Today’s tourist is more cultured than visitors of 20 years ago, is well travelled, is searching for new experiences, is concerned about the environment, is interested in taking part in a health/well-being lifestyle and wants to experience the local culture when he goes on holiday. Trend analyst, Ian Yeoman writes that food is a significant aspect of the tourist’s experience of a destination, driven by the growing trends of authenticity and the need to have a high-quality experience. Food tourism shapes gastro destinations such as France, Italy and California whereas in emerging destinations such as Croatia, Vietnam and Mexico food plays an important part of the overall experience.

What are the trends shaping our interest in food tourism?

Trend 1: Disposable Income and Spending Patterns

All across world, growing affluence of the populations has a profound impact on consumer spending. Consumers spend a higher proportion of their income on prepared food, gourmet products, eating out and food items with some form of health or ethical benefits. The key point is that according to Michael Silverstein writing in his book Trading Up: The New American Luxury the consumer has traded up where the product is aspiration or traded down when the product is only function. This is one reason why producers and retailers have focused on quality through products such as Tesco’s finest range or ethical consumption, where the consumer will pay a premium for ‘fair trade’ product.

Trend 2: Demographics and Household Change

According to research by the Future Foundation families are also becoming increasingly democratic in food choice, as children get older they have more influence in what they eat and where the family eats. Children are also spending increasing amounts of time with their grandparents with over two-thirds of children born between 1978 and 1986 being looked after by their grandparents at least once a month, compared to one quarter of those born in 1937 or earlier. This increase indicates a demand for venues offering facilities that appeal to differing age groups and generations. By 2015, those aged between 45 and 59 will be part of the most populous age group in the United Kingdom. Households headed by those aged 50 plus will account for around 50% of all households, and this same age group will account for over 39% of all consumers spending on leisure goods and services. In 2004, the 50–64 age groups spent US $24.80 per household per week on restaurant meals, US $2.40 more than the national average — this will be a key market in the future. Another consequence of longevity is ‘lifestyle fragmentation’, the idea that life is increasingly being experienced as a series of non-linear events with no set pattern. As characteristics of different age groups becomes blurred and diverse, more people will expect the places they visit to be adaptable to different aspects of their daily lives. In other words, eating out opportunities suitable for whatever the situations requires — whether this is work, with children or simply eating alone. And finally, rising divorce rates are also good for food tourism, as Michael Silverstein observe that divorcees have to search for new partners and subsequently will take prospective partners out for dinner and away for romantic weekends.

Trend 3: Individualism

Individualism means uniqueness as tourists search out local, fresh and good quality cuisine that reflects the authenticity of the destination. The end of mass customisation has seen Starbucks fail in Australia as the brand is perceived as bland and lacking individuality. Gone are the days of the British tourist wanting ‘egg and chips’ in Ibiza or American’s only eating Kentucky Fried Chicken when in Australia.

Trend 4: The Multi-Cultured Consumer

The whole process of globalisation has significantly amplified the meaning of the term multi-culturalism within our social order. Access to an even wider range of ideas and interests has never been easier. The Internet boom, the expansion in specialist and minority TV channels, the relentless growth in international tourism, etc., combine to stretch perceptions and eliminate that what we might call mono-culturalism; seeing the world through only one set of pre-ordained, inherited notions. The consumer of today will watch the latest Bollywood film, consume a curry, purchase exotic spices for cooking and will read about Rajasthan in the latest edition of the Lonely Planet. Multiculturalism has now become an everyday concept in the daily life of the consumer; today curry is the United Kingdom’s favourite dish.

Trend 5: The Role of the Celebrity Chef and Media

The media has substantial influence in determining food product selection. The influence of celebrity chefs is often referred to as the ‘the Delia effect’ after the media chef Delia Smith, whose 1998 television programme ‘How to Cook’ resulted in an extra 1.3 million eggs being sold in Britain each day of the series. The phenomena of Gordon Ramsey with ‘Hells Kitchen’ and the ‘F word’ or Jamie Oliver campaign for good wholesome school dinners all drives our interest in good quality real food. The emergence of the niche food programmes, TV channels and magazines means the food celebrity and expert has been created. Today, that celebrity chef shapes tourism products, whether it is a cookery course with Rick Stein in Padstow or Martin Yan’s food cruises across China.

Trend 6: Well-Being and Food

Figure 1 tells us there is a higher awareness of health issues and food purchase decisions. Around 30% of adults say that they have been eating less fat and sugar compared to the previous year and 28% say they are eating less salt, whereas other food groups, notably vegetables, fruit and bread/cereal/pasta/potatoes are on the rise. These trends have transformed themselves into the food industry with Starbucks offering Soya milk, and McDonalds offering salads. In New York, the city council has banned certain types of fats. The proportion of vegetarians has only increased slightly in the last 20 years, with just over 5% of UK adults reporting themselves to be vegetarian in 2004. However, the number of food venues offering vegetarian options due to its association with healthy eating has increased exponentially along with a perception that vegetarian food in restaurants is more than ‘vegetable lasagne’ or a ‘cheese omelette’. Restaurants are also aware of specialist diets, whether it is catering for gluten free or the Atkins diet. Consumers will even visit a food nutritionalist or advisor of seek opinion about ‘food balance’ or ‘sensitivity towards certain foods’. The specialist diet is becoming more mainstream with individuals avoiding certain foodstuffs like ‘dairy products’ or the promotion of detox diets to cleanse the body. Consumers are therefore becoming ever more demanding and cautious regarding the food they eat. These concerns and fears can be exploited in order to maximise potential marketing of certain products. However, due to the volatile nature of demands and trends, these requirements are hard to predict. Food providers need to have ‘quick response’ mechanisms in place to enable them to keep up with dietary fads and health scares.

Figure 1: Eating habits of the UK consumer

Trend 7: Food as an Oasis

When on holiday, food becomes the social occasion when busy people create a ‘time oasis’, but also to connect with family members and friends who may in general be less time-impoverished. Food becomes a human-space within frequently much harried lives; the notion of the meal as a ‘time oasis’ seems to be a very powerful theme. As the consumer desire for new experiences increases, the ‘authentic’ restaurant experience becomes more important. Authenticity is about food that is simple, rooted in the region, natural, ethical, beautiful and human — all of the making for a food tourism destination.

Trend 8: Internet Usage

The world is online whether through your computer or mobile phone. Online restaurant reviews are the norm and companies like use the easyJet principles of yield management allowing consumer’s discounts, reviews, auctions for exclusive restaurants, reservations and for restaurants a distribution system for selling unused capacity.

Trend 9: The Desire for New Experiences and Cultural Capital

Food has an important position and role in the emerging experience economy whether in the preparation of it, knowledge of it or consuming it. As British sociologist Gershuny notes when discussing the whole concept of cultural capital. We have various skills in different sorts of consumption and organisational participation — we play football, we organise social events for the synagogue or church or mosque, we cook food and give dinner parties, we listen to music. All of these activities give us different sorts of satisfaction, and different degrees of social status, depending on how fully and effectively we are able to participate in them. So, the growing importance of cultural issues, as a leisure activity and as a point of differentiation, means it is an important trend in food tourism as it is the tourist’s knowledge of food that distinguishes them. This means the food tourist has a desire for new tastes, knowledge and concepts and therefore food creates its own cultural capital — which destinations need to capitalise on. As consumers become richer and more sophisticated, they are drawn to new tastes and more adventurous than previous generations.

Trend 10: The Science of Food

Food tourism is shaped by the geopolitical trends. Today, we have rejected science from the food chain resulting in falling yields per hectare as we have rejected GM foods. Food inflation is rising all over the world, for example milk has doubled in price in the last 12 months Farmers are planting crops for fuel rather than food in the rush for biofuels. Climate change is more disruptive and unpredictable. Rising temperatures mean less water in parts of the world. Land is becoming more expensive due to the increase in urbanisation, therefore less land for food production. Because of these reasons, will the world return to science in order to protect future food supplies and increase yields? Does this mean cuisine is going to return to Star trek pills and NASA vac packs? Who knows?

Trend 11: However, the Consumer is a Hypochondriac

Although there is evidence that healthy eating is on the rise, the importance of organic food and a desire to try local produce — the consumer can be viewed as a hypochondriac as what they say and actually do can be two different things. For example, obesity levels have trebled in the USA since 1980 and the amount of vegetables that people consume has steadily dropped since the 1970s. Figure 2 is an observation of France’s love–hate relationship with the fast food company. On one hand, the French campaign against the company, saying it is a symbol of American imperialism and aggression in the world; promotes an unhealthy lifestyle and there is nothing good about its cuisine, whereas on the other hand, the French love the Big Mac, eating three times as many per head of population compared to Spain, Germany and Italy. The figures rise to five times compare to Sweden, Austria or 15 times compared to Ireland.

Figure 2: The Success of McDonalds

Food Tourism Destinations

Some destinations have begun to realise that there is great potential for food tourism to offer a sustainable tourism product, whether it is the fine wines of California or the great cheeses of France. One of the best examples of food tourism has been the rise in prominence of Ludlow in the United Kingdom as a food tourism destination whether it is festivals, slow food or Michelin star restaurants.

Ludlow from the early beginning of a farmers market has prospered into a major food tourism destination with a density of high quality restaurants, an abundance of local food suppliers in the high street and food festivals and events to attract tourists. Ludlow as a food destination illustrates its success through:

  • Using food as a means to create cultural capital and social cachet
  • Creating a density of food and drink suppliers which results in a tourism eating and shopping experience
  • Creating a local authentic promise based upon good quality and fair pricing
  • Creating a unique product better than that found in other regional food destinations
  • Producers seeing themselves as being involved in tourism
  • Tourism providers focusing on food as a point of difference


Today, the consumer is better educated, wealthy, has travelled more extensively, lives longer, and is concerned about his health and the environment. As a result food and drink has become more important and have a higher priority amongst certain social groupings. Too the extent food is the new culture capital of a destination, as if culture has moved out of the museum to become a living experience of consumption. One thing is clear; food must be a quality product, whether it is slow food or fast food. Finally, if food is not for you, there is always the no-food movement which is all the rage in Japan where holiday-makers are flocking to the Arina Hotel in the idyllic Nagano Mountains for a fasting feast!

Ian Yeoman is the world’s only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In July 2008, Ian took up a faculty position at Victoria University, New Zealand as an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist. Ian’s new book, tomorrow’s tourist envisions what world tourism will look like in 2030, where tourists will go on holiday and what they will do.

Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.

Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Visiting Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society. Ian is also Editor of the Journal of Revenue & Pricing Management.

Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be found at

Ian Yeoman
Victoria University Management School | Victoria University
00 64 (0) 4 463 5717