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Hearth & Home May 2018

Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Have Fork, Will Travel

By Lisa Readie Mayer

How barbecue retailers can tie into the food tourism trend to grow their business.

Leisure travel is up and expected to grow as American households shift spending from goods to experiences, according to the 2017 “Travel & Hospitality Industry Outlook” by Deloitte Center for Industry Insights. But many of today’s travelers are skipping visits to beaches, museums, and other typical tourist attractions, and instead filling their itineraries with culinary events and experiences.

Food tourism – any tourist experience focused on learning about, appreciating and/or consuming food and drink that reflects the local, regional, or national cuisine, heritage and culture – is big business – about $150 billion per year globally, according to the World Food Travel Association. The organization’s 2016 “Food Travel Monitor” study shows over 90% of American travelers are interested in some type of unique food experience when traveling, up from 47% in 2013.

The report indicates interest in food and beverages is actually driving travel decisions; 75% of leisure travelers say they have been motivated to visit a destination because of a culinary activity or experience. Another 81% want to learn about food and drink when visiting a destination to help them understand the local culture. The organization says that food-focused television, social media, the growing farm-to-table movement, and the proliferation of local food festivals and events are fueling the trend.

Big Apple Barbecue in New York City.
Publican Quality Meats, a renowned butcher shop, market and café in Chicago’s meatpacking district.

The travel bug has bitten Millennials especially hard. According to Millennial market research firm Ypulse, 96% of the generation is interested in travel. An Airbnb survey shows it’s the age group’s second-highest priority, even ranking above buying a home.

According to Airbnb, 56% plan to spend more on travel this year than last year, while YPulse reports Millennials plan to take about three trips this year. “The Rise of the Millennial Traveler,” a study by travel market research and media firm Skift, predicts Millennials will be responsible for half of all global, leisure-travel spending by 2020.

Food is a significant travel motivator for this group. A 2015 study by Destination Analysts reveals nearly 70% of Millennials identify as “food and cuisine driven travelers,” versus about 63% of Baby Boomers. According to Airbnb, Millennials rank food as their most memorable travel experience, above nightlife, historical and tourist attractions.

What Are Food Travelers Doing?

Food tourism is not simply having a good meal at a place chosen from a hotel’s list of recommended restaurants. As part of a broader travel-learning trend, it’s more about experiencing an authentic food or cooking method, learning about local food culture and history, and connecting with local growers and producers.

Culinary travelers hunt for undiscovered and hyper-local food tours, tastings, cooking classes, and educational workshops. They visit craft breweries, wineries, distilleries, food markets, farmers’ markets, food halls, food festivals, and farms. They want one-of-a-kind, unique experiences such as cocktail mixology camps, sausage-making classes at butcher shops, and cheese-making workshops at dairy farms.

Rather than five-star gourmet restaurants, they are more likely to seek out eateries they learned about from television programs such as Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” Andrew Zimmern’s “Driven by Food,” or Roger Mooking’s “Man Fire Food.” They might even dine at food trucks, street-food vendors, gastropubs, pop-up restaurants, community kitchens, and roadside dive joints.

Customers wait in line to order meals from a popular food truck during their lunch hour, at Food Truck Thursday in Atlanta.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 BluLz60.
Alan Winchester, master distiller of the Glenlivet brand, led the inaugural tasting of a new mystery expression, The Glenlivet Alpha, at a media launch held in New York City.

Travel foodies with deep pockets can indulge in any number of luxury culinary adventures, such as a South African safari that incorporates cooking lessons, winery tours and tastings. They might tour an organic orchard in the picturesque Haute Savoy region of the French Alps, and learn how fruit is turned into jams, juices and compotes; or go on a cheese and chocolate day-trip adventure in Gruyere, Switzerland.

On the other extreme, using Traveling Spoon, an Airbnb type of online platform that connects culinary-minded travelers with home cooks in 34 countries, travelers can book a homemade meal or cooking lesson and learn about cultural and culinary traditions through an authentic food experience in a private home.

“The Regionally Inspired Food Survey” conducted by Wakefield Research for food-gift company Harry & David, finds people consider New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Austin, Texas, the top four foodie cities in the U.S. But food tourism is thriving all over the nation in locations large and small, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon.

Virginia’s Taste of Blue Ridge program hosts weekend-long “Blue Ridge Root-to-Table” events featuring local restaurants, chefs, farmers, distillers, winemakers and other food producers, in collaboration with local hotels and retail businesses as marketing partners.

Blue Ridge Root-to-Table event in Virginia.

The West Virginia Food and Farm Trail highlights that state’s “unique, authentic culinary experiences and growing agri-tourism industry” with food and farm tours, events, and culinary attractions.

Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Colorado Proud program launched a month-long promotion featuring tours of agricultural communities, farmers’ market events, festivals, and educational programming in response to consumers desire “to feel more connected to farmers and food sources.”

Foods of New York offers food-focused tours of six different New York City neighborhoods, with tastings at local specialty shops, ethnic eateries, and restaurants, as well as “an off-the-beaten-path glimpse of life, history, culture, architecture and entertainment offerings” in those areas.

A Maine Foodie Walking Tour.

Maine Foodie Tours in Portland, Kennebunkport, Bar Harbor and Rockland, spotlight local produce, dairy products, and seafood, as well as the area’s chefs, purveyors, brewmasters, bakers, mixologists, and rich maritime history. There are guided bourbon tours in Kentucky, pizza tours in New Haven, CT, and Chile pepper-inspired festivals, culinary tours, cooking classes and other foodie adventures in historic, downtown Santa Fe, NM. In fact, virtually every state now has tourism marketing programs that promote it as a food destination.

Barbecue Tourism

Barbecue restaurants, retailers and manufacturers all over the U.S. and Canada are getting in on the trend, too. The Texas BBQ Trail Tour in Lockhart, Texas, and KC Barbecue Tours in Kansas City, Missouri, are but two examples of guided group tours of barbecue joints, with stops to sample the food, meet the pitmasters, hear how it’s made, and learn about the history and evolution of barbecue in those communities.

Grilling authority, TV host and cookbook author Steven Raichlen hosts Barbecue University, three-day, experiential, barbecue camps for grownups at the luxury Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Attendees participate in hands-on classes and lots of good eating, while learning about grilling, low-and-slow barbecuing, smoking, pellet cooking and other techniques on a vast assortment of equipment. Forbes magazine called it “one of the best food lover’s events in the nation.”

Steven Raichlen’s BBQU at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet event.

For the past two years, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet has hosted its own version of the program, BBQU at Kalamazoo, at the company’s Culinary Center in Chicago. Led by Steven Raichlen, the two-day, fully immersive grilling experience starts with a private welcome dinner at the Chef’s Table at Publican Quality Meats, a renowned butcher shop, market and café in Chicago’s meatpacking district.

The next day features a four-hour, hands-on grilling and barbecuing class, taught by Raichlen, using Kalamazoo’s Hybrid Fire Grill, Gaucho Grill, Smoker Cabinet, Artisan Fire Pizza Oven and other outdoor appliances. Guests learn how to grill the perfect steak, cook with direct and indirect heat, master the art of smoking, and even rotisserie a whole animal over a live, wood fire. The course concludes with a family-style feast featuring the dishes prepared during the session. The experience, open to the public, costs $1,750 per person, including lodging.


Chef JJ teaching a cooking class at Chef JJ’s Downtown in the city of Indianapolis.

Big Green Egg and Weber have culinary centers that are destinations for outdoor cooking enthusiasts. Companies such as Cookshack and Lang BBQ Smokers host weekend-long cooking schools, as do grand-champion, celebrity pitmasters such as Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon and Paul Kirk, attracting barbecue fans and foodies from all over the world.

When Chef JJ Boston opened Chef JJ’s Downtown in the city of Indianapolis, the second location of his barbecue retail store, event space and cooking school, he took advantage of the historic building’s location one block from Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center. He formed alliances with visitors’ bureaus there, promoting his business’s rooftop-garden entertaining space, ground-level outdoor patio, indoor grilling classroom, and retail showroom as unique corporate event space.

Capable of holding intimate dinners for 10, to parties up to 200 people, Chef JJ’s Downtown attracts groups of visiting (and local) business professionals for grilling classes, private dinners, corporate entertaining, team-building sessions, wine dinners, craft beer events, and other food-focused experiences.

“We do a lot of convention-entertaining business in our Downtown location,” Boston says. “As a result, sales have grown incredibly since we opened there in 2015.”

Business people meeting and eating at a cuisine party.

Event hosts often purchase bottled spice rubs to give as take-home favors to attendees. They also frequently buy MiniMax Eggs for team-building prizes or awards, adding to the store’s revenue. Although out-of-town conventioneers may not be able to carry home a grill, Boston says they often buy a variety of rubs, sauces and other items they can carry home in their suitcases.

Social Media Is Feeding the Frenzy

Photos of a scenic vista, authentic meal, or unique experience posted on Instagram or Facebook, are today’s versions of the travel brochure. Experts say social media posts are very effective at inspiring people to book a trip. According to Business Insider, when New Zealand’s tourism board hired Instagram influencers to share photos and information about the country, it grew overseas tourism by 7% on the country’s South Island, and doubled visitors to the North Island within one year.

Wanaka, the country’s scenic, but mostly unknown, small resort town set on a lake surrounded by glacier-capped mountains, saw a 14% rise in overseas tourist visits.

Tastemade, an online platform for food- and travel-related videos made by its influencer-team of home cooks, trained chefs, adventure seekers, and world travelers known as “Tastemakers,” has helped boost awareness of many other undiscovered local places, food and flavors around the world. Pinterest, too, has hundreds of culinary-travel-related posts to feed inspiration for food-oriented getaways.

Social media is particularly influential for Millennial travelers. According to an Airbnb study, 75% of Millennials say social media has the greatest influence on choosing a travel destination. A Ypulse report says 54% of the age group posts photos to social media while traveling. These posts become a de-facto part of a destination’s marketing efforts.

Taking photographs of special meals is a current fad.

Tips for Tying in with the Food Tourism Trend

The barbecue industry dovetails perfectly with culinary travel: it’s all about good, authentic food prepared by experts in their field who love to share their knowledge and skills with people who are eager to learn. Food tourism could become a potential new business segment for barbecue retailers and manufacturers.

“These experiential programs can generate their own revenue and bring people into the showroom,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

Given that grills, fire pits, and other Outdoor Room products compete with travel for consumers’ leisure-spending dollars, it’s important to figure out a way to tap into the trend. There is good reason to want to: The World Food Travel Association reports that culinary travelers account for 47% of American leisure travelers, but 61% of leisure-travel expenditures. Culinary travelers spend 48% more per trip than other leisure travelers, and 71% purchase food or beverage products to take back with them.

There’s another reason the barbecue industry should be exploring this trend: People often try to recreate the meals and food experiences they have while traveling. Getting more people to have barbecue-related travel adventures could potentially lead to greater sales industry-wide when they return home.

Here are 10 tips for making your store a culinary travel destination:

• Don’t go it alone. A food-tourism trends report by Skift, says an area should offer at least six different food-related experiences to be considered a culinary destination and satisfy travelers’ desire for variety. The report says it’s helpful to have several experiences grouped around a specific food or beverage in the region, noting, “It’s important for all the wineries, for example, in a certain region to work together because wine and food trails are appealing to food tourists.”

Wine tasting in Napa Valley.

• With its cluster of wineries, Napa Valley is a popular culinary destination because it allows travelers to check out several wineries during a trip. Barbecue retailers should try to turn their area into a “barbecue destination” by collaborating with barbecue restaurants, pitmasters, sauce makers, or other barbecue-related food businesses in their area. If it’s not possible to align with barbecue-specific businesses, partner with others that work with the theme, such as a butcher shop, heirloom pork grower, a craft brewery, a liquor store or bar for a bourbon tasting, and a farm stand.

• Reach out to private tour groups in your area, regarding adding your store to the stops on food-related tours. This works only for retail stores that are “destinations” in themselves, with very extensive barbecue product displays, offer cooking classes, have a competitive champion pitmaster on staff, or have some other compelling reason to visit. You will need to be able to present a brief educational discussion, a cooking demo, and food samples to the tour groups.

A Big Green Egg cooking class at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers.

• Contact destination marketing companies, events companies, corporate meeting planners and convention bureaus in your state to make them aware of the culinary experiences you offer for business travelers. These groups are always searching for new and creative experiences for team-building sessions, group dinners, spouse activities, and reward trips, and culinary-themed experiences are in high demand. Invite these influencers to a “familiarization” event to show off your food, activities and facility.

• Connect with online tourism resources in your state and make sure your location is listed as a food-travel destination on their website.

• According to “The Daily Rail,” a hospitality industry trends newsletter, Airbnb has added $4.5 billion in revenue to area restaurants as a result of travelers using the resource to find accommodations. The Airbnb platform includes a “recommendations” tab with links to area activities and experiences.

“The Daily Rail” recommends checking out the Airbnb site to find all the properties within a short distance from your location, and introduce yourself to the owners. You can provide them with brochures about your store and culinary experiences offered to hand out to lodger guests, or even offer a discount.

• Likewise, reach out to the concierges at any traditional hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts in your area. Leave behind brochures on your barbecue classes and experiences they can offer to guests looking for foodie adventures.

A Weber cooking class in Memphis.

• It’s not just about out-of-town tourists. Programs targeted to “staycationers” – people spending their summer vacation time at home or in their own communities – can be effective, as well. Faulk suggests getting on local’s vacation-week schedules by promoting in-store, experiential programs such as grilling and smoking classes as alternative fun and relaxing vacation activities. He also suggests bringing in local experts to conduct workshops on butchering, Scotch and wine tastings, and even charcuterie classes to appeal to barbecue enthusiasts.

• Post about your culinary travel offerings on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. Encourage visitors to post photos of their experience on social media and tag your store.

• Tie in with local food festivals in your area, drawing visitors to your booth with the aromas of wood smoke. Hold 15-minute smoking workshops throughout the event, posting times on a blackboard. Stock the booth with wood chips and smoking accessories for sale, and provide information on your full roster of barbecue and grilling classes and other products, to drive people to your store.

• Buying and shipping a grill may be a little complicated for out-of-towners, but they can easily pack spice rubs, unique grilling accessories, and cookbooks in their carry-ons. Be sure to spotlight these products in your cooking classes and other culinary experiences. Better yet, offer a box-and-ship service for any purchases they make. Sales to culinary tourists can become a significant profit center, so be sure you are well stocked with a wide selection of cash-and-carry items.

Pit Barrel Cooker drawing people to their booth at the 2018 HPBExpo.
Photo COURTESY: ©2018 HPBA ASSOCIATION.
Santos Grill Shop in Cologne, Germany.

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