TIA study finds 27 million travel for food and wine

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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, commissioned by the Travel Industry Association in partnership with Gourmet magazine and the International Culinary Tourism Association, indicated that during the past three years, some 27 million travelers, or 17% of American leisure travelers, specifically sought culinary and wine-related activities while traveling.

The study found culinary travelers generally are "younger, more affluent and better educated than non-culinary travelers" and typically seek "unique experiences" when traveling. Edge Research conducted the study of 2,364 U.S. leisure travelers.

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

On average, "foodies" spend $1,194 per trip, with about $425 of their travel budget going towards food-related activities.

According to the study, along with good food, culinary travelers also favor good wine.

For instance, as a subset, wine travelers spent about $973 per trip; of that, an average $219 specifically went towards wine related activities.

The top five destinations for wine-related travel are: 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. In fact, it confirms that wine and culinary experiences are a driver of destination choice," said Laura Mandala, vice president of research for the TIA, which released the findings at a press conference in New York.

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

Located in the downtown section of the city, the property is one of about 100 hotels in Santa Barbara and one of its key attractions is the fact that it is about a 30-minute drive from the 100 wineries and 24,000 acres of vineyards that comprise Santa Barbara's wine region.

During the week, business travelers make up the bulk of the hotel's clientele, but on the weekends, Timmel said, about "70% of the [guests are] people who come up here for the wine country."

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

Santa Barbara's wine region and its famed Pinot Noir variety got a significant boost from the 2004 movie "Sideways," a romantic comedy that garnered several Academy Award and Golden Globe nods a few years back.

"That really triggered off enormous interest in the Santa Barbara wine region," Timmel said.

"In fact, a lot of the wineries sold out of the Pinot Noirs [due to] that movie," Amadour added.

The movie continues to whet interest in the wine country and the hotel continues to develop new tours and events to help guests drink it all in.

"On Tuesday nights we have a dinner and we invite wine makers to come in and mingle with our customers and talk about their wines," Timmel said. Also, the hotel has partnered with several local wineries to develop a package that essentially allows guests to custom blend their own wine and even design the label on the bottle.

Another package, referred to as "bushel to bottle," is currently in the works that takes the concept even further. "You pick the grapes during harvest season, stomp the grapes and during the year the winery will bottle it and send it to you with your label on it," Amadour said.

Overall, Timmel said, such packages benefit guests who are interest in new experiences, while creating interaction between businesses such as hotels and wineries.

Erik Wolf, president and CEO of the Portland, Ore.-based International Culinary Tourism Association agreed.

"It's also 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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