Food, everyone needs it, yet not everyone has a similar connection to it. Where some people only see it as a way to fuel their body, others view cooking and eating as a social event which should be fully enjoyed. Also the way food is prepared differs from place to place, and this is why this can be of interest for tourism purposes. Since food is different all over the world, creating a place where tourists can participate in the preparation of local food can really add to the tourism experience. But since dishes are mainly made up of natural resources, these are necessary to be protected so that future visitors will still be able to enjoy the experience of preparing the food with the local community.
But first, what is food tourism actually?
A definition given by Hall and Mitchell (2001, p.308) describes it well: food tourism is
visitation to primary and secondary food producers, food festivals, restaurants and specific locations for which food and tasting and/or experiencing the attributes of a specialist food production region are the primary motivating factors for travel
Basically what this means is that people travel for the specific purpose of consuming the food. This happens in quite large numbers for Thailand, with a survey done by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (Jitpaiboon, 2014) showing that 34% of tourists coming to Thailand see food as a critical reason for travelling to Thailand.
These large numbers of tourists coming to Thailand with the main reason of food consumption, will have an influence on the natural resources of the country and this can be both positive and negative.
Let’s see, the Positive and the Negative
The Positive side
Firstly, let’s discuss the positive influences of food tourism on the natural resources.
It is a good way to link the often agricultural background of rural communities with the interests of tourists about local food, especially with the recent emphasis which is put on “the conservation and maintenance of natural and cultural heritage” (Hall, Sharples, Mitchell, Macionis & Cambourne, 2003, p. 25). This agricultural background can come in handy, since the natural resources for the food tourism are already mostly available then. For example at a community in Thailand, called Baanrimklong, where the production of coconut sugar and syrup, and the harvesting of the coconut fruit is used as a way to create income from tourists, by both showing the process of making the coconut sugar and syrup, and also allowing the guests to try and make a traditional coconut dessert, still used on festive occasions like weddings.
The way food tourism can then help with the preservation of the natural resources is through the notion that tourists want to see the whole process, which means here that the coconut trees still need to be planted and preserved for future tourists. This same principle also goes for other communities who want to attract, and keep attracting, tourists. Because, when you keep what you have, you will be able to share this for more generations to come.
Research which has been done in 2 Danish national parks (Hjalager & Johansen, 2013), showed that food tourism is gaining more interest with tourists, but that it still received some doubts from the farmers in the area, because it meant giving up on other ways of making money. However, this niche market can increase the income in more than one way. Since not only will tourists come to prepare and eat the food, they might also want to buy the raw products to be able to recreate it at home. This means that money can not only be made from the finished products, but also from selling the raw products.
Food and sustainable tourism
There are several reasons why food can be helpful for sustainable tourism (Sims, 2009), but there are three main reasons:
- the multiplier effect, which allows not only the people involved in food tourism to benefit from the income, but also the rest of the community because they will re-spend their income within the community. This can be helped by understanding the spending behaviour of tourists, and what interests them from local produce(Skuras, Dimara & Petrou, 2006)
- buying local food will reduce the carbon footprint, because if food doesn’t have to be imported into the country, and local ingredients will be used for cooking, this means less transportation and thus a lower footprint.
- the competition of tourism destinations has led to the fact that they have to distinguish themselves through products and services. If a community has a special dish through which they can distinguish themselves from other communities, this will help them to become a more favourable destination.
The Negative side
Since there are not only positive sides to food tourism, the negative effects of food tourism on natural resources will also be touched upon in the following part.
One of the most obvious negative effects, is the overuse of natural resources for food production. Since food tourism is a way to make money, it is easy to understand that the natural resources can be used too much. A way this can happen is through mass tourism. If many tourists want to have a certain food, or visit a certain region, this will put a large burden on the natural resources of this region (Blaalid & Karadas, 2011). If this is not properly managed by the community or other party, this can mean the end of the natural resources of the region and with it the end of the income from these natural resources.
Another negative aspects of food tourism can be that it draws too much visitors to a region. If a region is unable to cope with this large number of tourists, it will ass pressure to a community and therefor also put pressure on the natural resources (Steinmetz, 2010).
So, what is the conclusion?
Other than the two quite similar negative aspects, it can be seen that there are far more possitive than negative aspects of food tourism. Therefor, it can be said that food tourism is a viable way to make sure natural resources are still available for future generations. Since rural areas can generate more income with the same resources, this is a win-win situation. The local community does not have to change their ways, and tourists can experience some of the local life, through the creation of dishes and perhaps also through buying the raw products. But, however nice this may seem, there are also some negative effects which should not be forgotten, with the most prominent one the overuse of the natural resources.
Therefore, it is important to keep a close eye on the amount of natural resources which are used, to make sure that future generations will also still be able to enjoy what we have today.
Blaalid, H. & Karadas, J. A. (2011). The Stavanger and Ryfylke Regions’ Potential as Food Tourism Destinations: Towards a Recipe for Succes. Retrieved from: https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/185123/Blaalid%2c%20Henriette%20og%20Karadas%2c%20Jan%20Azar.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Hall, C. M., Sharples, L., Mitchell, R., Macionis, N. & Cambourne, B. (2003). Food Tourism around the world. Oxford: Butterworth & Heinemann.
Hall, C. M. & Mitchell, R. (2001). Wine and food tourism. In N. Douglas, Douglas, N., Derrett, R (Ed.), Special interest tourism (pp 307-329). Brisbane: John Wiley and Sons.
Hjalager, A. & Johansen, P. H. (2013). Food tourism in protected areas – sustainability for producers, the environment and tourism? In journal of sustainable tourism 2013, vol. 21, no. 3. P. 417-433.
Jitpaiboon, J. (2014). Thai tourists choose choose destination based on food. Retrieved from: http://www.tatnews.org/thai-tourists-choose-destinations-based-on-food/
Sims, R. (2009). Food, place and authenticity: local food and the sustainable tourism experience. In journal of sustainable tourism 2009, vol. 17, no. 3. P. 321-336.
Skuras, D., Dimara, E. & Petrou, A. (2006). Rural Tourism and Visitors’ Expenditures for Local Food Products. In regional studies, vol. 40.7, p. 769-779.
Steinmetz, R. (2010). Food, Tourism and Destination Differentiation: The Case of Rotorua, New Zealand. Retrieved from: http://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10292/1090/SteinmetzR.pdf?sequence=3