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Gastronomy tourism in the new normal

By KATHY MORAN, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 11, 2020 4:00 pm

We have been under the claws of the pandemic for the better part of the year. And, although many improvements have taken place in terms of the county opening up industries more and more, still the threat of coronavirus continues to haunt us.

One of the industries that successfully continues to find ways for Filipinos to travel and experience more of our country is tourism.

Over the last two months we have seen more and more places opening up for us to travel to and visit — with all the necessary precautions in place.

In line with tourism efforts, the Department of Tourism (DOT) invited foodies to embark on "Food Trips" in the second leg of its virtual Kain Na! Food and Travel Festival 2020 last Nov. 3 to 6.

"Food has always been one of the Filipino’s travel motivations,” DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said at the opening salvo. “And, as we slowly but surely reopen more and more tourist destinations, let us keep our appetite for ‘food trips’ with the exciting online offerings of Kain Na! 2020.”

The four-day virtual culinary festival started with the very enlightening “PROSPECTives” for Food and Gastronomy Tourism.  The two-hour session featured talks on global perspectives  and prospects on the way forward by Sandra Carvao, chief of Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at the UN World Tourism Organization; Erik Wolf, executive director and founder of the World Food Travel Association; Mongkon Wimonrat, assistant to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand; and Jutamas (Jan) Wisansing, managing director of Perfect Link Consulting Group Company Limited as representatives of the working group on Food and Gastronomy Tourism in the ASEAN Region.

“We are living through one of the most unprecedented crises in gastronomy tourism," began Carvao. “We lost around 70 percent of international tourist arrivals in the first eight months of 2020. We will probably end 2020 between 70 and 80 percent decline. We can expect two years and a half to four years to see the rebound of international travel to the levels of 2019.”

Gastronomy tourism has been, for the last five to seven years, one of the most important segments of tourism development. There is an increasing trend of tourists travelling to one site specifically motivated by gastronomy tourism. Carvao added that, if for tourism the main purpose is travelling to the destination, tourists value the travel experience as they discover the gastronomy experience as well.

“It is important to develop an authentic and credible storyline about the destination’s gastronomy to make sure that the focus is on local gastronomy. Local gastronomy has a cultural heritage,” she said. “Maximize technology, like social media, as a driver for developing gastronomy tourism.”

It was a common theme during the talk that we as a country must start now to create country-wide gastronomy tourism, with all involved in the tourism sector — government and private — working together to prepare the country for the time when tourism will go back to full swing.

She added that gastronomy tourism is one of the factors that can contribute to the sustainable development of tourism.

“It is important that if the country wants to do trail tourism, it must be themed with specific commodities in mind,” shared Erik Wolf, executive director and founder of the World Food Travel Association. “You might like to think of the ‘Mango Trail’ or the ‘Chocolate Trail’ — things like that.”

One of the studies that his group did was psychology profiling of the kinds of tourists in 2010. This study confirmed that there are different kinds of food travellers.

“One of the things that destinations do is that they say they are going to market to the foodies,” he added. “They are all the same. But, they are not all the same. There are actually 13 different kinds of food-loving travelers. ‘Gourmet’ is actually way down in the list as No. 9. The news is when people come to a country, they want the local food.”

He added that vegetarian travellers are a big market with lots of opportunity.

Bringing the discussion closer to home was Wisansing, a representative of the working group on Food and Gastronomy Tourism in the ASEAN Region who shared about the latest ASEAN developments in gastronomy tourism.

“The whole idea of ASEAN gastronomy is that we think about sustainable development,” Wansing shared. “It is not just about food tourism; the Philippines needs to think about food literacy, energy consumption, food waste and the rich culture that they have in every destination — the local heritage.”

It was interesting to note that what is important in gastronomy tourism is not just the food but that it is a way to share a country’s culture and art, and at the same time improve sustainable development goals.

NOW IS THE TIME

With the lockdown, more Filipinos have started their own small food businesses, with many going into the home cooking of local cuisine. It is the goal of the tourism sector to continue along these lines so that the country may be ready when the tourism doors are finally opened.

So, during the week, the Food Tourism Exchange served virtual tours and food tourism experiences from the country's major island groups, from Luzon's Metro Yummy Picks in NCR, Kulinarya Tagala of CALABARZON, Pamanang Kaluto Noon at Ngayon of Bulacan, and Food Trips of Bicol; to Visayas' Secret Kitchens of Samar, Foodie Side of Bohol, and Culinary Finds of Capiz; to Mindanao's Food Tripping in Northern Mindanao, Flavors of SOX, and Southern Comfort Food of ZamPen.

There were also fun and motivational TED Talks-inspired sessions on food tourism ideas worth sharing for Food Tourism 101. Featured talks were the “Tricycle Food Tours” of chef Melissa Sison-Oreta, “Discovering Philippine Culture and Cuisine through the Regions” with chef Angelo Comsti, “Food Tourism Online” by chef Tatung Sarthou, “Traveling Off the Eaten Path” with Aashi Vel of Traveling Spoon, and “Cultural Food Mapping & Experiences” with Clang Garcia.

Partner chefs of Unilever Food Solutions also joined the second leg of Kain Na through their initiative “Traveling Through Food.” The featured food gurus were chefs Gerry Austria, Pam Aragoza, and Miko Dy from Luzon; chefs Ramon Antonio and Menoy Gimenez from the Visayas; and chefs Pauline Benedicto-Malilin and Jan Uy from Mindanao. They gave cooking demonstrations and talks about reviving tourism through food, exploring authentic food experiences, and the evolution of their operations during the quarantine.

The e-commerce training courses of CTRL+BIZ Reboot Tourism Now, Kain Na! edition, DOT's collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI eCommerce) and the Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC),  put the focus on how the online marketplace can be maximized by tourism stakeholders, the health and safety guidelines on the operations of travel and tour agencies and tour guides, and the introduction of the new DOT Online Accreditation System.

Viber did a session on the role of messaging platforms to enable micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to expand operations and Facebook conducted a crash course on how to build effective Facebook ad creatives, while success stories of businesses that have crossed over from offline to online were also discussed, featuring the food tourism businesses of  Mekeni (Region 3), VL Food Products (Region 12) and Menom Gourmet (Region 12) and a talk on the PTTC's Food Connect Program and the DIGIFAB-shared service facility.

“It is with pride that our Kain Na! Trading Post at kainnastore.com, which is the online store substitute of our on-ground expo launched last September, has welcomed over 4,000 visitors,” Puyat shared.  For this "Food Trips" run, it features various iconic Philippine dishes, delicacies and restaurants from different parts of the country.  And in partnership with Viber, a "Kain Na!" tile is now featured in the Explore button of the Viber app, directly linking customers to the online store.  The Grab app also has a Kain Na! tile to support the store's discoverability.

 I guess the saying “It takes a village…” holds true for the tourism sector.  Because for tourism gastronomy to succeed in the country, each province or region must work at developing its strengths so that when the tourists come — and they will — the Philippines will be top of mind.

Banner image from TinyPNG, photos from kainnastore.com