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Culinary Tourism Websites

Communities of all sizes in North America have discovered that their efforts to promote tourism as a pillar of economic development can gain a big advantage if they include culinary tourism among their offerings.

Since the turn of this century culinary tourism has become an industry within an industry, as statistics have revealed tremendous growth in the number of communities developing culinary tourism programs, and specialized organizations have sprung up to provide resources for such programs and develop best practices.

While tourism development organizations are fortunate to have these resources to build on, they should be guided by one overriding success factor – collaboration. A culinary tourism initiative cannot succeed without enthusiastic collaboration among the various organizations within the supply chain, with strong leadership usually provided by the tourism development or economic development organization. Collaboration is particularly essential to maintaining a high-quality website that promotes the program and is one of the most important factors in its success.

Key Concepts and Trends in Culinary Tourism

In its broadest sense, Culinary Tourism is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable culinary experiences of all kinds, often while travelling, but one can also be a culinary tourist at home. In fact experience has shown that development of local awareness should be the first target for a culinary tourism program.

Culinary tourism is growing exponentially. Its leading authority, the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA), reports that it has seen an enormous surge in recent years in the number of destinations exploring culinary tourism.

Yet this industry segment is not simple to organize – it does not consist merely of restaurants that can be grouped and listed. It encompasses cooking schools, cookbook and kitchen gadget stores, culinary tours and tour leaders, culinary media and guidebooks, caterers, wineries, breweries, distilleries, food growers and manufacturers, culinary attractions and more.

Furthermore, culinary travellers are not homogenous. Studies by the ICTA and other researchers have found that travellers who choose destinations based on culinary criteria span both genders, all age groups and all ethnic groups. Marketing activities in many cases must be carefully targeted to reach different market segments.

Culinary travelers generally have two things in common, however – higher incomes than generic tourists, and a tendency to spend more during their trips. It’s small wonder that more communities are trying to appeal to such travellers!

Culinary Tourism Programs

Communities embarking on a culinary tourism program need first to understand and identify all the complex elements of the regional food supply chain. One of the most important critical success factors is the creation of an inventory within the region. Understanding what is available is fundamental to building a successful program and packaging the products within it.

  • Programs typically combine:
  • Facilities such as farms
  • Activities such as visiting wineries;
  • Events such as food festivals;
  • Organizations such as hospitality and tourism associations.

A program can combine some or all of these elements but will often have a geographic component as well, such as a culinary trail, that serves both as a unifying element for the program and as the cornerstone for its branding.

The most important component of any culinary tourism program is the membership. It is critical for the economic development department – or any other designated leadership body for the program — to locate, contact, and invite eligible establishments to participate in the culinary tourism program. All the links in the supply chain need to understand that they depend on each other, not just for supply but to support the brand and marketing strategy.

Culinary Tourism Websites

Culinary tourists are very likely—more so than generic tourists—to research and plan their trips online. The web’s multimedia and interactive capabilities make it the perfect medium to convey powerful and compelling stories to draw tourists to culinary businesses.

A culinary tourism website should be designed as a niche site that has its own distinctive appeal consistent with the brand of the community as a whole. It should incorporate the most important characteristics of tourism websites in general, as described earlier in this series (see “How Competitive Is Your Tourism Website?” published May 5, 2009):

  • The site must offer one-stop access to all culinary tourism products and absolutely must be kept up to date;
  • It must help visitors to make decisions about where they would like to go, based on their own situations and preferences;
  • It must be interactive, enabling visitors both to obtain answers to individual questions and to communicate with others about aspects of the culinary tourism program.

Social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be used. Integrating Google Maps into the website will make it easy for visitors to locate attractions and determine the best routes to reach them.

The design of the website should incorporate a search engine optimization plan, a linking strategy, and an online advertising program to drive traffic and ensure that the site appears high in search engine results for relevant keywords.

Other desirable features include an itinerary planner where tourists can organize their culinary experiences, a directory, advanced destination search capability, photo galleries and a press room.

Best Practices for Culinary Tourism

  • Partnerships – It cannot be overstressed that culinary tourism involves many players. There is a need for these players to share the most effective possible communication and networking. Partnerships need to be built with local organizations, including cultural and general business organizations, as well as with government organizations at higher levels that can provide significant resources.
  • Leadership — Studies have revealed the importance of strong and effective yet collaborative leadership to the success of culinary tourism programs. Key roles for the leadership organization are to direct the execution of the culinary tourism strategy, act as the conduit for communication among stakeholders and partners, and provide links to other culinary tourism initiatives and resources at levels ranging from local to international.
  • Integration — The development of culinary tourism should become part of the tourism strategy of a community. Successful culinary tourism programs ensure that services such as accommodation, shopping, recreational attractions and information services are readily available and promoted in a way that helps support the culinary tourism activities.
  • Financial support and performance measures — Most culinary tourism products require a few years to become established and successful. They need long-term investment resources and financial plans. They also need to demonstrate success to their funding organizations by means of measurements such as revenues, additional spending by tourists, increased person-trips and the like.
  • Differentiation — Culinary tourism programs should be distinctive to the region. The essence of culinary tourism is an emphasis on local products or local styles of cuisine that make the community’s experience unique for visitors.

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