We're still using the term food tourism (and food travel). However, the time has come to offer a simpler definition of "food travel." What do we really mean when we say "food travel" or "food tourism"?
"Food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place."
As our industry is rapidly evolving, professionals, academics and others continue to put forward their own definitions of food tourism, culinary tourism and gastronomy tourism (these phrases are synonyms, as we explain below). Also as explained below, traveling a certain distance or overnighting in a lodging property is often required by some organizations for the activity to be regarded as "tourism." But that ignores any locals who travel across a city for a new food or beverage product or experience. Some people don't believe beverages should be included in "food tourism." Some people find the use of "food" too banal, and prefer culinary tourism or gastronomy tourism. For others, they think of gourmet or agricultural offerings, when they hear the word "food." These are overly complicated attempts to explain the simplest concept, "Food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place." You can always dissect the definition further, but there is simply no easier way to explain the act of traveling to experience unique food and beverage products and experiences. Simple is always best.
We stopped using "culinary tourism" to describe our industry in 2012 because our research indicated that it gave a misleading impression. While "culinary" technically can be used for anything relating to food and drink and initially seemed to make good sense, the perception among the majority of English-speakers we interviewed is that the word "culinary" is elitist. Nothing could be further from the truth about what our industry and our Association are all about. So we introduced the term "food tourism," which is still the overarching term we use today. "Food Tourism" includes the full range of experiences, from food carts and street vendors, to the locals-only (gastro)pubs, dramatic wineries, or one-of-a-kind restaurants. There is something for everyone in the food tourism industry.
We say "food tourism," but drinking beverages is an implied and associated activity. It is also cumbersome to say "food and drink tourism."
In the earliest days of our industry, we defined food tourism as "The pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near." (Erik Wolf, Executive Director, Culinary Tourism: A Tasty Economic Proposition, 2001). This was our industry's first white paper that explained what food tourism is and how it can benefit industry stakeholders.
We need to clarify "far and near." In addition to traveling across country or the world to eat or drink, we can also be food travelers in our own regions, cities and neighborhoods. If you rarely leave your neighborhood and travel across town to a new neighborhood to go to a specialty grocery store or to eat out, we would also consider you a "food traveler". The act of traveling is implied because most people travel at least across their own town, if not the region, the country and even the planet. To us, the distance covered is not as important as the fact that we are always on the move. We are all "travelers" of a sort and we are all "eaters." Therefore, we can also all be regarded as "food travelers." For many organizations and tourism offices, the definition of "tourism" needs to include traveling a certain distance (often 80 km/50 mi) or spending at least one night in a lodging property. For us, this approach presents a serious limitation to how we view and define food tourism.
After the above-mentioned white paper was published and while our industry was still young, we used the phrase "culinary tourism" to describe our industry.