Will Travel for Food: Culinary Tourism

Brand USA Marketing Executive
Published 11/25/14
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With the holidays approaching, especially Thanksgiving, the focus on food consumes our thoughts since holiday preparations and traditions are held in the highest regards. Food is a central focus in life—we all have to eat—but it’s also a very strong factor when making travel decisions.

It’s no surprise that Culinary Travel is trending much higher and constitutes one of the largest growth markets for tourism, gaining momentum as the research indicates. Not only is this a significant consideration for domestic travel, but a huge influence for international travelers as well.

Here in the U.S., each destination has a unique “food story” to tell. Sometimes it is more of a regional story that comes from the unique history of the area or the crops that grow best and flourish in that particular climate and habitat. Specifically, here in the Southeast where Miles is headquartered, we boast a beautiful bounty of cuisine. With pecans, peaches and fresh seafood, the South gave birth to historic culinary gems like pecan pie, pralines, peach cobbler and shrimp and grits, just to name a few. It’s all about the local flavor and the experience of “Authentic Southern Cuisine.”

So, from the domestic traveler’s point of view, why the increased interest in Culinary as a driver for where we take vacations? Recent research from The State of the American Traveler examines traveler opinions, activities and motivation through surveys. This research shows a shift in how different generations view Culinary and Authenticity as a travel driver. The intensity index scores for Culinary ranked at 62.8 percent for the Boomers, 66.2 percent for Gen X and increased to 71.2 percent for Millennials. So as the age decreased, the interest in Culinary as a travel driver increased.

It was the same correlation for the need for “authenticity” when making travel decisions: As the ages shift, Millennials will eventually become the larger travel segment, and their hunger for authentic culinary experiences becomes a very important factor to consider in marketing your destination.

The culinary experience is a definite factor in their decision making process of where to vacation. To sum it up, the basic takeaway from this study was that the most optimistic travelers are the affluent and of a younger generation; Baby Boomers and Gen Y (a.k.a. Millennials) who are dominating the population (each of approximately 76-80 million) with different, yet connected travel interests and behavior.

So let’s take a look at the power of Culinary as a motivator and influencer on decision making for the international traveler. From a recent study derived from Brand USA and conducted by PhoCusWright, nine international countries were studied regarding the importance of dining and food in the top 10 U.S. travel markets. The participating countries included insights from travelers from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom. Turns out Culinary is a huge motivator. The graph below shows the ranking of Dining & Cuisine as amongst “the most important” experiences sought in international travel.

With the culinary experience being forefront as a motivator for international audiences, destination marketers are becoming more acutely aware that their unique “food story” is of utmost importance when considering their international marketing strategy.