Wednesday, April 24, 2024

ON THE RIGHT: Consistency needed to secure niche

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The Caribbean has long been attractive to those who seek sun, sea and sand. But sun, sea and sand no longer offer a competitive advantage. Too many destinations offer the same amenities, and consumers are more interested in acquiring unique and memorable experiences. New ways have to be found to lure tourists. One such way is through food, the growing niche market of culinary tourism.
Culinary tourism, which describes travellers who visit an area specifically for its food, is a growing tourism market that has the potential to generate millions of dollars in the economy.
It includes food festivals, cooking schools, wineries, restaurants, visits to farms (local markets), food shows, and epicurean retreats. This type of tourism, already popular in the restaurants of Vietnam, Thailand, Canada, and other nations, is growing in the Caribbean, but not at the rate of its potential.
Caribbean tourist destinations recognise the importance of food to Caribbean culture and the need to promote something more than the sun, sea and sand, but need to invest in creating a new niche for cultural tourism that can diversify their tourism product.
The variety of ethnic foods and the increase in the interest of different foods, allows for a perfect marriage of food and tourism in the Caribbean in the form of niche tourism marketing.
Culinary tourism became popular as the steady increase in interest in television offerings of food channels, travel shows featuring local and regional cuisine, food documentaries and online culinary travel shows and recipes, prompted more consumers to visit destinations specifically to avail themselves of new food and wine experiences.
It is clear that efforts to develop culinary tourism marketing have been made in the Caribbean islands that were the focus of this exploratory study. However, two gaps in these efforts were obvious: inconsistency in promotion and lack of clarity about what culinary tourism entails.
The lack of consistency was obvious from the type of information available on websites known to promote culinary travel activities and the link back to tourist agencies that could provide further information for potential travellers who visit such sites.
The lack of clarity became evident in the conversations with tourism officials. While some destinations have brought travel agents to their destinations and included culinary tourism in some promotional material, the culinary tourism products are not well defined and so the tourist coming to an island for the culinary experience might not receive the experience and amenities expected.
Culinary tourism holds tremendous potential for Caribbean tourism destinations, but there must be more than just a declaration that an island is a culinary destination. The islands must conduct substantial research and product development so that they are able to give tourists a sophisticated and full experience that would be comparable to other destinations in Asia and even Europe. Along with the sun, sea and sand, the Caribbean now has to sell its sweet hand.
Dr Marcia Taylor is Assistant Professor, Resort and Hospitality Management, Florida Gulf Course University.

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