Sunday, March 3, 2024

TOWN TALK: Foodie tourism begins at home

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While backpacking around Europe over a decade ago I happily spent hours drifting through markets where olives were the size of plums and cured meats hung from big metal hooks above counters.
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My meandering was torture for my husband who wanted to get to the next monument but we both enjoyed eating what the locals provided. 

We ate tapas close to midnight in Spain, sipped doppio espressos standing at cafe counters in Italy and caught herring in Sweden.

It’s these food experiences that my husband and I reminisce over, rather than the sights, because meals connected us with the people and the places. 

We were food tourists.

What foods are we championing to people who visit these shores? Lamb and seafood perhaps. I take a jar of Marmite with me wherever I go, if that counts.

Food tourism is a bona fide industry and a report by ANZ shows New Zealand’s food tourism is generating higher earnings per visitor than other types of tourism (sorry A J Hackett).

Total tourist spending on retail and served sales of alcohol and food amounted to $6.7 billion, the fastest-growing category of all tourism spending types.

It’s practically organic. 

When tourists return home they want more. And 60% seek out the products they tried during their NZ holiday.

If food tourism is the country’s biggest-growing area of tourism, are we harnessing the opportunity?

ANZ’s report calls for better connection between NZ’s food producers and foodies who visit, saying agri-tourism represents a huge opportunity for NZ because people want to know where their food comes from and to learn about how it is produced.

It suggests NZ’s farming and food and beverage sectors need to get innovative and figure out ways to bring in extra revenue through tourism.

That means more than farm tours but offering an experience that connects a person to where food is produced – so much that they will seek it out when they return to their home country or will visit again for the experience.

The first step is to know the target market. 

Who are these foodies who are visiting our shores? As it turns out, practically everyone … including locals.

The World Food Travel Association ranks food alongside climate, accommodation and scenery in importance to tourists with 93% of travellers identified as food travellers – meaning they have been on a food or wine tour, visited a cooking school or even just gone shopping in a local grocery store.

A proliferation of foodie hash tags on social media shows food experiences are a sought-after phenomenon, signalling your status in the world.

Food travel is not just for foreigners. 

I need only travel across town to eat at a restaurant to be classified as a food tourist. 

And locals are paying for the biggest slice of the pie – official statistics show Kiwi tourists spent $21.4b last year, compared to the $14.5b international visitors spent on all kinds of tourism.

I know Auckland’s Dominion Rd is the place to go for the city’s best Chinese food and Sandringham Rd is where to get the best Indian food. There’s an organised spice tour of the local Indian eateries that I’m keen to do.

As for the rest of the country, we haven’t travelled south of Duck Island Ice Cream for a long time but when we do I’d like to think whatever region we’re in has its star local produce on the menus.

Someday I’d like to visit a peanut butter factory in Nelson, a chocolate factory in Wellington and a mussel farm in the Marlborough Sounds.

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