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Late last month we launched a new report in our Skift Trends Reports service, Food Tourism Strategies to Drive Destination Spending.
The report was the product of research, surveys, and multiple interviews with leaders and emerging trendsetters in culinary travel. Some of this, including the insight below, did not make it into the final report.
The biggest trend in culinary travel today is the growing diversity of food tourist profiles, and how travel companies are adapting to that increasing segmentation.
A male Baby Boomer foraging for truffles in Provence has a different foodie profile than a Millennial woman navigating the Denver Beer Trail, or a Gen X family with two kids exploring Singapore’s hawker street food stalls.
All of them, however, share the same passion for locally contextual dining experiences, and they’re willing to spend extra dollars on travel companies catering to their personal tastes. So tour operators today are busy trying to identify and define tomorrow’s emerging food tourists and their individual preferences.
In our trend report survey of more than 2,000 travelers, interest in gourmet food and wine ranked far below chef-driven “gastropub” cuisine and experiential activities such as farmer’s markets, food festivals, and food/beverage tours. “Trendy, creative, experimental” dining is also high in demand.
Meanwhile, according to the World Food Travel Association (WFTA), there’s growing interest among food tourists in segments such as novice, social, organic, localist, budget, and adventure food tourism. All told, the WFTA lists 14 food tourism segments.
“Some destinations just put together a restaurant guide, but that’s useless from a foodie’s perspective because there’s nothing there that really captures the excitement for us,” Erik Wolf, executive director of the WFTA, told Skift. “It goes back to the experience. I think a lot of destinations focus too much on eating out, but that’s just 5% of the things involved in food tourism.”
Wolf equates what’s happening in food tourism to what happened 15 years ago in adventure tourism. Today, “adventure travel” means many different things to many different consumers, but it started out as a very niche and easily identifiable market in the beginning, much like culinary travel is today.
A growing awareness of that is changing how new and existing travel companies are developing and reimagining their products and services. So we reached out to three tour and travel companies that are pushing food tourism in new directions for the next generation of culinary travelers.
The Rise of Meal Sharing
Get Gone is an online platform that matches food tourists with local chefs, homeowners, and tour leaders, much like Airbnb does for accommodations. People can list culinary experiences from two hours to two days, ranging from home-cooked meals to cheese-making classes at a farm or sustainability tours at a cattle ranch.
In operation since March this year, Get Gone works primarily with hosts located in the San Francisco Bay area, but plans are underway to solicit more hosts in Austin, Chicago, New York, and New England in the coming year.
“We’re kind of like if you were watching a show with Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, and you could actually press a button and book that experience,” said Anna Smith Clark, founder and CEO of Get Gone.
Clark’s goal is to foster a network that both empowers individuals and strengthens communities. As a “marketplace for grassroots culinary experiences,” the company provides local experts the opportunity to create new enterprises to drive local economic development and community identity.
She explained, “Our services give a community a stronger platform for those people honing in on one specific interest and working specifically with food in a way that they love.”
Monica Rocchino fits that description. She and her husband own the Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley where they offer a 2-hour sausage making class for $135. The class covers sausage grinding, mixing, casting, and all the local news you want to know. That local cultural appreciation, Clark asserts, is a big part of the experience for customers as well.
“Food provides us with a portal into communities and environments we might otherwise not experience, and it gives us a greater context to talk about history, health, politics, and social issues,” Clark said. “It really invites us to be explorers on a local level.”
Demand For Culinary Storytelling
Melissa Biggs Bradley, who was editor of Town & Country for 16 years, is now the founder and CEO of Indagare Travel in New York. As Bradley explains it, Indagare is a member-based travel community combining both travel content and travel agents services to help clients choose between over 250 destination.
“As we all know, people use content to design trips to create authentic experiences and remarkable journeys, except most travel magazines and websites don’t provide any quality community feedback.” Bradley told Skift. “Our idea is to create a more curated experience for people who feel travel is an important part of life.”
Content is produced by editors and agents in-house and a team of specialists worldwide. According to Bradley, hyper-local food is the biggest trend in culinary travel based on two different factors.
One is the success of restaurants such as Noma in Denmark, which singlehandedly turned Scandinavian fine-dining into a thing by sourcing and combining ingredients from the immediate vicinity. The second factor is Airbnb because it’s no longer weird to walk into someone’s house on vacation to meet people and learn about the local community.
“Noma really inspired that idea of super-hyperlocal cuisine,” said Bradley. “It’s about cooking right where you are so no one can duplicate the same food, and that’s what it’s all about, going somewhere to find that hyperlocal spirit of people and place.”
Chefs worldwide are now telling their own hyperlocal story, such as executive chef Norbert Niederkofler at Rosa Alpina Hotel in northern Italy. He makes a birch fondue with young veal carpaccio, root vegetables, and swiss chard, and everything he uses is sourced within the mountain forests no more than 20 miles from the hotel.
“I had a vision to create delicate and unforgettable dishes using rich ingredients from nature’s treasure chest in South Tyrol,” blogged Niederkofler about his birch fondue. “This would be an attempt to lend a touch of elegance to the native cuisine.”
Bradley added that the success of recent Noma pop-ups in Japan and Australia, and others like Alinea in Chicago moving to Miami for a few weeks, are now fueling another trend. Travelers are seeking out locally-focused pop-up experiences, and they’re willing to pay extra and arrange their travel dates specifically around them.
Homecooking, Havana Style
Sonia Laguna is the founder and CEO of Just 90 Miles culinary tours in Cuba. She told us that the culinary landscape in Havana has blossomed in the last few years, because it is now easier for Cubans to own their own businesses. As “Cuenta Propistas,” some Cubans can get an official license to open their own restaurant, with over 500 now operating in Havana.
“These privately-owned restaurants are called “paladares,” and they are no longer simply places to have traditional Cuban cuisine like ropa vieja or arroz con pollo,” Laguna said. “But they are also like artist kitchens creating meals with whatever is available, like a fusion of flavors.”
Many of the top Cuban paladares source ingredients daily from the handful of farms around Havana. Most agricultural products in Cuba are organic and 100% naturally farmed without pesticides, and animals are always grass fed.
With U.S.-Cuba relations normalizing, Just 90 Miles will feature different U.S. chefs in its tours starting later this and partner them with top Cuban chefs. The first — “Havana, Cuba: A Culinary Tour” — will feature Chicago chef Julius Russell in October and November.