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Wed 2nd Jul 2014
Adventures in food tourism
 
Lauraine Jacobs explores the potential of a largely untapped market in New Zealand.
 
Tourism’s fastest growing attraction is food. Yet New Zealand seems to be only slowly waking up to the possibilities of promotion. Ireland (Good Food Ireland) and Ontario (Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance) have long had programmes to attract and encourage gastro tourists and Australia has announced an initiative it calls Restaurant Australia.
 
So why is our tourism focus on hobbits, thrill-seeking adventurers and stunning scenery? When did you last see a tourism poster exhorting travellers to visit for food and wine?
 
Much of our economy is based on food exports, so why not encourage the world’s foodies to visit and enjoy our excellent food here, where it is grown and harvested?
 
Elle Armon-Jones runs a food tourism business in Auckland, The Big Foody. “Clients find me on the web, email with requests for my tours but also want to know everything connected with food,” says Armon-Jones. “They will pay around $165 per person for their five-hour tour and certainly forgo flash hotels so they can spend more in our very best restaurants.
 
“Once they finish my tour they will have introductions to other producers throughout the country and lists of and reservations for the restaurants I recommend and will know exactly which specialty foods to look for in the regions they are travelling to. I take pleasure in giving them a ‘braggable’ experience.
 
“They return home talking about unique experiences such as a visit to the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese company farm where they can see the herd being milked and taste the cheeses, picnicking under trees at a large olive plantation, or buying goodies at a local farmers’ market.”
Visitors also want authentic Maori experiences. Armon-Jones gathers clams with her customers, cooking them over an open fire on the beach. She takes them out on a waka and follows that with a feast. And she helps them make Maori fried bread. She is conscious that tourist spending has its greatest impact when it goes directly to local producers.
 
Armon-Jones is bringing the World Food Travel Association’s summit to New Zealand. She has landed the rights to the 2017 conference to be held in Auckland and is working with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and New Zealand Tourism. The summit will be a key opportunity to showcase our best food and wine.
 
The time is right for a food and wine trail stretching from North Cape to Bluff. Every New Zealand region has food specialties.
However, apart from a few districts with established food networks, such as the Hawke’s Bay food and wine trail, the Central Otago wine trail and fortnight-long Wellington on a Plate, a potential star tourism attraction is going begging.