Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is Culinary Tourism?

A recent survey of international travel by the World Tourism Organisation revealed that in 2007 more than 903 million international tourists travelled worldwide and they spent a staggering 8.6 trillion Rands. To put this number in perspective, it is five times the total GDP of South Africa. So there is little dispute that tourism is a huge factor in the global economy and ultimately has a direct positive impact on the economies of smaller communities such as Prince Albert. A growing feature of the travel market is culinary tourism. The Friend asked our own Jeremy Freemantle to give our readers an idea of what this means for our town.

The generic definition of tourism is travel for recreational or leisure purposes. The World Tourism Organisation defines tourists as people who "travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited".

Culinary Tourism is valued by tourism industry professionals as one of the most popular niches in the world's tourism industry. This makes sense, given recent consumer focus on healthy and organic eating, culinary/food pedigrees, and the simple fact that all travellers must eat. Not every visitor goes shopping or visits museums, but all travellers eat. According to the International Culinary Tourism Association, culinary tourism is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences and is considered a subset of cultural tourism (cuisine is a manifestation of culture). Culinary tourism is about what is "unique and memorable, not what is necessarily pretentious and exclusive".

The international boom in food related TV and the rise of the celebrity chef have brought about a new consciousness regarding food and cooking. There is a growing appreciation of the need to protect the environment by eating local and seasonal produce and thus reducing the carbon footprint of food production, eating healthily is very much a new lifestyle choice and there is a growing fascination for and a desire to learn about different food cultures. The recreational cook is a new persona, who has emerged from the dark recesses of culinary oppression and stereotypes, where women cooked, men ate and children pushed their Brussel sprouts around the plate desperately trying to hide them. The new society is much more enlightened with men moving into the kitchen a lot more, creating innovative food and shedding the label of braai master. Women are braaiing masterfully and children are still looking to hide those Brussels sprouts. Cooking is a necessity and whereas for some it has always been a drudge, it can be fun, relaxing and an expression of creativity and innovation. Gone are the days when the kitchen was just a room at the other end of the house, it is now the core and social hub of the home.

The culture of any community is deeply rooted in their food, how they prepare it, and when they eat it. Every culture has its own unique traditions, customs and methods of preparation, cultivation and consumption and there is a rich and fascinating history attached to the cuisines of the world, their evolvement and significance in societies. It is this that culinary travellers seek to learn more about and to experience. The sharing of food and hospitality is a universal indicator of friendship and what better way to learn about a foreign culture than through food and culinary customs. Prince Albert is certainly rich in this regard and there is no doubt that visitors are all the richer for having enjoyed what this town has to offer.

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