by Deron Johnston
The Ontario East Municipal Conference (OEMC) was hosted in Cornwall this past September by the Ontario East Economic Development Commission. Naturally, the conference focused on many subjects related to economic development, with plenary sessions and keynote speakers over three days. Though the program was mostly tailored to politicians and municipal employees, there was some very valuable information that many people would find useful.
One of the plenary sessions was titled, “Trends and Best Practices In Food Tourism”. The presenter was Rebecca Mackenzie, President and CEO of the Culinary Tourism Alliance and one of the founding members of Prince Edward County’s Taste Trail tourism initiative. Rebecca told the room about the Culinary Tourism Alliance and how it started out as a provincial government-funded project that has now evolved into an organization that is now sought to consult on how to improve food tourism around the world in countries like the US, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.
In the presentation, food tourism was defined as “any tourism experience in which one learns about, appreciated and/or consumes food and drink that reflects local, regional or national cuisine, heritage, culture, tradition or culinary techniques of an area”. The food tourist was characterized as someone who: was concerned about the origin of food and drinks, was willing to pay more, had a high level of loyalty, were very social media savvy, wanted special or “VIP” treatment, wanted an authentic experience and was younger than you might think.
A startling statistic was revealed about a current trend in tourism; 40% of travellers book a destination for its great food and drink as their primary focus. In Canada alone, almost 20% of Canadians plan on taking a trip this year dedicated to taste or taste of place (the food and drink experience of specific places). Travellers from India went as high as 49% saying that they planned on taking a trip dedicated to food and drink. The obvious benefit of food tourism for a region like Eastern Ontario is significant based on the fact that a lot of food is grown and produced in the region.
Millenials were of particular interest in the presentation. According to a recent study done by Restaurants Canada and Statistics Canada, as they are now the largest food service category spenders in the country. They are also mostly responsible for trends like third party delivery and mobile payment options. Other reasons highlighted on the importance of Millenials were: they love food, they were born into a digital world, they are more driven by values than by profits, they share everything (social media etc.) and they are heavy influencers because of their digital presence.
The hottest trends in food tourism right now are: craft beer tourism, sustainable tourism, meal sharing, leisure travel (combining business and bleisure) and experiential travel (immersing yourself in the cuisine, history, culture and environment of a specific area).
It’s hard to not see the potential benefits that food-based tourism could provide for North Grenville and the surrounding area. This area already has a number of agri-food tourism assets that if brought together and worked together could bring a whole new level of day-tripping experiences for visitors to North Grenville.