Slow Food Travel: An Untapped Opportunity for Domestic DMOs

Italy scenery
by Erin Marvin
Director of Communications

According to the August 2023 Traveler Segments Edition of The State of the American Traveler, more than half of American travelers are self-described foodies (yours truly included). 

The data also shows that foodie travelers are younger, more ethnically diverse, bigger spenders and more frequent travelers. A destination’s food scene plays a key role in their decision making—and that’s not just restaurants, but overall food culture and history, wineries, breweries and food-focused experiences.

graph of food experiences

“Experiences” is the key word here: Research from Arival tells us that U.S. travelers (specifically Gen-Z and Millennials) prioritize experiences over things, and experiences are increasingly booked over any other component of the travel planning process—so much so that what experiences a destination offers often dictates what destination these travelers will go to. 

The takeaway for DMOs? Focus on showcasing your destination’s unique and varied experiences. And, if you want to capture the attention of those high-value foodies, put some effort into identifying and building your culinary offerings. 

My colleague Chris Adams recently shared 7 Global Best Practices in Food Tourism, in which he highlights the importance of DMOs telling the story of their food scene and supporting local food movements. He cited Scandinavia as a global leader in this space, referencing their New Nordic Food Manifesto and Denmark’s Gastro 2025 strategy.

In my opinion, one thing international destinations are doing well in this space that domestic U.S. destinations haven’t fully embraced is the idea of slow food–or, specifically, slow food travel—and developing content and campaigns to promote those types of experiences. 

Slow Food, which got its start in Italy nearly 40 years ago and is now established in 160-plus countries, is a global movement whose mission is to "cultivate a worldwide network of local communities and activists who defend cultural and biological diversity, promote food education and influence policies in public and private sectors." 

They define “slow food travel” as “a sustainable model of tourism based on the exploration of gastronomic traditions and the communities behind them.” They’ve even partnered with Airbnb to promote specific slow food experiences in countries like Colombia, Cuba, France and Italy.

screenshot of Airbnb experiences

Italy is where I’ve had my own most memorable slow food experiences, joining locally-led small-group tours in Tuscany that focus on micro-culinary and -cultural experiences. On one trip, I visited a small, family-run sheep farm and the sterile kitchens where they make organic, raw pecorino romano cheese. After touring the farm (and even witnessing the birth of a lamb!), we sat down with the family inside their home and shared a meal made with goods grown on their farm. (We didn’t eat the lamb, but we did eat a lot of cheese.) 

pecarino cheese
baby lamb

I’ve also hunted for truffles with a dog, tasted wine and olive oil with the people who made it, watched demonstrations by master artisans and cooked alongside grandmother chefs. Finding these types of experiences domestically has always been a challenge for slow food travelers like myself–which makes it a big opportunity.

Erin cooking
dog and truffle hunting

Identifying and promoting these types of slow food experiences is a unique and impactful way for domestic DMOs to increase their market share of high-value foodie travelers. 

And that’s not the only benefit: slow food travel engages a much broader swath of local partners than many DMOs currently reach because these experiences are often so closely tied to agricultural businesses and communities. And—since these experiences are almost always off the beaten path—they increase dispersal and help relieve more over-touristed spots.  

Get creative in how you can develop and market these types of slow food offerings, because you’ve got a built-in audience of travelers that’s ready to eat. 

Want to talk more about slow food travel and how Miles can help you create content and campaigns to reach foodie travelers? Get in touch and let’s brainstorm ideas together! 

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