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Comment: We need to make the most of our fantastic food
4:31pm Thursday 9th August 2012 in Opinion
As you all know – and whether you like it or not – tourism is one of the mainstays of Cumbria’s economy and a principal source of employment and revenue.
In 2011, we welcomed more than 40.1m visitors, which brought in more than £2.2bn to our economy.
A total of £429m alone was spent by tourists on food. £429m! That’s more than any other segment of our tourism sector.
And there’s no sign of this huge surge in food tourism slowing down.
Granted, everyone visiting Cumbria for a short stay – or a long one – has to eat. But eating and drinking, in the context of the rest of their visit, is becoming increasingly important.
What I want to ask is: have we fully realised the significance of food tourism? Have we yet uncovered our Cumbrian point of difference? And have we fully realised its economic potential?
I don’t think so.
Those of you who are considering reading no further because you don’t think this is applicable to you, hang about: non-food/tourism businesses benefit from this too!
Think logistics and transport – the provision of vital links in our rural supply chains. Think processing, packaging, marketing and websites. Even the local garages, where hungry visitors stop to fill up with fuel, stand to gain.
In areas such as Cumbria, where we can guarantee a huge tourist footfall, we’re often accused of complacency. Why go that extra mile and source a locally made sausage when we can get a discount brand and flog it for the same price? They’re already here – we’ll sell it at a huge mark up and they’ll pay anyway, surely?
Not so! Or maybe they will but they’ll certainly think twice about coming back.
Food tourism is about helping visitors to uncover our culinary gems – not just leaving it to chance that they will find them by themselves.
It is about regional distinctiveness – championing our fantastic local produce and telling the story of its journey to our plates, so that visitors go away feeling a real connection with the area and are eager to come back for seconds. It’s not a new concept – Italy and France have been doing this stuff for ages!
Increasing the prevalence of local and regional foods in our shops and on our menus offers immediate and direct benefits to our local economy.
Farmers, producers, suppliers, restaurateurs and hoteliers should be communicating with each other – and the tourism industry – to improve food information available to visitors and enable informed choice.
The clever marketing of signature dishes, local events, hero products, food ambassadors and award-winning venues results in increased visitor spend, sustainable, economic development, reduced food miles, preservation of our unique, cultural heritage and – most importantly – satisfied customers.
From farm shops to festivals with food courts, gourmet restaurants to town centres and even petrol stations: we all have a part to play.
All visitors to this region have reason to expect a world class food offering when they get here and, thanks to our farmers, we have a landscape and primary produce that provide us with a huge competitive advantage.
That’s why I’m up here on my soapbox: any county can churn out a half decent steak and chips or Sunday carvery – what’s different about that? We all need to support our rural economy through consistent, responsible sourcing and messaging.
Our marketing of Cumbrian food MUST be rooted in our rich, agricultural heritage. It’s our most proud point of difference.
Quality and integrity are genuine, Cumbrian assets; never truer than in the case of our people and our food. Let’s flaunt it.
- Mary Houston, food tourism manager at Cumbria Tourism