GASTRONOMY TOURISM: GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
No one has made the case for Gastronomy Tourism more cogently than the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO). In the Gastronomic Network Action Plan 2015-16, it states unequivocally: “As global tourism is on the rise and competition between destinations increases, unique local and regional intangible cultural heritage has become increasingly the discerning factor for the attraction and amusement of tourists. Gastronomy tourism has emerged as particularly important in this regard … .”
In the First UNWTO Global Report on Gastronomy Tourism, it was reported that 88.2 per cent of destinations consider gastronomy a strategic element in defining its image and brand. The World Food Travel Association estimates that gastronomy tourism generates an economic impact of $150 billion annually. According to the Global Food Tourism Report by Mintel, which specialises in market research and consumer behaviour, for 27.3 million American tourists, one of India’s two primary source markets, the main motivation for travel is to engage in gastronomic activities.
For India, the message is loud and clear. It is time for us as a nation to project the soft power of our gastronomy to the world to be able to create a differentiator that will make the country stand out in a changing global tourism market, where travellers are increasingly looking out for intangible experiences, especially those that give them bragging rights, and not the traditional mix of sightseeing and shopping. It is time for India to harness this soft power not only to generate higher tourist footfalls, from both international and domestic markets, but also create new economic opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially for women in rural areas.
Let’s dive back to the Gastronomic Network Action Plan 2015-16 for more words of wisdom. “Today´s travellers,” it states, “are more experienced and worldly, have more disposable income and more leisure time to travel. Many tourists are looking for new kinds of visceral tasting, touching and learning experiences that allow them to feel fully immersed in the novelty of the culture of the destination. Food is more instinctive and immersive, and this is where gastronomy tourism can provide a wealth of unique experiences showcasing the distinct flavour of the destination.”
It underlines the by-now incontrovetible fact that gastronomy tourism has emerged as an indispensable resource, adding value and providing a solution to an increasingly pressing need for destinations to stand out and offer unique products. It goes on to identify five fundamental reasons, which are as relevant to India as to the rest of the world, behind these “ever-growing phenomenon”:
- A destination´s need to differentiate itself and develop a unique selling proposition naturally leads to a search for authenticity, and there is nothing better than intangible heritage to achieve authenticity, a domain in which gastronomy predominates.
- Destinations turn to gastronomy to attract the kinds of tourists interested in immersing themselves in places and cultures that they visit. This traveller profile has the potential for increased spending, a more balanced distribution in the territory, and to have a greater impact on the entire tourism value chain.
- Gastronomy tourism has the potential to direct tourism flow to less visited locations, which could mean a radical improvement in terms of new opportunities and economic development for these regions.
- Gastronomy enables the design of an effective communication strategy, using a narrative that easily appeals to the emotions of potential visitor and provides a deeper and more meaningful experience that can leave a more lasting impression.
- This memorable and authentic experience generates visitor loyalty. These visitors, can, in turn become effective ambassadors by sharing their positive experience with other travellers, especially through social media channels.
THE INDIAN CONTEXT
The depth and diversity of India’s gastronomical heritage is being increasingly recognised by the world as the nation’s strongest soft power, but our travel and tourism sector has not yet capitalised on this wealth to create a strong “another reason” for international travellers to make India their port of call. One of the negatives working against travel to India, in fact, is the fear of ‘Delhi Belly’, which is a major impediment in the way of the promotion of Gastronomy Tourism in India — an instance of a market where this fear has had a deleterious effect on tourist arrival numbers is Sweden, which provides more than 900,000 tourists to Thailand, compared with a minuscule 90,000 to India.
The Ministry of Tourism has yet to recognise the potential of Gastronomy Tourism as an organised activity — it figures neither among the 13 thematic circuits being grown under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme, nor as one of the 10 niche tourism products identified for development by the ministry.
Gastronomy tourism, as a result, continues to be an unorganised activity in the country, with corporate efforts such as the Sulafest wine and music festival and public events such as Palate Fest and the Asian Hawkers Market as well as individual initiatives such as Delhi Food Walks and Sahakari Spice Plantation in Goa; Facebook groups such as Eat With India; former royals who have converted their palaces into heritage hotels; bloggers such as Kalyan Karmakar (Finely Chopped) in Mumbai; and home stay providers such as Ayisha Manzil in Thalassery, Kerala, organising experiential activities centered around food. What these individual efforts need is an organised projection and push — and an organised system of safety certification to address the global safety concerns over with Indian food.
CALL FOR ACTION
To give Gastronomy Tourism in India an organised thrust and enhance its global appeal, we propose a 10-point action plan:
- Create a National Database of all individual operators engaged in Gastronomy Tourism — namely, providers of specialty experiences in tea, coffee and spice plantations; rural home stay operators; city food walk organisers; heritage hotels offering royal cuisine; travel agents offering gastronomic tours; destination restaurants; and Facebook food and travel groups. The database must be available online and on an app.
- Declare 2020 as ‘Khao India’ (‘!ncredible Treats’), the year of Gastronomy Tourism, on the lines of Restaurant Australia and Culinary Germany, to drive higher footfalls from the segment of the international tourist market that is driven primarily by the search for new food experiences. Align such promotions with initiatives such SWAAD: The International Day for Indian Gastronomy, which has been proposed by the Tasting India Symposium to the Ministry of External Affairs.
- Bring Street Food to the centre of the national tourism discourse, and try and rid it of the ‘Delhi Belly’ tag, by aligning with initiatives such as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s Safe Street Food Hubs and Eat Right Mela, and encourage state tourism departments to promote and participate in such initiatives.
- Institute National Street Food Awards, in conjunction with the Eat Right Mela / National Street Food Festival, to recognise and incentivise entrepreneurial business operators in this sphere of gastronomic activity from across the country.
- Launch an international Instagram photography contest to activate and reward amateur food photographers and get them to celebrate the depth and diversity of Indian cuisines.
- Recognise Home Stay Providers, Food Walk Organisers, Public Food Events, Food Books and Food Travel Groups at the National Tourism Awards.
- Develop a National Food Museum, Library and Activity Centre in New Delhi to showcase the country’s food history and living heritage as well as to create a hub for all food-related intellectual and creative activities. It will be followed by regional food museums being set up in state capitals.
- Encourage state IHMs to put together regional panels of scholars and food writers to research Indian food history and culture to be able to publish a multi-volume encyclopaedia highlighting the depth and diversity of cuisines in the country.
- Finance the publication of a series of books — following by television and web campaigns — to focus on the emerging Gastronomy Tourism opportunities, such as tea trails, spice experiences, coffee plantation home stays and wine tours.
- Appoint Gastronomic Tourism committees across states to identify new players in the vertical and constantly update and upgrade the National Database.