It’s been five years since Tourism Australia launched its Restaurant Australia campaign to raise awareness of the fabulous food and dining experiences on offer throughout the country. Since then food and wine spend has grown by more than $1 billion, or nearly 25 per cent, and now accounts for one in every five dollars spent by international tourists in Australia. So far the campaign has included a sold out ten-week pop-up from one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma, at Barangaroo in Sydney in 2016 with an Australian menu created by head chef René Redzepi and his team, and hosting the World’s 50 Best Restaurant event in Melbourne last year, which attracted top chefs from across the planet.
The campaign also encourages social media users to tag #restaurantaustralia in their posts. But there is still plenty of potential for Australian restaurants to further capitalise on their offerings and attract food tourists, according to food and tourism marketing expert Holly Galbraith.
Galbraith has convened the inaugural Destination Food conference being held in Sydney on May 21 to draw attention to the opportunity. “Food tourism has several names, from culinary tourism to gastronomy tourism, wine tourism and I’m sure many more, but they are essentially all the same thing,” she says. “My favourite definition comes from Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance who say food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about, appreciates and/or consumes food and drink that reflects the local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture.
“Tourism Australia has really led the way in making the Australian hospitality and tourism industry think seriously about its food and beverage offerings to visitors in recent times with the launch of the Restaurant Australia campaign in 2013, which came off the back of some serious research showing that out of people who had never visited Australia only 26 per cent associated the destination with good food and wine offerings, however, after they had experienced Australia, our food and wine experiences were ranked much higher, at 60 per cent.”
It’s not to say that destinations weren’t offering food and beverage experiences prior to Restaurant Australia, Galbraith says, but many weren’t taking it seriously enough as a key driver for visitation and realising how awesome the experiences really were. “Restaurant Australia made us take note of our food and beverage experiences and really we are only partway into showcasing these,” she says.
Galbraith says Australia has some amazing food offerings, especially in higher-end restaurants and when it comes to gourmet food experiences. “We also have some fantastic bespoke food tours, like selecting, shucking and eating oysters straight from the ocean at an oyster farm or creating our personal blend of wine,” she says. “Australia does and showcases high end food and wine experiences extremely well. The other thing Australia does well which contributes to its great food scene in general is we have high quality produce. From seafood to meat, nuts, olives, grapes and other fruit and vegetables, this fresh produce is where many of our great experiences begin.”
Research from the 2016 World Food Travel Association Food Travel Monitor report shows culinary tourists are more likely to drink local beers and local wines while travelling, more likely to consider food and drink when selecting a destination, more likely to share their travel experiences on social media and more likely to believe food and drink experiences help in understanding local culture.
It’s important, Galbraith believes, for restaurants to showcase food and wine from the region in which they lie. “Sails Noosa is a great example,” she says. “Its menu really reflects the flavours of the place in which it is situated.” It includes Mooloolaba tuna tostaditos, grilled Mooloolaba prawns, caramelized Kingaroy pork belly, hinterland zucchini flowers and a local fig salad.
Galbraith says restaurants should work together to improve their reputation as a foodie travel destination. “Don’t necessarily try to do what everyone else is doing, because if it doesn’t make sense for your destination it’s going to be pretty obvious and ultimately it won’t be sustainable and it won’t succeed in the long-term,” she says.
Australia can also learn from what other destinations around the world are doing, such as storytelling and regions becoming famous for certain things and owning it. Restaurants, destinations and food tourism providers need to understand what makes them unique, because that is what is going to attract people. It may be tapping into their life experiences and stories or the stories of the places in which they operate.
Over time, Galbraith believes destinations will become better at defining their sense of place through food. “We’ll see more food and tourism operators working together to offer accessible and well-rounded in destination food tourism experiences,” she says. “We need to understand that when we attract a food tourist, sure they want food experiences but they are also likely to participate in other major travel activities too.”
Galbraith says the world is only just waking up the amazing food experiences Australia offers and Australia is only at the beginning of defining its sense of place through food. “We will continue to see growth in restaurants developing stronger relationships with local suppliers and showcasing this produce on our menus,” she says. “In turn, this then allows suppliers to experiment with different food offerings and find markets for these and then offer these to visitors directly. As we continue to have discussions about food tourism we’ll further expand what we think food tourism is and understand the value of food tourists. It’s so exciting when we start to think about the opportunities for food tourism in Australia and the ability we have to create and showcase experiences that are accessible to everyone.”