind of implemented in the process that we recommend, which was usually a three year process, but it varies with clients.
Typically we have kind of foundation components that then build on each other and it’s really working through several years and several layers of work, of development and then having that stick around and having things continue ten years down the road. If they evolve, great. We’re not necessarily opposed to them changing from the initial recommendations, but ultimately having some kind of tangible product and experience that is solid, that’s an economic driver for the community many years down the road, that’s what we deem to be a success.
HollyG: Yeah and I think that that’s a really good point. When we’re talking about food tourism it’s really talking about it as a strategy for your destination. It’s not like necessarily just a one off event or something like that. It’s about building the destination brand based on its food experiences, is that correct?
Lindsay: Yes, exactly. Yes, it’s building the destination’s brand and reputation as a food destination. Absolutely, but then also then that’s from the tourist’s perspective, but then it’s also from a new business perspective, that helps with business development within the community, because if they see food tourism as a viable business option then they’re more likely to grow, develop, invest in that community. It’s twofold.
HollyG: Yeah, look I think that’s a really, really good point. I do a bit of work with an organization called Hawkesbury Harvest and that was really set up about twelve years ago to encourage farmers to stay on the farm but look for alternative sources of revenue. A lot of the businesses, and the reason I’m involved is because my parents have a farm that essentially we turned from a farm into an agritourism business and it’s now a hundred percent of, well, it’s an apple farm, a hundred percent of the apples are picked by tourists. They come and they pick their own apples and, yeah, it’s interesting to look at it not just from a tourism perspective, but from, as you say, the whole economic development impact and as a result of quite a few of the farms moving to agritourism there’s other things that have popped up, like you can go and do cider tasting and other things like that. It really is becoming that food destination.
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. No, you’re totally right, that’s exactly what starts to happen is things just kind of organically grow and evolve and when you’ve got that solid base, even though you are kind of primed for seizing different opportunities.
HollyG: Okay, so where can people find out a little bit more about you or Culinary Tourism Alliance and possibly connect?
Lindsay: We, a couple of months ago, just launched our brand new website, it’s shiny and beautiful. I am totally biased. I worked on it. Our website is growfoodtourism.com. Growfoodtourism.com, because that’s what we’re looking to do and we are punny. Yeah, that’s where you can find out more about what we’re doing, who the team is, events we’re going to be at, and the type of work that we do. We do everything from strategic development to hosting conferences and events. Yeah, that’s where you can find out all about us.
Now it’s time for our thousand dollar bonus question!
Okay, well I ask all my guests the same question and that is if you only had a one-thousand dollar marketing budget what would you spend it on?
Lindsay: See, I’ve had that in the past so I know exactly … See, it depends on your goals and it depends on what business you are, but I would probably say creation and distribution of content.
HollyG: That’s been a bit of a theme lately actually, which is quite good. That’s things like, say, writing a blog post and distributing that sort of thing.
Lindsay: That, as well as I wouldn’t limit it just to written content. I would also extend that to visual content and even video content, just figuring out, I guess, what the right medium is for your message and for your audience, but anything from getting fantastic written content to a really kick-ass infographic to the best photos that illustrate your experience in the best possible way. Any type of content and then just getting it to the right people.
HollyG: Cool. Now what if you only had a hundred dollars?
Lindsay: Same answer.
HollyG: Just on a different scale?
Lindsay: Yeah. Yeah. I’d probably see to a bit more, maybe adding a bit more PR. Looking at it from a bit of a PR angle instead, if I had less money, because I think there’s a bit more work that you can do with less money in that respect. I’d probably try to leverage that. Yeah, still content.
Tweet me with any comments or feedback @hollygalbraith or email is good too holly (at) hollyg.com.au
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