Food for thought on Gastronomy Tourism by UNWTO

Last May, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published guidelines for the Development of Gastronomy Tourism, developed in collaboration with the Basque Culinary Center (BCC). These guidelines are of particular importance for stakeholders involved in a more sustainable tourism, as this is the case for the MEDFEST project of the MED Sustainable Tourism Community.

(Rome, 28 June 2019) “Gastronomy tourism forms an integral part of local life and is forged by the history, culture, economy and society of a territory. This bears the natural potential to enrich the visitor experience, establishing a direct connection to the region, its people, culture and heritage” said Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the UNWTO as introductory words to the guidelines for the development of gastronomy tourism released last May.

These guidelines are particularly interesting for the development of authentic and local experiences for tourists. They are also useful for the MEDFEST project of the MED Sustainable Tourism Community, which aims at developing sustainable culinary experiences as a powerful tool to promote “alternative” and sustainable tourist destinations in MED space. As explained on their project website: “sustainable culinary experiences are alternative tourist food-products that are traditional, respect the local environment and local producers and appeal to the visitors desire for authenticity”.

Gastronomy tourism, defined by the UNWTO as “a type of tourism activity which is characterized by the visitor’s experience linked with food and related products and activities while travelling (...) such as visiting the local producers, participating in food festivals and attending cooking classes” is indeed of particular importance for the destinations that wish to develop local and sustainable activities. As recalls Mr Joxe Mari Aizega, Director General of the Basque Culinary Center: “gastronomy has become a strategic sector that contributes to the generation of wealth and employment, creating value for the entire value chain from the production of quality food, its transformation, to the hotel or tourism companies and the promotion of the country brand.”

The first chapter of the guidelines constitutes a practical guide for tourism destinations and lists essential elements for the development of gastronomy tourism, such as the importance to draw up a Strategic Plan, to analyze the trends, the tourists, the destination’s image and gastronomic positioning, to compare with the other competitors in the destination and to promote product development and innovation. Other elements such as governance through the promotion of public-private collaboration and the establishment of control and monitoring mechanisms are also mentioned and detailed in this first chapter. The guidelines point out to the importance of trainings, professionalization and job creation through the improvement of personal and professional skills, knowledge and technology transfer from universities and research centres to the gastronomy tourism sector, and the cooperation of tourist administrations and organizations with universities.

The guidelines also insist on the potential that the value chain of gastronomy tourism represents, meaning that “a broader, richer, more satisfactory universe can be covered by tourism and allows it to become the main motive for tourism activity. Gastronomy is not just a dish. To reach that dish, a value chain has been built that includes elements associated with the production and processing of foods, as well as their distribution, transformation and, finally, ingestion. These processes include added values such as gastronomic landscapes, the destination’s cultural and culinary identity, tangible and intangible heritage (culinary crafts, traditional recipes, utensils, etc.) and are linked to other elements having a greater or lesser impact such as public policies, administrative regulation, infrastructure, training and research, amongst others”.

The second chapter of the guidelines provides some recommendations related, to only quote a few, to the promotion of “the recognition of the local gastronomy as a cultural heritage”, the development of “mechanisms for gastronomy tourism intelligence in order to quantify, know and characterize gastronomy tourists and analyze the dynamics of the destination”, the improvement of “the scenario, environment, venues and system for hosting gastronomy tourists” and the promotion of gastronomy tourism “as a tool to progress towards sustainability in the destination and the contribution of tourism to the SDGs”, something the MED Sustainable Tourism Community is also dedicated to.

You can access the guidelines here.

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