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What is the Holy Grail of food tourism and how do you capitalise on it?

Food tourism presents big opportunities for farmers and rural businesses

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Picture: Failte Ireland

Picture: Failte Ireland

Picture: Failte Ireland

Food tourism has opened up new opportunities for producers, communities and restaurateurs to put their region on the map and showcase what they do to a wider audience.

Holidaymakers to this country spend an estimated €2bn on food during their stay, Fáilte Ireland estimates. Yet Ireland is still not considered a "food destination".

According to United Nations World Travel Organisation figures, around 10pc of the world's tourism market is made up of gastro-tourists, those who will travel to a particular region because of its food.

It is estimated that 30pc of the average tourist spend is on food and with tax receipts of €6bn from tourism, this equates to a spend of €2bn on food alone.

John Mulcahy, head of food tourism at Fáilte Ireland, says visitors are not coming here for food but it is a key driver in how satisfied they are with their holiday.

"Our research shows that overseas, Ireland is not seen as a place you would go for food, despite our marvellous green image.

"Irish food is still seen as traditional things like brown bread, Irish stew, Guinness and whiskey," Mr Mulcahy says.

"When people come here we do know that food is a driver of satisfaction and if the food is not right they don't go home happy."

To this end, the tourism body is more interested in making sure the food visitors experience is memorable and above their expectations and reflective of the place they are in.

"There is an increased role for rural communities to get involved here and our aim is to shorten the journey from farm to table and we really want to up the game on breakfast. Someone running a B&B should not be going to the supermarket for cheap bacon and eggs when these are available down the road."

Generally, satisfaction rates are high on Fáilte Ireland's top three products; the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Dublin, that are targeted at four main markets; America, Britain, France and Germany.

The Holy Grail

The holy grail of becoming a food destination is a longer journey but already communities have their sights set on this.

For one, it has offered an opportunity to work together and develop its own food story that combines heritage, natural resources and native talent in a sustainable way that will benefit all its stake holders.

During the 18th century, one of the main exports from Ireland was butter, which was transported from the dairy farms to the butter exchange in Cork by donkey and cart over bad roads.

The Muskerry, Avondhu and Duhallow areas of north and west Cork had strong links with the butter trail that can be traced back to 1730 until their role faded in the 1920s and the small creameries took over.

Martina and Patricia Cronin of the Square Table restaurant in Blarney, Co Cork remember their grandfather pointed out one of these butter roads to them, a small boreen that traversed his land in Kilnamartyra, when they were children.

They got together with Máire Ní Mhurchú of Activitydays.ie and farmers, food producers and other restaurateurs from Mallow, Ballyvourney, Blarney and Mitchelstown - areas the butter road would have passed through - to talk about how they could develop a tourist food trail.

The sisters opened their restaurant in Blarney three years ago and their ethos was to support as much local produce as possible.

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"We felt the region wasn't known for food and yet it was full of food producers but there was no one promoting it for food tourism," Patricia said.

This was about 18 months ago but in the past few months the Butter Roads Trail has been given an added boost and the new tourist initiative was officially launched by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed earlier this summer.

Putting Donegal on the Food Map

When faced with recession and a constant loss of custom over the border, Donegal Town looked to food tourism to turn things around. That was nine years ago when the town welcomed 5,000 visitors to the first Taste of Donegal.

Last year, they had 125 exhibitors and 23,000 visitors and they're hoping for similar numbers for their ninth festival, which takes place from August 25 to 27.

"There isn't a bed to be had in Donegal Town that weekend," said organiser, Mary McGettitgan, one of a team of volunteers, along with her butcher husband, Ernan.

"The aim of it was to bring people to the town but also to make Donegal a food destination. We already had the quality food, we just needed people to associate it with Donegal," she said.

This involved going around to all the producers in the area and inviting them to take part in the event. This year, they have a waiting list of people who want to exhibit their produce.

"We asked them to take a chance on us and come to the first Taste of Donegal and some of them are still coming back to us each year," Mary added.


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