Food tourism is nothing new, but its exponential growth is remaking how destinations position themselves in the global tourism marketplace.
Earlier this year we launched our annual package, Megatrends Defining Travel in 2016, where we identify the global trends in travel this year and beyond.
This trend is just delicious.
Who wants to spend billions on a new convention center when a good food truck will do? Call it the Bourdain Effect, as we do, or just call it smart tourism, but destinations have realized you don’t need to spend dollars they don’t have on risky development projects when playing up a region’s favorite meals or drinks is a more sustainable bet. This is a trend we will continue to support, even when it’s no longer cool. Why? It just works.
Food Tourism 2.0
In a time in which almost every experience can be digitized, food stands alone as stubbornly analog.
Perhaps that’s why culinary travel experiences are now the most popular method for driving tourism business. Food has an unmatched ability to communicate a unique sense of place. Local cuisine provides a direct connection to the history of a region, the soul of its people, and the rhythm of daily life.
Food app Reserve’s CEO Greg Hong put it very well, speaking at Skift Global Forum in October 2015: “Dining will be the last form of live entertainment. As we start to digitize experiences, we are going to yearn for authentic experiences where we can break bread together.”
As a result, restaurants have shifted the travel brand identity of destinations from Las Vegas to Cape Town. NOMA in Copenhagen, for example, redefined the Scandinavian travel landscape after winning San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurant multiple times. Cheap Southeast Asian street food has evolved on the world’s culinary stage so much that Michelin added a new section in its annual star ratings to profile the best food stalls in Hong Kong and Macau.
The most future-thinking travel brands are now connecting immersive food and beverage with other travel experiences following in the footsteps of culinary travel explorers like Anthony Bourdain.
Visit Britain extols the virtues of gastropubs in Manchester. Australia pushes traffic to the Northern Territories with indigenous cuisine-themed itineraries. Hospitality, cruising and aviation brands across every budget tier are also providing context around native cuisine by incorporating local products and producers into their marketing and strategy.
Conrad Hotels launched a new “Smart Luxury” campaign highlighting the most intriguing local travel experiences around its properties, including restaurants and fresh markets. The Seabourn cruise line is opening fleet-wide restaurants operated by star chef Thomas Keller, and United Airlines is partnering with AFAR to develop local destination content with an emphasis on food and beverages.
Travelers today are hungry to explore behind the scenes of any given destination, and they’re using culturally specific food to discover and understand the world like never before.