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Comment: Is there really an appetite for food tourism?

A few years ago, Tourism Australia’s new push to tickle the tastebuds of international tourists would have been sneered at.

The idea of marketing a fancy plate of freshly shucked oysters and a rather nice drop of shiraz, set against the backdrop of rugged coastline dappled by the afterglows of a sunset, would not have seen the light of day.

Paul Hogan lobbing another oversized shrimp on the Barbie was as close as tourism officials ever got to selling Australia’s cuisine. A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.

But tastes evolve and gastronomy is now set to be at the forefront of Tourism Australia’s global marketing campaign, a strategy which, according to research, taps into the growing propensity for travellers to assess the merits of a country’s food and wine before taking the plunge and booking a holiday.

The study, among 15 of TA’s key markets, revealed that good food, wine, local cuisine and produce now eclipses world class beauty and natural environments as a key factor in the decision making process.

I find that surprising.

Food is clearly fashionable, it has been for a while now, so too the desire for local produce. And most of us think – or pretend – we know something about wine.

But while I like the ‘Restaurant Australia’ concept, is the culinary offering really so pivotal that it should form the basis of a dedicated campaign? I can’t help thinking TA is targeting an exclusive sector of the market here. Do parents, for example, really ponder the local cuisine and quality of the wine as they plan the family holiday? It would be a bonus, sure, but most families I know choose a destination based on where the kids will be happiest.

The rationale behind the campaign is that 60% of people who have visited Australia think we serve up good food and wine. But only one in four who have yet to travel here expect such an experience.

So this campaign needs to shift perceptions among those yet to step foot in the country. That is no easy task and TA itself admitted it creates a “great marketing and communication challenge”.

TA has made no secret of its desire to attract high spenders as it works towards its 2020 vision of doubling expenditure to between $115 billion and $140 billion. And fine dining lends itself to the more upmarket traveller, so in that respect maybe this will hit the mark.

TA also stressed that it is not dropping its focus on the traditional pillars of landscape and natural wonder, but adding to it. The dedicated campaign will, it said, add another dimension to its global crusade by showcasing the ‘people, produce and places’ that contribute to the dining experiences on offer.

There’s Nothing Like Australia has been well received around the world, and on home soil. It has worked. I just wonder whether Tourism Australia would have been better served sticking to its strengths; the landscape, coastline, wildlife and indigenous culture rather than trying to address an apparent weakness – if it can be described as such – in the country’s image.

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