The İzmir Metropolitan Municipality is organizing the “Travel to Turkey” fair, one of the most important events of the tourism sector which has been around for the past 11 years.
This year, I was a speaker at the Third International Culinary Tourism Congress, organized simultaneously with the tourism fair, where 36 countries, including China and Thailand, attended on Dec. 7-10.
You may wonder what I was doing among famous chefs, gourmets and food culture authors such as Müge Akgün and Aylin Öney Tan at the congress, organized by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) Gastronomic Tourism Committee and Hande Arslanalp, one of the owners of İtaltur Tourism.
I have been deeply interested in Turkish cuisine for many years.
But unfortunately, we have not gone very far on this issue.
The more Turkish cuisine is known internationally, the more chance we have to attract tourists to the country who want to learn more about the country’s food and drinks.
Studies show that culinary tourists spend 50 percent more than regular tourists. So, is this not the time for us to take action?
There are positive signs from the Culture and Tourism Ministry concerning this issue.
According to Arslanalp, who attended the third tourism council in Ankara at the beginning of November, a “culinary tourism” desk will be set up within the ministry for the first time.
This is a very positive development.
An umbrella institution will also be set up in the sector, which will include public sector, local authorities and civil society organizations such as TÜRSAB, Hotels Association of Turkey (TÜROB) and the Turkish Restaurant & Entertainment Association (TURYİD) in order to coordinate, make required arrangements and transfer funds.
This is what I make out of it: A road map for food tourism will be prepared. But the most important drawback is that people will not be able to organize a festival or an activity as they wish.
Fernando Albareda, a Peruvian commercial attaché who was surprised seeing the countless number of culinary activities in Istanbul, had once said: “What is the need for so many activities? In Lima only one food festival, named ‘Mistura,’ has been organized for 12 years and 500,000 people visit it.”
Countries like Peru, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Japan, whose cuisines have become popular worldwide, have known the importance of culinary tourism for several years and created their own roadmaps. Today, they are after new strategies for tourists interested in food and drinks.
Tourism expert giving gastronomy lessons
At the beginning of the congress, Arslanalp gave Spain’s figures, and they were impressive.
Some 9 million of the 68 million tourists who visited Spain were tourists visiting for gastronomic purposes.
Arslanalp stresses that if we want to go far in this sector, restaurants abroad where Turkish cuisine is served, new generation chefs and local products must be supported and encouraged.
Speaking of new generation chefs; it was pleasing to see students from gastronomy departments of various universities attend the Culinary Tourism Congress.
We learned of the difficulties faced by gastronomy students from universities in the provinces of Nevşehir, Mersin and Bolu, who attended the congress for free but came to İzmir by their own means.
First of all, the word “gastronomy” is unfamiliar to their families and community.
One person said, “They do not understand what I do when I say I study gastronomy.”
Another one from the gastronomy department of the Nevşehir Hacı Bektaş Veli University in the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir said a tourism expert was teaching them rather than a gastronomy expert.
Luckily enough, we began the initiative by calling it “Culinary Tourism.” But it will not be easy.