April 12, 2024

Adventure Awaits Journeyers

Discovering the World Anew

How Culinary Travel Tells the Story and Celebrates the History of a Destination: Travel Weekly

6 min read

Travel advisors know that one of the best ways to explore a city is by tasting your way through it. According to a recent Virtuoso report, the appeal of culinary tourism continues to rise as travelers choose food and drink adventures as the main course for an immersive, memorable trip that connects them to their chosen destination.

With so many culinary-themed activities — including chef-guided market tours, cooking demonstrations, regional food tours, food and wine festivals and foraging excursions — it’s easier than ever to leverage this growing market segment to grow your business. 

Help clients eat like locals

“Food is a wonderful way to explore a place and its culture, because it’s a shared experience between locals and travelers. Everybody has a story about why they enjoy the cuisine where they live; it’s a lovely conversation starter,” says Erin Caswell, owner of Caswell Traveled in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Chateau Frontenac overlooks the St. Lawrence River, Old Québec

Chateau Frontenac overlooks the St. Lawrence River, Old Québec Source: Courtesy of Ministère du Tourisme du Québec

Caswell is working with a client who is headed to Québec City and Montreal, and food is top of mind.

“We talked about what’s special to the region, like local bakeries, sugar shacks and Indigenous cuisine,” she says.

Advisors can build itineraries around culinary experiences at all price points, adds culinary tourism strategist Eric Pateman, owner of ESP Culinary Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, food and culinary heritage connects people, and it’s the best way to get to know the true essence of local culture; you just become part of the community,” says Pateman, who works with hospitality and tourism organizations to tell compelling stories about their destinations. He’s traveled to over 120 countries, and as one of Canada’s leading ambassadors of Canadian cuisine, he believes food and drink is the ultimate reflection of a place and its people.

Seek out under-the-radar spots

Jennifer Nix, owner of Fork & Leaf Travel in Birmingham, Alabama, plans luxury travel in the food and nature space. She’s noticing high demand for one-of-a-kind culinary vacations.

“Folks are looking for more experiential travel today, which ties into that sense of place and how integrated the culture, the heritage, the agriculture, the topography affects what’s available in what season, and how it’s so unique to these wonderful places,” says Nix.

Some of the most immersive experiences stem from casual hidden gems advisors can then pass along to travelers, notes Pateman.

“My most memorable meal was on the side of a road in Casablanca, Morocco, where a woman behind a makeshift kitchen cooked snails and stew for us,” he recalls. “Nobody spoke English. I spent three hours sitting on a milk carton surrounded by the most genuine hospitality and smiling, laughing people.”

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, Pateman spent 10 of his 14 nights at the same roadside stand where he’d seen construction workers eating. 

“It was on a beach in a fishing village, and they cooked fish, pork and chicken over charcoal — for $6. That’s far more memorable and inclusive of a culture than most touristy restaurants,” he says.

Build programs around exciting activities

From oyster safaris to mushroom-hunting treks, most destinations now offer culinary-themed activities that introduce travelers to their host destination, and they’re a great way for visitors to get a lay of the land, notes Caswell.

“They can be amazing experiences that are unique to the region and an easy way to dive deep into what the locals are all about,” she explains. “When you’re picking apples in an orchard or learning about maple syrup in Québec, they’re sharing part of their history and their memories with you. And that’s something you can then share with your family.”

Nix is seeing more street food tours and hands-on culinary programs available in many destinations, and she’s quick to recommend them to her clients. 

“These are fun for me to book because that’s also what I love to do when I travel,” she says. “I like to say we do everything from Michelin Star to Meat-and-Threes.”

For example, last fall, Nix booked a small group of garden center owners for a culinary-themed trip to Italy. 

“We named their trip ‘Garden and Gastronomy’: I sent them on a truffle-hunting expedition in a four-by-four with a gentleman who showed them how the process works. They found some, took them back to a small organic winery and used the truffles as a part of their lunch after the excursion, shaving them on top of homemade pasta. That’s how you can integrate all the great experiences of a region.” 

Nix has also done ‘fish-to-fork’ fly-fishing tours in places like Costa Rica where travelers catch fish, and the hotel then prepares it for them. 

“When people say, ‘I want a cooking class’, I propose a market tour, because it’s important to meet the people bringing in the food, and then learning how to prepare it. It needs to come full circle.”

Speaking of markets, Pateman suggests advisors encourage clients to visit local grocery stores when they travel. 

“That’s always one of my first stops — sometimes even before I’ve dropped my suitcase at the hotel,” he says.

Fromagerie La Station de Compton organic cheesemaker, Québec

Fromagerie La Station de Compton organic cheesemaker, Québec © Gaëlle Leroyer

 

Explore a region’s agritourism scene

Foodies love learning more about the farm-to-plate movement, and there are many destinations with thriving agrotourism sectors — such as Charlevoix, Québec’s Flavour Trail — that welcome visitors with facility tours, onsite dining and unique lodging, says Pateman.  

“I love those self-guided trails, which are fairly new in Canada, and I’ve done them in Italy, Croatia and France,” he says.

“You can have great conversations with a local cheese maker, or a mushroom-hunting expert. I did an extraordinary mushroom foraging trip in Slovenia where you learn what to look for, what to avoid and then they cook you a mushroom-focused meal.”

Encouraging clients to visit local family-owned farms helps support sustainable businesses in the region, adds Caswell.

Tap into what’s on tap

Beverages play a huge role in culinary holidays. Activities focused on beer, cider, wine and spirits — think mixology classes, vineyard or craft brewery tours and food pairing classes — are a terrific way for advisors to add more value, says Pateman.

“Cocktails have become more en vogue so we’re seeing more people looking to go to distilleries, and it’s really cool to see what people are starting to do with the taste of place through things like gin,” he says. 

“One that I came across in Québec, St. Laurent Gin, has the most stunning label and is infused with seaweed from the St. Lawrence River, which is reflective of that taste of place.” 

At the Fairmont Château Whistler, guests are encouraged to ‘sip the sea and sky’ with its new Blackcomb Mountain Gin, which celebrates the region.

Nix recently booked a honeymoon in France for wine-loving newlyweds. 

“We did a full day in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where they went to two or three wineries each day, did cave tours and had private tastings,” she says.

Help clients build lifelong memories

“Another part of culinary travel is bringing back those unique flavors — like the spices of Morocco or local beer — to replicate that taste of place in your kitchen and re-inspire that sense and memory of where you were,” says Pateman. 

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