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The potential power of food and how it changes how travellers interact and experience destinations is oftentimes overlooked by marketing strategies

– it's time to change this harness its true power.

When people think of city marketing, certain attractions or industries oftentimes come to mind. Toronto has the CN Tower and the Maple Leafs, Waterloo has a burgeoning software engineering industry, and Whistler British Colombia has the ski resort. By making their respective cities unique with a competitive advantage over others, these attractions, adventures, and industries make sense both to visitors and city marketers alike. Despite this uniqueness though, one factor links these three destinations together alongside every other destination and it usually get forgotten by city marketers; it’s food.

Food is Everywhere

Whether your city has your country’s largest and fastest growing tech hub, it’s tallest free-standing structure, or a world-renown ski mountain, tourists of all three need to eat three times a day. Food is also an industry that exists in every city no matter its size, sophistication, or lack-thereof; food is universal. While large cities can offer a larger array of food variety to boost tourism, small towns can just as successfully showcase how intimate their connection with farmers and local suppliers are for discerning foodies. This makes the potential for food-based city marketing and using food as a medium to shape a region’s iconic image extremely important.

Food Marketing

Food may be commonplace in our everyday lives, but its potential power for city marketers should not be discounted.

The data backs this claim up too: according to Manadala Research’s “American Culinary Traveler Report” (2013), the amount of tourists who reported travelling to a city or region explicitly for its food-based activities rose from 40% to 51%. Likewise, the University of Florida’s “A Flash of Culinary Tourism” report stated food service-related tourism earnings exceeded $201 billion in 2012 accounting for almost a quarter of all tourism related earnings. Food tourism is a powerhouse industry and it’s not limited to cities like Paris who’s traditional histories make them iconic food destinations. Rather, smaller regions across North America have been tapping into this opportunity and incorporating food into their marketing strategies. To treat food as something less important than driving big business or physical experiences into a city is a mistake that discounts something your region already possesses. It also chooses to ignore the reality that everyone in every city already interacts with food everyday regardless.

How to Leverage the Power of Food

Harnessing learning how to incorporate this growing trend in city marketing into pre-existing strategies is therefore increasingly important. To be effective, all interested stakeholders of a city or region need to be involved in a collective effort to broadcast one uniform message to those visiting. When asked, the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA) stressed the need for stakeholders to join together in taking a collectively active approach to marketing a city’s food-related image.

Food-based marketing requires collective commitment because eating experiences have to synchronize and be flexible to peoples’ complex schedules so they leave a lasting impression.

Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA)

This means a region’s food-based marketing needs to encompass more than just a single restaurant or dish to work best; it needs to be immersive enough that individuals can link separate experiences throughout the city together and draw an association that’s authentic and iconic to where they have just visited from them.

OCTA pointed towards Waterloo Ontario’s claim-to-fame as the home of Canada’s largest craft-beer festival offering hundreds of local and craft-Canadianmade beers, wines, spirits, and ciders to visitors each year as an example. Rather than cloistering this food activity to one occasion though, many of the city’s restaurants have leveraged the region’s interest in craft beers and resultantly offer large craft-selections in their menus year round.

The benefits are twofold. On the one hand, this gives craft breweries the insurance of and opportunity to product for an embedded local market. On the other hand, it has also fostered a strong, organic, and authentic craft-beer community that is noticeable to tourists when they arrive and even capable of convincing them to try a new alcoholic offering rather than their certain tried-and-true default drink choice.

By instilling a culture wherein restaurants and food vendors have permanently adopted craft beer into their offerings, Waterloo’s situation has met the needs of its food, tourism, and local business stakeholders all while producing a uniform message.

Waterloo = craft – be it through beer and alcohol, or be it through its other unique traits such as the vibrant tech startup scene. Food and tech may be separate but the atmosphere and messages either industry can send can be mixd together seamlessly when done correctly.

Niagara on the lake stands as another example of the same concepts at play. The region’s viticulture roots perfectly compliment the city’s upscale gambling and entertainment industry making food and the economic driving for of the city go hand-in hand. While tourists get a chance to see Canada’s most spectacular falls, they also get to drink some of North America’s best wines – everyone wins.

Combining Food with Tech for Delectable Marketing Outreach

To the benefit of city marketers, producing and dispersing uniform messages have become easier with the advent of technological offerings and the adoption of social media platforms especially amongst younger tourists. Whereas a city had to rely on leveraging its traditional iconic food-related identity to garner tourists in the past, publicizing the same message has shifted from falling solely on the agency’s behalf to also being done by tourists themselves. Everyone with a cellular device has access to an internet connection, a formidable camera, and multiple social platforms where self-taken experience-documenting photography reigns supreme. Platforms like Yelp, Instagram, Facebook, and Map Your City amplify peoples’ lived experiences into individual marketing campaigns for prospective tourists to use as reasoning for adding your city to their list.

Tourists are not only taking and publishing more pictures of their experiences than before but now when researching what to do in the cities they are travelling to, consulting fellow travellers and social media contacts oftentimes eclipses the pull of traditional advertising. Authentic, positive, and legitimately lived experiences and memories of others now hold more advertising sway. Transmission is free and the messages being shared oftentimes receive more consumer trust that what a television or billboard ad can accomplish.

When it comes to food, who can resist that delicious looking baked good or drool worthy deli sandwich accompanied by their friend’s witty caption inviting them to try the same?

When Tourism Australia took notice of the power of food-based marketing, their resulting experience stands as validation to the immense potential of incorporating social media platforms into one’s marketing strategies. During a day-long event, the agency aggregated over 80 influential social media personalities together for an event titled ‘Invite the World to Dinner’ and used social media platforms to document the festivities. The event garnered hundreds of thousands of impressions across the agency’s social media platforms and brought considerable attention to their branding keywords. The hashtag #restaurantaustralia alone received 190,000 impressions while the rest of their keywords experienced an immediate discovery rate 7.3x’s higher than normal. By simply bringing together influential personalities and creating a food-themed event that was easily documentable on social media, the agency generated intense interest in Australia’s food offerings and the specific destinations advertised during the event. Just like food, social media is a platform that should not be disregarded by those looking to market their cities and regions; it’s infrastructure is already in place and its audiences are hungry for content to interact with.

Tourism Australia's Chefs making a dish

Chefs and culinary artists gather together while preparing some of the dishes served at Tourism Australia’s “Invite the World to Dinner”.

In tandem, social media also provides city marketers with a sandbox that lets them see what’s working and what’s not. By monitoring how a strategy’s messaging and resulting experiences are being met and interacted with by consumers online, savvy stakeholders and agencies are able to translate this data into metrics that let them gauge their market’s interest in certain food-related activities and offerings. Whether city marketers choose to use social media and food-based strategies or not, tourists and consumers are still going to use both when documenting their daily experiences. To not tap into this immense source of data and powerful method of garnering tourists is to ignore what exists in your city already and neglect what technology can offer city marketers in this day in age.

So, what are you waiting for?

All in all, food is something that impacts everyone everyday no matter where they live or choose to travel to. The food industry may be nothing new nor are its record-breaking profits however, incorporating food into a city’s marketing strategy is brand new. When one considers the data and other cities’ success with these strategies though, it becomes clear that food is something here to stay and something highly capable of shaping how tourists interact with the destinations they travel to. By incorporating food into your marketing strategy, you’re effectively leveraging a resource that already exists in your local area – so why not use Map Your City to streamline and empower your food-based strategy?

We designed Map Your City to help you to connect, engage, and tell your stories at all the places that matter to your community.

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About the Author: Nathan Lehotsky – A Canadian inquisitive mind, ferocious researcher and talented writer, sharing thoughts and conversations with marketing’s leading professionals.

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