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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gear up for Summer Tourism Season! Local Food Growers Capture New Markets

by Carla Snyder, Extension Educator, Adams Co.

Food-based tourism is more popular than ever.  Exemplified by TV shows like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown, celebrity chefs are taking to the tourism circuit around the globe.  Great Britain's Alan Coxon, a multi-award winning chef and TV show host, was named the ambassador of food this month, meaning he will be promoting Great Britain's food, beverage, and tourism industry as a whole.

Known by many names, gastronomic tourism is a measured food trend across the globe.  Once focused solely on the wine industry, food-based tourism, that is travel planning focused on educational, cultural or experiential activities surrounding the local food of each visited region, is now a significant trend in the local food sector.  According to Quan and Wang, when data was just beginning to be gathered, over one-third of all travel dollars were devoted to food purchases.  For many travelers, culinary based tourism extends much further from the plate.  It includes attendance at local food festivals, tours of local farms, a visit to the farmers' market and private dining experiences at many of these locations.  According to 2012 World Tourism Organization data, eating-related activities are the second most favorite activity of all tourists visiting the U.S.  This translates into a substantial opportunity for agri-tourism farms as well as those selling directly to the public or local foods-based restaurants.

Local farmers are cashing in on this trend in a big way, but with one-third of all tourism spending floating around waiting to be captured, the market hardly seems saturated.  If you happen to be located near an established tourism epicenter, like Gettysburg, PA, transitioning to this trend is easy.  One small, diversified family farm is offering their first on-farm supper in June.  Rettland Farms has paired up with local chef Josh Fidler, his 154 Supper Club, and chef Sam Strock to offer a night under the stars.  Seats were opened first to their community support agriculture members, those who are already local supporters of the farm, and then to visitors at large.  Participants to this exclusive dinner will be treated to a tasting menu of six local food dishes sure to fill their bellies and provide ample conversational topics for an educational and fun evening on the farm - the makings of a perfect tourism experience.

In New York, already a famed destination for wine-focused tourism, growers are taking advantage of the new hard cider trend.  Cider Week, an event brand that has spread across the country celebrates what they deem "America's oldest libation."  With events from New York to Washington in the months of October and November 2014, this tourist-marketed experience offers full-day celebrations gathering apple growers and hard cider makers from each region to celebrate this hip, ultra-local trend.  Events offer demonstrations, tastings, local food pairings and socializing space for foodie tourists and locals alike.

For agricultural producers, marketing to capture tourism dollars may be easier than you think.  Simple changes such as telling your customers where you grow and how you sell your products may make all the difference.  Producers have noticed an upswing in restaurant sales after talking to shoppers at their farmers' market stands about which restaurants in town buy their products.  This enables the foodie driven shopper to not only visit your stand while they take in the scene at the farmers' market but suggests a restaurant for them to visit while in town that serves your locally produced goods.  When it comes to tourism, word of mouth says it all.  Be sure to encourage customers that buy directly from you as well as businesses that purchase your product to promote their use of your local products on websites like tripadvisor.com and yelp.com.  One local food comment can go a long way to entice the right food-focused tourist.

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