Why food tourism should be on everyone’s lips

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

On 4 March 2020, Scotland’s new tourism strategy ‘Scotland: Outlook 2030’ was launched to a packed SEC room of around 500 tourism businesses, suppliers to industry, public sector organisations and business leaders at the Scottish Tourism Alliance annual conference.

The First Minister took to the stage to endorse the strategy; the excitement and ambition for what Scotland’s tourism industry could collectively achieve as a sector was felt by all – the atmosphere upbeat, so much to look forward to, a new journey to take and a bold strategy to act as the roadmap to get us there. Our vision – ‘Scotland – we will be the world leaders in 21st century tourism’.

Coronavirus was starting to fill the newspaper pages, the threat still felt slightly peripheral. But within days of the launch of that strategy, Scotland was locked down, our tourism businesses at a standstill for what we thought might be three weeks at the time.

Well, we all know now, that became the longest three weeks…

One of the key elements embedded within Scotland’s tourism strategy for 2030 was the delivery of the industry-led Food Tourism Scotland Action Plan, setting out a range of actions to maximise the potential of two of Scotland’s most successful sectors – tourism and food and drink.

That plan was developed by Scotland Food & Drink and Scottish Tourism Alliance with the aim of unlocking Scotland’s food tourism growth potential to secure an extra £1 billion spend on local food and drink.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on both our tourism and food and drink sectors, exacerbated of course by Brexit. However, both are powered by resilience, passionate people and a will to find new, different and better ways of doing things, particularly in a crisis.

With international travel on hold at the moment, resulting in a major loss of revenue for food tourism; the STA, Scotland Food & Drink, VisitScotland and businesses the length and breadth of the country have been vocal in communicating a key message for recovery. Support local and view what’s on your doorstep (and beyond) as a tourist would, seeking out the hidden treasures and joys of history, heritage, culture, food and drink, shopping and experiences.

It’s an opportunity in a crisis; we’ve been telling the world for years just how wonderful our places and provenance are. This has been a chance to experience for ourselves everything we’ve been telling everyone else.

With restrictions easing further, the opportunity to put Scotland’s food tourism offering front of mind for our domestic and (hopefully soon) international markets has returned. Just this month, following a public appeal, 25 new Regional Food Tourism Ambassadors from the many different sectors of Scotland’s vibrant food and drink industry have been selected to promote and champion our sector and experiences and elevate Scotland’s position as a global food tourism destination.

The ambassadors, who will officially be announced in September, will provide a much-needed boost after what has been an acutely challenging time and play a key part in rebuilding our food, hospitality and tourism industry. They’ll also support recovery in their regions by shaping sustainable food tourism experiences which will grow local economies within these destinations.

Food tourism is of course hot on the lips of every international destination; it’s a concept which enables a country to showcase the very best of what it offers in terms of its natural assets, varied destinations and visitor experiences, all wrapped up in its provenance.

Defined by the World Food Travel Association as ‘The act of travelling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place’, food tourism is no longer a ‘nice to do’, it plays a vital part in attracting visitors and nowadays, can make or break a decision on whether to visit a destination (in times when we’re allowed to travel of course!).

So, looking not too far away from home, what can we take some inspiration from? Who’s doing the food tourism concept really, really well?

Emma and Graeme Clark run Glenegedale House, a five-star, award-winning guest house in Islay. Both are passionate about giving their guests the best possible experience of the island, not only through the wealth of activities and access to some of the most stunning natural assets in the world, but by gently connecting visitors to the island through its food and drink. Making that connection goes beyond just having a great experience, it connects visitors to the destination’s people and this is where the sweet spot of food tourism lies – the joy of culinary experiences rooted in emotional connections to the people behind them.

Emma talks passionately about why locally sourced food and drink has become a fundamental part of what they do.

“Food tourism… it’s such a huge thing and to be honest always has been, however I think we all now see the importance of it more clearly. The road to recovery will take time but we can speed this process up in many ways for different businesses. Here at Glenegedale House, we always have focused on creating experiences for our guests which make their holiday and time here more memorable and helps them make memories to treasure forever, or at least until they return to make more.

“The use of local produce and the stories behind our suppliers and their produce we serve to our guests makes everything more special. Scotland has the best larder in the world and our produce makes the best of chefs envious; we need to utilise this to the best of our abilities. It makes the guests feel good about what they are eating as not only is it the very best of our amazing larder but we can trace every morsel on their plate and tell you where and when it was landed, caught, grown or foraged. Enviro-tourism goes hand in hand with this as guests truly are thinking back to the sustainability of their food which allows them to gain more enjoyment from each mouthful.

“For us personally, using local produce and creating an experience out of every meal we serve whether that is breakfast, a picnic lunch or our amazing evening meals and seafood or game platters make us feel proud when we walk out the kitchen with each and every plate. Pride turns to happiness and our dining room is alive with energy, an all-round happy holiday feel and chat. You can’t help but smile and enjoy.

“Food tourism is playing a huge part in our recovery. We have upscaled our meals, drinks lists and wine list and in return our recovery is happening faster than we dreamed possible. Our suppliers are also so grateful for our increased spend.

“Our seafood platters are out of this world, with the lobster, langoustine and crab all landed five miles away at 5pm and on the plate at 7pm. The scallops are hand dived for at noon and with us by 2pm, again eaten that evening.

“Our picnics are all made up of local goodies and homemade savouries and treats and given in a beautiful basket with a little note of magical places to find and enjoy your picnic. Our three-course meals all have a huge focus on our local Islay larder and then further afield to Argyll and Scotland.”

Collaboration is of course key to Scotland growing a food tourism offering like no other and requires many different organisations coming together to make it happen; hoteliers, restaurateurs, bars, visitor attractions, farm shops, retailers, wholesalers and producers all have a role to play in being ambassadors.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Chair of the Food Tourism Board Marc Crothall said: “To achieve our collective tourism vision, it requires business and destinations across Scotland to be promoting and delivering the very best unique, authentic, memorable food tourism experiences; more than ever, people are looking to make the connection between food and the destination, to get that real sense and taste of place.

“Producer and supplier stories bring it all to life and help build that instant connection with the visitor audience, so it’s important, particularly as we move towards Scotland’s themed year, the Year of Storytelling 2022 that we use this as an opportunity to share Scotland’s amazing food stories with the world.”

Fiona Richmond, Head of Regional Food, Scotland Food & Drink, and food tourism project lead, said: “Whilst the world has turned upside down since the national plan was launched, our ambition for Scotland to be a leading light in food tourism has not. We would love businesses to stay close to our plans and work with us on food tourism development. It’s vital that they continue to develop their capacity to meet visitor demand for gastronomic experiences by, for example, sourcing locally; telling producer stories; connecting with their nearest regional food group; training staff on provenance and developing events, itineraries and experiences that put local food and drink at their heart”

Food for more than thought – it seems we all have a role to play in putting Scotland firmly on the map as one of the most exciting food tourism destinations in the world. The opportunity is ours and there for the taking.

Find out more about Scotland’s Food Tourism Action Plan at scottishtourismalliance.co.uk/food-tourism

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