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An Appetite For TravelMarch 5, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Travel Agent
More and more clients are hungry for culinary tours
Delighting in the culinary treats of other countries is one
of the main reasons people travel abroad. You wouldn't head to
to shellfish or to
if wine gives you a headache. But while 26 percent of recently surveyed
travelers identified themselves as "accidental" culinary
travelers—those who participated in culinary or wine activities simply because
they were available—a growing amount, 46 percent, deemed themselves
"deliberate" culinary travelers, saying that the availability of
culinary activities was a key reason for taking the trip.
That data, derived from 2,364 American leisure travelers and
co-sponsored by Gourmet magazine, the Travel Industry Association and
the International Culinary Tourism Association, also shows that interest in the
culinary travel market continues to grow, as 60 percent of U.S. leisure
travelers say they're interested in partaking in such activities as cooking
classes and winery tours, visiting farmer's markets and attending food and wine
festivals while on vacation.
Another ingredient—and perhaps more concrete evidence—of the
trend is the rising booked business of tour operators that are either solely or
partially devoted to the market segment. All interviewed for this article
pointed to a significant up-tick in culinary tour bookings over the last three
years, and some noted forthcoming plans to expand the burgeoning business.
"Culinary tourism has reached the tipping point as a
niche and an industry," Erik Wolf, president and CEO of the International
Culinary Tourism Association, said in a statement accompanying the survey.
Why is interest in culinary travel reaching its boiling
point? Industry watchers point to two possible reasons: First, the success of
the Food Network and its spread of celebrity chefs, whose successes have
bubbled over from the kitchen and into television and magazines. Second, as
clients travel the world more, they look for different takes on their favorite
"We have a lot of experienced travelers in the world
right now, and a lot of people have been to Tuscany, for example, so there's
something about going back and approaching it from a different angle,"
says Steve Snapp, creative director for Classic Journeys, a La Jolla, CA-based
tour operator that offers culinary tours in France and Italy.
"Culinary tourism really has that semi-practical quality to it, and it
gives them the ability to impress their friends and say, 'I can cook like a
People learning to cook like Tuscans, Parisians and the like
tend to be younger travelers, falling into the 35 to 54 age bracket; more
affluent, spending $1,194 per trip ($425 of which goes to food-related
activities); and better educated (44 percent of those surveyed graduated
college or did post-graduate work, according to the report). Meanwhile, wine
travelers fit the same demographic, but instead spend $973 per trip with $219
of their budget going towards wine-related activities.
"Culinary tourism is really for people who are looking
for something off the beaten path," says Peggy Markel, president of Peggy
Markel Culinary Adventures, which offers foodie-focused trips to
"These tours tend to attract the purposeful traveler, someone who really
wants to go and drop in on a country and have a more meaningful experience."
Culinary tour operators right away realized the potential of
such tours, in terms of growth and dollar amount. Classic Journeys began operating
culinary tours after strikingly positive customer feedback from introducing a
few hours of cooking instruction on tours in
"Clients loved it because they got the chance to hear great things about
the region," says Ed Piegza, CEO of Classic Journeys. "We decided we
would build a trip and expand on the instructions—but not have it be a
chore—where over the course of seven days you're engaged in four cooking
In fact, the "recipe" of the culinary tour is the
most important aspect of booking the trip. Tour operators advise spending ample
time with clients to determine whether the client is looking to come home with
a notebook full of recipes or just a full stomach. Some culinary tours are very
rigorous, with schedules on par with attending a culinary institute, including
early morning trips to the market and day-long classes. Others offer a more
relaxed atmosphere, allowing guests to simply sit back, relax, eat and enjoy.
Cater to your client's expectations and assure them there is
no need to feel intimidated on most tours. "With the culinary and wine
tours that we do, they're designed for the average Joe, as well as
aficionados," says Marian Deal Smith, president of Alternative Tours in
Her company offers culinary tours to
"Most of the recipes that we do—about 60 percent—I've
done again. The other 40 percent I would never be able to do again," she
continues. "Not everyone has the money to afford to go to
Next, find out from the tour operator the kind of
instruction the teacher provides, how much time is spent cooking and how
hands-on it is, says Classic Journey's Piegza. "That's where you need to
begin, because there are plenty of people who are so serious, that hours of
instruction aren't enough, they want to take notes," he says.
Also ask whether the instructor or restaurant can defer
dishes to dietary needs, such as the necessary restrictions for gluten-free guests.
"I usually have diabetics on every trip," Deal Smith says. Another
need-to-know is whether everyone in the group must be dedicated to cooking or
if any alternatives are available for people who choose not to become the next
Top Chef. "We have things for people to go do if they're not
interested—they don't just have to sit in the hotel," Piegza says.
The hard part of planning such tours is narrowing down
options, as offerings can vary just as greatly as a diner menu. For example,
part of Alternative Tours' "Culinary Switzerland and France with Rhone
River Cruise" includes visits to spots made famous by Claude Monet
paintings. Thanks to the culinary theme, a chef prepares a few of the artist's
For socially conscious travelers, Peggy Markel's tours
center on supporting small culinary operations (such as family trattorias) so
that such businesses can maintain their importance. Markel is a founding member
of Slow Food
an organization dedicated to the high quality and taste of food, as well
environmental sustainability and social justice in farming. "My programs
are based on that, which I think is different from a lot of tours and tour
operators," she says. "I do something much more hands-on, much more
grounded and more about the people that are growing the food customers are
On one of Markel's tours, visitors can meet the baker right
before he opens shop and taste the fresh bread, or take a cooking lesson at the
home of a local cookbook writer. "It's all about food—the thread is food
and every excursion is related to food—but we're not in the kitchen eight hours
a day," she says.
Classic Journeys' perspective is focused on keeping you full
and fit, combining culinary tours with walking tours. The company's
on a walk through the thyme-scented countryside, past truffle oaks and
vineyards. The cooking portion of the tour includes meetings with a local chef,
farmers and artisans and a Provence-style cooking class that takes place in an
18th century chateau.
"It's not just a tour that only a cook can love,"
While the survey conducted by Gourmet, TIA and the
International Culinary Tourism Association focused on favorite food and
wine-related destinations in the
some would argue that
the most flavor in this niche market. For many, the lure of
lies in the continent's use of locally grown produce. "I live in the
suburbs of D.C. now, and I lived in
for 23 years and there is such a broad base of things that are considered
'Tuscan' in the
says Classic Journeys' Snapp. "Once people are exposed to it, they're
aware that this food has a closeness to nature. There is that mindset that
says, 'This is a way of life and thinking that I love, and that I aspire
Of course, culinary tours expand to regions of the world
popular just yet. The survey counted
as the respective top three U.S.-based food-travel sites, and
is also quickly whetting savvy travelers' appetites. The Asia Pacific region
could be the next frontier of culinary tourism. Marcia Selva, founder and owner
of Global Spectrum
says her culinary tours focused on
are growing at a phenomenal rate.
"It's grown at least 50 percent," she says.
"Over the past three years, I've seen a few things develop. One is that
in general is looking toward a healthier lifestyle, and Vietnamese food is
healthy. Two is that culinary schools are popping up all over in
demand for it."
Selva's business is focused on countries such as
she attributes the rising interest to word of mouth. "With the visibility
that it's gotten over the last few years, it's gotten stronger and
stronger," she says. "
has finally come of age and has the ability to handle the international crowd
now. I see a lot more growth over the next three to five years."
Too, The New York Times reports culinary travel to
rise, thanks to the fame garnered abroad by Peruvian chefs. Exquisite Safaris
offers culinary experiences in Africa, South America and the South Pacific,
while Gourmet on Tour
leads excursions to
among other places across the
Get a close look at a produce market in Peru in the video below:
A potential hurdle to the success of such tours is concerns
of health and sanitation in less-traversed countries. "Everyone is afraid
to eat the food, because they don't know what to order and they don't want to
eat anything that could make them sick," says Selva, adding that the
presence of culinary schools is helping to deflect that stigma. "(The
schools) help to identify the food types to order, and we work very hard to
ensure that health and sanitation is paramount at the sites we visit," she
continues. "Sure, people get sick, but they also get sick in Europe and in
Regardless of any hesitations clients may have, tour
operators report that culinary tourism isn't a tough egg to crack, as most
business is repeat customers. "I find that culinary tours are something
that just gets people's attention; it's a little bit different and a little bit
special," says Deal Smith of Alternative Tours, which pays agents
commission for repeat business. "Everybody needs to eat and loves to eat."
Alternative Tours (no web site)
liaison: Marian Deal Smith
Commission: varies with each trip
Gourmet On Tour