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Food tourism has undergone a rapid evolution in recent years, inspiring a cult of travelers to wander the globe in search of authentic, unique dishes to be enjoyed right at their source.
Among the movers and shakers to cook up this sense of culinary wanderlust is Andrew Zimmern, whose show “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations” kicked off its third season Tuesday night on the Travel Channel.
“[There is a] smaller focus,” Zimmern says. “It’s no longer, ‘Let’s go to Portugal.’ It’s, ‘Let’s go eat seafood of this one little town in one little corner of the country.’ So rather than hit a seafood shop in Lisbon, people should travel down the Vicentine Coast and eat in the little town of Sagres during sardine season.”
Under-the-radar culinary destinations hardly exist in 2016, Zimmern says, though countries like Chile, Georgia Poland, Turkey, Burma, Botswana and Mongolia are just a few of the places he keeps his eyes on.
As one of the pioneers of travel television using food as a cultural lens, Zimmern has also witnessed the evolution of such programming to meet consumer wants and needs. “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations” is an ideal example of that.
“Delicious Destinations was created as a direct result of audience request in real time, because we would get flooded with emails after [Bizarre Foods] saying things like, ‘Hey…I am going to Johannesburg next month. What should I do and where should I eat?’”
While the quest for authentic cuisines has grown, so, too, has the quest to creatively employ food as a marketing tool. Culinary experiences have long been at the epicenter of travel, but food’s role is becoming more malleable thanks to the tourism industry using it as a hook for luring business.
Skift dissects this movement as it plays out in varying degrees across different industry sectors — be it airlines, hotels or destinations — in its annual The Megatrends Defining Travel in 2016 magazine. Innovators include United Airlines, Australia and Visit Britain.
Food-focused strategies are a meal ticket for tourism businesses aiming to reposition themselves in the global marketplace, but for Zimmern, a food-focused approach has always been organic; it has allowed him to become an interpreter of cultures whose show is a vehicle to tell “a real story about a real place with real people.”
“Food and culinary tourism is what we have been doing for years without a name,” Zimmern says. “Done well, [travel TV] makes people get up from their couch and start packing. Very few shows like that are made, but the good ones continue to lead by example.”