How To Develop Food Tourism? Culinary Tourism Alliance Interview
I love to see the potential that food tourism has in creating meaningful connection and also having a positive impact on the destination and the people that live there itself so i think there's a lot of power and potential in helping develop food tourism. Let's start with the the hardest question can you introduce yourself and share what it is that you do with the culinary tourism alliance. Thank you very much Alex. Hello, My name is valerie Keast. I'm with the culinary tourism alliance and our mission is to ensure that food tourism is a meaningful and sustainable contributor to local economies in destinations worldwide. Great I know so you've got tourism in the title how is the culinary tourism alliance positioned in the tourism industry in terms of working with dust administration management companies consulting locally or internationally how do you find yourselves working with other tourism organizations well so the culinary tourism alliance we were actually established in 2006 to implement the 2005-2015 ontario culinary tourism strategy and action plan on behalf of the provincial uh ministry here we are located in ontario canada for those who are joining us internationally and so at the time there were very few people doing dedicated work around culinary tours and strategies so it was very unique and implementing it successfully really positioned us as an organizations as thought leaders in the space globally and so food fits into the broader tourism strategies as you know and we soon became go-to experts on how to do that essentially in a lot of different ways so that bit of history and context explains why in 2011 we dropped our *O* in our name ontario culinary and just became the culinary tourism alliance and became - began sharing our knowledge with other destinations through our professional services work consulting work so through our membership our brand and our programs we're still very much rooted here in ontario canada but we consult with destinations across the country and internationally in places like british columbia on the other side of canada in the unite in the us as well as in some destinations in europe very cool one of the things about tourism and all the subparts of tourism that I find mostly charming is how many different names that there are for different kinds of tourism and i think that in our previous conversations we touched on a few of them that kind of fit together like i have more of a background in agritourism but there's also gastrotourism or tourism related to gastronomy culinary tourism food tourism with all of these overlapping terms how do you find a place to start with your with clients or partners who are looking to get into this specific field. Well Alex, that's a great question & a good place to start actually so thanks for asking us. For us it's less about which term you want to use because we often see that in different parts of the world certain terms are used more or less frequently but it is important that at the dmo level or at the municipality there is some sort of formal definition for what is food tourism or agritourism at that destination the reason for that is that it makes it challenging to develop if there isn't a common language or understanding on what's involved who's part of it and what we're trying to do through those activities so having that common definition or name whatever you want to call it is a good place to start in for any destination that's looking to develop food tourism or agritourism. Along the lines of finding a common place to start
I'd like to chat about expectations I think one thing that I noticed as I've traveled is you have people who are really established in tourism who have an idea of how having tourists come will impact an area versus somebody who might just be getting started in tourism might just be getting ready to welcome somebody to their say to their farm or uh to an activity and the idea of having a tourist come is really exciting and i think this could change my life forever and i'm gonna like so and then slowly they kind of understand the realities so i'm curious what is the cta's approach to bringing people into the fall talking about maybe the number of visitors or what they can expect in terms of of revenue or impact on their lives with tourism um well there's two ways i guess we could talk about managing expectations or impacts one is the visitor expectation and what they expect to get when they visit your your destination and that's the whole other side of it is making sure that your marketing and your message is cohesive but really on the planning side of it we get asked a lot you know how are we going to measure the return on investment to invest in food tourism development or food within our tourism strategy um and again i've got to say it depends on the destination and the project that we're working on itself really like to route things into specific project outcomes and what we're trying to achieve with each one of them but you know we view all of our destination clients really as partners because they're really experts in their own right in destination management and so they've got benchmarks that they're trying to compare against specific things that they're aiming for in terms of you know number of visitors uh you know visitation stats revenue and they've got past years to measure that again so it might be trying to you know increase uh spend or increase length of stay within the destination or finding ways to have a deeper impact so that when people are dining in their restaurants it's also supporting local producers so promoting those restaurants who are losing using local food for example at that stage that's when we like to help our partners also think beyond traditional economic metrics of course and to think of things like social and environmental impacts within their strategies and then you know that way we can take a very clear process approach working back from some of those objectives so we manage expectations first by asking and getting a clear understanding on where we're trying to head and then we work back from there yeah i like the idea that you could propose additional metrics i think the popular ones would be kind of length of stay or visitor spend but those can be a little bit restrictive especially when you're trying to develop something that might have like you said deeper roots uh in the community that's supporting it exactly so with these projects that you're developing what would a guess what would a traditional timeline kind of be say if you're working with somebody or maybe a tourism entrepreneur a farmer who didn't have any experience with tourism to bring them up to a point where you think that they could be included in a in a route or proposed as a stop and a tour what would you have somewhat of a timeline or a rule of thumb for how they can think about their kind of development process uh yes absolutely so when we're thinking of promoting someone we often think of the term readiness or market readiness and a way to think about this is that it's not one set thing we do have criteria and we make recommendations on what it can look like and a checklist that operators can go through to see where they are but we like to think about it more as a spectrum so on one side you have business ready and on the other side you have market ready and at business ready basically it means are you open for business do you have a visitors facing experience that you're offering can somebody look you up online and do you have regular posted hours and you're actually open at those hours and then on the other side we have market ready which uh means uh which can mean everything like being ready to be marketed through travel trade for example so a really unique experience strong marketing strong message working closely with the dmo and finding ways to make it easier for them to promote you your product and your business so it's really a spectrum and then when we're thinking of timeline projects can get off the ground really quickly it depends on what you're working with and you don't need to feel that you need to start and aim straight for being travel trade market ready right a lot of the time we encourage businesses to try new experiences and iterate so it can take only a few months to get started but in the cycle or the seasonality of your particular experience it could take up to a year depending on you and your business got it uh i'm curious you mentioned uh having regular business hours posted and also following those hours uh has that something is that one that you come across that takes a bit of uh practice to to get right for uh make people who are not used to having maybe a storefront or uh an office well it is something that we run in a lot and we like to underscore it because when visitors are planning their trips they're doing a lot of research online beforehand and so they'll be trying to plan their itinerary and getting a sense on when they can stop through your business so it we understand too that it can be challenging especially over the past couple years through the pandemic um when they're short stuff or there's a lot of things going on if you're a small owner operator to maintain those regular hours but it is one crucial thing to helping make it easier for a visitor to stop by a lot of times i think businesses could be overlooked if the visitor when they're planning doesn't have confidence that you will be open they might look to a different business to stop that instead got it so they passed conversation with the tourism authority of grenada and they had mentioned you know to have uh organizations um presented on their volunteerism website they needed to have a set of hours listed and to to abide by those hours because again you have tours who are coming maybe for a day but they're looking to plan their trip for months out so they want to know that that will be offered at that point and it was maybe an adjustment for let's say uh somebody who's offering offering fishing or scuba diving to know that they had to be always available uh not always available but consistently available and not just when the mood struck exactly and that's what we talk about on that spectrum right is uh if you're open for business uh but then or if you're market ready so if you are advertising your hours and you're committed to being open to those times maybe a year in advance it makes it a lot easier for tour operators for example to include you in one of their packages got it so one thing i've been curious about is how we see the difference between maybe individual businesses or entrepreneurs tourism stakeholders and the kind of collection collective bodies associations the government and sort of dividing responsibility for some of these uh regional efforts and i think what you've been doing with with food tourism seems kind of inherently regional it's connected to the area and often there are multiple players involved if you're eating dinner at a restaurant that came but that was sourced from a farmer there's multiple people who are participating so i'm curious what you how do you see that balance between sort of the the individual projects and they're what they should be expected to kind of contribute to the region and maybe the group that's organizing or groups that are organizing from the area um that that's another great question so think about it thinking yeah think about it this way um when a visitor plans a trip do they consider a destination because of one business that's there or are they more likely to go if there's a cluster of businesses or experiences within a region right basically it involves effort on both sides so at the business level and at the destination level and especially how they work together so at the operator level things that you can be doing are innovating creating unique experiences things that complement your neighbors you know there's there is competition at the regional level among businesses on what they're offering but it's about offering a lot of different types of tastes or experiences for the visitor so we like to call it friendly coopetition a lot of the time that's nice yeah we really like to i encourage the idea of businesses getting to know their neighbors creating partnerships with others cross-promoting um and that type of thing and being authentic to themselves their story you know presenting their story in a really dynamic light sharing that story and that message succinctly and clearly throughout their experience when they welcome visitors on site but also through their online presence their marketing and things like that and also to find ways to tie it into the grander narrative or marketing efforts that the destination marketing organization is doing at the destination level some of their responsibilities usually fall around making investments capacity building supporting businesses to create new experiences to have that cluster of dynamic things to experience and then finding ways to either fill some gaps tied into other tourism or economic development efforts making infrastructure investments it goes that far and then also of course like developing tourism products marketing products and things like that but the thing i'd say to take away from is that it's a collective effort and at the businesses the best thing that they can do is get to know your local dmo who's in the office become comfortable reaching out to them letting them know what you're doing at the operator level and vice versa dmos exist to promote businesses in their region so the best thing that they can do is build community bring stakeholders together and really get involved excellent i've heard too from at least the operators who might be a little bit more reluctant or new to these kinds of experiences and they don't know that they can necessarily introduce themselves or kind of be proactive about drawing attention and they're saying like why hasn't anybody come to visit me or why i haven't they tried out our experience they would know it's great and sometimes to take that step too to meet them where they are and uh to become a part of the network exactly and you know i know it's not easy uh when you're a small business owner you've got a million things on your mind all the time and um so it might seem like one extra thing that you have to do but that's why dm destination management or destination marketing organizations exist is to sort of alleviate some of that work in marketing your business um so simply reaching out can actually save you a lot of effort in the long run i have just to show a bit of my bias uh because i grew up in an area or near an area called apple hill in northern california and my grandmother taught me how to bake apple pies and so when i saw that part of the cta's member network is something called the apple pie trail i wanted to pick your brain and to see kind of what was ct's involvement in that's in its development uh and then probably a few other things before bragging about how much better our apples are than candidates well uh i am also biased and i'm glad you picked this uh you know this project to talk about um because i my family's actually from that region um i'm going there today later today and i'm actually wearing my little apple necklace um i have nothing i i wholeheartedly think that we have some of the world's best apples if not the best apples and so the apple pie trail was pro originally developed as a marketing campaign and the way that we supported it the culinary tourism alliance is after it was launched we supported the initiative by helping them further develop their criteria uh for inclusion along the trail because of course over the years it evolves and it's it's nice to have a clear set of criteria for businesses to know and strive for and stick to as well as those operating it we also helped with industry education and stakeholder engagement and what i mean by that is working with stakeholders who are featured on it to understand how they can make the most of it and leverage this type of opportunity and product because like i mentioned before the success of these types of trails depends equally on the engagement from businesses as with the planning uh from the organization that did it so i'm also curious about these trails the other part of apple hill is that there's also a wine festival uh that happens called passport and people can navigate the region to taste different wines and uh it's a lot of fun and wine trails are also seemingly quite popular and so it seems that this kind of trail type partnership it fits very naturally with food tourism especially and seems like there could be potential in countries that do have such a great deal of agriculture organic produce interesting local foods that tourists might not have been able to have the opportunity to try themselves um i guess just kind of briefly what do you see as the advantages to these kinds of trails and what might be some of the the risks for um taking on a bigger project like this well there are a lot of advantages to developing a trail like this and that's why i suppose you you see so many of them around it's something concrete and helpful that allows visitors not only to get inspired by what they're going to find at your destination but also to practically plan their trip and drive business directly to certain operators where they will be spending their money so we often see when they're developed they're developed in two different ways to inspire or to drive a visitation through really practical products apps and that type of thing sorry what was the second half of your question uh the the realistic part uh are there any struggles that organization organizations or destinations have to manage to execute one of these trails well um are there i guess any sorts of problems they should be aware of ahead of time knowing that this is a bigger project it's an undertaking it doesn't just happen overnight according to your experience are they all just a great idea i do have a good answer um so some of the risks are challenges associated yeah so some of the risks associated with developing trails like this are um both on the planning side and on the implementation side so on the planning side a lot of the time we think of these as simple marketing campaigns that need a bit of branding and some money behind promotion and things like that but as i mentioned before it's really a collective effort and the message that's being pushed out through the marketing campaign needs to project the experience that visitors are going to find when they arrive on site so when we work with destinations to develop these types of tours trails products things like that we try and have them think a little bit more holistically from the visitor journey from start to finish and that it often involves more investments of time and stakeholder engagement and capacity building beyond just the marketing campaign itself which we never encourage anyone to develop without consulting the stakeholders they're going to be promoting basically um the other thing i'd say is that these are alive they're ongoing they're year over year so they change over time and businesses change over time the experiences change over time so one of the risks is thinking of it as a one project you launch it and the job is done i need to think of it as an ongoing project or program that needs dedicated attention and revision every year but that creates other opportunities and advantages keeping it fresh dynamic revamping it and building those connections on that community year over year really helps strengthen the product great hey um i'm curious so if you were speaking to maybe a dmo that recognized that they had some of these ingredients they had an active kind of agriculture base and some interesting restaurants and a growing kind of tourism awareness what would you recommend be the next step to develop a more cohesive food tourism uh offering in their region um well we always like to start with um you know anchoring your product and your stories in the destinations unique selling propositions um which really come from the unique history heritage and culture of the place so in anything we do we like to start by doing that research understanding the local food waste the stories and the champions of that and working with those assets and those strengths first taken up a lot of your time so just wanted to ask one last question curious for you personally what drives you to support uh and to engage with food tourism um well personally old apple pies well no it's all about the apple pies personally uh i am that consumer when i travel uh it's the food stories or the experiences that really enhance my my travels uh and help me feel connected and understand the local culture and the place a lot better so from a consumer standpoint i want to see more of these experience experiences being brought to life and then also it's very much linked to my values i love to see the potential that food tourism has in creating meaningful connections and also having a positive impact on the destination and the people that live there itself so i think there's a lot of power and potential in helping develop food tourism excellent.