As it’s not dependent on the natural attributes of a destination such as sun, sea and sand, food tourism can be an important tool for hospitality and tourism businesses, allowing them to attract tourists during off-peak times.
However, food as a motivation for tourism is under-researched, especially in terms of what motivates tourists to undertake a food-related vacation. Researching this topic, Professor Barry O`Mahony of EHL Lausanne joined with Dr Diep Ngoc Su from the University of Economics, Danang, Vietnam and Professor Lester Johnson from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia to identify the internal motives of potential food tourists.
The results of their study help us understand the food travel motivation from both a tourist and a destination perspective, while it also provides practical advice for Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and hoteliers.
The study and its methodology
There are two major categories of travel motivation: push and pull factors.
Push factors relate to internal travel motives such as rejuvenation, escaping routine, exploring new places, and relaxing.
Pull factors are destination attributes that attract tourists to choose one destination over another.
In order to further validate these factors, the research team reviewed five food travel blogs to look for articles showing motives for food travel as well their perceptions of what would attract them to a food destination. Blogs included: A Global Kitchen, The Travel Bite, Behind the Food Carts, Misadventures with Andi, and The Funnelogy Channel. These award-winning blogs were selected because they inspired their readers with travel adventures through food. Blog posts were analysed over a 14-month period.
During an online survey, data was collected from groups of foodies on Linkedin and Facebook. Each group was required to have a minimum of 1,000 members and participants should have been intending to take a food tourism vacation in the near future. Over 350 participants from diverse backgrounds completed the survey. Nearly half were aged between 25 to 35 years old and the rest ranged from 36 to 65 years old. More than 90% had an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree, implying that food tourists have a high level of education. Annual income varied from low to high, indicating that income is not the main driving force for food tourism.
What are the main motivations for a food tourist?
Six major motivations were found to be important for a food tourist according to this survey. Three of them are push factors: the taste of food, cultural experiences, socialisation; and the remaining three are pull factors: core food tourism appeals, traditional food appeals and local destination appeals.
Here are the main points:
- The taste of food was found to be the most important motivator for food tourists.
- Cultural experiences and socialization were next – the latter was described as the desire to increase friendships in a food tourism destination. Food tourists look for destinations with an abundance of cultural and heritage features, unique specialty shops, markets selling local farm produce, cultural events, a rural environment and farmers’ markets.
- Food tourism appeals were another motivation, including traditional food villages and visitor-friendly food markets; and
- Local destination appeals were also a major motivation, encompassing cultural events that feature food and other traditions of a food destination. Local destination appeals are related to opportunities to engage in diverse cultural activities.
There are many more food-related experiences that can attract food tourists:
- Dining with locals was another sought after experience, allowing tourists to taste home-cooked food and experience local culture.
- Cooking classes, visitor-friendly food markets and packaged food tours can help food tourists increase friendships with other tourists, familiarize themselves with farmers, cooks and food producers, or engage with local chefs.
- Food festivals or events can also provide food tourists with stimulating food tourism experiences.
How can destinations attract food tourists?
Hoteliers and destination management organizations should offer various food-related products and services in order to gain food tourism benefits.
For example, they should offer tourists the opportunity to taste local food in traditional settings, authentic restaurants or traditional food villages. This strategy can also help design unique themes for tourist experiences while creating an attractive food destination image.
Destination management organizations can also focus on enhancing cultural experiences through the food-related activities oﬀered at their destinations. Each destination has a unique story related to the local culture, people and food traditions that can be shared with visitors. These stories are a great tool for destination marketers to promote distinctive travel experiences and develop a unique destination brand.
Another strategy that destination managers should consider is to provide opportunities for food tourists to communicate and connect with fellow food enthusiasts and tourists. For instance, establishing food tours guided by celebrity chefs or cooking classes organized by local chefs is a way to give participants the chance to get to know each other in various ways such as cooking and dining together.
Food travel motivation is diverse and destinations can attract food tourists in a multitude of ways.