What is FOOD TOURISM? Learn with Eric Wolf | TBCY
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You. A vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. I am your host Ashutosh Garg and today I'm in conversation with a very very accomplished and senior professional from food and travel, Eric Wolf. Eric, welcome to the show. Hi, nice to be here. Thank you. Eric currently lives in Spain. So I'm sure that is a great place to be in. Eric is the Executive Director of the World Food Travel Association. He is recognized as the Founder of the Modern Food Tourism industry
and he's a publisher of Have Fork Will Travel, is this a magazine or a book? It's actually a handbook for the trade to help everyone in all different sectors across the trade to understand how to do business better within our industry. Terrific. So Eric, let's talk about the World Food Travel Association, tell me about the scope of work you handle? Sure. Well, I founded the organization back in 2001 and grew it from nothing, no members, no people, no products to an organization today that serves about 200,000 professionals in over 150 countries each year and we have five different portfolios. We've got events, community, placemaking just as those are our most popular ones and we really do a lot. We bring education to the industry, we bring cutting edge research to the industry, we provide a sense of community where professionals can gather and meet each other and exchange ideas and knowledge and we really try to drive thought, leadership and innovation in our industry. So that's kind of it in a nutshell. Wonderful. So for our viewers and listeners, help me understand what is food travel or food tourism? That's a great question. A lot of people have that same question and in some parts of the world it's known
as culinary tourism or gastronomy tourism. In India, typically it's known as food tourism but in Canada it's Culinary Tourism, in Southern Europe it tends to be gastronomy tourism. It's basically traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place. So, from the research that we've done that 53% of leisure travelers now choose their destinations based on the food first. So before sites, before visiting friends and
relatives, before shopping or activities, it's food. So where are we going to get good food and then we can also do these other things and that's over half of travelers today. Very interesting. When we travel with our sons who are now 36 and 33, that's exactly our experience. They first book where they want to go and eat and my wife and I first book what we want to see.
So you're a perfect example of a consummate food traveler. Well said. So what are the issues that you face with the food and drink tourism other than the pandemic and we come to that? Well, the pandemic is its own beast but I think that in the early days we were always beating our drums to help destinations, business owners, and even consumers to understand that local areas destinations have something unique in in the form of their local food culture or culinary culture we call it and we have always been working with them to try and understand how to preserve and promote those food cultures. And that is something that continues today. You have new people who come to the industry people may be destinations or businesses that are shifting and trying to understand how to do more with their businesses but now that things are changing in the industry and all industries we see sustainability is a huge issue that is affecting our industry. Also the socio-cultural impact of tourism. So things like over-tourism or travelers who are bringing their values their preferences, so
people don't stop being vegan or gluten-free when they're on holiday and those things like special diets are essential now. And the world I think and travelers are moving a lot faster than businesses and destinations can adapt and it's almost like you have to have a marketing plan and a strategy but you almost have to keep it updated on a weekly basis because things change so fast. Amazing and a follow-up question, how has the pandemic affected you in the last 18 odd months? Well affected me personally. It's actually kind of been great because I've been able to catch up on work and we've been able to really spend time on investing in improving some of our systems and business processes here in the association, so that has been a bit of a blessing. I always try to find the positive in something and at the same time it's really been hugely detrimental to our industry as, you know, we don't need to belabor that but I think that we've tried to help our industry to see that same silver lining in the cloud. When this whole thing started, we tried to show business owners what they could do to survive. One of our pieces, we had an article back in April of last year that was
basically how to make lemonade out of lemons and we were saying things like, if you need to to take another job or if you need to teach your own language online or whatever it is, it's okay. You can put your dream, your business, your baby, you can put it on hold for a while until things get better and so that has been really primarily our focus for the longest period of time. We surveyed our members in May of last year as well as December of last year and asked them if you had any plans to shut down your businesses and only about 10% of people we surveyed really said this is horrendous, we're closing our doors. We're never coming back
and that was a lot better than we thought. We thought it was going to be a lot worse. So it's been hard and also in the association I mean like any other business revenue has been down, people are not really willing to spend money right now and that's okay. So we have changed a little bit how we do things, we've expanded our scholarship program for all of our education and training and tried to be a good friend to our industry. Fantastic and when I was reading about you, one of the comment that struck me was that food helps you to communicate and connect with people. I'd love to understand this
maybe if you can share some anecdotes or examples. Sure, absolutely. Well I think what you've just described is referred to as gastro diplomacy and food & beverage can be a form of communication, you don't need to speak the language and one of my favorite examples is when I was in Korea, one of the first times and I don't speak the language and the people I was with also didn't speak English and so we were just kind of left to our own devices, what can we do? And we were over a dinner table and they were serving me seared tuna with sesame oil and it was absolutely delicious and so I just kept eating it and eating it and eating it and they were kind of laughing and I was laughing and they knew I was having a good time and I knew that they were happy and we couldn't speak any language. So, that's just one example of how food and drink can tell a story. I mean, I've always said we should put the world's leaders in a hotel banquet room and lock the doors for a week and give them plenty of food and drink and at the end of the week, we'll either have world peace or they'll kill each other, we can start fresh. Absolutely. So, you know, it's amazing you spoke about your experience in South
Korea. I had exactly the same experience in South Korea but my experience was with rice wine and I just couldn't figure out why they just kept pouring and I kept finishing it and then fill it up again and then I realized that in order to stop, I should have left half my glass. I had to actually hold the walls of the hotel and get back to my room. Was that the makgeolli? I forget the name, it was rice wine. Another
form of sake I think. Or soju. That's the one. Very interesting. So, I'd like to understand from you like what you just shared, you enjoy recommending unusual experiences. Help me again understand with some examples. I have to give a caveat, I don't always partake in these unusual experiences but I like learning about them and sharing them with people. So I've tried the Kopi luwak coffee from Indonesia which if your listeners aren't familiar with it. Basically the civet animal ingests the coffee beans and then the farmers harvest the beans from what comes out and and it affects the flavor. I believe that's the most expensive coffee in the world or something? It is and I thought it was fine but would I pay that? Probably not. I
actually prefer Jamaica blue mountain if you want to talk about spendy coffees but and then a lot of times we like to tell people when they go to Southeast Asia you have to try the scorpions and tarantulas but unusual is not just about the food that's served to you. It could be about the people, it could be about the venue, there's a cheese maker in Wales in the UK that matures their cheese. It's blended on cheese and they mature at the bottom of a coal mine and so you have the historic culture because Wales is was really big into coal mining but they're still repurposing the mine today and so it tells a wonderful story and something that visitors and locals alike can take and re-tell that story. Wonderful and what would you say is your most unique food or beverage story? Oh my gosh! there's so many. I think for me, the food has been important but it's always been really about the people too. So you can serve great food but that's not necessarily the most memorable experience. I've been to Alain Ducasse
in New York and Central and Lima and those were great wonderful experiences for the food. But I would have to say that probably my favorite dinner I've ever had was with a guy named Sinclair Phillip in Sioux Harbor British Columbia and we were visiting Vancouver island and he invited us to dinner and it was a dinner in the summertime which is Vancouver island is stunningly beautiful anyway and he had this wonderful resort and wonderful kitchen, all these awards and everything and to have dinner with the owner of the business and basically, the chef was bringing out all these things but the conversation and the wine and before I knew it five and a half hours had passed, I could see that it was getting dark outside but it was just such that it was so lively and the conversation was so easy and it just flowed from idea to concept and he was a very entertaining man so imagine having a beautiful view of the of the mountains in British Columbia and the ocean right there in this beautiful setting with amazing food and a very very funny and intelligent person and I still remember that meal to this day. Fabulous. So from another perspective, your association and the food travel market you must have got a huge database of knowledge on food and travel and destinations. Are you sharing that with people on a subscription basis or if someone wants to travel somewhere, how does this whole thing work? Well, we serve primarily the trade. We are talking about doing more with consumers, we want to do more about the preservation of culinary culture and especially when you see big brands chains coming in and especially after something like the pandemic where the small businesses, a lot of them have shut down. How can we help consumers to understand that they need to spend their money locally
but the research that we do, every five years we do a major report it's called the Food Travel Monitor and we released it the last one in January of 2020, then the pandemic kicked. We updated it with a special covid update in July and that will carry us through 2025 and I think that we're really expecting some tremendous changes in this time period because of generation Z and the Millennials and how really consumers are changing but we also have a report series called Taste of Place and we do have one for India that's done. In Indonesia we've got about 20 reports right now and people can access those in our member community members.worldfoodtravel.org. And then every year we produce the state of the food and beverage tourism, industry report and that's also free and in that time period, we interview 12 thought leaders around the world in our industry food, beverage, tourism and hospitality we ask them how things have changed in their sector or in their geography, what is chained and what do they expect to see in the next 12 months? And that comes out every January. Very interesting. So, we just spoke a few minutes about ago about the way the younger people really look at where they will eat or where they will have a drink. In your opinion, what
should really be done? Should food and beverage experiences be curated well in advance of the trip? Well, I think we have to ask the question who's doing the curating, is it done by a local or is it done by the traveler themselves or the destination marketing organization too? I think, this really speaks to the value of culinary tourist guides and they have the power to really make a good trip an outstanding trip and that's why we certify them as well in our association because they're such important parts of the visitor equation but times are changing and consumer tastes are changing. I mentioned the special diets and what we're seeing really now that generation said, travelers are starting to come of age. They're in their early 20s now but they were traveling right before the pandemic. But what has really changed in that generation is we had always been marching towards people voting with their wallets and if they don't like businesses policies or or how they treat people, then people will boycott it and they just won't spend their money there.
But now what we're seeing is this idea of sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion similar issues as well. People plan a profit trip bottom line all of that and young consumers whether you're going to a restaurant or a hotel or even booking an airline people are doing the research and they're saying, what's your policy on this, do women receive equal pay, do you serve special diet food? Like can I get vegetarian and vegan. There was that difficult I remember, we went to a hotel here in Spain and I did a little experiment and I said, I'm vegetarian, can you help me find food here? And then she said, well yes you can have any of the vegetables that we have here and they'll just grill them on the grill right there. I said the same grill that you're grilling all your meat on and then she kind
of looked at me and she realized that, you know. So as travelers change we're demanding these things and if businesses can't rise to meet those changing consumers needs then they will not survive. I mentioned before that well never mind, let's cut that bit out. So one more question before I move to the next part. You would have seen travelers over the years changing. The Millennials and the Gen Z's today are demanding
more experiences. People of my generation are looking more of optimizing the number of days and getting a blend of both sightseeing and experiences. How is the industry, the food industry adapting to the needs of different people? Because people of my generation have the money, have the time and are spending a lot of money but the Millennials and the Gen Z's are the future. That's true. I think that the smart business owners will realize that those are all their future customers and that things are changing with the special diets, the business policies and procedures are all very important but at the same time you still have this very large market of older people like you said, who have the money and the time to travel and you really have to kind of meet both needs and I do think that that older people are embracing to a certain degree of a lot of the changes that are happening. But what we also see in our research is that older people tend not to like to experiment as much with food. So they might be happier to visit a chain restaurant whereas a younger person would make every effort to avoid a chain restaurant and the older people here it's convenient, let's not spend all-day walking around the city trying to find that exactly perfect cafe to have lunch in. This chain is here we'll just have lunch here.
So before I move to the personal questions, I do want to also ask you about your publication Have Fork Will Travel. What do you cover and what is the frequency? Well, Have Fork Will Travel as I said earlier was the handbook for the trade and that was a magnum opus. It was over 50 chapters of every possible sector of our industry. So we looked at beverage, tourism, we looked at lodging, we looked at the culinary destination life cycle, we looked at sustainability, we looked at so many issues and what we were trying to do is do a couple things. First of all to innovate because that's one of the things that we do here at the association and to talk about things that people really weren't talking about yet but also to provide something that was really approachable for everyday business people. A lot of the books especially on our industry
are very academic. Lots of research sample sizes and n equals and correlation analyses and now, go away with that, not interested, don't understand it. I've tried, I don't get it, I don't want to get it. Just put it in everyday basic business language and so that was our volume one that came out in 2014 and we are 2013 and we will be having another volume coming out in 2023. So we're going to be updating it and again, it'll be the same kind of approach, what can the next 10 years, what does 2023 to 2033 look like? I think you'll probably see a lot of emphasis on technology, a lot on sustainability, a lot on the DEI, diversity equity and inclusion that I talked about but also we really want to make sure that the preservation of the colony cultures is spotlighted to two. Very interesting. So Eric, I'm now going to move the last segment of our conversation. Our viewers and listeners love to get to know the guests a little more, so I have a few questions for you which I say are questions for you personally. My first question is what would you say are three key milestones or pivot points in your life for your career? That's a good question. I think, probably the first one I would say is when I moved to New York city.
I was living in Washington DC and I graduated from university and I spent a couple years in DC and then I got a job in New York and moving to New York and I call it America's finishing school. It really is the best of everything in the United States, it just you know, the way the people are, the performance that is expected and I really learned to bring my 'A' game to everything I do and whether it was social interactions whether it was in the work environment whether it was just everyday life, New York demands the best of everyone and everything and I think that kind of became ingrained in my culture. So that was probably the first one and I think the second one was obviously founding of the World Food Travel Association. I was working for a tech company in San Francisco and that was the time of the dot com blowout. I'm sure you remember that although some of the younger
listeners won't know what that is but it was a huge. It sent a huge tremor throughout the economy basically and I suspected a layoff and so I moved to Portland Oregon, I requested a transfer to the company's other office in Portland they said, that's fine. Three months later got laid off and during that time I wrote a white paper about food tourism and the benefits and potential for destinations and that gave rise to the association. So I think that was
probably the most important milestone and then I think, the last one really was moving to Europe which I did three years ago. When you live in the United States, you have blinders on and everything is American. You think American, you talk American, your entertainment is American, your food is American, everything is just like this. And when you live in on a continent where you can
go 200 miles and it's another language, another culture, another dialect, another food all of that, another wine varietal, you don't have that in the States because it's so big and also such a new country and I think that really moving here has expanded the potential for both me personally and the association professionally. People understand tourism in Europe, they understand gastronomy in Europe. I think in a way that is more more in line with what we do here at the association. Americans are more concerned about the sustainability and things like that and special diets and in Europe, it's more about the culture and the enjoyment of the food. Very interesting. So Eric, I have time for two more questions. My next question is on success and my question is, for someone who's been all over the world, lived in multiple parts of the world from technology to food. What does success mean to Eric? I would have loved to ask a younger version of myself that question. I think that
success first and foremost is happiness with yourself being okay with what you've achieved and that is the first part of it. I think the other side of the equation is making a mark in the world. For me, I couldn't retire or I couldn't leave this mortal coil and not have done something, I have to leave an impact and so I'm happy with myself. I'm happy with my life, my family and where we live and all of that and I'm happy with the mark that we've been able to make in the world as the organization. So I guess by those metrics, that's a success.
That's my success. Wonderful and my last question is who or what inspires you? I would have to say that I love thinking about what is possible, the possibility of achievement. I love looking at a problem and figuring out a solution. Sometimes I can just see things and it just comes to me and I just think wow, this is great, that has inspired some of the products that our association has developed as well.
We were pitching a particular product 10 years ago and investors didn't get it, business incubators didn't get it and now this type of product is starting to come to market 10 years later. So maybe I don't know but also I think smart people inspire me. I love meeting people who are smart and they give me ideas, we have great conversations and I feel like I grow as a person when I meet people who are smarter than me which is everybody. Fantastic. Eric, thank you so much. It's been such a pleasure speaking to you. Thank you for taking me down this amazing journey of food or amazing travel with food and amazing stuff that you're doing for the industry and I'm hoping one day it'll become a B2C platform where people can actually reach out to you and say, I'm going to be in this city where should I go and eat. But thank you again and good luck. Thank you, Ash. It's been great. It's really been a pleasure to speak with you and I love all that you do. So thanks so much. Thank you.
Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You, videocast and podcast. A platform that brings you knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. Do visit our website www.tbcy.in to watch and listen to the stories of many more individuals. You can also follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, just search for the brand called you.