A Decatur businesswoman has latched on to what industry officials say is a new, but growing trend—food tourism.
According to an article recently published by Skift, a company that provides information to the global travel industry, “While cuisine has always been an important part of most travel experiences, the concept of traveling to a destination specifically for its [food and beverage] product is a relatively recent mainstream consumer trend.” The article quoted a 2013 report by Mandala Research indicating that U.S. leisure travelers who visit places to learn about and enjoy unique dining experiences grew from 40 percent to 51 percent between 2006 and 2013.
Tracy Reddick, this year founded Downtown Decatur Food Tours, a company that provides guided food tasting and cultural walking tours. “Decatur is perfect for this,” she said. “Even though the city is only four square miles, it has approximately 80 restaurants—many of them interesting, independent eateries that offer unusual food choices. It’s also a ‘foodie’ town. There are lots of people here who enjoy unique dining experiences.”
So far, Reddick’s customers have been Georgians interested in learning more about Decatur and its varied culinary offerings. “In time, I’m hoping people visiting the Atlanta area will learn about this tour and make it part of their vacation itineraries,” she said.
The Skift article reports, “This is big business. In 2012, it was estimated that tourism expenditures on food services in the U.S. topped $201 billion, nearly a quarter of all travel income. That makes food service the highest category of travel spending, according to the University of Florida report A Flash of Culinary Tourism.”
“I’ve always enjoyed good food, travel and history,” Reddick said. “This business allows me to combine those things.” She explained that her three-hour tour, which includes stops at three restaurants, also includes visits to unusual Decatur shops and places of historical interest.
Some stops between restaurants are at food-related shops. “There’s a shop that sells infused olive oil and vinegar. I would never have imagined so many flavors and varieties of olive oil and vinegar are available,” commented Reddick, who said participants play a game in which they try to be the first to spot a feature she has told them is coming up. “They really enjoy the game.”
Although the groups—usually approximately 12 people—stop at three restaurants, they don’t have a full meal at any one of them. “The food is preselected and ordered,” Reddick explained. “At the end of the tour each person has had the equivalent of a moderate lunch.
“Downtown Decatur is a very walkable area,” Reddick said. “It’s colorful and beautiful. There are things going on all the time.” Although current tours are all midday on Saturdays and Sundays, Riddick said she doesn’t schedule tours when major festivals are going on in downtown Decatur.
Currently, all tours are identical—same route, same restaurants—but Reddick said she hopes that as the business grows, she will be able to hire additional tour guides and can create tours that highlight Decatur’s nightlife.
Those going on tours must register online in advance, Reddick explained. Tours are held rain or shine and all start at the designated time. “If someone registered for a tour hasn’t arrived several minutes before we start, I try to call them. If they are delayed, I tell them where we’ll be and let them join the tour in progress.”
She said groups have included a wide variety of ages, some couples and groups celebrating a birthday or another occasion. “We’re glad to work with people who want an unusual way to spend a birthday or anniversary or a bridesmaid get-together. This is all about having fun and creating memories,” Reddick said.
Although Reddick has experience in event planning, but no prior specific experience in food tourism, she said she has had no problems. “I had a very good mentor who has years of experience in food tourism. He taught me everything that I should prepare for; so things have gone smoothly.”
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