Features.

How food tourism became a billion-dollar business

Sampling local food has always been a major part of travelling, but it’s only in recent years that food tourism has become big business. Click. explores the importance of connecting with guests through their bellies

by Tracey Davies, Click. Travel Writer

Topic: Guest experience Trends

Click. Takeaway

  • Travelling is more than ticking off sights, people want local experiences, tastes and flavours
  • Recognise your destination’s culinary potential, embrace it and then bring it into the fold
  • Ditch bland meals in cookie-cutter restaurants, guests want authenticity and local flavours from hotel dining
  • If resources are not available in-house, pair up with a local restaurant, cookery school or food tour
  • Remember, the dinner table is the original social network and is the best way to meet and exchange with people

Over the years, travellers’ expectations have morphed from ticking off the sights as a mere visitor to experiencing destinations through local eyes. Whether it’s munching your way through a city’s street food scene, embarking on a cookery course or bumbling around a farmer’s market, the quickest way to immerse ourselves in any culture is to eat like a local.

According to touRRoir, the global forum for food tourism held at the University of Galway in April, food is now the leading hook in travel. Hoteliers who have followed the growth of this global trend are now starting to introduce their own foodie experiences. The Limewood Hotel in Hampshire offers cookery workshops with Michelin-starred chef, Angela Hartnett, Belmond’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire offers a similar experience at the hotel’s highly acclaimed Raymond Blanc Cookery School. While guests of boutique hotel Il Falconiere in Tuscany can try their hand at various food experiences from truffle foraging, wine tasting to pasta making.

Cheese and olives on a market in Chania, Greece

Cheese and olives on a market in Chania, Greece

One of the ways hotels can benefit from this spike in popularity is by working with local companies. Global social eating platform Eatwith connects travellers to local hosts who run supper clubs, cookery courses and food tours in cities and towns around the world. “People want to be travellers not just tourists and they want to get a true feeling for local life during their trips,” explains Jean-Michel Petit, the CEO of Eatwith (formerly known as VizEat). “Food is always one of the top reasons for visiting a country and there’s no better way to discover local and authentic culture than in somebody’s home. The dinner table is the original social network and is the best way to meet and exchange with people, in every culture.”


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The platform now has more than 25,000 hosts in over 130 countries. “The idea came to me during a trip to Peru when we had the opportunity to share a meal with an Indian family on Lake Titicaca,” explains Petit. “It was one of the highlights of our two-week vacation, but coming back to Paris and London I started to realise that this type of human connection and cultural immersion is not easy to find, especially in the main tourist destinations.”

In May, Petit announced a collaboration with global hotel brand, Marriott International, to become part of their Marriott Moments programme. “Our experiences – a mix of dinners, food tours, tastings and cooking classes – usually only take a few hours, so they make the perfect special additions to planned trips and itineraries,” he says.

Heightened expectations

As our taste for food and travel gets more sophisticated, hotels are upping their gastro game to keep in line with guests’ heightened culinary expectations. It seems the days of bland international dishes from cookie-cutter hotel restaurants are starting to wane as guests want an authentic or unique dining experiences even when staying in a multinational chain hotel. In Madrid, the stylish Hotel Atocha collaborated with some of New York’s coolest chefs and bartenders when it opened in December 2016, including hosting a pop-up of Manhattan’s iconic Katz’s Deli, which brought New York’s famed ‘pastrami on rye’ to the Spanish capital.

“Travelling trends have moved on from ticking off landmarks on a bucket list,” says Jemima Mann-Baha, Owner of Palais Amani in Fez, Morocco. “It’s all about experiences now, and there’s none more pleasurable than understanding what people eat,” she enthuses. “We recognised Fez’s potential as a foodie city very early on. It’s the spiritual and culinary capital of Morocco and where all the best food traditions are born.” This year, the 15-room boutique hotel launched a new rooftop cooking school where guests are taken shopping for ingredients in the local medina, then taught how to prepare and cook classic Moroccan dishes.

“And if resources are not available in-house then pairing up with a local restaurant or seeking out people who have already set up food tours or cookery schools would be the way forward for a hotelier,” encourages Jemima. Now that’s food for thought.

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Tracey Davies is a freelance travel writer and journalist

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