Food tourism has gradually become the primary reason for people to travel, experts say
Macau Business | December 2022 | Special Report | Macau as Creative City of Gastronomy
Food tourists are generally referred to as those who choose a food experience as one of the two primary purposes of their visit, according to a definition accepted by several experts.
Others define food tourism as “visitation to primary and secondary food producers, food festivals, restaurants and specific locations for which food tasting and/or experiencing the attributes of specialist food production region are the primary motivating factors for travel,” connecting this to terms like culinary tourism, cuisine tourism, and gastronomic tourism. Culinary tourism, for instance, is defined as ‘tourism experiences involving purchasing and consuming local foods and their production experiences as the main motivation and activity’.
“The variety of such terms illustrates that food tourism involves many types of food-related experiences while traveling. By combining the above definitions and discussions, food tourism can be understood as meaning to taste, consume, and experience the unique cuisine of a particular tourism destination. Motivation of travel should be included to understand the concept of food tourism,” explain Penny Wan and Suh-hee Choi, both from the School of Tourism Management, at Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM).
Several research projects on this topic have been conducted in Macau in recent years.
One of the most recent, co-authored by Irini Tang, Faculty of International Tourism and Management, City University of Macau, concluded that “the homogenization of tourism is very serious. Diversified tourism can not only bring meaningful tourism experience to tourists, but also make the development of tourism more sustainable. As a part of interest tourism, food tourism has gradually become the first choice for people to travel.”
Food and tourist experiences: Insights from Macau (2019), authored by Sandeep Basnyat and I Tong Elvi Ho, IFTM, found that “most tourists recognized that eating local food in their traveling destination create memorable experiences for them. For them food created memorable traveling experiences in three distinct ways: a) by becoming a part of traveling; b) localizing experiences, and c) creating memories.”
This research paper also showed that “tourists enjoyed eating, and for many of them eating was an essential routine while traveling, and automatically become a part of their traveling. Some tourists even liked to travel solely for the purpose of trying different foods.”
Basnyat and Ho end their findings stating that “promoting Macau as an authentic food-tourism destination may not only help in the realization of the government’s plan but also provide additional avenues for the hospitality marketing professional for promoting their products.”
In addition, research from Penny Wan and Suh-hee Choi (Food Tourists and Food Image in a Creative City of Gastronomy in Macao, China) showed that “images of Portuguese and Macanese foods were weaker than those of Cantonese and restaurants, implying that the former unique cultural food elements are not so strongly perceived by the visitors in general.”
This research also showed that “Importantly, those who visited more often and more frequently had a significantly stronger image of Portuguese and Macanese food; on the other hand, the images of Cantonese food and restaurants did not differ by the number and frequency of visit.”
“A holistic destination brand for Macau”
“There is surely a place for Macanese cuisine in tourism,” states Ubaldino Couto the Macanese scholar who is coordinator for Tourism Event Management programmes at IFTM.
However, adds Mr Couto to Macau Business, “it is necessary to reflect its role within tourism, and to a wider extent, the role of food in tourism. For instance, are there tourists who travel to Macau solely or mainly for food? Is food only peripheral on the tourist’s bucket list? How about Macanese food? Is it a must-do item?”
For Professor Couto, it is important to know how cuisines in many other Cities of Gastronomy evolved, keeping the core elements of the food, such as the ingredients and taste.
“What changed was the presentation and how the dishes are served. For example, it is possible to go to an award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurant to enjoy authentic Sichuan food in hipster décor restaurant in city centre Chengdu – or in one of the integrated resorts in Macau – serving mouth-watering home food but presented in such grandeur and sophistication.”
That’s why, “while we are busy thinking about conserving and preserving Macanese cuisine, it is also worthwhile to think a step ahead and consider how the future goes,” understands the Professor at School of Hospitality Management.
Considering that “it is crucial to construct a holistic destination brand for Macau which consists of different components, working independently but also synergising benefits and effort,” Professor Couto concludes his conversation with Macau Business: “In Macau’s case, food tourism is obviously a critical component of Macau’s tourism strategy and Macanese cuisine should be well positioned within Macau’s food tourism strategy along with other food offerings we have in Macau.”