It’s a general assumption that food experiences are an important component in tourists’ choice of travel destinations. But why might that be? We have been digging into the research literature and data on Nordic travelers’ behaviors and preferences – and we found an important link between food tourism, memories, and the value of expectations.
Food and tourism are closely interconnected concepts because a destination’s food culture is unique to that place and helps form the total travel experience. Recent data from the market intelligence platform Travellyze indicate that exciting food experiences rank highly on Nordic travelers’ priority lists: As much as 27.3% of the Swedes find exciting food experiences to be an important factor when choosing a destination, and the numbers are similar for Norwegians (24.4%), Danes (26.5%) and Finns (21.4%).
Interest in food tourism has grown considerably in recent decades, spanning various research streams. One of these research streams is memorable tourism experience (MTE), specifically memorable food tourism experience (MFTE). Positive experiences with local foods are found to enhance tourists’ place attachment[i] ,indicating that destinations should focus more on local foods as part of the destination experience.
Fine dining is popular among Nordic travelers
If the local aspect can be combined with high-end cuisine, there is even more to be gained: So-called fine dining is also a significant factor for Nordic travelers in choosing their next destination, with 27.4% of Danish travelers confirming that this is a priority; for Swedish travelers the number is 22.4%; while 23.5% of Norwegian travelers and 17.9% of Finnish travelers find fine dining to be of importance.
Food experiences also have impact upon return
Research in MTE has found that elements before, during, and after a trip or holiday led to memories[ii]. This suggests that destinations and companies within the food industry could work together to enhance the experience at the destination as well as the experience with local produce when the tourist arrives home to promote local food culture.
Also, it has been proposed that food and drink are important factors for building memories, since they involve all senses[iii], just as food can evoke cognitive, emotional, and physical recollections[iv]. Ordinary food experiences, such as a meal at home, can be considered to be non-events, suggesting that having food experiences away from home might create more memorable experiences. Furthermore, having a food experience together with other people, such as friends or family, may also contribute positively to the memorable experience, compared to having dinner together at home[v].
Building expectations ahead of the trip is important
The emotions that arise during food consumption – surprise, joy, frustration etc. – are also linked to the memories that tourists build when traveling[vi], just as expectations are linked to memory[vii]. This suggests that pre-trip activities that build expectations are important, just as the food experiences themselves are. It’s been further suggested that the time after the food experience and trip is significant in building positive memories as well, indicating that food memorabilia/souvenirs should not be ignored[viii].
Destinations and food producers: Team up!
Destinations and food businesses, such as food tourism operators, should therefore not only focus on the food itself, or the setting in which the food is eaten. They should also focus on the link between the memorable food tourism experience (MFTE) and the destination itself; by crafting positive emotions, enhancing social connections and bringing multiple senses into play during the food experiences at the destination.
In conclusion, it seems that merely focusing on the food itself would be a mistake. Rather, it may pay off to offer more attention to the phase in which a tourist builds expectations prior to the trip and evaluates the food experience afterwards. Potentially giving all phases more focus could enhance the tourists’ memories of the food, culture, and destination collectively in a positive direction.
Holtzman, J. D. (2006). Food and Memory. Annual Review of Anthropology, 35, 361–378. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.35.081705.123220
Sthapit, E. (2017). Exploring tourists’ memorable food experiences: a study of visitors to Santa’s official hometown. Anatolia, 28(3), 404–421. https://doi.org/10.1080/13032917.2017.1328607
Stone, M. J., Migacz, S., & Sthapit, E. (2022). Connections Between Culinary Tourism Experiences and Memory. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research, 46(4), 797–807. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096348021994171
Sutton, D. E. (2010). Food and the Senses. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39, 209–223. https://doi.org/10.1146/ANNUREV.ANTHRO.012809.104957
Tsai, C. T. S. (2016). Memorable Tourist Experiences and Place Attachment When Consuming Local Food. International Journal of Tourism Research, 18(6), 536–548. https://doi.org/10.1002/JTR.2070
Tung, V. W. S., & Ritchie, J. R. B. (2011). Exploring the Essence of Memorable Tourism Experiences. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(8), 1367–1386. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2011.03.009
Williams, H. A., Yuan, J. (Jessica), & Williams, R. L. (2018). Attributes of Memorable Gastro-Tourists’ Experiences. Https://Doi.Org/10.1177/1096348018804621, 43(3), 327–348. https://doi.org/10.1177/1096348018804621
[i] Tsai, 2016
[ii] Tung and Ritchie, 2011
[iii] Sutton, 2010
[iv] Holtzman, 2006
[v] (Stone et al., 2022
[vi] Sthapit, 2017
[vii] Williams et al., 2018
[viii] Stone et al. 2022