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Trending in Food Tourism

With the rise of experiential travel, it’s no surprise that this focus has spilled over into food tourism. According to the World Food Travel Association, food is now a main motivation for travelers choosing their destinations. Visitors are willing to increase their budget (40% of tourism spending is on gastronomy) and trip duration on unique food and beverage experiences. However, research shows it’s becoming more difficult to meet traveler expectations.

The reason? Experts are pointing to a combination of social media – the exploding “food porn” images that combine plating and products irresistibly, as well as popular television culinary shows, (from Top Chef to Chef’s Table), that leave audiences clamoring to visit locations that were perhaps unknown only months before. Earlier this month, the Travel Market Report’s noted “the notion of overtourism now rearing its head in food tourism.”

As a foodie and follower of the above examples in my personal life and a professional in the tourism industry, I am sensitive to this double-edge sword. I suggest leaning into what’s trending in the culinary world and developing creative ways to prepare for it.

New meaning to an open kitchen

These days, a seat at the table isn’t necessarily inside of a restaurant with a glimpse at an open kitchen. Travelers are taking up invitations to dine in the home of chefs to savor personal stories in an intimate setting. Forbes.com reports that spending time in a real home (and away from tourist attractions) “travelers can make a direct connection with a local chef, often preparing the most traditional dishes of the region, and catch a glimpse of life in a village or neighborhood.” It doesn’t get more authentic than that.

Education around sustainable growing practices

The topic was among the Top Foodie Travel Trends announced at FIBEGA Miami 2019 (a premiere International Gastronomy Tourism event). Experts confirmed visitors are expecting traditional dishes made from hyperlocal ingredients to be available year round. One chef even explained that “in order to preserve the lands and their harvest, it’s important for farmers, chefs, and other food tourism providers to honor seasonality and educate themselves on sustainable growing practices.”   

CBD-infused food and drink

After attending the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, The Washington Post reported that CBD is one of the fastest-growing categories of the year. With the claim to treat anxiety, consumers are beginning to see CBD in products such as kombucha, sparkling waters, coffee and tea, as well as snacks such as granola bars and cookies. The regulations surrounding restaurants using CBD remain complex. Restaurantbusinessonline noted that “the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of clarifying the rules governing use of cannabidiol (CBD) as a food ingredient, but that hasn’t stopped some restaurateurs from betting they’re probably within the law in mixing drinks or cooking with the cannabis derivative.”

Bright colors are heating up

Bold colors are being splashed from the runway to décor, and the food scene is no exception. According to traveldailynews.com, just last month, the hospitality management company Benchmark announced bold hues as a top dining trend for 2020. “Color generates emotional appeal with food- it may be as important as taste. Skilled food and beverage operators have an eye for what beverages succeed on social media, where color is critically important.”  Blue algae, beet and matcha are recent front-runners in the colorful food frenzy. Butterfly pea flower tea, an ingredient that transforms from blue to purple with the addition of acidity, captured Philadelphia’s food and beverage scene over the summer. There are also restaurants around the country creatively making use of butterfly pea tea.

Heavy cocktails flip to a lighter mix

Refinery29 reports that low ABV (alcohol by volume) and low proof cocktails are on trend, which not only allows bartenders to become more creative with flavor profiles, but also developing healthier cocktails. Expect to see mixed drinks that incorporate teas, flavored sparkling waters or even more savory ingredients.

Plant-based meals/diets are sprouting

A large part of today’s millennials identify as a flexitarian, meaning they follow plant-based diets with occasional meat consumption. Celebrity nutritionist and Well+Good Council member Kimberly Snyder, CN, explains that there “has been a growing focus not only on the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, but also the environmental concerns of diet and how important it is on our planet for people to eat plant-based.” Snyder confirms that the range of options – from plant-based milks to sausages, eggs and burgers – do in fact deliver in taste. The Good Food Institute confirmed the plant-based trend is gaining traction in restaurants. Even the November issue of O Magazine touts Oprah’s commitment to eating one plant-based meal for 30 days.

Incorporating food tourism trends

Whether you’ve never heard about any of these food and drink movements, or the above list leads you to believe that it will be years before your destinations sees these examples come to fruition, there are simple ways for you to adapt these popular preferences into your itinerary.

  • Explore personal food traditions and storytelling with your partners

If hosting a meal from a chef’s home seems unattainable, how about a private farm or vineyard tour with a chef or restaurant partner? Not only are these locations visually appealing, but it’s a more experiential opportunity for the traveler. Consider bringing in other family members to speak to and demonstrate food customs.

  • Consider modifying trends to fit your destination

It’s important to stay abreast of national and international F&B trends, but also learn how your partners keep up with and feel about trends. Do any current menu items coincide with current trends that you can highlight to your guests? What does the chef/owner consider a trend, or a personal or traditional dish? Provide your visitors with the chef’s perspective of the dishes and ingredients in order to increase awareness and excitement of why the kitchen runs a certain way.

  • Set expectations

Be prepared to point to which cocktails or dishes will meet social media savvy travelers’ needs. If a visitor doesn’t deem a menu item as “Instagram-worthy,” let creativity reign and offer alternatives. These can range from snapping action shots of generation-passed cooking techniques or a collection of ingredients and recipes that are unique to the area. Alternatively, if someone was focused on trying a certain dish that’s no longer in season, shift the focus on the seasonality of the current offerings and what makes them so special.  

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