Mr. Wolf

Food & Beverage

Today's New Food Traveler

By Erik Wolf, Executive Director, World Food Travel Association

Food is always an important consideration for travelers, for some more so than others. The food tourism industry is almost 15 years old and in this time, we've been able to identify changes in consumer behavior when it comes to food and travel. Some of these changes are driven by health concerns or religion, while others are driven by consumers' obsession with food and drink. Still, there are some basic tenets of behavior when it comes to foodies and their purchasing decisions. There are actually 13 different types of foodies, and knowing which foodie(s) you're targeting can make or break your marketing plan - and your bottom line.

Food tourism is all the rage, and you will find the topic on the agenda of conferences all around the world. Many destinations now include food and drink in their marketing mix. Convention centers and hotels regularly focus on locally sourced ingredients that will help to provide delegates a memory and not just a meal. Who doesn't like a tasty meal? Yet ask yourself, "what are we really eating with each mouthful?" The answer is as simple as, a taste of the area's culture and history.

Not all food lovers are the same. This is a fundamental issue in promoting traveler experiences such as lodging, dining, attractions, meetings/conventions, and many more. Combine this fact with the range of available cuisines, dozens of restaurant rating systems, and service inconsistency, and it is easy to see that satisfying a traveling food lover can be like playing the slot machine. Getting to know the specifics of your customers' interests is easier now with available technology and research tools.

Food-loving travelers are in a difficult position too. They like to experience other cuisines, but many times, they do not know much more about them, apart from the iconic brands or dishes that are universally recognized, or the "dumbed-down" versions of the cuisine found in other countries. An example would be the difference in food culture between neighboring US states like Georgia and Tennessee, or neighboring countries like Australia and New Zealand. These differences are not easily apparent to outsiders. This can confuse potential visitors, and confused (or uninformed) visitors means fewer sales. Georgia is known for peach pie, boiled peanuts, Brunswick stew and of course Coca-Cola. Tennessee is known for barbeque and whisky. The differences between the cuisines of Georgia and Tennessee will be readily apparent to food travelers who look for, and appreciate, these differences.

Travelers seek stories and experiences more than just a meal, and your marketing efforts should reflect that. Promoting only high-end dining experiences will attract a certain kind of foodie, namely those who are gourmet-oriented. Promoting a wide range of experiences is like casting a net wide. It can be effective if you want to attract a wide variety of foodies. However, if your area has not yet identified its food tourism positioning, you should make a modest investment in research to find out what kind of foodie would resonate most with your destination. There are as many as 13 different kinds of PsychoCulinary profiles for foodies.

PsychoCulinary profiling is the newest way to finely segment marketing to foodies. Remember what we said about casting the net too wide? Doing so can yield unintended, and even undesirable, results. By promoting to a person with a "gourmet" PsychoCulinary profile, you'll attract gourmet guests. If your food and drink truly are not gourmet, then you run the very real risk of fostering bad word of mouth with those customers, which you definitely do not want. However, if you promote to people with "authentic" PsychoCulinary profiles, and your offering is truly authentic, then you should score very close to 100% satisfaction. Why? Because these travelers seek the authentic kinds of food and beverage experiences. Other PsychoCulinary traveler types include: innovative, social, trendy, vegetarian, adventurer, ambiance, novice, localist, eclectic, organic and budget. Consumers typically exhibit high scores in up to three primary PsychoCulinary profiles, so even if someone's first choice is "social", they very well may also like "gourmet" or "innovative".

The 2016 Food Travel Monitor published by the World Food Travel Association, identified some significant surprises this year, and not just with PsychoCulinary profiling. First, the number of travelers who participated in a food or drink experience (something more than just eating out), was discovered to be now 95%. In other words, for the first time, nearly every traveler is partaking in some type of food experience (other than dining out). Travelers are looking for other experiences that include food/wine/beer tours; tasting trails; farmers' markets; food markets and halls; gourmet or other food/beverage retail stores; factory tours; and food/beverage events, just to name a few.

There was a tremendous shift this year in the rankings of PsychoCulinary profiles. The top five primary profiles this year were, in order: innovative, authentic, localist, adventurer and eclectic. In 2010, the "eclectic" profile was ranked in third place. In 2016, it had moved into first place. The "gourmet" profile also increased in importance. In 2010, only 8.1% of respondents chose "gourmet" as their primary PsychoCulinary profile. This year, it rose to 19%, although don't be misled. "Gourmet" is still ninth place among the 13 profiles. We attribute the ascent of "gourmet" and "innovative" rankings largely to the media, and specifically thanks to all of the chef competition television shows. This kind of programming has raised the awareness to the general public about food, food preparation ingredients, and kitchen experimentation. These shows have also helped to remove some of the stigma of a "gourmet" experience.

The word "best" can be dangerous when marketing a foodservice establishment or chef. There is a saying in English that one man's trash is another man's treasure. "Best" is relative. If someone does not have a "gourmet" profile, they won't enjoy a gourmet experience. Similarly, someone who talks about the "best" food truck for Mexican food might make someone else shudder if their idea of good Mexican food could only be served on white linen topped tables. Destination marketing organizations and foodservice establishments need to be extremely specific and careful with word choice when describing their offers to potential customers. The "best rated" or "number one" rating begs the questions "rated by whom?" and "number one for what and when was it rated?".

At this point, you might be asking, "So who are food travelers?" We showed above that in the case of Americans, it's as much as 95% of travelers. The data on other countries (China, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, India, Australia, United Kingdom and Mexico) won't be in for a few more weeks, but about these other countries, we know that consistently, foodies tend to be middle-aged and even younger; then tend to have more years of education; and they do not necessarily have higher incomes. Everyone loves to eat, regardless of their income!

You also might be wondering about the scope of the industry. The food and beverage tourism industry encompasses over 20 different sectors that have an interest in food and beverage tourism, which we group into Food & Beverage; Travel & Hospitality; and related groups and organizations. Businesses you might not expect to be part of the food and beverage tourism industry, and which foodie travelers like to engage, are food and beverage retail stores; food/beverage factory tours; food/beverage events; and even foodie attractions like the place where a recipe was first introduced or where a famous chef lived. You may not think that food distributors or graphic design firms have an interest in food tourism, but travelers who buy food and beverage help keep these companies in business.

A question we often hear is, "What are the most popular destinations for food?" That is a trick question because so many factors come in to play in popularity. For example, media influence; traveler awareness; traveler income; geographic proximity of destination; destination reputation; history of culinary culture in host destination; and so much more. That said, if we look around our entire planet, there are a few destinations that stand out with underdeveloped potential to lure food/beverage travelers. These destinations include: Poland, Ecuador, Chile, South Africa, Finland and Iceland, just to name a few. What qualifies these as up-and-coming destinations? The reasons are many and include quality, diversity or uniqueness of local products; entrepreneurial proclivity of food/beverage manufacturers and providers; and destination readiness to receive foodie travelers.

Most travelers need help making the right food and drink choices. Why promote your area's 100 ethnic dining choices when many visitors have the same range of choices at home? And a restaurant guide that includes global brands that visitors can find on their own does not help them to discover your area's best, nor does it benefit much the local economy. Why do you think people spend so much time taking pictures of their meals? We're a food-obsessed culture, and thank goodness for that. So give your visitors what they want. Remember, it's not a meal, it's a memory.

Erik Wolf is the founder of the world’s food tourism industry, and of the World Food Travel Association. He is a highly sought speaker, thought leader, strategist and consultant, in the US and abroad, on all aspects of food and drink tourism. Mr. Wolf is considered the go-to food tourism industry resource for media outlets. He has spearheaded projects for world-class brands. While Executive Director of the Association, Mr. Wolf launched several innovative products for our industry, including the annual Food Travel Monitor, including the Monitor’s PsychoCulinary profiling tool for food travelers; the Certified Culinary Travel Professional program; Business Readiness Training in Food Tourism; and Food Travel Talk TV. Mr. Wolf can be contacted at (1) 503-213-3700 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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