Culinary tourism is one of the hottest trends in travel. Experts estimate interest in gastronomic tours will increase more than 16 percent a year for the next ten years.
While some people travel to see historic sights or hit the road in search of boutiques and souvenirs, more and more people are getting bit by the culinary travel bug. It’s not hard to see why; culinary tourism allows visitors to engage in a sensory, artistic expression of a destination’s culture.
Whether you plan to travel solely for delicious eats or just hope to pepper some delectable restaurants into your itinerary, culinary tourism is essential to modern travel
Simply put, culinary tourism is the act of traveling to find great food. It includes any experience where you learn to appreciate, consume, or indulge in food or drinks that reflect the local culture.
The further the distance traveled, the more comprehensive the range of culinary opportunities. Culinary tourism isn’t solely about your food or the luxurious restaurants you splurge on. Instead, it’s about eating adventurously and seeking out novel culinary experiences.
Why Culinary Tourism Matters
Culinary tourism is a cornerstone of the modern travel industry. It directly contributes to both the hospitality industry and the overall economy. The development of food culture can help a tourist destination draw new visitors. Since food often reflects an entire nation’s eating habits, culinary tourism can teach visitors valuable cultural lessons.
Countries are often associated with particular foods – people will travel across the world to eat the best pizza in Italy or the best ramen in Japan. Every country and culture is an opportunity to try new and different foods. Culinary tourists are eager to learn more about different cultures through their foods.
Travel has been trending increasingly towards authentic experiences. People are more eager than ever to connect with the real roots of their visiting places. Food is always a significant aspect of any trip – no matter how tired you might be, you’re going to sit down and have something to eat.
Whether you sit down and dine at a restaurant or enjoy local street food, you’re likely to take photos and capture the experience to share with friends. Looking back on your trip, you’ll never forget the food you tasted and the adventure surrounding it.
While traveling, food also becomes a social opportunity. Dining is a time for families to enjoy their food and chat about their experiences. The need for authentic dining grows as the drive for new experiences increases. Authenticity often lies in simple, farm-to-table ingredients. The more rooted in a region, the more likely the food will draw visitors’ attention.
Culinary Tourism Trends
The global culinary tourism market was valued at $1,116.7 billion in 2019. By 2027, that figure is expected to grow to more than $1,796.5 billion. This lucrative corner of the travel industry has staying power – after all, people always need to eat on vacation.
A recent report from World Food Travel found that 81 percent of surveyed tourists believe that local food helps them understand the culture of their travel destination. Eighty-two percent admit to spending more on food while on vacation than at home. Eighty-three percent say food helps create a lasting impression of a country.
How people engage with culinary tourism is also incredibly revealing. Ninety-three percent of survey respondents say they participated in at least one authentic culinary experience over the last two years. Seventy percent say they typically bring back food or drinks as souvenirs from their trip.
Forty-seven percent enjoy shopping at local grocery stores while on vacation. Forty-five percent say they participated in at least five culinary activities on their last trip.
Embrace Culinary Travel on Your Next Vacation
If you’re hoping to engage with a new culture authentically, there’s no better option than dining. As you plan your itinerary, consider the foods your destination is most famous for. Perhaps you’re visiting New York City and want to sample as many of the most delicious bagels as possible.
Maybe you’re visiting Paris and eager to devour the best croissant in the city. No matter your destination, prioritizing your favorite foods – or new items you’ve never tried – is a great way to start shaping your plans.
Food tours are also a fantastic way to embrace culinary tourism. These tours are often led by local experts passionate about sharing their favorite spots with visitors. Not only do tourists enjoy delicious eats on such tours, but they also connect on an emotional level with guides and their fellow tourists. Bonds form quickly over good food and drinks.
Culinary tourism is as old as traveling itself. The rewards can be sweet if you’re committed to trying new things and engaging authentically with a new culture.
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Alex Sumuel is the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! She's a proud Virginia native who has also founded the Explore Coastal Virginia website. Alex’s mission is to help people travel better.