Are you experienced? Pursuing authenticity and novelty in food tourism

What is food tourism?

According to the definition provided by WFTA (World Food Travel Association), "Food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place". Culinary heritage can act as the storyteller of places, a powerful facilitator to understand and explore their history, culture, traditions. This accounts for the popularity of food tourism, whose exponential growth calls for some considerations on the part of tourism developers. 

Which are the fundamentals of food tourism design? 

Exhaustive, first-hand knowledge of supply and demand represents the foundation of planning, regardless of the sector. Yet, the key role of up-to-date investigation of demand trends, both domestic and international (targeting is no optional choice), seems sometimes to be overshadowed by supply analysis - by the way this does not apply only to food tourism...

Getting to the heart of the matter, researches such the Global Report on Food Tourism by UNWTO and the State of the Food Travel Industry report by World Food Travel Association identify strong demand focus on experientiality, authenticity and novelty, the 3 guidelines of effective food tourism design.

Experiential food travel 101
Experiential travel focuses on the active involvement of visitors - feelings, sensations, stories and connections fit to bring to life heritage, culture, history, enogastronomy…: i.e., the unique character of places – their Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P. for short). Visitors wish to “feel and live” the places they visit, be involved in people’s stories, actively participate in cultural and community life.
They are the protagonists at the centre of a well-designed plot from the very start of the Customer Journey, which we will deal with soon.
Sensorial, gratifying, immersive, experiential. What we are dealing with is the creation of tangible (physical, chemical, tactile…) links between individuals and food/nourishment - definitely more complex and enticing than a quick wine tasting during a tour.

Authenticity and Genius Loci
The quest for the unique and authentic character of places leads towards the investigation of the GENIUS LOCI - i.e. the spirit of the place, its prevailing character or atmosphere.  The connections with above-mentioned Unique Selling Proposition are clear.
Definitely a matter of personality, as it is up to the terroir to differentiate and promote local identity taking in nature and heritage: environment, landscape, history, culture, traditions, gastronomy.
Therefore, the challenge of tourism destinations implies a change of mindset from “territory” to “culinary landscape”.

Novelty and the Customer (Digital) Journey
Tradition and Innovation, the perfect match. Gastronomy evolves and innovation helps us to renew and adapt offers to the everchanging needs&wants of consumers: lifestyles evolve, new target markets join the scenario, dietary requirements determine travel choices, too. In the meanwhile, the tourist customer journey is turning into a single flow of experience made up of three steps (before, during, after); a challenging digital journey (inspiration, research, booking, purchase, experience, review) and a a circular journey as well, hopefully turning satisfied guests into loyal ambassador (welcome to the age of referral economy).

The 6-ingredient recipe for successful food tourism

l  Aim at 360° quality: from taste to manufacturing, from supply chains to certifications (Geographical Indications)
l  Identify Genius Loci and U.S.P. of places
l  Concentrate on professional design of experiences (from plot to storyboard)
l  Include “meet the locals” opportunities
l  Create loyal ambassadors
l  Train train train… focus on products as well as on storytelling, cross-cultural issues, web & social marketing. Long life learning represents one of the distinctive features of successful enterprises in the food tourism sector.

Genoa - Saint George's flag presides the Medieval city walls
Genoa, a case history
Liguria, a.k.a. the Italian Riviera, is an icon of Italian tourism.
One of the cradles of the Mediterranean Diet, it features astounding natural and cultural biodiversity, not to forget about a myriad family micro businesses where know-hows are transmitted orally.
Genoa, the region’s capital, is one of the most important ports of the Mediterranean basin. Known as “la Superba” (i.e. the proud one), this post-industrial city is living a new life as an emerging destination of 21st century connoisseur tourism.
Demanding travelers find an abundance of first-class art, architecture (the vastest historical district in Europe, with an amazing Medieval footprint), museums and urban landscapes.
A magnificent city of contrasts, where tiny Medieval alleys (carruggi in the local dialect) packed with ancient botteghe (old shops) share spaces with the grand Renaissance and Baroque palazzi built by the seafaring gentry and 
culinary heritage is a tantalizing mix of tradition and modernity. 

A Mediterranean crossroads of history, trades, routes, cultures and food: this is the genius loci of Genoa, a subject I have already treated in the past (read my post on the thousand souls of Genoa)The early Medieval saying Ianuensis, ergo mercator  (a Genoese, therefore a merchant) could feature as an excellent marketing claim. 

Food experience: ready, steady, go!

Markets and food experiences
Genoa has all it takes to gain proper positioning as a Mediterranean food capital (and destination).
The ideal starting point to explore Genoa’s thousand souls are its food markets. Bustling with life, goods, colours and scents, they provide excellent opportunities to enjoy the true spirit of the place. To this aim, the Mercato Orientale, the city’s landmark market (more than 100 food stalls), is the most appropriate of options. Located in the heart of the city, this 19th century mercato has recently been the protagonist of an important urban regeneration project, which transformed it into a showcase of regional excellences and a centre of gastronomic culture fully equipped with 11 food corners, a refined restaurant and state-of-the-art cooking school and learning spaces.

The Mercato Orientale is also the protagonist of "A Taste of Liguria", a catalogue of "on demand" food experiences. As Ligucibario®, we ourselves followed the “experiential, authentic, new” guidelines and designed the catalogue in collaboration with MOG, addressing it to small-group connoisseur travel Tour Operators, Travel Agencies, MICE professionals, associations, organizations, clubs ...
A menu of 20 themes – encompassing the highlights of regional culinary heritage - are customized according to the needs & wants (duration, detail, focus ...) of customers. 

The design of experiences is carried out through tailored, flexible formulas, which include "walk talk learn taste" sessions, "lunch/dine with the expert", show cooking and demos, hands-on culinary classes, seminars/workshops for industry professionals, teambuilding sessions for businesses...

Ligucibario's Food Experiences are designed through flexible formulas

Food experiences and events are designed and led by Ligucibario’s team of senior professionals: expert lecturers Umberto Curti - food historian, adult educator and essayist – and… myself, Luisa Puppo, food&wine cross-cultural communication and storytelling specialist -, as well as MOG's skilled chefs and cooking tutors. All the experiences are delivered in English.

Presented during a press conference in January (Genoa), the catalogue has also been selected as a best practice during the Food Tourism Day conference, recently held in Milan during the 2020 edition of BIT.
Ormina Tours, the Australian based luxury tour operator specializing in small group and private journeys in Europe, was the first tour operator to select a choice of customized food experiences from the catalogue. 
Other intermediaries and MICE operators have followed their lead, but we are proud to underline that the first feedback came from Down Under!


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