Beyond beer and potatoes - 'Irish cuisine' could boost tourism by €400m
Appetite for travel
Ireland is home to 12 Michelin Stars, the San Pellegrino UK and Irish Young Chef of the Year (Aniar’s Killian Crowley) and some of the finest raw ingredients on the planet, but many visitors still see it as a land of beer and potatoes.
That’s according to a World Food & Travel Association survey, cited in Fáilte Ireland’s new Food and Drink Strategy.
If this “perception gap” can be closed, the five-year strategy argues, food tourism revenue could jump by up to €400 million between 2018 and 2023.
"We undoubtedly have the product and expertise, we have natural produce, fresh ingredients, and great fish and meat," said Paul Keeley, Fáilte Ireland's Director of Commercial Development, at the strategy launch.
"But we need to ensure that our food and drink offering gains a global reputation that matches the reality on the ground."
Visitors to Ireland already spend some €2 billion a year slaking their hunger and thirst, Fáílte Ireland figures suggest, but most of them experience Irish food and drink as "a pleasant surprise" rather than a compelling reason to visit.
Asked what stands out when they think of Irish food and drink, for example, 32pc of potential visitors said ‘beer’ and 15pc ‘potatoes’, according to the 2016 World Food & Travel Association survey (below).
The new strategy aims to fix that by "redefining the appeal of Irish cuisine" with initiatives ranging from improved Irish breakfasts to helping over 7,000 Irish pubs bring "authentic local food and drink experiences to life".
Food tourism trends
Food and drink are central to 21st century tourism - from envy-inducing Instagrams to destination restaurants, food tours and festivals.
The global trend coincides with an evolutionary leap in Irish food, from "fine casual" start-ups to Michelin Stars in Galway, Kilkenny, Clare and Waterford.
In fact, Ireland now has 2,400 restaurants, 160 farmers' markets, 60 food festivals, 40 cookery schools and a growing number of whiskey and gin distilleries, Fáilte Ireland says - the makings of a compelling food scene.
That message has yet to travel widely, however.
The World Food & Travel Association survey also saw 10pc of respondents cite 'Guinness', when asked for Irish food stand-outs, while 10pc named "corned beef and cabbage" – hardly an Irish restaurant staple.
It’s also true that, despite the huge improvements in Irish food, networking and education, it remains all-too-easy for both locals and visitors to find mediocre meals and drink that say nothing about the Irish food story.
Good food is good business
The new food tourism strategy aims to change this through a combination of overseas marketing and industry initiatives.
“Good food is good business,” Keeley said.
“To raise our game, we need to develop our capacity and performance within food in tourism businesses so that operators deliver a world class offering that is consistent and profitable," he added.
Proposals for the five-year period range from improving Irish breakfasts to ensuring visitor attractions use local foods, and from developing food and drink trails to a programme helping pubs to “bring authentic experiences to life”.
The strategy also mentions a potential "tourism initiative of scale" – a ‘Year of Food’ is among the options discussed, it emerged at the launch. That would happen between 2023 and 2028, forming the basis of the next strategy.
"We have an amazing offering already," says Ketty Elisabeth, Owner of Delicious Dublin tours and one of Fáilte Ireland's 'Food Champions' – local ambassadors it works with to progress the country’s food potential.
"Now it’s to push it out there, and to attract people internationally and change the perception of Irish food.”
Read more:The Irish Foodie Bucket List: 30 dishes worth travelling for