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Many tourism destinations are eager to market their award-winning and Instagram-worthy restaurants and encourage travelers to sample their signature dishes and beverages.
And, increasingly, tourism boards want travelers to get to know the chefs behind these culinary creations aand are making them quasi-destination ambassadors.
Skift has been tracking the rise of chefs as marketing tools and so has our sister publication, Skift Table. At Skift Global Forum in New York in September, René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma, talked about how he and his team have staged pop-ups in Japan, Australia and Mexico to get immersed in local cultures and to introduce the brand to new locations.
Redzepi isn’t the only example of a chef who diners want to see. A recent AAA survey found that engaging food experiences like meeting chefs are some of the most important activities many U.S. travelers want to do during their trips, for instance.
Destination-chef partnerships aren’t a new trend but there are notable ways that more destination markers are capitalizing on celebrity chefs. In the past year, Skift has reported on destinations such as Japan, Israel, and the Cayman Islands, for example, that have used chefs as the faces of new marketing campaigns aimed at some of their largest and most lucrative international markets.
Destinations have also turned to chefs when disaster strikes. In December, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the city’s tourism board, launched a digital campaign on its Facebook and YouTube channel that featured Las Vegas chefs promoting the city in the wake of the October 1 mass shooting. Chef José Andrés also stepped up his activist reputation last year to help with relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria tore through the U.S. territory.
Tourism boards might choose to work with chefs over movie stars or pop icons for a range of reasons. Recent sexual harassment allegations against Mario Batali have injected a dose of realism into what the restaurant scene is really like behind the scenes. But chefs, particularly because of the growing foodie trend, still have marketing appeal.
Sharing Chef Stories
Visit Philadelphia, the city’s tourism board, has worked with chefs for years to help tell stories of the city’s neighborhoods and traditions, and has found that strategy to be effective, said Amber Burns, a spokesperson for Visit Philadelphia.
The tourism board launched its Flavors of Philly campaign a few months ago that features videos of chefs and their stories on Visit Philadelphia’s Facebook page. The videos, which include Facebook Live segments and edited videos also posted to Visit Philadelphia’s YouTube channel, have resonated with many travelers, said Burns.
During Facebook Live segments, Visit Philadelphia’s staff go to various restaurants and cook a dish with the chef while discussing what inspires their food and how it is unique to Philadelphia. “Viewers often send in questions and love the chance to engage with the chef in real-time,” said Burns.
Burns said that many travelers are also interested in the relationships chefs have with each other and what makes the Philadelphia food scene unique from other major cities. “We’ve found that these videos help visitors and locals alike feel much more connected to the Philly food scene,” she said. “The chef’s stories and unique insights help them better make an emotional connection.”
While many travel industry trends are short-lived or don’t end up catching momentum with travelers, don’t expect chefs to fade into the background anytime soon. In an uncertain world, many chefs have become anchors and leaders in their communities, and keep cooking up new ways to keep destinations and their food fresh and relevant.