The Future of the UNWTO’s Gastronomy Tourism Initiatives

World Tourism Organization
Deputy Chief, Regional Support Office for Asia and the Pacific
Hiroko Suzuki

According to a survey by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in recent years, the number of tourists who prioritize experiencing the regional lifestyles and cultures of their destination by enjoying the local cuisine is increasing at around the same rate as those who visit tourist hotspots. These tourists have a strong desire for authenticity and tend to consume more than the average tourists.

Gastronomy tourism is defined as “A form of tourism that aims to experience the local culinary culture and to enjoy food nurtured by the ingredients, culture, customs, traditions and history created by the local climate.”

In today’s post-COVID-19 society, overtourism and other tourism issues prior to the pandemic have made initiatives for the SDGs more important, while awareness of the importance of sustainable tourism—in terms of the economy, society, culture and environment—is gradually increasing. Gastronomy tourism is closely linked to the local natural environment, agriculture and culture. Further, gastronomy tourism, which anyone can participate and which contribute to participants’ health and happiness, can be considered an effective way for achieving sustainable tourism.

Moreover, the origins of many types of cuisine can be found in the local history and culture. Food is therefore an ideal contents to highlight a region’s characteristics, and can be one of the great pleasures of travel. In a survey conducted by the Japan Tourism Agency, the primary attraction for foreign tourists visiting Japan was “eating Japanese food”, while in sixth place was “drinking Japanese sake”.

As a result of the above, local governments around Japan are proactively engaging in gastronomy tourism initiatives to achieve regionaldevelopment.

The UNWTO lists the following five reasons for the focus on gastronomy tourism: (1) It is an effective way for regions to differentiate themselves; (2) it can provide visitors new values and experiences; (3) it can be initiated even in regions with few tourism resources; (4) it is conducive to tell regional stories; and (5) it promotes tourists to revisit.

Below are three initiatives led by the UNWTO for gastronomy tourism.

The first is a report that the UNWTO published in 2019 called Gastronomy Tourism – The Case of Japan. This report features 18 excellent examples of gastronomy tourism activities in Japan. The report follows a survey of Japan’s 1,741 municipalities, of which 584 responded. It shows that gastronomy tourism activities in Japan are more comprehensively focused on sustainable regional development and collaboration with agriculture than tourism promotion activities, and that public-private partnerships are more actively pursued than in other countries.

Second, also in 2019, the UNWTO published the Guidelines for the Development of Gastronomy Tourism to support regions that are beginning their own gastronomy tourism activities. These are a set of practical guidelines for governments, local governments, DMOs, and other tourism organizations seeking to develop gastronomy tourism in their respective regions. It features issues to consider when planning and operating gastronomy tourism, as well as required actions and other recommendations.

Third, the UNWTO hosts an annual international meeting known as the Gastronomy Tourism World Forum in many countries around the world. The venue for the forum to be held in 2022 is Nara.

In addition to communicating the diverse and cutting-edge gastronomy tourism activities in Nara Prefecture, the Kansai region, and the whole of Japan to the rest of the world, I look forward to the forum creating connections between producers, businesses and locals, promoting physical and mental health and happiness, and contributing to achieve a sustainable society.

World Tourism Organization Deputy Chief, Regional Support Office for Asia and the Pacific
Hiroko Suzuki