Food: To Go — The Impact, Influence and Interests of the Culinary Traveler

A recent study by the World Food and Travel Association revealed some fascinating new data about an important and influential group in the world of F&B: culinary travelers. The lifeblood of the leisure travel industry, culinary travelers prioritize food and drink experiences in their travels, and go out of their way to make those adventures happen. According to the study, culinary travelers make up roughly half of all trip takers. That is not only a big segment, it reflects broader trends within the travel community. As the survey points out, a remarkable 93 percent of all survey respondents had “participated in a unique food or beverage activity while traveling in the past two years,” a number that presents “an increase over past studies.”

Culinary travelers spend an average of $123 a day on food and drinks, compared with $80 per day from non-culinary travelers.

These findings are significant because this group of traveling food and beverage aficionados is also very engaged in their trip experience. Culinary travelers eat to experience the local area, to sample both cuisine and culture, and to create lasting memories. They are not only more engaged than the average tourist, they are also more likely to share their experiences with others both through personal and online ratings and reviews. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they crave a wide variety of authentic, local and eclectic experiences during their stay.

In the study, culinary travelers were defined by two criteria:

  • They participated in a unique or memorable food or drink experience during a recent trip.
  • Food and drink experiences are the primary motivator when choosing a destination.

In other words: Culinary travelers see food and drink as more than a meal. It is an integral part of their overall traveling experience. Whether they realize it or not, a great many restaurants, hotels, bars and businesses rely on this influential group and the business and enthusiasm they bring with them. According to the report, culinary travelers spend an average of $123 a day on food and drinks, compared with $80 per day from non-culinary travelers.

With that in mind, there are three key trends and traits that every F&B operator needs to address and adapt to in order to appeal to (and benefit from) this critically important group of traveling diners:

Culinary Travelers are Engaged

As a rule, culinary travelers are not passive travelers: they actively engage with their environment. Consequently, they are more likely to go shopping, check out clubs, participate in tours, and attend special events. They are so focused on the experience that the vast majority will spend more on food during trips than they would at home.

Because the culinary traveler perceives food and beverages as an integral part of the adventure, it becomes an important part of their memories. Local food is a way to learn and understand more about the area’s culture and culinary heritage. With this in mind, it is important to offer a selection of menu items with a local touch and/or a unique story to satisfy that craving for authenticity.

Culinary Travelers are Social

Culinary travelers see food as a central (and in some cases even defining) part of the journey. They will consult friends and review sites well in advance of their trip to decide where they will eat and drink during their stay. They are also more likely to post pictures and reviews of their experiences on review sites and social media, which is why it is becoming increasingly important to make sure that the experience is not only satisfactory, but is worth sharing.

Culinary travelers will often take foods home as gifts for friends and family. If your F&B has a signature food or drink, gift branding it is a good way to increase sales and market the quality to the gift recipients. This allows motivated culinary travelers to bring a small piece of the experience home and share it with others. It also gives their fellow food enthusiasts a reason to remember your establishment when they make their own travel plans.

Variety is Essential

The World Food and Travel Association study breaks culinary travelers down into at least 13 preference categories, or culinary profiles. Each profile represents a different type of food experience, and how positively different culinary travelers react to it. By a wide margin, the two most popular types of culinary profiles in the study were Authentic and Eclectic. Both traits/experiences were highly sought after by over 46 percent of the culinary travelers in the survey group. From this, we can readily conclude that menus with variety and authenticity will appeal to a large swath of culinary travelers, and it behooves F&B professionals to consider the implications of that in their decision-making.

So, What Does this Mean?

The bottom line is that it will certainly take more than a standard food or drink menu for an F&B program to succeed with this growing segment of travelers. Authentic and local experiences are the biggest trends for culinary travelers in 2016. Food and drink is a much bigger part of their trip than a regular traveler. They are more likely to engage in a variety of events and share their experiences via gifts and social media. That constellation of characteristics means that catering to these 2016 culinary travel trends can potentially make a meaningful—and perhaps even dramatic—impact on your restaurant, bar or F&B program.