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Food tourism;  definition, statistics, and everything you need to know

Some people travel to get off the beaten track or get a glimpse of a culture that’s different than anything they saw before, while others to indulge in unique culinary experiences in foreign countries. Culinary tourism or food tourism is a growing trend as more national tourism boards around the world strive to present their national cuisine as an artistic expression of the local culture. Unlike what some people think, food tourism is much more than only enjoying a meal or a good glass of local wine while traveling. I always say that every country is like a giant, tasty labyrinth and the easiest way to get out of it is to eat your way out.

Furthermore, as more people seek authentic experiences while they travel, culinary tourism evolves and becomes more complex but in this article, we’ll try to explain the basics of food tourism along with some interesting facts, statistics, and much more.

Food tourism definition

street food thailand

Food tourism isn’t about dining luxuriously but rather about dining adventurously and learning about new cultures along the way. A culinary tourism experience is every experience in which one not only consumes authentic local food, but also appreciates and learns about local culture. And as people are becoming more open-minded about trying new cuisines, the food tourism market keeps growing. According to the WTO (World Tourism Organization), the average tourist spends approximately one-third of their total vacation budget on food.

What makes culinary tourism so important?

asian floating market

We all know that people from different cultural backgrounds eat different types of food but that’s not all. In a lot of cases, certain dishes become symbols of their native country. For example, people always associate pizza with Italy, doner with Turkey, ramen noodles with Japan, butter chicken with India, etc. Even people who never visited these countries know that and local food plays an increasingly important role when it comes to choosing your holiday destination. However, as mentioned above, food tourism isn’t just about what we eat. It’s also about how we eat, where, with whom, and why.

How Food tourism helps in promoting a destination?

beach view fruit

Food-related posts on social media is one of the most engaging and trendy categories on the internet. A lot of national tourist boards, tour operators, and hotels acknowledge this and use this in their content strategies. That’s why we see more websites where you can find lots of different party venues, meeting venues, and eateries, that focus on only-local, authentic experiences, and tourists seem to love these because it helps them plan their trip more thoroughly and to…

Explore beyond the plate

korean street food tourism

Exploring and discovering new cuisines has always been associated with leisure travel. However, just like everything else in this world, food tourism is evolving and it includes more different activities. Culinary tourism doesn’t mean that you only need to eat gourmet meals when abroad. Culinary tourism means discovering new, authentic culinary experiences, from the finest local restaurants to the cheapest street food stalls. Food tourism isn’t about the food you eat. It’s about opening your mind to new culinary experiences that you never encountered before. This leads us to the next point.

Culinary tourism activities

food tourism

As we mentioned above, culinary tourism is expanding to activities beyond the plate. These activities allow tourists to experience the cuisine of a country on several different levels, whether through visiting organic producers, taking food tours and tasting different types of food, and even participating in local cooking classes. All this allows destinations who use this approach to showcase their local food, not only as a tasty treat but also as one of the main pillars of their cultural identity. The list of different food tourism activities is long but some of the main activities include; organizing street food tours, visiting local vineyards and breweries to taste local beverages, dining at traditional restaurants, gastronomic festivals, organized tours to local markets, visiting artisan producers, dining with local people, cooking classes, and a range of gastronomic exhibitions.

However, note that this list isn’t final. Tourism boards from around the world are becoming more creative in increasing the number of activities that they offer in order to give their destination a competitive edge and make it a great food tourism destination.

The growing popularity of organic culinary tourism

farmer market

It’s a fact that in the last few years, people have become more interested in where their food comes from. And this is the case everywhere, no matter whether they’re at home or traveling. As this becomes a more important niche market, especially among European travelers, some culinary tour operators are already using this trend to their advantage by catering to this group. It’s reasonable to expect that more people will become interested in this branch of culinary tourism and that this will be a driving force of growth for years to come. Developed countries, like the US, Germany, France, the UK, Australia, Spain, and Italy are already witnessing an increasing number of tourists, mainly because of the growth of their culinary tourism market.

Interesting statistics

food tourism

According to Business Wire’s reports, the global culinary tourism market is expected to grow by 9% between 2019 and 2023. This should have a positive impact on the market and become a driving force for sustainable growth in the future. Here’s what that means in numbers, according to a recent survey by World Food Travel.

  • 45% of respondents participated in at least five different culinary activities during their vacation.
  • 81% of respondents believe that local food helps them understand the local culture.
  • 82% of respondents learn about local food and beverages while traveling.
  • 47% of respondents go shopping at local grocery stores.
  • 59% of respondents believe that local food and drinks are more important for tourism then they were five years ago.
  • Roughly 70% of respondents bring local food or beverages back home as a souvenir/gift.
  • 82% of respondents spend more money on food and drinks when traveling compared to being home.
  • Staggering 93% of respondents participated in at least one unique, authentic food/drink activity in the last two years.
  • 83% of respondents believe that food helps in creating a tasting impression of a country.
  • Finally, the fact that came as the biggest surprise to me; 62% of respondents start purchasing foreign food and drinks in their home town after trying them abroad.

As the numbers suggest, food tourism is a big deal and has a strong influence on the entire tourism market. And if we look at the latest trends, we can only expect that the impact of culinary tourism on global tourism increases in the following years, as millennials become a more significant segment of the market.

The economic impact

bangkok floating market

Estimating the economic impact of food tourism is very difficult because it’s hard to make an estimate of spending on food and beverages and separate it from the other costs travelers encounter while traveling. We have examined numerous different studies on the internet and can conclude that on average, travelers spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food, drinks, and other gastronomic activities.

The number varies depending on the destination, with the number going as high as 35% of total expenses in developed countries and as low as 15% of the total travel expenses in developing budget-friendly countries. However, we should keep in mind that food lovers who are becoming a more important part of the market, tend to spend more than the 25% average and it’s reasonable to expect this number to keep increasing as the number of people who belong to the food lover category increases in the following years.

Top culinary tourism trends

culinary tourism

Here, we’ll just summarize the different points we mentioned in this article. Some of the most important food tourism trends are:

  • Sustainability and trying authentic dishes made of organically-grown local produce becomes more important for travelers.
  • Tourists are more interested in learning about local food and culture while traveling. Tour operators that organize interesting activities that combine local food with local culture will achieve a competitive edge.
  • Special gastronomic events are becoming more popular. These events and festivals give travelers a reason to visit a destination even during the offseason.
  • Tourists are becoming more interested in trying home-cooked meals while getting the chance to interact with locals. Tour operators that listen to the market and acknowledge this trend are already achieving massive success.

Did you ever travel somewhere for food? If so, what are some of your favorite food tourism destinations? Do you think we didn’t mention some other important things about this niche? Let us know in the comments!

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Tuesday 31st of December 2019

Food is definitely an inseparable part of every civilization and country. I've never understood why people eat pizzas and hamburgers outside Italy and the US respectively, instead of trying to taste as much as possible from the local cuisine.

Passport Symphony

Thursday 2nd of January 2020

Totally with you on this one Chris.

Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

Saturday 28th of December 2019

This was such an informative post, and personally, food is a HUGE part of why I travel and where I choose to go. I think I make a good effort to try local flavors no matter where I go, but some of my fondest food memories are from Greece, Malaysia, and India. If you travel with an open mind, most cities and countries offer surprisingly diverse food scenes for those willing to seek them out.

Passport Symphony

Thursday 2nd of January 2020

Well said, Keven.


Sunday 22nd of December 2019

I've never traveled solely for food, but it is one of the most important things for me when I travel (at home too). I love to try new dishes and local delicacies and I never turn down the opportunity to try something strange or unusual. I also love to do food tours, visit markets and take cooking classes while I travel. Food is such a big part of culture.

Passport Symphony

Monday 30th of December 2019

Great to hear that Sophie.