Destinations Concede Their Food Tourism Marketing Efforts Fall Short


James Willamor  / Flickr

Pictured are travelers at a food truck festival in Charlotte, North Carolina. James Willamor / Flickr

Skift Take: Most tourism boards understand that travelers need to eat well if they want them to be happy and return. One challenge with that is determining what food trend to focus on -- and whether it will fizzle out or stick around -- before throwing marketing dollars at promoting food.

— Dan Peltier

While food is one of the leading hooks in why many people travel to a particular destination, many tourism boards and travel companies feel they’re not doing enough to market their food and beverage offerings, according to a recent survey.

Only 10 percent of tourism boards and companies surveyed believe food and beverage offerings have been adequately promoted in their destinations, a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) survey found. Some 65.5 percent of respondents said that food tourism marketing is ongoing but isn’t sufficient.

Fewer than half (46.5 percent) of respondents said they have a food tourism strategy although all respondents indicated they have hosted activities to promote food and beverage offerings and experiences.

The UNWTO surveyed 77 destination marketing organizations, educational institutions, marketing and consultancy firms, hotels, meeting planners and food and beverage providers from 29 countries from June to September 2016. About 41 percent of respondents were tourism boards; 67 percent of all respondents were from Europe, and 22 percent were from North and Latin America.

Return on investment doubts, however, are likely a key factor in the lack of food tourism marketing. Only 3.1 percent of respondents said promoting food contributes more than $1 million each year to local economies, and about one-third said marketing food accounts for one to nine percent of their budgets.

Budget constraints aside, many brands said they consider food tourism marketing as a current or future priority. When asked whether food is a driving force in tourism development, most respondents believe it is and the average value chosen was 8.19 on a 0 to 10 scale (10 being “strong agree”).

The chart below highlights respondents’ thoughts on the perceived benefits from promoting food tourism.

Does Marketing Food Have a Positive Impact?

Type of Impact Percent of Respondents
Promoting food tourism increased our positive media coverage 77.20%
Promoting food tourism had an impact on increasing our website traffic 65%
Promoting food tourism increased our income from this kind of tourism 59.50%
Promoting food tourism increased sales at food-related businesses 52.50%
Promoting food tourism increased bookings from tourists interested in food 44%
Promoting food tourism had no impacts at all 14%

Source: UNWTO

Growing Food Tourism Marketing

The survey found that one of the most popular reasons brands said don’t promote food tourism or haven’t done enough marketing is that “gastronomy is not treated as an isolated product but as part of the cultural tourism.”

“It is worthwhile to note that destinations in Latin America regard gastronomy with greater importance in terms of its appeal to tourists as compared to European destinations,” the survey stated. “In addition to this, gastronomy ranks third among the main reasons for tourists to visit a destination, after cultural motive and nature.”

While many destinations are known for specific dishes, Brazil is thinking about its local ingredients first in food tourism marketing. “We are trying to make our promotional strategy different and you should really see how it’s done by the fantastic chef Alex Atala, who uses ingredients which show off the regional richness of Brazilian gastronomy,” said Enio Miranda, executive director of the National Confederation of Tourism of Brazil, in the report.

“We don’t know about even 20 percent of the ingredients which we could show the world. We are in a process of discovery,” he said.

Guanajuato, Mexico is promoting food as a strategy for getting travelers interested in sustainable tourism, first locally and eventually globally, said Fernando Olivera, Guanajuato’s secretary of tourism, in the report.

Other destinations may be well-known for multiple dishes or food products but haven’t created a unified message or focused their strategy.

“Gastronomy in Portugal brings with it much history and culture but it still has to find its position and it has to learn that other destinations have developed their level of quality and excellence,” said Ana Paula País, director of the School of Hostelry and Tourism of Coimbra, Portugal, in the report. “Portugal still has gastronomic links with its former African and Asian colonies and this also highlights its culture and gastronomy.”

Food is often one of the most engaging ways to understand a culture or meet new people. Activities like food and wine tours have become increasingly popular.

AAA, for example, estimates that some 22 million Americans expect to take a culinary-focused vacation in the next 12 months, according to its survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults in March.

Seventy-five percent of Americans feel that food and dining are an important part of their trips and four in five say they have engaged in activities such as touring wineries and distilleries, eating with local families and engaging in hands-on experiences such as cooking classes led by local chefs while traveling, AAA found.

Many tourism boards understand these travel intentions — even if their marketing efforts don’t reflect that.

UNWTO’s study (see chart below) found more than 60 percent of respondents have added more food-focused attractions or experiences or organized a food-related event to help see what resonates with travelers and how marketing dollars should be spent.

Tourism Boards’ Most Popular Food-Tourism Promotion Activities

Activity Percent of Respondents
Read published media articles 93%
Read published research studies 80.70%
Organized a gastronomy event (wine festival, food truck) 78.90%
Sponsored gastronomy events/exhibitions 75.40%
Used Facebook to target tourists interested in food 63.20%
Tourism product developments (food trails, museums, visits to producers) 59.60%
Created a brochure about food types in the destination 59.60%
Hosted big food-related events to showcase products 54.40%
Advertised via online platforms (blogs) 54.40%
Used Instagram to target tourists interested in food 42.10%
Used YouTube to target tourists interested in food 40.40%
Used Twitter to target tourists interested in food 38.60%
Used other social media to target tourists interested in food 33.33%
Used Google+ to target tourists interested in food 21.10%
Used LinkedIn to target tourists interested in food 10.50%

Source: UNWTO

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