TIA study: In past three years, 27 million sought culinary travel

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It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. That may be true for travelers, too.

A new study indicates that during the past three years, about 27 million U.S. travelers, specifically sought culinary and wine-related activities while traveling.

The study, conducted by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with Gourmet magazine and the International Culinary Tourism Association, found culinary travelers generally are "younger, more affluent and better educated than nonculinary travelers" and typically seek "unique experiences" when traveling.

The top five domestic destinations for food-related travel, according to the study, were California, Florida, New York, Texas and North Carolina.

On average, food travelers spent $1,194 per trip, according to the study, with about $425 of their travel budget going toward food-related activities.

Along with good food, culinary travelers like good wine. Wine travelers spent about $973 per trip. An average of $219 was spent on wine-related activities.

The top five destinations for wine-related travel were California, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

"The study demonstrates that a sizable proportion of the U.S. leisure market does indeed make travel decisions based on a desire for wine and culinary experiences," said Laura Mandala, the TIA's vice president of research. "In fact, it confirms that wine and culinary experiences are a driver of destination choice."

The study was based on interviews with 2,364 U.S. leisure travelers.

The study's findings didn't come as a surprise to Manfred Timmel, general manager of the Hotel Andalucia, a 97-room property in Santa Barbara.

Like other hotels in the city, a key attraction is the fact that it is about a 30-minute drive from the 100 wineries and 24,000 acres of vineyards in Santa Barbara's wine region.

Timmel said that during the week, business travelers make up the bulk of the hotel's clientele, but that on the weekends, 70% of guests are headed for wine country.

"All day long on Saturdays, you see guests coming back with cases of wine," said Michael Amadour, the hotel's food and beverage manager.

Santa Barbara's wine region and its famed pinot noir got a significant boost from the 2004 film "Sideways," a comedy-drama that received several Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.

"That really triggered enormous interest in the Santa Barbara wine region," Timmel said. "In fact, a lot of the wineries sold out of the pinot noirs because of that movie," Amadour said.

The movie, which lives on in DVD, continues to whet interest in wine country. The hotel continues to develop tours and events to help guests drink it all in.

"On Tuesday nights we have a dinner, and we invite winemakers to come in and mingle with our customers and talk about their wines," Timmel said.

The hotel, working with local wineries, also has developed a package that enables guests to custom blend their own wine and even design the label on the bottle.

Another package, referred to as Bushel to Bottle, is in the works and takes the concept further.

"You pick the grapes during harvest season and stomp the grapes. During the year, the winery will bottle it and send it to you with your label on it," Amadour said.

Timmel said such packages are new ways to forge business partnerships between wineries and hotels.

The packages also attract guests who are interested in new experiences.

Erik Wolf, president and CEO of the International Culinary Tourism Association, agreed.

"It's the perfect tool for economic and community development because visitors fly, buy and try new food and drink and look for it when they return home, helping boost value-added food and drink exports," Wolf said.

"Every community should be looking for ways to promote its unique food and drink experiences."

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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