It can be as simple as the smell of a hot
pretzel on a New York street; the first bite of warm, sugary
beignets in New Orleans; or a plate of steaming lobster on the
coast of Maine. Often, its the food we most remember from our
With the rise of
celebrity chefs, the popularity of TV cooking shows and a growing
interest in regional cuisine, an increasing number of Americans --
some call them foodies -- are passionate about cooking and eating.
And, they love to travel.
There are foodies
who plan their eating on a vacation even before they leave town,
said Erik Wolf, president of the International Culinary Tourism
Association, a nonprofit group of food and tourism
The French and
Italians long have recognized how food helps influence travel
decisions, and North American destinations finally are catching on,
said Wolf, whose Portland, Ore.-based organization seeks to promote
culinary tourism, or experiencing a place through its
whether you are in Nepal or New York, so every destination has
potential. It depends whether the destination has the vision to
take the initiative and view food as an attraction and to package
it, Wolf said.
Chicago became a
leader in culinary tourism when, eight years ago, the Office of
Tourism appointed Judith Hines, a chef and caterer, as director of
culinary arts and events.
250 annual food-related events, including Winter Delights, a
low-season program that combines cultural and food activities, and
Stirring Things Up, May 1 to Oct. 31 this year, another event that
features culinary tours, food festivals, farmers markets and
concerts. Stirring Things Up is packaged with special hotel
impossible to know how many visitors are drawn by food alone, Hines
said that millions come for the festivals, including the 11-day
Taste of Chicago in July, where 3.5 million people consumed 70,000
pounds of ribs and 250,000 slices of pizza last year.
occupancy grew to 90% last summer, and some of that can be
attributed to Taste of Chicago, she said.
Food can help
boost tourism, said Hines. But the misperception is that it has to
be four-star, and it doesnt have to be. We have 76 different ethnic
neighborhoods. Having really authentic food is part of the
Canada is the
North American destination that has researched the U.S. culinary
tourism phenomenon most extensively, according to Wolf.
A 2000 study by
the Canadian Tourism Commission shows why some destinations are
salivating over the potential of culinary tourists: It estimated
that 21.6 million Americans are food and wine enthusiasts. Most are
over age 34, live in adult-only households and are more affluent
than the typical American traveler, with an average household
income of $76,600, compared with $65,200 for the typical leisure
traveler to Canada.
And because of
the surge of traveling baby boomers, the number of U.S. wine and
food aficionados who want to travel to Canada is projected to jump
from 5.5 million today to 7.5 million by 2025. The findings led the
Canadian Tourism Commission to target culinary tourism as an
appointed a committee of food and tourism professionals to help
create promotions, said Monica Campbell-Hoppe, a CTC spokeswoman in
Los Angeles. Canadian chefs now routinely travel to the U.S. to
cook for media and trade events.
of Canada as a place of clean cities and beautiful scenery -- and a
place to shop. We want them to think of food, fashion and culture,
as well, she said.
to Santa Barbara
County is among the destinations cashing in on the phenomenon,
thanks to Sideways, the Oscar-nominated film that showed
picture-postcard scenes of the regions vineyards, with plenty of
shots of fine dining, as well.
on the buzz, Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of the Santa
Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, told delegates at the
International Culinary Tourism Conference in San
We had quiet but
steady growth as a wine and food destination, but last fall [with
the release of Sideways] we hit the big time. It put Santa Barbara
on the map, and made culinary tourism an important niche for
The county used
the movie as a centerpiece for 2005 marketing campaigns, releasing
a brochure, Savor the Flavors, listing cooking classes, farmers
markets, organic farms, food and wine events, and
It printed 25,000 Sideways maps,
showing roads taken by the characters Miles and Jack in the movie.
The result is a 300% jump in visitations at the countys
wine-tasting rooms and record-breaking hotel occupancies in
February, Santa Barbaras low season.
owner of the Hitching Post restaurant and winery featured in the
film, said the restaurant is mobbed and business is up 42%. Sales
of its Highliner Pinot Noir, also featured in the movie, jumped
San Francisco has
long reaped the benefits of its reputation as one of the top
restaurant towns in the U.S. Surveys show visitors rank food as a
feature they most like about the city, said Diane DeRose, vice
president of marketing for the citys convention and visitors
The city hasnt
rested on its laurels. In the last two years, the bureau and Visa
created two events using food to stimulate business in the slow
season: Dine-About-Town and the San Francisco Crab Festival, held
in January and February, respectively. Thirty-seven restaurants
offer special menus at discount prices for Dine-About-Town, and
hotels create packages. The Crab Festival features crab menus and
At San Franciscos
tourist hot spot, the Ferry Building, tourists join locals at
gourmet stores and at the twice-weekly farmers market.
In May, bakers
started rolling out loaves of sourdough bread in front of huge
windows in the heart of Fishermans Wharf, where millions of
tourists pass each year, at the citys newest attraction, a
22,000-square-foot Boudin Bakery.
The makers of the
original San Francisco sourdough opened the $20 million facility of
demonstration kitchens, a restaurant, a gift shop and a museum
tracing the history of San Francisco through its local foods,
according to Sharon Duvall, Boudins co-chairman.
In the U.S.,
Oregon is among the states joining the niche, making it central to
its $4 million marketing budget.
incorporating our wine and food products in all our marketing and
featuring our chefs and vintners as key players in tourism, said
Holly Macfee, director of consumer marketing for Travel Oregon. We
see huge growth potential in culinary tourism, especially because
the foodies are affluent and high-yield travelers.
president of Columbia Crossroads, a tour operator in Portland, two
years ago put together culinary tours of the Pacific Northwest,
focusing on chocolate, cheese-making, wine and produce.
Crossroads added visits with local chefs to its nonculinary tours
because the growing interest in food seems to cut across all
economic lines, Billette said.
reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].