Once upon a time, sampling exotic cuisine on holiday stretched little further for us Brits than swapping our usual meat and two veg for the hotel’s Spanish omelette, with a toned-down tiramisu to follow.
These days, it’s all so very different. We’ve transformed ourselves into a nation of fearless foodies, forever seeking out the sort of authentic dining experiences that just can’t be found anywhere else.
Having crunched MBNA credit card data from Britons’ trips around the world and surveyed 2,000 travellers, we’ve created a clear picture of today’s epicurean explorers. A new breed of holidaymaker, they’re only too ready to embed themselves in the culinary culture of the destination they’re visiting – whether it’s by dining in locals’ homes or hitting the food markets for inspiration.
The numbers make it clear that gastronomic tourism is now a serious factor in our holidaying habits, with 86 per cent of people we surveyed saying that food plays an important role in their overseas experience – and 40 per cent valuing authenticity above all else.
Commenting on the findings, food tourism expert Agatha Podgorski said: “It's not enough to just sit on a beach or climb a mountain anymore. People want to experience things like locals do, dig deeper on the places they're exploring. Food is an excellent conduit to do both those things. It's a rich, dynamic medium through which to tell the stories of a place.
“From a tourism perspective, people want to experience things like the locals do. They don't want to be called tourists, but rather travellers or explorers. They want something they can't get at home – enter local food.”
The data certainly shows that travellers want to go beyond just eating at restaurants while they’re abroad, opting instead for a far more immersive experience. They’re increasingly shunning guide books and the internet when exploring their location, with a third tapping into local knowledge to find out what and where to eat.
One in five (21%) say they’ve visited locals’ homes to dine with them, while 49% have been to a food festival or market and 20% have taken a trip to a farm or orchard.
Different age groups are looking for different food experiences when travelling. Younger people are more likely to get involved in the creative process by signing up for cooking workshops so they can replicate dishes once they’re back home. They’re also more inclined to feast on street food, as well as wanting their food to be photogenic enough to post on their Instagram accounts.
While 18-24-year-olds find places to eat through social media and travel websites, those aged 55 and over prefer physical exploration, going on tours and to markets. They’re also more bothered about their food being locally-sourced.
What this tells us is that despite age groups participating in different activities, each finds it important to engage in food tourism.
So what about locations? Food plays the most important role in holidays spent in Italy, with France and Portugal close behind. South Africa is the destination where people are most likely to experiment with their food experiences.
We also looked at credit card transactions in eateries around the globe to pinpoint the up and coming culinary destinations. Between 2014 and 2016, India saw a 91% increase in average monthly restaurant and fast-food transactions, while the same transactions in Japan jumped by 58%. The United Arab Emirates also saw a hefty rise of 45%, showing that foodies are venturing further afield.
“There's been a kind of perfect storm in the past decade for food tourism as a sector,” said Agatha Podgorski, who has seen the phenomenon first-hand as a member of the Culinary Tourism Alliance.
“People are following chefs and artisans in a way they haven't for years. Meanwhile, they're simultaneously curious about where their food comes from and extremely knowledgeable about the types of experiences the world's plethora of cultures can offer them.
“I think people want to experience things that others can't, something authentic, different, not out of the box. They want to be connected to the people, culture and history of a place. The best place to do that is in someone's home, at the table. It's like those epic Sunday dinners your family used to have; without all the family drama. The intermingling of laughter, story-telling and food is a magical, powerful thing.”