Long (2004) defines culinary tourism as ‘the intentional, exploratory participation in the foodways of another, participation including the consumption, preparation and presentation of a food item, cuisine, meal system, or eating style considered to belong to a culinary system not one’s own’ (para. 2). In contrast to sightseeing, she continues:
Culinary tourism, utilising the senses of taste, smell, touch, and vision, offers a deeper, more integrated level of experience. It engages one’s physical being, not simply as an observer, but as a participant as well. (para. 3)
Green and Daugherty (2008) believe that culinary tourism provides communities with a mechanism to herald their cultural heritage while providing quality food and dining experiences and promoting place-based economic development. The World Tourism Organization’s (WTO) (2012) characterization of food tourism as sustainable indicates concurrence. They clarify by stating:
It is not so much about creating in order to attract, but rather attracting visitors to participate in the destination’s own cultural reality, well explained and interpreted, through cuisine, local products and all the services and activities that surround them. (p. 11)
The fact that culinary tourism can take place in restaurants, on farms, at farmers markets or other venues suggests that the tourism infrastructure to support culinary attractions is likely to be dispersed among many sites. This may facilitate a local entrepreneur-driven system characterized by a broad distribution of the benefits of the enterprises. According to the WTO’s Global Report on Food Tourism (2012), it positively impacts the local economy, employment and cultural heritage ‘as tourists seek to know not only the local food but its origin and production processes’ (p. 9).
Tourist decisions on where to travel can be influenced by food experiences and unique dining opportunities (WTO, 2012). This is true in both domestic and foreign tourist markets. Christopher L. Thompson, President and CEO of Brand USA, a private marketing firm that promotes the USA as a travel destination, was recently quoted as saying, ‘We’ve recognised culinary as a real driver of tourism, with all the diversity that the United States offers. It is becoming one of the reasons that people are coming to the United States’ (Associated Press, 2015). Thompson also indicated that drawing visitors ‘to smaller towns and rural areas that also have food stories to tell’ is part of Brand USA’s goal, which reinforces the opportunities for culinary tourism for communities small and large.