The evolution of tourism has given rise to different forms of tourism. This has helped in diversifying the tourism product through the identification of new niche markets. When people decide to travel, destination choice is influenced by a variety of reasons. While some people prefer traditional vacations, some are influenced by the adventure of trying something new. Gastro-tourism can be defined as travel undertaken solely to experience authentic and memorable culinary experiences. The combination of culinary travel with other forms of tourism has boosted the development of gastro-tourism. In most cases, gastro tourists connect to local people through food and drinks, which places them among top boosters of local economies but sadly this widely unexplored segment of tourism and many others alike continue to underperform. This essay will summarize some of the key issues discussed by the #sttachangemakers regarding gastro-tourism development in Africa, trends driving its growth, stakeholders, and ways in which African destinations can optimize the growth of this form of tourism.
Is gastro-tourism an opportunity for Africa?
Gastro-tourism development in Africa is slow and inhibited by frail support from key players in the tourism industry. Notably, the popularity of the safari experience in African destinations has resulted in the fear of destinations trying out new ventures in the tourism markets. However, the presence of the rich African culture and heritage provides an unexplored niche and offering for gastro- tourism. The rise of gastro tourism has created a demand for the taste of local and authentic food while enjoying a destination’s hospitality- this forms part of the authentic travel experience. More importantly, according to gastro gatherings, our “authentic regional food becomes the destination for gastro tourists”; thus, making our diversity in culture more rich and perfect for Gastro tourism. Such an example is in the South African food and wine scenes which have gained popularity among gastro-tourists; thus promoting it as a culinary tourism destination even for international travellers. However, for gastro tourists, the experience deeply depends on its packaging. #sttachangemakers share the sentiment that gastro-tourism is an opportunity for Africa because the diversity of culture presents an opportunity for gastronomy that offers culinary wonders for food-loving travelers. Being a new market segment, it is a way that helps in diversifying the tourism product. Besides, the diversity and stories behind the diverse African cultural cuisines can be packaged in a way that creates unique and interesting gastronomy experiences for the food travelers.
Trends driving interest in gastro-tourism in Africa
Travel like any other sector in the modern world is driven by emerging consumer trends. Food experiences are a great way for people to interact and bond while away from home. This has inspired the emergence of new consumer trends that influence the development of new forms of tourism. Wellness travel is one of the trends driving gastro-tourism. This segment of consumers is characterized by travelers who seek special meal plans and diets that are of nutritional value. This encourages travel planners to make these experiences interesting and memorable. Moreover, eased planning for the gastro-tourists enables them to find clusters of gastro-activities within their reach.
This segment has largely been associated with millennials who perceive food as an adventure hence taking preference in alternative eating places and fining dining for the memories. Also, millennial foodies like to share food with local people and learn how to ‘eat like locals. This is attributed to the love for street or market food, the growing interest in watching the food preparation process, and cooking lessons. Through these experiences, travelers can connect and create memorable experiences through food and drink.
Immersive travel is another trend that is driving interest in gastro-tourism. Today’s gastro tourist wants to do and not only to see by cooking own meals with professional local chefs which is more memorable. Technological advancements have also led to the creation of platforms for content creation where celebrity chefs, gastro tourists and bloggers share their experiences and learn on different cultures hence creating the much-needed awareness for an untapped market. Vegan on the map, a travel agency specializing on vegan tours, is already making inroads to the continent, with listings for vegan trips from Uganda, Kenya and Madagascar. A core component for these trips is the vegan menu available at the sites. Cultural food festivals are another trend that drive the growth of gastro-tourism, an example of Morocco and South Africa wine and food festivals.
Key Stakeholders in gastro-tourism in Africa
Stakeholders play an important role in tourism development. They can be categorized as primary and secondary stakeholders. Some of the three identified primary stakeholders in gastro-tourism involve; the gastro-tourists and loyal local visitors who enjoy travel experiences. The hosts of gastro-businesses are other key stakeholders who are the sole custodians of local recipes. Last is the developers who fund and support tourism initiatives for local tourism providers.
How can Africa optimize gastro-tourism?
All destinations have unique food and beverage cultures to share. The difference lies in how destinations put up efforts to leverage opportunities and trends. Gastro-tourism being a great opportunity for the tourism industry in Africa should be optimized for improved and better benefits. Besides, this serves to deal with seasonality in tourism as well as the ever-changing consumerism trends.
Some of the ways in which gastro-tourism can be optimized in Africa as identified by the #sttachangemakers include; First, African governments should develop favorable policies for new market entrants especially for local food vendors and small investors; because current licensing policies are discriminatory against new market entrants. Another way to optimize gastro-tourism in Africa is for Hotels in traditional tourism destinations to collaborate with host communities/ residents and create clusters of local food experiences that their guests can sample. Third, tourism boards across the continent should promote and provide support for street food vendors to enhance its opportunities for this form of tourism in the African markets. Another way of optimizing gastro-tourism development is to encourage destinations to promote the recognition of local gastronomy as a cultural heritage to strengthen the culinary identity and gastronomy of the destination. Gastronomic branding can also help in the optimization of gastro-tourism, where destinations can develop authentic stories behind their gastronomy.
For Gastro tourism to work, it requires a multi-stakeholder approach. African gastronomy which is conspicuously missing in hospitality training should be added to ensure traditional cuisines are immortalized. DMOs and governments on their part should invest in basic infrastructure, an organized and marketed unique brand and continuous feedback processes that track tourist and stakeholder satisfaction to create intimate and authentic experiences.
Contribution by Guest Writers Nyamweya Doreen Moraa and Wanjiru Dominic