Food is a fundamental and foundational part of tourism. While visitors’ engagement in a destination’s arts and culture, outdoor activities or specific attractions may vary, every visitor wants to not only eat but find enjoyable food and cuisine during their travels.
For more than 15 years, we have been tracking trends around food tourism as part of our partnership with Future Partners (formerly Destination Analysts) in our special quarterly editions of The State of the American Traveler. In this year’s Traveler Segments edition, we took a deeper dive into how U.S. travelers think about and engage with food. The August 2023 research highlighted:
- 52% of all U.S. travelers are self-described "foodie travelers," who prioritize food, dining and cuisine in their travel planning.
- More than half (55%) of foodie travelers rate food and cuisine as "very or critically important" in deciding where to visit (vs. only 16% for non-Foodie travelers).
Of these foodie travelers:
- Nearly half (45%) undertake detailed research on the destination's dining and food scene prior to departure.
- About one-quarter (24%) make a restaurant reservation prior to departure.
Figure 1: "Foodie Travelers" make food and cuisine experiences a major part of their trip planning.
From this research and a review of food tourism around the world we have identified 7 global best practices for enhancing the appeal and impact of food in your destination:
1. Get Locals Re-engaged with Your Dining Scene
It's important to start by ensuring residents are fully engaged with your local food scene. Invest in activating your local market, a key part of dining and bar business in most destinations. In coastal, mountain and rural communities, locals provide an invaluable base business. Especially in the shoulder and off-seasons. In cities, COVID-19 shutdowns and ongoing remote work have impacted the spread and spending of locals. Special events like restaurant weeks have a newfound relevance in 2023 as cities continue to work to get locals back in downtown or business areas. For example, NYCTourism, home of the world’s oldest Restaurant Week (launched in 1992), have used their 2022 and 2023 events to encourage locals, and visitors, to reconnect with restaurants across the Big Apple’s five boroughs – with a special focus on encouraging locals to return to dining in Manhattan.
2. Tell the Story of Your Food Scene
Tell the story of your food, beverage and cuisine offerings with an ongoing investment in rich content, both online and via traditional media. Develop content tailored to both the foodie traveler and all visitors. Three examples of destinations with a major commitment to food-related storytelling include:
- Visit St. Pete/Clearwater offers a wide range of content on their dining, brewery and broader food scene. This is communicated across both digital and print channels and includes ongoing video series, both short and longer format (see “Savor This”), and an innovative gamification of their brewery trail.
- Turismo Madrid offers a rich range of multimedia visitor information on their food scene, from market and tapas guides to specialty restaurants, including finding paella or vegetarian restaurants. They even offer a guide to the city’s centuries-old restaurants; the Sobrino de Botín restaurant, founded in 1725, is the oldest restaurant in the world in continuous operation.
- San Francisco ranks near the top for food experiences by U.S. travelers, and San Francisco Travel has shown an ongoing commitment to showcasing their rich culinary experiences from their impressive range of farmers markets to their own historic restaurants including the 174 year old Tadich Grill to video stories with signature chefs.
3. Support Businesses, Locals and Visitors to Share Their Food Stories
Restaurants, bars and food businesses are great chefs and hosts, but they are not always great at telling and amplifying their stories. Make sure you are supporting your local food businesses and events in their marketing and communications, particularly on the most important digital platforms. In our Technology Edition of The State of the American Traveler, Google listings and reviews emerged as the most frequently used and trusted source for restaurant information. Many businesses fail to take advantage of the range of free content opportunities across Google and other major platforms such as Apple Maps and TripAdvisor (which just launched an enhanced restaurant section). Plus, empower your locals and visitors to capture and share their own food-related experiences. Social media, specifically vertical, short format video (like TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts), have emerged as an increasingly important source for younger travelers to find dining and bar options.
- See more on vertical and short format video marketing, including the latest research into TikTok use and best practices for all the platforms, in our ”Vertical Vision” webinar and resources.
- Miles Partnership offers a Destination Optimization program to educate, train and support your businesses market for free across all the major online platforms. See this example of our work in Maine.
- Download Google Food's "5 Tactics to Make Your Business Profile Stand Out" as a free resource for any restaurant or food business.
4. Highlight Food Experiences for Every Budget
Engage visitors and locals in your food scene by appealing to every budget. While many travelers (and locals) are seeking at least one special, signature food experience during their visit, they also want lower cost options for other meals. Our research highlighted that foodie travelers are more likely to be sensitive to rising prices and the cost of travel (50% of foodie travelers vs. 41% of all other travelers). With food making up a major cost of travel, be sure to highlight more affordable offerings in your destination along with signature food experiences. Travelers can then feel comfortable to both watch their budget as well as splurge for a special meal or experience.
5. Connect Your Food Experiences
Food experiences are more compelling if linked together in consistent or complementary themes to better understand the range of options and opportunities. This may be by location, style of cuisine, walking or touring routes, or within a festival/event. Groups of restaurants, bars and other businesses can work together in cooperative marketing to highlight complementary food offerings. Events such as food festivals or regular farmer's markets can integrate both food producers and food experiences. Winery, brewery and distillery touring routes can encourage visitors to explore lesser-known locations, finding other activities and attractions to add to their food experiences.
Figure 3 Wine trails such as this example from France’s Alsace region (one of the oldest in the world) have long been a way to encourage visitors to explore a region; visiting wineries and connecting with other activities and attractions.
Figure 4 Visit St. Pete/Clearwater was involved in setting up a successful brewery tour linking craft breweries across the county.
6. Support a Local Food Movement
Denmark is an impressive example of how tourism can help expand the local food movement and celebrate local produce with its cuisine. This includes its leadership in the “New Nordic” food movement. Starting in Europe, many destinations now have well-established local and slow food, combining fresh local produce with traditional and new dishes that bring each destination‘s story to life through its food. Work with your local restaurants, chefs and food producers to enhance the use of local produce, ingredients and special local dishes in your food experiences.
- See more on the Nordic approach to local food in its influential 10 manifesto in addition to resources on how local food and dining can be part of a more sustainable future in your destination in our climate change action white paper series, "27 for COP-27".
7. Support Investment & Innovation in Food Across Your Destination
Finally, consider if tourism can be influential in growing your overall food sector. Truly great food scenes come from a complex ecosystem of food and beverage producers, distributors, chefs, entrepreneurs and clustering of great food and cuisine offerings across your destination. Denmark's remarkable food scene for visitors is one result of a far broader investment in developing their overall food sector with a farm-to-table strategy. Denmark’s groundbreaking Gastro 2025 is the latest iteration of a collaborative approach between the public and private sector, including tourism, to develop food as a unique and distinctive point of difference for Denmark.
- The State of the American Traveler, Traveler Segments Edition, September 2023
- The State of the American Traveler, Foodie Travelers Research Slides, August 2023