The rise of food tourism and its role in destination marketing


Pizza in Italy, sushi in Japan, pho in Vietnam and tacos in Mexico. Food is closely tied to a place’s identity and heritage and strongly influences the decisions of many travelers who use it to connect with the culture and people connected to a destination.

Tours and activities designed to take vacationers on a culinary journey are now commonplace and accommodation establishments are investing more in providing visitors with engaging culinary experiences.

Shaping perceptions around food culture

Commenting on the evolution of gastro-tourism during a panel at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this week, Michael Ellis, Founder and CEO of, said more and more people are putting food at the heart of their plans. travel and their construction. their travels around it. Draw cards can be anything from type of cuisine to particular restaurants, chefs, Michelin star dishes or unique dining experiences.

Ellis added that countries like Singapore, Tokyo, Spain and Paris have done a great job of communicating the distinct qualities of their food offerings, promoting aspects such as seasonal and locally produced ingredients; Culinary techniques and heritage.

In the Middle East, Dubai has become a world-class dining destination in recent decades, drawing inspiration from local flavors as well as global cuisines thanks to the diverse mix of nationalities that call the city home. Its food scene is set to receive a boost with the imminent launch this year of a Michelin Guide for the city.

Speaking on Dubai’s strength as a foodie destination, Suhaila Ghubash, events director for Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment, said travelers tend to prioritize local cuisine when arriving in a country, but quickly seek dishes that are more familiar to them, and Dubai caters to this fusion. She noted that food is a key pillar of the city’s tourism strategy, with particular emphasis on the inclusion of SMEs and local businesses.

Not far away, Saudi Arabia is striving to build its reputation as a culinary destination, with 14,000 new restaurants launching in 2021 and a top dining destination called Bujairi Terrace opening later this year at Diriyah Gate.

Talal Nabil Kensara, head of strategic management at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, refers to it as a cultural heritage project that aims to speak about the country’s identity in a contemporary way.

He spoke about the importance of providing a fun and engaging experience to attract the new generation of diners, and employing a creative approach to infusing traditional ingredients into modern dishes so that the food retains the authentic Saudi spirit throughout. by being innovative and contemporary.

Support tourism, raise status

According to Kensara, restaurants provide a social activity that supports tourism and helps showcase a destination.

For a hotel, a well-organized catering offering can help elevate the establishment’s status as the accommodation provider of choice.

Lynne Bellinger, Director of F&B Design and Development at Marriot International EAME, stressed the importance of keeping up with market trends. His advice was not to design the dining experience too early, as trends change and the time between designing a hotel and actually launching it can be long.

Marriot International has benefited from the introduction of major restaurant brands into its establishments, and Bellinger noted this as a “big trend”. Just as high-profile brands like Chanel or Louis Vuitton can elevate the status of a retail destination, big F&B brands and celebrity chefs can step foot into hotels.

Great brand appeal

Bellinger pointed out that integrating big names achieves half of hotel marketing because they are already recognized by consumers. For this reason, branded concepts tend to generate more revenue than independent, unknown restaurant brands.

Kensara echoed Bellinger’s sentiments adding that recognizable brands help support the tourism industry because they come with a proven formula that ultimately comes with less risk.

However, small local businesses add authenticity and heart to a country’s culinary culture, and creative restaurants, pop-ups and markets, when executed brilliantly, can become tourist attractions in full share. Ghubash said travelers naturally seek unique local concepts that they cannot access elsewhere in the world, and this is an area where SMEs and entrepreneurs can thrive.


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