The month of May started in full speed for the food tourism industry and for the city of San Sebastián (Basque Country, Spain), one of the world’s capitals of gastronomy. More than 500 people from 85 different countries headed to the city to participate in the 5th UNWTO World Gastronomic Tourism Forum, including us from Food’ n Road.  

Motivated in bringing the latest trends and discussions about food tourism, Food’n Road participated in the event organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Basque Culinary Center (BCC). This year, the forum was focused on discussing the creation of favourable frameworks to drive entrepreneurship and job creation in the sector.

Gastronomy tourism is an opportunity to promote local economic growth and fight against depopulation. It is a means to include many layers of society in development. The broad spectrum of gastronomy tourism makes it an ally for social inclusion.

Secretary General of the OMT, Zurab Pololikashvili

The agenda was busy and included discussion panels, cases sharing, technical visits, the launch of a sector guideline, as well as, a digital platform to promote gastronomic destinations, in addition to the announcement of the winner of the first Global Startup competition of gastronomic tourism.

Amidst the two days of full agenda plus networking opportunities paired with Pintxos, local cider and wine, several messages were transmitted. In this article, we feature our main insights.

Image Credit: Official photos of the event available on Flickr-UNWTO

About the topics discussed

The vision of food tourism benefits as a tool for the development of destinations is common and well clarified.

From the valuation of intangible heritage to economic and social development, many benefits were presented through cases from different countries. It is interesting to see the potential impact on destinations with different levels of maturity in relation to gastronomic tourism.

Check out: Do you know all the benefits of food tourism?

Gastronomy tourism is not just about restaurants, but many still think so…

The subject is complex and the name of the sector does not help, the term ‘gastronomy’ is often associated with the palate. According to its definition, gastronomic tourism (also described as food tourism and culinary tourism) is the set of experiences and touristic activities related to the consumption of food and beverages that value the tradition and authenticity of the destination. That said, it is much more than a list of restaurants. This concept was present in the speech of many speakers, but others had their communication exclusively centred on restaurants.

Read more: What is food tourism

The challenge of engaging the entire value chain to develop the industry as a whole.

We are talking about a cross-sectional and multi-segmented sector strongly based on community, territorial, and agricultural. At one side, it was emphasized that to achieve the sustainability of the sector and support the ODs (Sustainable development goals) is essential to generate value for all agents involved in the chain. On the other hand, there was no spokesperson to represent and bring the perspective of the local community or the agricultural sector to the panel discussions.

The importance of joint work between the public, private and local communities.

The Ibero-American Secretary General, Rebeca Grynspan, was very eloquent and enlightening in highlighting the importance of an appropriate regulatory framework with public policies to develop gastronomic tourism in the destination. Without support from all sectors, it is difficult to orchestrate and position gastronomy as a brand of a destination. In addition, these policies are the work basis on the creation of jobs and quality workforce for the sector.

About the Startups competition and industry innovations:

Peer-to-peer platforms focusing on meal sharing, cooking classes and experiences with locals, are no longer novelties, but part of the gastronomy tourism industry.

A few years ago, there was a boom of this type of platforms.  As they are now more consolidated and most of them in expanding market phase, this category of startup was not awarded in the 1st competition of the sector. This is the case of the Brazilian company Dinneer and Thai-based Cookly, who despite reaching the semi-final of the contest, competing with more than 300 subscribers, were not listed among the 5 finalists in the event. It is a signal that the sector wants more innovation.

The democratization of the independent traveller

The big winner of the contest was the company Dinify, who develops an app that facilitates the interaction of the traveller in any restaurant in the world, offering translated menus and in-app order process in any language. In addition, the UNWTO gave special recognition to another startup, bitemojo, which offers a mobile app that drives the traveller through self-guided culinary experiences.

The result of the startup contest shows a tendency in the development of digital and independent experiences for the traveller. Based on that, we bring our last question…

… The challenge of balancing innovation and technology with job creation. What is the future job of gastronomy tourism?

Of course, technology is always welcome, after all, it facilitates (a lot!) travelling. But if we say that gastronomy tourism is about experiences, interaction with local people, cultural appreciation and generation of jobs for the community, how to ensure that this happens at the same time as we base the visitor’s interaction in digital technologies? We are looking forward to the next competitions, our bet is on topics related to the integration of technology, cultural appreciation, and social inclusion.

The minimum Brazilian presence at the World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism

For us, as Brazilians, knowing the diversity and potential of the country’s culinary, it is sad to see how Brazil is not recognized as a gastronomic destination on a global level. The country was not mentioned once at the event and counted on very few participants. Besides us from Food’n Road, the participants were, the Executive Secretary from MTur, plus a public-private committee representing the Serra Gaúcha region (Highlands from the Rio Grande do Sul state – Southern Brazil).

The southern-Brazilian committee asked support for the development of the wine route in the region, especially in the cities of Flores, Nova Pádua, and Caxias do Sul. Besides bringing visibility to the case of the Passo do Vinho Association (wine producer association), which is developing enogastronomic tourism experiences in Region.  

Brazil has great potential and can learn from good examples from South America, such as Peru, Costa Rica, and Chile. We have a long way to go.

Food’n Road at the event

The next steps

The main goal of Food’n Road is to develop gastronomy tourism in a responsible way and we are committed to making a difference in the segment. In general, we liked the event very much and the professionals we met, it is gratifying to see so many people working for the same goal.

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