During your last holiday, or even the last time you went out for dinner, how many of you took pictures of food, markets or culinary-related images? According to various studies, more than 50% of the population takes pictures of their food, and if you are a millennial, that figure jumps to almost 70%!
Sharing stories of travel and food is becoming more and more prevalent, which explains why, according to UNWTO’s Gastronomy Network Action Plan, over 88% of destinations are considering gastronomy as a strategic element in their image and brand. That means that almost 9 out of 10 countries, cities and regions are fighting for the same customers not only in our own markets, but with destinations around the world too. This makes for a very crowded playing field! So, how do you differentiate your business or region from your competitors whether they’re around the corner, or around the world?
New Zealand and Australia are building culinary tourism strategies to hopefully help attract more business, and increase average spend in their regions. I recently visited both these area on consulting trips, and with this in mind, these are the tough questions I was asking decision makers:
Tell me why your cuisine and region is unique?
Can you define it for me?
Why should I choose your region over the dozens of other similar regions around the world?
The interesting thing, even in rooms filled with top tier marketers, business owners, chefs, farmers, and various government officials, very few, if any, could actually verbalize their unique selling propositions (USP).
I regularly hear statements like “we have the best produce”, “we cook with what is local”, “we are culturally diverse”. Sound familiar?
Well, guess what! Those are the same lines I hear in every city and region I visit around the globe. You need to dig deeper and come up with something that really differentiates your city or region – eating locally and seasonally is a basic requirement to even be in the game of culinary tourism. So, why are you different?
We live in a global food economy with products available anywhere, anytime (be it in season or not), in a world that is at risk of becoming very monotonous if we do not celebrate what makes us all different (and that does include regionality, seasonality and more), but it also needs to include the place, the people and the history.
If you are considering a culinary tourism strategy, here are five basic things you need to keep in mind for it to be successful.
Before you can start marketing yourself as a destination you need LEADERSHIP AND A PLAN!
It is remarkable how many places I travel too that see themselves as a culinary destination but they do not have any leadership or even a plan in place. The most successful countries and regions (or even individual businesses for that matter) in the world, with a great culinary brand, have an organization that is leading the charge with a plan in place.
You will require COLLABORATION
While you can have a person or an organization lead the charge, you require a community to come together and all share in the plan and story if you are going to build a brand that resonates locally, regionally, and internationally. One person (the leader) will get followers, but it is when everyone comes together and follows that you can create a movement, and the movement (be it in a company, a city or a country), is what can change things!
Understanding the UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION (USP) for the region
If you cannot define it, how do you think you can sell it and share your story? While regional, seasonal and the people are the foundation that works globally, it is not what makes you different or provides a reason for visitation…it is just the beginning. You also need to look at why are you different (and better hopefully) than your competitors, what is it that would make someone choose you over somewhere else?
Most places need to focus on PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Very few places around the world have the depth of product to simply just be a top culinary destination. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link. So, if you are going to tell the world your city, region or country is a world-class culinary destination, you need to not only invest in marketing, but you need to invest in making sure the product available is world-class as well. Local governments and businesses need to make it easier to innovate and help existing businesses grow. They need to offer fair living wages and affordable housing to staff and talent as this will be one of the biggest challenges globally as the sectors continues to grow at record levels.
You need to ensure the VALUE CHAIN remains viable
In most cities and regions around the world, the value chain seems to either be broken or very stretched in supporting all of the levels required to keep it unique. The end price most consumers pay for food, be it at the grocery store, or at a restaurant, is not enough to support a living wage for staff, the distribution system required to get the food there, and to support the farmers, foragers, fisherman and producers who grow and catch the food we eat. If we do not continue to increase the end price we pay for food (as a percentage of our total income), we are in danger of the system collapsing. We would see the unique, local, seasonal products disappearing, as well as an even larger labour shortage, as the viability of a career in the industry disappears. If this happens, we will be reliant on cheaper, imported food products, labour who only see the industry as a stepping stone to another career, and potentially, even the replacement of workers as new restaurant concepts like SPYCE take off with robotic systems.
Focus on the MARKETING of your region
If all else is in place, then you can focus on marketing. This is the fun part when you can start telling the world why they should come and visit you and meet your incredible people and taste your place!
About the author:
Eric is one of the world’s leading experts on Culinary Tourism and is our nation’s leading ambassador of Canadian cuisine and a storyteller for hundreds of small artisan food companies, farmers, fisherman, foragers and is known to bring together chefs and influencers from all aspects of the culinary world.
Eric owns and operates the successful Edible Canada brand of companies, which includes an award-winning restaurant, retail stores and a culinary travel division. Additionally, Eric also has a salt company called Amola and a consulting practice that keeps him travelling around the world about 75% of the time working for both public and private sector clients to define cuisines, build brands and shape the future of food.
Recently Eric has been advising on culinary tourism and hospitality strategies as diverse as Canada’s National Culinary Tourism Strategy, Turtle Island in Fiji, the wine region of Barossa Valley in Australia, the city of Auckland in NZ, as well as the province of New Brunswick to create a world-leading Canadian Seafood Centre of Excellence and Innovation. In addition, Eric is a regular keynote speaker on culinary tourism around the world from Australia to Morocco.