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What are the opportunities for culinary tourism from Europe?

Takes 13 minutes to read

Food plays a major role in the travel plans of Europeans tourists. They like to experience local culture through its authentic cuisine. Interaction with locals adds an authentic touch to culinary experiences. European travellers like to combine culinary tourism with other activities, like adventurous excursions. Food safety is important, as well as sustainability. The internet is a main influencer. However, European specialised tour operators continue to be a popular booking channel.


1 . Product description

Culinary tourism refers to trips in which local cuisine plays an important role. The World Food Travel Association (WFTA) defines it as: the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences. For 88% of tourist destinations, gastronomy plays a strategic role in their image and brand.

Most culinary travellers are interested in local food culture, rather than gourmet. This relates culinary tourism to cultural and adventure tourism. Local cuisine gives travellers a direct and authentic connection with their destination. They experience local heritage, culture and people through food and drink. Activities can range from tasting local food and drink to more adventurous and active experiences.

Examples of culinary tourism activities are:

  • Cooking with locals
  • Foraging for ingredients
  • Cooking workshops
  • Participating in the local harvest
  • Eating at locals’ homes
  • Visiting wineries, distilleries, etc.
  • Eating at local restaurants
  • Visiting farms, orchards, etc.
  • Eating street food
  • Visiting food markets, fairs, festivals, etc.
  • Food and drink tours and trails
  • Tasting sessions of wines, beers, spirits, etc.

Travellers spend over a third of their holiday budget on food and drink. Up to 50%, when food is the main travel purpose! Of course not all tourists base their travel plans on culinary interest. It is however also becoming an important additional motivation. This is reflected in mainstream media, like the on-going foodie traveller special from The Guardian.

Traveller profile

Culinary travellers are of all ages, but generally 30-60. Based on the level of focus on food and drink, there are three types of culinary tourists.

Deliberate culinary tourist

Around half of all culinary travellers are deliberate culinary tourists. These are generally people with a:

  • higher socio-economic background,
  • middle to high income,
  • high interest in (food) culture,
  • strong desire to travel,
  • high interest in social and environmental issues.

Experiencing and learning about local cuisine is their main travel purpose. They spend around 50% of their holiday budget on culinary activities. This group appreciates the social side of food and drink. They like to interact with locals through their culinary activities. They are interested in authentic local food culture. Deliberate culinary tourists also care about the origins of their food and sustainability.

Tips:

  • Emphasise the authenticity of your culinary experiences.

  • Offer packages with a wide variety of culinary activities. Include interaction with locals.

  • Develop itineraries with a special culinary theme.

  • Promote your products as an experience, rather than just activities.

Opportunistic culinary tourist

About a quarter of culinary travellers are opportunistic culinary tourists. This group enjoys experiencing local cuisine. They actively seek out culinary experiences, but have another primary reason for their trip. Relatively accessible culinary activities like visiting a market suit them well.

They may also participate in more intensive activities that fit their plans. For instance, adventure travellers can try out adventurous culinary experiences. 51% of adventure travel providers report that packages are more popular if they include culinary experiences.

Tips:

  • Develop general packages that include optional culinary components.

  • Invest in on the spot promotion to reach opportunistic culinary tourists. For example, spread leaflets in hotels or restaurants.

Accidental culinary tourist

Another quarter of culinary travellers are accidental culinary tourists. They aren’t considered “serious” culinary tourists, like the other groups. These travellers don’t seek out culinary activities. They participate simply because these activities happen to be available. You can inspire them to join on the spot.

Tip:

  • For tips, see ‘opportunistic culinary tourist’.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for culinary tourism?

For statistics on European source markets, see What is the demand for tourism services in developing countries?.

Popular culinary tourism destinations

According to the World Tourism Organisation, popular culinary tourism destinations include:

Brazil

Indonesia

Morocco

Chile

Malaysia

Peru

China

Mexico

South Africa

Tips:

  • Define your local food culture’s unique aspects. In your marketing, emphasise those elements that travellers cannot find in competing countries.

  • If your destination has already established a culinary image, use this. Develop products that connect to your destination’s theme.

3 . What trends offer opportunities on the European market for culinary tourism?

Unique and authentic experiences

Culinary travellers are looking for something unique and authentic. They are interested in the typical local food culture of their destination. In recent years, authenticity has become a major factor in tourism. This is not expected to change any time soon.

Tips:

  • Develop unique experiences that European culinary travellers cannot find elsewhere.

  • Emphasise this uniqueness in your marketing.

Interaction with locals

European culinary travellers like to interact with local people. Think of eating at local people’s homes or helping with the harvest. For example, picking grapes in Argentina or olives in Jordan. Participating in cooking workshops run by locals is also popular. This trend of interaction with the locals is expected to continue in the coming five years, at least.

Tip:

  • Include interaction with locals in your product/service offering. For example:
    • a visit to a local food market or festival
    • helping with the harvest,
    • local cooking workshops,
    • more adventurous activities like foraging with locals.

Peer-to-peer dining

Peer-to-peer dining experiences are becoming increasingly popular. This is related to the trends of authentic experiences and meeting locals. Consumers can offer dining arrangements to other consumers via websites like BookaLokal and Traveling Spoon. As platforms like AirBnB have doubled their bookings between 2014 and 2015, peer-to-peer experiences seem to be here to stay.

Tip:

  • Collaborate with individual dining arrangement providers to diversify your offer.

Flexibility and variety of activities

On long haul holidays, European culinary travellers generally seek a variety of experiences. They combine culinary experiences with for instance cultural or adventurous activities. Travellers with a specific lifestyle, like wellness-oriented, like to include this in their holiday. They can combine wellness activities with healthy food experiences.

European travellers like to create their own unique holiday, with the security and benefits of a package. They want more flexible itineraries, to get the most value out of their holidays. This has become a key factor, especially after the economic recession. Although the European economy is picking up again, this trend is expected to continue in the coming years.

Tips:

  • Provide options to combine culinary experiences with other activities.

  • Be flexible in your offering, with tailor-made products and services. Give your customers the option to build their own package.

Sustainable and organic

European culinary travellers value sustainability. They are interested in where their food and drink comes from and value locally produced products.

A related niche market is organic culinary tourism, especially among Western European culinary travellers. Offering this may give you a competitive advantage. For instance, Georgia has developed a popular niche market for organic wine tourism. According to IFOAM EU, the European organic market grew by 7.4% in 2014. As travellers extend this lifestyle to their holidays, sustainable and organic culinary tourism is expected to thrive.

Tips:

  • Incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, like:

    • working with local products,

    • responsible waste management, 
    • water saving taps and showers,

    • using solar power.
  • For more information, see wikiHow’s How to Create a Green Hotel and Global Stewards’ tips for green accommodation.

  • Promote your concern for sustainability in your marketing.

  • Accommodation providers can encourage their guests to act responsibly. For inspiration, see the Green Hotel Attributes at Environmentally Friendly Hotels.

  • Consider your organic options. For instance, using organic products or offering visits to organic wineries and farms.

  • If you offer organic products/services, clearly promote this. You can submit your details to organic tourism websites like Organic Holidays and Organic Travel.

Increasing use of online research

European culinary travellers increasingly research and plan their trip online. To gather information and share experiences they use:

  • peer review sites, like Tripadvisor and Holidays Uncovered,
  • travel forums, like Responsible Travel,
  • social media, like Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.

Online research is a trend that has increased exponentially over the past five years. Although growth has peaked, the use of the internet to research tourism will continue to increase. It is predicted to remain the most important research channel for years to come.

Using visual online media

You have to show European culinary travellers the experience you can offer them. Visual media like photos and videos are useful tools for this. Sharing pictures of food on social media is very popular. This makes social media especially relevant to culinary tourism. A recent study among users of photo sharing platform Flickr illustrates this. Pictures of food motivate over 50% of them to visit new places.

Tips:

  • Maintain a strong internet presence and online marketing strategy. Also include social media. Photos and videos let travellers explore your destination and product from home. They can bring your story alive.

  • Use current customers as ambassadors for your company and area. Encourage them to share their experiences, photos and videos on social media. They can also write blogs and reviews.

  • For more information, see Which trends offer opportunities on the European tourism market?.

4 . What requirements should your culinary travel product comply with to be allowed on the European market?

For general tourism requirements, see What requirements should my services comply with to attract European tourists?.

For culinary tourism in particular, food safety and hygiene is a particularly important requirement.

Food safety and hygiene

Safety is of course very important in tourism. For culinary tourism, food safety is especially relevant. European travellers expect you to prepare their food safely and hygienically. Think of clean water and hygienic trash disposal. The ISO 22000 family of International Standards addresses food safety management. These standards are voluntary. However, you can use them for information on common food safety requirements.

Tips:

  • Know the main (potential) food concerns for your destination. Be aware of the specific food safety needs and challenges.

  • Culinary experience providers should be educated on food safety. You also need to educate your staff on these practices.

  • Study the ISO standards on food safety. Use them to maximise your performance.

  • For more information and useful checklists, see Healthy Tonga Tourism’s Guide to Food Safety and Hygiene for Tourist Accommodation Businesses.

  • In addition, there are some voluntary standards for niche markets in culinary tourism.

Culinary travel professional certification

The World Food Travel Association offers a Certified Culinary Travel Professional programme. This is a voluntary certification for tour operators and other travel entrepreneurs. European tour operators do not require this certification. It may however give you a competitive advantage. You have to complete a training course to become certified.

Tips:

  • Consider applying for the culinary travel professional certification. This shows European tour operators you are a reliable partner.

  • If you are certified, promote this clearly. Use the customised logo on your website and other promotional materials.

Voluntary adventure tourism safety standards

For more adventurous culinary experiences, three ISO standards support safe adventure practices: 21101, 21102 and 21103. Additionally, some countries have their own voluntary standards. For instance, BS 8848 in the United Kingdom.

Tips:

  • Study the ISO standards on adventure tourism. Use them to enhance your safety performance.

  • Check for possible voluntary standards in your target markets.

5 . What competition do I face on the European market for culinary tourism products?

World's Leading Culinary Destination: Peru

Peru has won the title of World’s Leading Culinary Destination from 2012-2015. Other regularly nominated Developing Country destinations are:

  • China,
  • India,
  • Malaysia,
  • Thailand.

In 2013, readers of Food and Travel Magazine also voted Peru their Destination of the Year. Peru is famous for its food, like ceviche, quinoa and potatoes. But also for its drinks, like the Peruvian national drink Pisco.

Tip:

  • Learn about the culinary tourism sector of competing destinations. Use this as inspiration to improve your product and marketing. For instance, culinary tourism in Peru.

Food culture as UNESCO World Heritage

Since 2010, UNESCO accepts local food culture as Intangible Cultural World Heritage. This kind of status can give tourism destinations a competitive advantage. They can build their image as a culinary tourism destination around it.

Currently, these Developing Country food cultures are UNESCO Intangible Cultural World Heritage:

  • Armenia - Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread
  • Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - Tradition of kimchi-making
  • Georgia - Ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method
  • Morocco - Mediterranean diet
  • Mexico - Traditional Mexican cuisine
  • Turkey - Turkish coffee culture and tradition

Tips:

  • If your local cuisine has UNESCO World Heritage status, relate this to your product. For instance, a coffee tasting or tour in Turkey.

  • Clearly promote your local cuisine’s UNESCO status. Emphasise that this food culture is unique to your destination.

  • For more information, see What competition do you face on the European outbound tourism market?.

6 . Through what channels can you get culinary tourism products on the European market?

For an overview of the trade structure for tourism, see Through what channels can you attract European tourists?.

Selecting smaller specialised tour operators

Smaller European tour operators specialised in culinary tourism or your destination offer the best opportunities. You can identify them via trade associations, events and databases.

Some examples are:

Generating direct sales

European culinary travellers increasingly book their holidays directly with service providers at the destination. To increase your chances of direct sales, you can promote your product on (culinary) tourism websites/portals.

For instance:

7 . What are the end-market prices for culinary tourism products?

Travellers have many destinations and types of holidays to choose from. This makes tourism a relatively price-sensitive and competitive industry. The price of a long-haul trip consists of three dimensions:

  • The exchange rate between the currencies of the country of origin and the destination country.
  • The costs of transport to and from the destination country.
  • The price of goods and services the traveller consumes in the destination country.

European tour operators are not open about the purchasing prices of their tourism products. According to industry experts, their margins vary between 10-25%. Prices of holiday packages vary widely as they depend on a lot of factors, such as:

  • availability
  • destination
  • modes of transport
  • period of travel
  • number of travellers
  • length of stay
  • type of accommodation
  • activities included

Tips:

  • Check which countries have cheap (direct) flights to your destination, for instance at Skyscanner. This gives you a competitive advantage in those countries.

  • You can compare prices for culinary travel products via portals like Lonely Planet Food & Drink.

  • Tourism Boost has some useful online tools for pricing tours and accommodation. These help you determine the break-even point and ideal retail price of your tourism product.

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