Delighting in the culinary treats of other countries is one
of the main reasons people travel abroad. You wouldn't head to
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 destinations.
"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 Tuscan!'"
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
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
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
"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 favorite recipes.
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
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
"It's not just a tour that only a cook can love," Piegza says.
While the survey conducted by Gourmet, TIA and the
International Culinary Tourism Association focused on favorite food and
wine-related destinations in the
Of course, culinary tours expand to regions of the world
"It's grown at least 50 percent," she says.
"Over the past three years, I've seen a few things develop. One is that
Selva's business is focused on countries such as
Too, The New York Times reports culinary travel to
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)
Agent liaison: Marian Deal Smith
Commission: varies with each trip
Gourmet On Tour