OFTENTIMES, after a holiday, you’ll remember a spicy bowl of noodles you wolfed down underneath a rickety stall more so than you would the significance of a heritage building next to it. Such is the power of food and its ability to transcend.
Food tourism is a massive sector of tourism as more travelers are getting access to world cuisines and local food guides. A 2015 report on Skift first highlighted this trend, citing food tourism tells the story of a destination’s history, culture, and people.
Tourism boards, travel agents, and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are curating large-scale promotional campaigns around the lure of food to target specific markets.
The report quoted: “While cuisine has always been the most important part of most travel experiences, the concept of traveling to a destination specifically for its F&B product is a relatively recent consumer trend.”
Proof is in the rise of food tours all over Asia, especially in Southeast Asia where local cuisines are as colorful as they are varied. For instance, in Thailand, tourists can journey beyond iterations of mango sticky rice and red curry by really delving into regional delicacies, best sampled at local markets.
So vast is the network of food tours that The Independent Food Tour Association (Tifta) was formed, a chain of leading food tours in various Asian cities. Food tour groups across the region can turn to the association for support, advice, and a platform for collaboration.
Tifta co-founder and head honcho at Singapore-based tour Singabites James Pelham, told Travel Wire Asia, “A lot of government tourist offices have learnt [that street food plays a huge part in influencing one’s decision of where to travel to next] and host food events to entice tourists. In Singapore, we seem to have a food festival every month. Food is big business.”
Through Pelham’s experience at Singabites, he found tourists are not simply interested in sampling local foods, they’re also curious about the significance of what they’re eating.
“Food is such an integral part of any society and it’s really important that the whole story is told,” he said. “We have a lot of people asking us about the Katong laksa story and who the original seller actually is.”
The association plans to sign up 30 tours by the end of the year, and eventually expand outside of Asia. An important part of Tifta’s ethos is only supporting tours that plug local vendors so that the money can be channeled back to local communities.
If food tours continue to boom, Pelham foresees the trend could pick up among employers and business event organizers looking for creative, dynamic ways to engage participants. Singabites, for instance, has hosted its share of corporate and MICE events in its time.
“We’ve hosted as many as 140 conference delegates who wanted to relax after their busy few days and eat and drink their way around Singapore,” Pelham said. “When you throw food into the equation, everybody signs up.”