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How Culinary Tourism Is Becoming a Growing Trend in Travel

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There's a growing population of travellers that have become more interested in the various cuisines and cultures from countries all over the world, and are planning vacations specifically to incorporate culinary trips. One of the reasons for this evolution has been wine, beer and food festivals. Toronto's Caribana Festival is a good example. Now in its 47th year it's expected to draw over one million tourists from all over the world, much the same as New Orlean's Mardi Gras and Brazil's Carnival.

According to the American Culinary Traveler, "The percentage of US leisure travelers who travel to learn about unique dining experiences grew from 40% to 51% between 2006 and 2013. USA Today Travel Tips states "culinary tourism became prominent in 2001 when Erik Wolf, President of the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA), presented a white paper about culinary tourism to his organization. The paper evolved into a book that documented the growing interest in food and wine tourism..."

With this ever-growing trend, the industry has seen a rise in new food blogs and websites. Print magazines have expanded their online presence to cover a wider scope of food, recipes and travel. Just take a look at Bon Appétit.

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A Cross Pollination of Culinary and Cultural Events

Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA) and Skift, published a report this year "The Rise of Food Tourism" in which they state, "...culinary tourists share millions of F&B (Food and Beverage) themed photos daily across social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and especially Flickr. This increases travel consumers awareness of different cuisines and cultures and it fuels their desire to experience them." It was one of the most downloaded reports by the travel industry.

Rebecca Leheup, OCTA Executive Director had the following to say in the report: "Many festivals and events worldwide are demand generators for tourists, whether they are food-driven festivals or festivals that happen to have great food programs within a broader subject." She went on to say, "We're exploring how many of these festivals and events are actually using local food, or show-casing a taste of place, as a way to add value to consumers."

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To get more insight into this growing trend, we asked Intrepid Travel's food product manager, Erica Kritikides few questions.

How did intrepid's food tours evolve? What was the Catalyst?

Food has always been core to the DNA of the Intrepid Travel experience -- tasting new dishes, encountering unusual ingredients, enjoying local hospitality -- after all, it's one of the most direct (and most delicious) ways to experience authentic local culture. Culinary travel-based TV shows, food magazines and food and travel blogs has generated a segment of travellers seeking a style of travel in which cuisine takes centre stage.

These travellers want to taste firsthand the flavours they have read, seen and heard so much about. The growth of the culinary tourism niche was a key driver in developing our Intrepid Real Food Adventures.

Did you see an emerging trend?

When we first started out, there were already a number of culinary tour operators, but most were pitching to the luxury "gourmet" market. In contrast, we could see global culinary trends were reflecting a growing interest in street food, home-cooking and local food traditions. As Intrepid is built on the philosophy of providing authentic 'real life experiences', we decided to put our own unique spin on culinary travel.

We focused on making our food trips affordable and accessible.

Our Real Food Adventures celebrate real food, that is to say everyday local eating and drinking experiences -- everything from street food, home-cooking, grass roots local eateries, food markets, food courts, primary producers, farms, bars and nightlife. We use comfortable two to three star, locally-owned accommodation and public transport to get around as much as possible (trains, buses, songthaews, dolmus -- the list goes on!).

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What year did you start? Which country did you start with? Why?

Real Food Adventures launched globally in 2013. We started with just 10 itineraries, focusing on less mainstream culinary destinations -- India, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Mexico.

All our trip leaders are passionate local foodies -- they are excited to share the best of their local food scene and are able to guide our travellers through the best street food and authentic local eateries. They are able to get our travellers "behind the scenes" -- meeting local cooks and producers, eating in local homes.

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photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

Was it difficult to implement and get engagement from Travellers?

The response from travellers has been overwhelming. In just over two years, we have expanded to 20 itineraries across Asia, the Middles East, Europe, The Indian Subcontinent and Latin America and our passenger numbers are rapidly expanding as the word spreads.

Intrepid culinary travellers are not so much '"gourmet tourists" as they are "food adventurers" -- looking for authentic and affordable food experiences that help them to engage more deeply with the local culture.

In your opinion, what country is the biggest draw for foodies?

Our most popular destinations are Vietnam and India, although we are seeing strong growth across our Real Food Adventures in Asia and Central America as well.

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photo courtesy of Intrepid Travel

What are some of your more out of the way spots?

This year we launched in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The principle inspiration for this itinerary was the cuisine itself -- an incredible amalgam of Middle Eastern, North African, Eastern European and Mediterranean influences -- a true melting pot.

We also saw an opportunity to offer a more varied perspective on a region that is too often seen in a binary context -- a political struggle between two sides. This itinerary celebrates the myriad cultures of this region -- Jewish, Palestinian, Armenian, Greek, North African -- to name just a few. This trip allows travellers to explore the region's culture through a prism that is linked to happiness, hospitality and togetherness, encapsulated in food and the sharing of a meal.

How does Urban Adventures factor into food tours?

We recognize that everyone has a different approach when it comes to travel. Our Real Food Adventures are touring itineraries, taking in three to four regions within a country or region. They are ideal for travellers who want to experience all the cultural highlights of a country (eg. the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Great Wall in Beijing), but are looking for their cultural experiences to be complemented by a strong focus on the local cuisine.

Our day trips -- Urban Appetizers -- are run in partnership with our sister company, Urban Adventures. These food-themed tours are just three to four hours and perfect for travellers who want a quick taste of a destination. They include a mix of walking food tours and home-cooked experiences.

We also have a range of Bite-size Breaks -- three-day city-based breaks -- perfect for a stopover, a short get-away or an extension to a longer trip.

So what's next for Intrepid Travel that you can share?

Without spilling the beans (pun intended), in 2016 there will be two exciting new 'real food' itineraries in Europe, as well as a trip that takes in the foodie hotspots across southern India. We'll be releasing our 2016 range of Real Food Adventures in the next few months.

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