Are you promoting the right kind of food tourism?

Are you promoting the right kind of food tourism?

Food continues to be one of the most important subjects for travelers. And why not, with new television shows featuring chefs and chef competitions? We all eat, and well, most of us, we love good food and drink.

We also know that there is a strong link between increased visitors or customers and economic development. Destinations would like more visitors and business would like more customers. But by promoting “food tourism”, “culinary tourism”, “agritourism”, “farmers markets” or whatever your preferred buzz phrase is, you could be sending an incorrect – and even contrary message about your destination or business.

For many destinations, “food tourism” is still a new concept. Others have been doing it for quite a long time. And we continue to see regular mistakes when it comes to wooing the foodie traveler.


Perhaps the most common mistake we see made by destination marketing organizations is the promotion of all things gourmet to all foodies in general. This approach runs the risk of alienating non-gourmet foodies who might be interested in other aspects of the food or overall food culture. Visitors or potential customers see pictures of expensive-looking meals served by chefs in white uniform and are left with the impression “This place is too expensive for me.”

Prior research has shown that foodies who identify with a Gourmet PsychoCulinary profile only represent 8.1% of foodies’ primary interest. In other words, 92% of foodies seek a non-gourmet kind of food experience before anything else.


Marketers tell us to continually refine our target markets and fine-tune our messaging. Just like you should not market to all adults when you seek to promote adventure experiences, for example, you would not market to all adults when promoting your destination’s food. Food experiences run the gamut, from pub food, to fast food, farmers’ markets, casual dining, family dining, bed and breakfasts, home cooking, fine dining, gourmet dining and much more, not to mention food tours, factory tours and so on.

A tool called PsychoCulinary profiling provides destination marketers a unique way to segment foodies. In all, there are 13 different types of segments, namely Adventurer, Ambiance, Authentic, Budget, Eclectic, Gourmet, Innovative, Localist, Novice, Organic, Social, Trendy and Vegetarian. While only 8.1% of foodies chose Gourmet first, other choices scored much higher, namely Authentic (8.8%) and Localist (11.0%). Even Novice ranked higher (10.7%).

The research uncovered another unique phenomenon: namely, that cities have their own PsychoCulinary profiles. For example, respondents in New York City ranked highest in Gourmet, Trendy and Social, while respondents in Toronto ranked highest in Localist, Eclectic and Organic. In other words, specific cities attract not foodies in general, rather, specific cities attract a specific type of foodie.

The bottom line is that you really need to know your destination and your visitors in order to send the right message to the right kinds of visitors or customers. Promotions for Michelin star restaurants are going to fall on deaf ears of 20-something young adults, yet that same group might be more than thrilled to learn about the great food at gastropubs and even urban food tours.


Another common mistake we see is the publishing of a “dining guide”. Such guides often must include chain businesses because they pay membership dues to the local tourism office. Foodies tend to frequent food chains irregularly and infrequently. Other non-foodie travelers don’t have much trouble spotting the logo of their favorite hamburger or coffee chain. For many non-foodies, often any fast food establishment will suffice. And chains don’t need your help with marketing. It is the smaller, independently-owned restaurants, breweries, and similar food and drink businesses that need the publicity.


Yet another forgivable error is destinations that promote dozens or “over 100” or whatever the number is, types of cuisine. While that tactic might appeal to locals, it is not going to be very effective at wooing foodies to travel to your area. I don’t travel to Italy for Chinese food, or Japan for French food, or Australia for American BBQ. But I am interested in trying local or national cuisines wherever I go.


When travelers spend money in chains, a large portion of the store’s earnings are sent back to corporate headquarters, which is often outside the region or country. Money earned locally tends to stay local, which can have an economic impact up to seven times greater than the original spend. In other words, for every $100, £100 or €100 spent locally, the overall economic impact can be as far-reaching as $700, £700 or €700. More jobs are created, and more money ends up back in local circulation. Sometimes larger corporations will cite the large number of jobs they bring to the area. In such instances, be careful to measure the overall economic impact. What are the workers being paid? How many workers are hired? Is the work full- or part-time? How much of the profit is reinvested locally?


Travelers seek stories and experiences more than just a meal and your marketing efforts should reflect that. Promoting high-end dining experiences will attract a certain kind of foodie, namely those who are gourmet-oriented. Promoting a wide range of experiences is like casting a net wide. It can be effective if you want to attract a wide variety of foodies. However, if your destination has not yet identified its food tourism positioning, you should make a modest investment in research to find out what kind of foodie would resonate most with your destination.

Learn more about leveraging food and drink as drivers for economic development. World Food Travel Association Executive Director Erik Wolf will be delivering two sessions about food and drink tourism on November 3 at ExCel. Details at

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Erik Wolf is the visionary founder of the world’s food tourism industry and of the World Food Travel Association. He is a highly-sought speaker, thought leader, strategist and consultant, in the US and abroad, on food and drink tourism issues, and is considered the go-to food tourism industry resource for media outlets that include CNN, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, NBC, Forbes,, Huffington Post, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and many more. Erik has consulted to leading global brands that have included American Express, Disney, Marriott and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. He also regularly advises cities, regions and countries, and organizations such as UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network gastronomy program and the UNWTO’s Gastronomy Network. His articles, research and books have been translated into dozens of languages.

One comment

  1. Avatar Richard Layman says:

    1. You’re focusing on restaurants in this piece, but public and farmers markets are significant anchors for food tourism. In the US, public markets are a less widespread phenomenon, but growing, and many private developers are using food market/hall type concepts as a way to activate their properties.

    2. In the US, the Edible Communities publication network (e.g., “Edible DC” or “Edible Brooklyn” or “Edible Wasatch” are potentially a great CVB outlet as it relates to food tourism. Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen copies of these publications distributed in local visitors centers.

    Here are there across the US exist independent local food publications independent of the Edible Communities network (they have a franchise concept, which provides assistance to local entrepreneurs who set up and run local publications; most publish four issues/year).

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