Driving Visitation Through Food Tourism
When visitors come to a destination, they are looking for unique and memorable experiences. Nothing brings people together for an experience they won’t forget quite like a delicious meal. Food tourism is a creative and effective way for destinations to tell their story, stand out among the competition, and drive visitation.
Using Food Tourism to Tell Your Story
Every destination is competing to stand out among its competition, and food tourism has become a creative way for destinations to define their unique selling proposition and share local stories. We spoke with Rebecca Mackenzie, President and CEO of Culinary Tourism Alliance, on Episode 325 of Destination on the Left about how destinations can craft their “taste of place” by sharing stories about the people and businesses producing unique food and beverage options. Destinations can utilize food and culinary tourism to create multi-sensory experiences that will leave a lasting impression on visitors and have them coming back for more.
Karolina Guilcapi of luxury tour company Sated Ventures carved out a niche in the travel industry by telling the stories of South American destinations through the unique culinary adventures and flavors that are found there. Rather than just taking her tours to typical attractions, Guilcapi partners with local chefs and restaurants to showcase the unique dining experiences in South America. Food can tell a powerful story and help showcase your destination.
Create a Tourism Product
Destinations already have local restaurants and food producers, so developing a tourism product centered around food is an effective way to attract visitors while benefiting local businesses.
Maple in the County
Over 20 years ago, Rebecca Mackenzie developed Maple in the County in Prince Edward County, Canada. Maple producers were already putting on maple syrup-related events, and the county wanted to capitalize on this and bring in other local businesses. This led to a program called Maple in the County, an event that encouraged local businesses to develop creative maple-themed products and experiences. Nearly 100 businesses participated, and the event led to more visitors spending more time in the county. Developing one clear brand allowed Prince Edward County to tell its story in a unique way that would attract visitors and showcase local businesses.
On Episode 329 of Destination on the Left, we spoke with Bonnie Hayes, Director of Tourism Development for the City of Thomasville, and Debra Smith, founder of Taste of Thomasville, about turning a food tour into a tourism experience. Taste of Thomasville was born in 2013, after Debra Smith attended a food tour in another city, and realized that was exactly what Thomasville, GA was missing. She attended Food Pros courses to learn how to develop a food tour and has since hosted 1,469 tours for Thomasville visitors.
In the episode, Hayes talks about the value of creating a tourism product such as Taste of Thomasville. The tour is not simply one size fits all, Smith has developed tours to fit the needs of both the visitors and the Thomasville Visitor’s Center. She offers daytime tours, evening tours for visitors interested in trying local cocktails, and even tours for children and high schoolers. The food tours have become valuable to Thomasville when they host group visits. Food tours are the perfect way to fill a group’s day, teach them about the destination, and show off a variety of local restaurants.
Every year Thomasville holds a holiday Victorian Festival that takes place in the evening. The city needed a daytime activity to fill visitors’ time, so they turned to Taste of Thomasville, who in turn developed a Victorian Sweets tour. The possibilities are endless when you create a versatile tourism product such as a food tour that can be adjusted to any situation and any kind of visitor. Food tours have the power to become a destination of their own, with Taste of Thomasville being one reason many visitors come to Thomasville.
Partnerships Drive Success
In their episode, Bonnie Hayes and Debra Smith also talk about the value of partnerships in the tourism industry. Taste of Thomasville would not have experienced the success it has without a positive partnership with the Thomasville Visitor’s Center. As a result of the partnership, the food tours have sold more tickets and Thomasville has gained more visitors.
Food tours also create mutually beneficial relationships with the restaurants in your destination. Restaurants will promote the tours, and the tours promote the restaurants. Food tours can help local restaurants acquire new customers and often result in return visitation when tour attendees find a restaurant they love.
Another creative way to partner with local restaurants is through a restaurant week. On Episode 294, Olivia Novak shared how Discover Lancaster partnered with Lancaster City to hold Lancaster County Restaurant Week, an event that would help raise money for the Lancaster Farmland Trust. They partnered with local restaurants that featured menu items made with locally sourced ingredients. This partnership drove visitors to Lancaster, increased visitation to local restaurants, and raised money and awareness for Lancaster Farmland Trust.
Unforgettable food experiences likely already exist in your destination. Lean into those experiences and partner with your local restaurants to tell your story in a way that will have visitors hungry for more.