Culinary tourism or food tourism or gastronomy tourism is the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism. It is now considered a vital component of the tourism experience. Dining out is common among tourists and "food is believed to rank alongside climate, accommodation, and scenery" in importance to tourists.
Culinary tourism became prominent in 2001 after Erik Wolf, president of the World Food Travel Association, wrote a white paper on the subject.
Culinary or food tourism is the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences, both near and far. Culinary tourism differs from agritourism in that culinary tourism is considered a subset of cultural tourism (cuisine is a manifestation of culture) whereas agritourism is considered a subset of rural tourism, but culinary tourism and agritourism are inextricably linked, as the seeds of cuisine can be found in agriculture. Culinary/food tourism is not limited to gourmet food. Food tourism can be considered a subcategory of experiential travel.
While many cities, regions, or countries are known for their food, culinary tourism is not limited by food culture. Every tourist eats about three times a day, making food one of the fundamental economic drivers of tourism. Countries like Ireland, Peru, and Canada are making a significant investment in culinary tourism development and are seeing results with visitor spending and overnight stays rising as a result of food tourism promotion and product development.
Food tourism includes activities such as taking cooking classes; going on food or drink tours; attending food and beverage festivals; participating in specialty dining experiences; shopping at specialty retail spaces; and visiting farms, markets, and producers.
The World Food Travel Association estimates that food and beverage expenses account for 15% to 35% of all tourism spending, depending on the affordability of the destination. The WFTA lists possible food tourism benefits as including more visitors, more sales, more media attention, increased tax revenue, and greater community pride.
A growing area of culinary tourism is cooking classes. The formats vary from a short lesson lasting a few hours to full-day and multi-day courses. The focus for foreign tourists will usually be on the cuisine of the country they are visiting, whereas local tourists may be keen to experience cuisines new to them. Many cooking classes also include market tours to enhance the cultural experience. Some cooking classes are held in local people's homes, allowing foreign tourists to catch a glimpse of what daily life and cuisine look like for those in the country they're visiting. Both the local hosts and foreign guests benefit from the cross-cultural experience.
The food tour formula varies from tour to tour and from operator to operator (of which there are many). Most, however, feature the following elements:
- Although in the beginning they operated in major cities that had substantial tourist numbers, such as London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Toronto, Kuala Lumpur, and Barcelona., nowadays they can be found in smaller towns and pretty much everywhere.
- A rich, vibrant, and interesting food culture. All types of food can be featured, from street food to haute cuisine and everything in between.
- When tours are on foot, the distances traveled are never too large and may focus on a specific area of the city. Some cycle tour companies offer food tours by bike, and some operators even do bus food tours  that cover wider distances and areas.
- Tours typically last at least three hours, although many last longer.
- It is common for tours to start and end at public transport hubs such as metro stations.
- Group sizes range from private small groups to around 20 people or more. The most effective culinary tours, however are 12 people or fewer. Larger numbers make it hard to personalize the experience.
- Tours rarely charge for small children who share food with parents/carers (caregivers).
- Tours may not be necessarily fully compliant with wheelchair use – this will depend on the exact tour and the attitude of each location to disability. However, with the advent of COVID an entire new opportunity has presented itself for the disabled market, namely the virtual culinary tours and cooking classes. For the first time, this large segment of travel enthusiasts can participate and enjoy, without having to travel.
- Visitors are usually taken to places they might otherwise not have seen, so they can shop and eat like locals rather than rely on tourist traps. Phrases such as “eat the city like a real Parisian/Berliner/Londoner/New Yorker” are often employed in food tour publicity.
- Although tours are often guided by local people, companies that offer longer tours might employ tour guides that accompany tourists from city to city, some of which they may not be local to. Many tour guides add their local knowledge as a bonus, perhaps recommending restaurants in other parts of the city.
- Tours can focus on food, drinks, or even the history and culinary culture of a place. The format varies from company to company but will generally include visits to markets, bars, and cafés where those on the tour are invited to sample the wares. There is usually a shop visit to buy the sort of food that is difficult to source elsewhere. Tours may end up with a sit-down meal at a restaurant where there is usually the choice of beer, wine, or soft drinks.
- Guides may discuss how the sort of food they and their families eat differs from the food generally offered to tourists. They are unlikely to be kindly disposed to international fast food outlets.
- Guides generally add material about the history of the area the tour is in.
- Tours exist for a wide variety of diets, including, but not limited to: halal, kosher, vegan, vegetarian, etc.
- Many tour companies are working towards creating a sustainable tourism model over which they provide to their clients an experience that makes a positive impact on the local environment, society and economy by working only with local producers and/or family-owned establishments, and celebrating local traditions, all on foot, which means having a zero carbon footprint.
June 10, 2017, was the first annual National Food Tour Day, celebrating food tourism around the world.
The World Food Travel Association introduced World Food Travel Day on April 18, 2018, as a way to put the spotlight on how and why we travel to experience the world's culinary cultures. It is designed to bring awareness to both consumers and trade, and support the Association's mission - to preserve and promote culinary cultures through hospitality and tourism. The day is celebrated all around the world every year on April 18.
- Long, Lucy (2004). Culinary Tourism. The University Press of Kentucky. p. 20. ISBN 9780813122922.
- McKercher, Bob; Okumus, Fevzi; Okumus, Bendegul (2008). "Food Tourism as a Viable Market Segment: It's All How You Cook the Numbers!". Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing. 25 (2): 137–148. doi:10.1080/10548400802402404. hdl:10397/12108. S2CID 153688186.
- "What is Culinary Tourism?". Retrieved 2018-08-15.
- "World Food Travel Association". World Food Travel Association. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- Wolf, Erik (2006). Culinary Tourism: The Hidden Harvest. Kendall/Hunt Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7575-2677-0.
- Wolf, Erik (2001). "Culinary Tourism: The Hidden Harvest" white paper. World Food Travel Association. (currently out of print).
- Wolf, Erik (2014). Have Fork Will Travel. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1490533995.
- "How Culinary Tourism Is Becoming a Growing Trend in Travel". HuffPost Canada. 2015-06-17. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
- "What Is Food Tourism?". World Food Travel Association. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
- "A Cooking Vacation". The Tribune India.
- Lane, Megan (September 16, 2005). "A taste for gastro-tourism". BBC News.
- "Discover the Paris food scene like a true Parisian". deliciousmagazine.co.uk. 2015-09-10.
- "In Paris, 8 New Tours, From Art to Shopping". The New York Times. October 16, 2016.
- Berger, Sarah (April 26, 2018). "These are the top food experiences in the world, according to TripAdvisor". CNBC.
- Abel, Ann (March 13, 2017). "Eat the World: 9 Best Food Tours". Forbes. See also Culinary Adventure Co.
- "Six Ways to Enjoy Kuala Lumpur". South China Morning Post. September 2, 2015.
- Frayer, Lauren (August 18, 2015). "Food Tours Help Keep Barcelona's Mom-And-Pop Tapas Bars Alive". NPR.
- Croker, Isabel (July 8, 2021). "Hop Aboard This Tour Bus That Blends Epic Foodie Experiences With Local Culture". The Urban List.
- National Food Tour Day
- "World Food Travel Day". World Food Travel Association.