A university researcher says tourism bodies should link more with the local food industry to attract repeat domestic tourists during Australia’s international lockout.
A world-first study by the University of South Australia and the University of Technology Sydney has shown the prominence that local foods can have on boosting regional economies through domestic tourism.
Researcher Dr Janine Williamson from the University of South Australia said the study of 518 people in 2019 was the first to provide evidence that tourists, not just “foodies”, consider food experiences a central part of their travel experience, and this insight presented valuable opportunities for domestic tourism.
The research was part of a larger study looking at how smaller accommodation providers could increase tourist pertinacity to buy local food.
“With international travel on indefinite hold since the onset of COVID-19, local tourism bodies must now focus their efforts on domestic offerings if they are to recover lost tourism dollars,” Williamson said.
Since the onset of the pandemic and Australia subsequently shutting its borders on March 20, 2020, international tourism saw a loss of $23 billion, a 68% dip from the beginning of 2020 to the end of September, according to Tourism Research Australia.
South Australia saw a decline of 13% for day trips and 26% decline in domestic visitor expenditure in the same period.
November 2020 showed signs of improvement before South Australia entered a hard lockdown in mid-November due to the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in visitor numbers again dropping.
The research looked to see if local food was important to leisure tourists and if they had some type of loyalty.
“What we found was yes, with leisure tourists regardless if they were originally motivated to go to an area, buying local food while they were there was really important to them,” said Williamson
“Within this group they were actually more likely to buy local food on their next trip, regardless of where that was.”
If tourism bodies increased awareness of local foods this had a positive impact, the research illustrated.
“Showing them (tourists) what’s the connection to the area, what’s the historical connection, why is that local food connected to the local area and why it is connected to the local community, we found that was something that was really important,” Williamson said.
The research defined local foods as including all food types such as fruit, meat, milk, wine and beer, confectionery and pastries.
Luke Tyler, the marketing manager at Wirra Wirra Vineyards in McLaren Vale, said Wirra Wirra has experienced a positive start to 2021 since restrictions were lifted.
“It’s not just the numbers we are seeing, which are good in terms of participation, we are seeing a lot of South Australian people come and visit. They have been very supportive in terms of not just visiting but buying wine which is good to see,” said Tyler.
Visits have increased six per cent since the beginning of 2021 for their premium experiences such as private tours and tastings, according to Tyler.
“(People) are visiting places like McLaren Vale and they are looking for some luxury experiences and things outside of the norm.”
“We have definitely seen a pickup in that part of the business, private tasting and more luxury experiences are being sought after.”
Following a year that has decimated the tourism industry, the UniSA research could help local businesses looking to recuperate losses.
“This means that there is a unique opportunity for local and regional enterprises to change the tourist landscape, and to do this through food,” Williamson said.
“Tourists who are culturally motivated to consume local food will seek out new, unique and authentic food experiences.”
This article was first published by The Lead South Australia.