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Published on Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Even “accidental” tourists have appetite for new culinary tour trend

A growing number of tourists say they are deliberate culinary travelers, but a substantial number of others identify themselves as “accidentally” participating in food and wine activities simply because they are available.

Interest in the culinary travel market continues to grow, as evidenced by data from 2,364 American leisure travelers and co-sponsored by Gourmet magazine, the Travel Industry Association and the International Culinary Tourism Association.

A whopping 60% of US leisure travelers say they're interested in participating in such activities as cooking classes and winery tours, visiting farmer's markets and attending food and wine festivals while on vacation.

“Culinary tourism has reached the tipping point as a niche and an industry," said Erik Wolf, president and CEO of the International Culinary Tourism Association, in a statement that accompanied the survey.

Forty-six percent in the survey were deliberate “foodie” travelers, while another 26% were the accidental tourists

Another ingredient—and perhaps more concrete evidence—of the trend is the rising booked business of tour operators that are either solely or partially devoted to the market segment.

Industry observers see a significant upturn in culinary tour bookings over the last three years. It’s becoming common to expand the burgeoning business.

Why is interest in culinary travel reaching its boiling point? Industry watchers point to two possible reasons.

First could be the success of the Food Network and its spread of celebrity chefs, whose successes have bubbled over from the kitchen to TV and magazines. In addition, as clients travel the world more, they look for different takes on their favorite destinations.

"We have a lot of experienced travelers in the world right now, and a lot of people have been to Tuscany, so there's something about going back and approaching it from a different angle," said Steve Snapp, creative director for Classic Journeys, a California-based operator that offers worldwide culinary tours.

People learning to cook and their counterparts tend to be younger travelers, falling into the 35 to 54 age bracket; more affluent, spending $1,194 per trip ($425 of which goes to food-related activities); and better educated (44% of those surveyed graduated college or did post-graduate work, according to the report).

The concept of culinary tourism is also being revamped and expanded. Observers cite as an example the Meritage Resort at Napa.

“Napa Valley is recognized internationally as a destination for two types of travelers: leisure and group business,” said Sean Dempsey, director of food and beverage for Meritage.

Besides availing patrons of events celebrating local vintners, Siena also showcases use of natural, local ingredients from the Napa Valley’s agricultural community.

Said Jeffrey L. Longenecker, Executive Chef: “In my opinion, it is the availability of ultra premium, local, artisan ingredients that make the Napa Valley a one-of-a-kind epicurean destination.”

The place features various special events such as a Bounty of Food holiday presentation next Thanksgiving to appeal to both locals and visitors, he added.

Report by David Wilkening

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