Contrary to what fitness gurus may tell you, food isn’t just fuel. It’s an art form, a cultural keystone and the key part of a fad that’s helping transform the travel industry. Trying local foods has always been a part of travel. But the concept of going to a place solely to take part in culinary experiences is a breaking consumer trend. It’s called “Food Tourism,” and it’s changing the way we travel.

“Food tourism”  is a new term that’s emerged in the travel industry over the past couple years. It was coined by the World Food Travel Association (WFTA), a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and promoting the economics of “where food and beverage meet travel and hospitality.” The WFTA defines food tourism as “the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both near and far.”

Food Tourism (food too r-iz-uh m) noun; The pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both near and far.

But for food or culinary tourists, it’s about more than just eating at local restaurants. According to the WFTA, 93% of travelers have reported participating in a food or beverage experience other than dining out. Such non-dining, culinary encounters include guided food tours, cooking classes, excursions to local grocery stores, and more. And 59% of travelers say that food and beverage experiences are more important when they travel now than they were 5 years ago.

Why the sudden interest in food and travel? Well, maybe because Millennials (who are increasingly becoming one of the biggest traveler demographics) are into it. A lot.

A 2016 survey by TopDeck Travel revealed that 69% of millennials were motivated to travel out of a desire to eat local foods. More specifically, 98% said that “eating local cuisine” is very important when traveling — and 37% of them avoid junk food when traveling. When ranking what is important to them, food came ahead of partying (44%) and shopping (28%). And the WFTA says that 52% of Millennials consider themselves culinary tourists compared to 42% of Boomers.

69% of millennials [said they] were motivated to travel out of a desire to eat local foods…98% said that “eating local cuisine” is very important when traveling

The Millennial-food tourism connection can also be attributed to the influx of travel apps that revolve around food. One such app VizEat, which has been called “the Airbnb of local dining,” connects travelers with locals hosting culinary experiences — including cooking classes, dinner parties, food tours, etc. Travelers can learn to make crepes in Paris, dine on a rooftop in Dubai, or take a pasta tour in Rome. Like Airbnb, dinner rate hosts, so users can know what they’re getting into before you book. Other popular food tourism apps include Feastly, Foodspotting, and Roaming Hunger.

“Food is definitely one of the main driving forces when planning my travels,” Erin Desantiago told CheapOair. Erin is a culinary/food tourist who documents her journeys on her blog, Our Tasty Travels “And yes, it absolutely takes me to some places I would probably never have visited. For example, I went to Lithuania in April primarily for the food and local craft beer scene.”

Culinary experiences have lured  Erin to spots all over the world, most recently from her home in Amsterdam to Tulum, Mexico. Ask and she’ll rave about the joy of discovering local food treasures, from her favorite empanada in Buenos Aires to her surprising obsession with Baltic black rye bread in Lithuania.

“I think the best experiences I’ve had were the most simple ‘aha’ moments when you really bond with a destination’s cuisine,” Erin says.

Although going abroad may offer more exotic forms of culinary tourism, you don’t have to go far to participate. Some of the best food tours, food trucks, and cooking classes may be closer than you think. Most are found in big cities, but even midsize and small towns host local culinary experiences. Take Creative Mountain Food Tours for example. Nestled into the Black Mountain area of North Carolina, the tour includes a pub crawl, dessert tour, and restaurant stroll in the tiny town. For $48, individuals will taste food and/or sip drinks from at least six Black Mountain eateries. The chefs and owners then share what inspired them to call this mountain town their home. Meant to imbue the rich culture of the area with culinary tradition, this tour along with others throughout the United States educates and entertains.

“Food is definitely one of the main driving forces when planning my travels” – Erin Desantiago, Our Tasty Travels

 

I know from first-hand experience that the culinary experience of food tourism can be more than just about your taste buds. In 2015, my husband and I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand where we spent a day at an organic farm. On the tour, they took us to a local grocery store for sugar and meats. From there we went to the farm, where we picked fresh herbs and vegetables. The rest of the day was spent in an outdoor kitchen where a chef taught us how to prepare a three-course Thai meal. The experience was culturally eye-opening, showing us how the Thai people farm and prepare their meals. I now cook Thai food at least once a week for my family and have countless shared with others the recipes I learned.

After that first dash of culinary adventure in Thailand, I found myself hungry for more food experiences in my travels. On one trip to Switzerland, I visited a chocolate factory and took a private chocolate making course. I learned how to determine the quality chocolate using my five sense. I can remember so clearly the unique experience of my instructor teaching me how to judge a piece chocolate by looking for its glossy sheen, touching it, smelling it, listening to it as I broke the bar in half, and then finally, tasting it. The moment stands out as one of the most memorable from my travels.

It’s theorized that taste and memory are connected. Scientists suspect that, like smell, the sense of taste taps directly into the same part of the brain that stores our memories. Perhaps then, the travel experiences that incorporate taste — whether it’s food tourism or a culinary adventure — may be the best way to remember the trips we love so much.

And if not? Well, at least you won’t leave hungry.

Ready to Savor the Dishes from Around the World? Let’s Start Figuring Out Where You Want to Go! 

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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.