CII Travel East 2016

How important is it to Market Food so that it is a reason and not a side effect of tourism?

I was delighted to be invited by Anirban Saha of Kolkata Bloggers to be a part of the Panel discussion on Food and Tourism in the East, during The 5TH CII Travel East 2016 which was recently conducted. My co-panellists were Lubna Salim , a food and travel writer who writes for some of the top publications , food and lifestyle bloggers Poorna Banerjee and Dolon Dutta Chowdhury and it was a pleasure to be a part of such an interesting panel.  I did some research before my talk and came up with rather interesting data. The following is a post I have done based on my research because I found it genuinely interesting and thought that some of you might too.

I have enjoyed good food for as long back as I can remember and many of my childhood associations and memories are connected with food. Quite naturally that shows that I love to eat but the underlying point is that food makes a powerful impact on us emotionally and remains a part of our associations and memories for many years thereafter.

One of the best ways to experience culture is through food. It serves to connect us with the place, its heritage and the people around us. It is a diverse and dynamic medium for sharing stories, forming friendships and bonds. Food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about and consumes food and drink that reflects the local cuisine, heritage and culture. The concept of travelling to a destination specifically for its F&B product is a relatively recent mainstream consumer trend. Studies show us that the percentage of American leisure travellers who choose a destination based on the availability of culinary activities is over 50% . A leisure travellers is defined as someone who has booked at least one vacation in the previous 12 months. In India too we have seen destinations that use their culinary heritage as a platform for tourism along with their natural or historical attractions like Goa or Lucknow. Research also throws up astounding statistics like 30% of the average holiday spend being devoted to food. Hence it is an undeniable fact that food has become one of the focal points of holidays.

Travel today is not undertaken only due to necessity but for pleasure and leisure. Tourists today want to explore and experience the culture rather than just visit monuments or heritage spots when they go for a holiday. Today every traveler has the ability to instantly digitally share their culinary experiences with friends and strangers around the world via social media across various social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their Blogs. This increases the public’s awareness of different cuisines and cultures, and it enhances their innate curiosity and desire to experience it themselves. How a place markets and positions itself in its geography therefore has immense impact on the tourist traffic a place will attract. There are many beautiful beaches, mountains or cities across the world. Why then are some far better coveted as tourist hotspots? While it’s never just one factor it is undeniable that food is today one of the prime attractions. Yes we go to Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower but we also go to eat in a bistro and sample the exquisite cuisine. The same holds for places in India as well, Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa are all famous for the food as much for the scenic beauty or heritage they have.

The growing number of local culinary offerings being introduced at music and art festivals is a testament to the growing acknowledgement of the importance of Marketing in Food Tourism. These events showcase a wide range of interdisciplinary creative energy, including works of art, music, literature and   reputed speakers. Another interesting point my research highlighted was that only 8% of the focus is on the Gourmet Food so local eateries, heritage restaurants, cooking demonstrations, food trails, food walks and local markets are all of great interests to tourists today. However to attract people to these good marketing is a necessity so people are aware of their existence. Sufficient infrastructure from transport to toilets needs to be developed to support them. For example New Market in Kolkata is a beautiful heritage market but the infrastructure is extremely poor. Yet it’s one of the most visited spots in the city both for tourists and locals.

Let us talk about very own City of Joy, Kolkata is a crucible of cultures and influences beside the rich local Bengali heritage. Turkish, Anglo-Indians, Baghdadi Jews, Armenians, Chinese and Parsi’s have all co-existed in this wonderful city we call home for centuries and their culinary traditions have been interwoven into the fabric of our city. Around the 13th Century the Turkish rules conquered Bengal then the British ruled from the 18th Century, Baghdadi Jews brought bakeries to Bengal and the exiled families of Wajid Ali Shah and Tipu Sultan brought different flavors of Mughlai cuisine. The Chinese developed their Chinatown. Under British patronage the development of these different culinary strands into a distinct culinary heritage thrived. Yet our Jewish Bakeries like Nahoums have hardly received national recognition whereas the Irani Bakeries of Mumbai certainly have. The reason is marketing!

Kolkata is the only city in India to have a China Town yet today the Chinese Population has shrunk to a fraction of the thriving community they once were. Proper showcasing could make Tangra a destination to visit. On a recent visit to Bangkok I visited Yaowarat their China Town. By night it was a dazzling strip of neon but it was the food that was amazing and it was what drew me there. I had one of the best meals of my trip sitting on the stool on the roadside at Rut&Lek with tuk tuks driving past and people standing behind me to grab my stool as soon as we were done. I could hear five different languages being spoken around me and happy strangers smiling at each other over plates of delicious seafood. That is the magic of marketing it draws people from across the globe like bees are drawn to honey, the ambience is secondary to the EXPERIENCE and I know I will go back each time I visit Thailand henceforth.

Personally I would visit Kolkata just for the food …. the variety of cuisines available in small unsung places is bliss for me. But remember I grew up in this city. Most people you talk to are far more impressed by the Delhis or Mumbais. This is because of Marketing, we need to showcase this delicious food of Bengal to the world.

From the Kosha Mangsho , Chingri Malai Curry and Shorshe Iilish , to the Biryani and Rezala , from the Rossagolla ,Sondesh and Mishti Doi to the Chilli Chicken and Manchurian of China Town , from the morning breakfasts at Tirreti Bazar to the heritage of New Market with Nizam Rolls and Nahoums Bakery this state has so much to offer people of all ages and tastes and budgets. And let’s not forget the old colonial clubs like Calcutta Club, Tollygunge Club or Bengal Club which are such an integral part of our city.

It is time to showcase it and put our best foot forward. With media both social and via internet having seeped into the very pores of our daily lives it has become very important to highlight our strengths and convey it to our target audience, to create that excitement and buzz that makes people want to plan a holiday to this region.

What makes a place interesting?

Does it have a story to share?

Has it been made interesting enough to draw visitors?

Will their experience satisfy the visitors?

Will it be good enough to want to make them come back again?

These are crucial questions to ask ourselves when we want to showcase the culinary delights of the East.  Ultimately if the local producers, vendors, F&B Businesses, Journalists and Bloggers join forces, with the support of the State Governments and Ministry of Tourism we can all join hands to help market and showcase the East and get it the recognition it rightfully deserves. It is indeed hearting to see the Government give this topic attention and support and to hopefully develop it to its fullest potential.

 

DISCLAIMER : The views are my personal views on the subject and opinions may differ from person to person. I welcome your feedback and inputs.

PICTURE CREDITS : Suneha Saha

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