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Jan 01, 2018

Despite the festive excesses of Christmas, my appetite for thinking and talking about food tourism has not in any way waned.  A bit like Christmas Day, there’s always room for more!  The Food Trekking Awards 2018 caught my eye this week.  While there are many regional and national recognitions, this presents itself as the first awards programme to recognize excellence in food and beverage experiences for travellers on a global scale.  We don’t have long to wait to find out the winners – they will be announced by the World Food Travel Association on 14th January 2018.  In the meantime, let’s think about what insights are offered by the choice and title of the awards categories.  One can assume that these will reflect the current drivers, trends and developments in the sector.  Here’s a few conclusions:

  1. The sector expands

There are 14 categories of award, up from just 5 in 2015 and 13 in 2016.  The number of sub-sectors of food tourism deemed to be independently distinctive has increased significantly.   It is interesting to note that even though there were 13 award categories for 2017, there were only 8 categories with winners.  This means one of two things.  The first possibility is that there were no applications for the other 5 categories.  The second is that those that did apply were not of a sufficiently high standard to merit an award.  Let’s watch out for how many categories return a winner this year.

  1. Food tourism reliables endure

Even those with only a passing interest in food tourism would expect to find award categories such as Best Foodie Destination, Best Food Service Experience, Best Tour and Best Farm or Market Experience.  Interestingly, Best Tour is sub-divided into two awards categories – one for land-based tours and one for water-based tours.  The growth in popularity of cruises and the variety and quality of food options now offered by cruise operators sees it recognized as a distinctive component of this tourism sector.

  1. New categories embed themselves

The category line-up gives due weighting to the emerging areas of innovation in food tourism.   Best Retail or Grocery Experience is a category often overlooked, yet one in consistent growth and one which can overlap and encompass all other categories.  Best Cooking Experience, Best Event Experience and Best Foodie Lodging are also noteworthy – they recognize fine innovations in visitor experience emanating from enterprises whose core business may not be either food or tourism.  We can expect more from these ‘less-traditional’ sectors in the coming years.

  1. ‘Food Tourism’ does not just mean food

The Food Trekking Awards website does state “when we say ‘food’ as in ‘food tourism’, beverages are automatically included”.   However, this is not logical nor intuitive.   There’s a challenge for the food tourism industry to come up with a term that is adequately descriptive and inclusive of both food and drinks.  I say that without judgement as I encountered this challenge myself during 2017 and did not manage to identify a better solution.  There are two drinks awards categories for 2018: Best Wine Experience and Best Beer Experience.  Developments in the product categories of whiskey, gin and even coffee might lead us to expect the inclusion of a specific award for other beverages in future years.  In fact, thinking of all the possibilities in the beverage part of the food tourism industry, it’s not inconceivable that Beverage Tourism will emerge as an entirely distinct sub-sector.

  1. Food writers and food influencers continue to exert influence

So there’s the food and drink itself.  Then there’s the experience that it delivers to the visitor.  And then there are those who review, critique and recommend.  It’s good to see two categories (Best Food/Beverage Travel Media Professional and Best Food/Beverage Travel Blogger) dedicated to these key influencers.  Their prominent inclusion highlights to anyone involved in food tourism ‘on-the-ground’ how critically important they are for their business success.  It also highlights the key role they play in communicating highly innovative and appealing experiences to the wider world.  In food tourism terms, they are almost as important as the product itself. 

  1. Technology becomes recognised as an important factor

This is the only new category for 2018, referring to any type of technology tool or product specifically related to the world of food travel.  The nominations for this category are likely to be very interesting.  As in all other spheres of our rapidly changing world, we know that technology will continue to grow in importance.  We just don’t always know in what ways and we continue to learn as it unfolds before us every day.  All that can be said is ‘Watch this space’!   

  1. Best Foodie Destination Experience

This is always the category that I anticipate the most.  It’s quite an accolade to be named the Best Foodie Destination Experience.  It’s also quite a responsibility for the judges to select one!  The winner of such a category would need to demonstrate a collection of exceptional, world-class experiences in order to merit the title.  The bringing together of these experiences, their ability to work together, collaborate, tell a story and guarantee an experience that’s greater than the individual parts should be the distinguishing features.  One would expect criteria around sustainable development, inclusive strategic planning community engagement and cultural integrity to play an important part in winner selection.  A tall order indeed!  In fact the themes of sustainability, engagement and inclusion and culture would well warrant award categories on their own, recognizing the very unique position of food and drink products in achieving thriving place-based tourism.

Even awards you don’t win or wouldn’t consider yourself eligible for can be informative for the development of your food or drink tourism experience.  The selection of categories, even before the selection of winners, highlights key trends and developments in the sector.  In a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to ponder the actual winners, hear how they distinguished themselves in their categories, understand which criteria elevated them above their peers and what the rest of the industry can learn from those deemed to be ‘Globally Best-in-Class’ for 2018.


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