Gastronomic Tourism

Development, sustainability and applications – a case study of County Cork, Republic of Ireland

Authored by: Clare Carruthers , Amy Burns , Gary Elliott

The Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Food and Gastronomy

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415702553
eBook ISBN: 9780203795699
Adobe ISBN: 9781134457335




Food and gastronomy have a long-established link with tourism and have become a key factor in the development and promotion of tourism. Local cuisine defines a destination and is an integral aspect of local culture; it is often synonymous with the history and heritage of a place, identifying and distinguishing one destination from another nationally, regionally and, in some cases, locally. Intensified tourism competition often means that such localised identities become a powerful marketing tool as ‘local culture is becoming an increasingly valuable source of new products and activities to attract and amuse tourists’ (Vasileska and Reckoska, 2010: 1622). Hall and Mitchell (2005: 73) note that food and drink have, in fact, become ‘a significant component in popular culture in the developed world’, an ‘important part of contemporary lifestyles’ and hence an important part of tourism.

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Gastronomic Tourism


Food and gastronomy have a long-established link with tourism and have become a key factor in the development and promotion of tourism. Local cuisine defines a destination and is an integral aspect of local culture; it is often synonymous with the history and heritage of a place, identifying and distinguishing one destination from another nationally, regionally and, in some cases, locally. Intensified tourism competition often means that such localised identities become a powerful marketing tool as ‘local culture is becoming an increasingly valuable source of new products and activities to attract and amuse tourists’ (Vasileska and Reckoska, 2010: 1622). Hall and Mitchell (2005: 73) note that food and drink have, in fact, become ‘a significant component in popular culture in the developed world’, an ‘important part of contemporary lifestyles’ and hence an important part of tourism.

More recently, specific initiatives to draw together the two concepts of food and tourism are emerging at the local level, and these have a contribution to make towards strengthening the tourism product; sustaining local food production and enhancing the visitor experience, in particular in rural areas (Boyne et al., 2003). It is within this context that the authors propose gastronomic tourism on the island of Ireland as a viable option for sustainability in terms of economy, environment and society.

Gastronomic tourism – definitions, development and growth

Gastronomy is particularly difficult to define, with many differences arising within the literature linking it to the art, science and culture of food, and has different traditions across the world. Culinary traditions represent an aspect of a region’s gastronomy, and culinary tourism has been defined as ‘the intentional, exploratory participation in the foodways of an other – participation including the consumption, preparation and presentation of a food item, cuisine, meal system, or eating style considered to belong to a culinary system not one’s own’ (Long, 2004: 21).

Also referred to as gastronomic, gourmet or cuisine tourism, it involves travelling to a region famous for a particular food/style, food/cuisine or wine or travelling to take food/wine courses, festivals, events, educational trips/tours, trails and courses, etc. Specifically, gastronomic tourism, as opposed to culinary, gourmet or cuisine tourism, is ‘typically related to interest in the broader dimension of wine and food and the cultures and landscapes that produce them’ (Hall and Mitchell, 2005: 75). This is not an unimportant point when discussing the link specifically between food, tourism and sustainability, as inherently the culture and landscapes of food are vitally important aspects of such sustainability. Food tourism encompasses all the elements of gastronomic, culinary and gourmet tourism as defined by Hall and Mitchell (2001: 308) as ‘visitation to primary and secondary food producers, food festivals, restaurants and specific locations for which food tasting and/or experiencing the attributes of specialist food production regions are the primary motivating factors for travel’.

Motivation for gastronomic tourism has tended to be in the background or a secondary factor of the tourist experience, but that is changing as decisions about where to travel based on food choices are becoming primary motivating factors (Hall and Mitchell, 2005), rather than secondary or tertiary, as noted by Mintel (2009: 1): ‘Gastronomy is hot around the world.’ Vasileska and Reckoska (2010: 1622) discuss the increasing focus of wine and food being central in travel decision making and being in fact ‘the hallmark attraction of a number of destinations around the world’.

Factors fuelling this growth include the increased interest in food and the raised profile of food in the media. This is coupled with increased multiculturalism, increased immigration to the UK and North America and the free movement of people within Europe. Mintel (2009: 1–2) notes that, while there is a lack of empirical evidence in regard to the growth and development of this sector, and indeed the market profile of a gastronomic tourist, certainly ‘anecdotal evidence suggests . . . that it is precisely because ethnic restaurants have proliferated in recent years that more and more people want to travel to the countries where the food originates, in order to sample it first-hand’.

Consumer trends and the gastro-tourist

Consumer trends in relation to both food and tourism as separate concepts have changed radically. The growth in the short-break market and niche tourism offerings, wider opportunities for travel, wider travelled and more sophisticated consumers in terms of their tourism consumption habits and the seeking out of more specific types of tourism activity associated with culture, education, lifestyles and unique, enriching and memorable experiences are all contributory factors. These trends are coupled with increased interest in food issues and the raised profile of food in the media such as health and lifestyle, food safety and standards, demand for more organic food and less food waste, food provenance, food miles and rising food costs, all of which are raising concerns regarding the sustainability of local food and food-related industries, socially, economically and environmentally. Initiatives and responses to such issues include the rise in the focus on aspects such as local food and food production, artisan food producers, farm shops and the resurgence of the traditional farmers’ market. Initiatives such as Eat Local and the Slow Food movement, once considered to be relatively marginal, are becoming increasingly more mainstream. As a result ‘travellers are becoming ever more knowledgeable about food and they avidly follow gastronomic trends, seeking out new destinations, where they can sample authentic fare that is native to a particular country or region’ (Mintel, 2009: 1).

This becomes a virtuous circle, as consumer concern for more locally produced, sourced and organic products then leads to increased demand and expenditure and hence helps sustain these local initiatives and contribute towards the economic sustainability of local food production, manufacturing and processing. Further, Boyne and Hall (2004) discuss the potential to be gained from the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) tourism market, in that, as a consequence, local people increase their spend on local produce as part of the hosting of friends and family. Indeed they note that this can ‘assist the purpose and potential of prompting food and tourism as the basis for developing a rural brand’ (Boyne and Hall, 2004: 82), yet du Rand et al. (2003) note that the link between food and destination marketing is something that has received very little attention in the extant literature.

While Mintel (2009) notes that detailed demographic details in this niche market are sparse, some general trends are apparent in the European market. These are that gastronomic tourists are thought to be professionals, at the peak of their careers, in the 30–50+ age group, that they are adventurous and cultural travellers, with a higher level of educational attainment and higher than average disposable incomes. They seek experiences beyond just enjoying food and wine, but that incorporate activities that are based on learning and active participation, etc. Mintel goes on to note that, in addition, the greying market is a major driver. Everett and Aitchison (2008) identified a similar profile in their study on food tourism in Cornwall. Here they identified typical food tourists as empty-nest, 50+, well-informed consumers with higher than average disposable incomes, prepared to spend on quality food produce and that, in particular, they were not the typical high-season tourists commonly associated with Cornwall.

This profile fits closely with that of the creative tourist, as proposed by Richards and Wilson (2007). Richards and Wilson (2007: 18) propose creative tourism as an extension/alternative to cultural tourism that ‘depends far more on the active involvement of tourists’ and many tourism destinations are seeking these creative/experiential aspects of tourism as a more sustainable model, often with gastronomic tourism as an aspect. Richards suggests that future growth in cultural tourism is much more likely to be found in more specific niche offerings such as ‘arts tourism, architectural tourism, festival tourism, opera tourism, gastronomic tourism and creative tourism’ (Richards, 2003). Further, Croce and Perri (2010: 6) identify the common features of both cultural tourism and food and drink tourism, noting that holidays ‘based around offering a gastronomic experience will necessarily include one or more components of cultural tourism’. As many tourism destinations are seeking these creative/experiential aspects of tourism as a more sustainable model, there is certainly further scope and opportunity for gastronomic tourism to offer just such a niche. Du Rand et al. (2003) also argue that as culture plays an increasingly important role in tourism, so too does food, as a key element of that culture.

There are also clearly links here to other tourism niches with similar market segment profiles, including rural tourism, slow tourism and agri-tourism, all of which are closely related to the underlying concepts of sustainability in food and gastronomic issues. For example, agri-tourism usually includes holidays on farms, which might include any aspects of the local food and produce and/or experiential learning, hence gastronomic tourism and agri-tourism are inextricably linked as the concept revolves around the lived experiences of agricultural communities and hence their food.

Food, tourism, gastronomy and sustainability

Gastronomic tourism can benefit a destination in many ways. It can help position and market a destination for tourism, enhance tourism image and visitors’ experiences, contribute towards place/destination branding, contribute towards the sustainable development of the local food industry and economy, provide the economic stimuli for primary food production, processing and manufacturing through tourist spend, stimulating demand from new market sectors and expanding existing markets through, for example, souvenir foods and developing new tastes. It can also help to diversify the tourism product and develop new market opportunities for food providers, for example local farmers, local food producers, etc. Indeed Hall and Sharples (2003) specifically note that new agricultural products and tourism have commonly been pursued as economic diversification models in rural economies in response to economic restructuring. Boyne and Hall (2004) discuss how local food produce not only strengthens the local tourism product, but also has the capacity to contribute towards stimulating demand and expanding the markets for local foodstuffs, through both local consumption and tourists then seeking out that produce upon returning home.

There are many examples of these gastronomic tourism opportunities that evidence growth in this market, such as Balti breaks in Birmingham (Hatch, 2006), gastronomic tours of London incorporating culinary skills (Savy Club, n.d.) and Ireland Gourmet Tours (Cellatours, n.d.). Culinary tours and trails are also a common feature of gastronomic tourism and a key element in rural and regional development strategies, such as that of the Isle of Arran taste trail in western Scotland. The trail initiated by the local enterprise agency, the Argyll and the Islands Enterprise Agency, aims to bring together food producers, suppliers, outlets, restaurants and retailers and establish closer links with tourism, promoting gastronomic tourism as a niche tourism product on the Island of Arran, the focus of which is very much on local produce, and encouraging back-linkages between farms and the point of sale (Boyne et al., 2002: 91).

Similarly the case of Cornwall, in the south-west of England, evidences the potential for gastronomic tourism to contribute towards sustainable development as well as bringing the tourism benefits associated with economy and society. With Rick Stein, Jamie Oliver and Paul Ainsworth championing the regional local fresh produce, in particular its seafood, Cornwall is firmly established on the gastronomic tourism map. However, there are significant environmental issues related to tourism in Cornwall, in particular associated with its intensely seasonal nature and associated congestion, which highlight the inherent tensions in the links between gastronomy, tourism and sustainability. When we consider the very nature of many of the initiatives and movements surrounding gastronomy, contemporary food issues and sustainability, for example the Slow Food movement and artisan food production, they are often the very antithesis of many aspects of tourism development, with their very essence being anti-commercialisation and commodification. The difficulties lie in managing the relationships between tourism development, food and sustainability.

In their study on Cornwall, however, Everett and Aitchison (2008: 157) found that local hospitality and tourism businesses in the area acknowledged that a reconnection with ‘the tourist and the landscape via local food production networks could help reduce the negative environmental impact’. Further, they found that food tourism has the capacity to contribute towards increased visitor spend and extend the tourist season, hence contributing towards sustainable development, in particular in rural locations. Boyne et al. (2003: 134) discuss the reciprocal benefits, as ‘local foodstuffs enhance and strengthen the tourism product while tourists and visitors provide a market for these products’, underlining the clear link between food, tourism, gastronomy and sustainability. Indeed Boyne and Hall (2003) discuss the need to establish ‘back linkages between the tourism and food-production sectors [which] can add value within an area’s local economy’.

Further, du Rand et al (2003: 98) note that local food has the potential to contribute towards sustainability, authenticity and the economy in terms of destination development and marketing and that in fact food and drink offerings of a destination may be among ‘its most important cultural expressions’, in that cultural identity is often reflected in food experiences, ingredients and cooking methods. They argue that on this basis ‘local and regional food is a feature that can add value to a destination . . . and may contribute to the sustainable competitiveness of a destination’ (du Rand et al., 2003: 98). Everett and Aitchison (2008: 150) also identify the correlation between gastronomic tourism, regional identity, sustainability and social and cultural benefits, noting that food tourism has the capacity to assist in ‘securing the “triple bottom line” ’, hence not just contributing towards economic and social benefits to a region, but making a contribution towards achieving environmental sustainability also. Hall and Sharples (2003: 26), however, suggest that ‘the development of strong local food identities and sustainable food systems have substantial potential to grow, with tourism playing a significant role’. This sentiment is also echoed by Croce and Perri (2010: 39) as they identify the links between gastronomic tourism and sustainable development, as gastronomic tourism has the capacity for ‘maintaining and developing the environment, the economy, culture and society’. They go on to note that, in fact, compared with ‘other types of tourism [which have] brought impoverishment, gastronomic tourism can reinforce the environment and the autonomy and identity of a region’ (Croce and Perri, 2010: 39–40).

The Cork model

County Cork is situated in the south-west corner of Ireland, a peripheral county; in particular, the less accessible West Cork stretches along the south-west coast and has traditionally been associated with agriculture, fishing and, more recently, tourism. With the rural economy of Ireland suffering significantly from the contraction of its traditional agricultural industries, ‘farm diversification is one of the cornerstones of any rural development programme’ (West Cork Development Partnership, n.d.). Within this context the Ireland Rural Development Programme 2007–2013, with a budget of a5.778 billion, identifies specific measures as contributing towards improving the competitiveness of agriculture, improving the environment and improving the quality of life in rural areas.

Among these measures are diversification into non-agricultural activities and the encouragement of tourism activities specifically. Such diversification might include provision of tourism facilities, developing niche tourism products – including speciality food provisions – and the development of farm shops selling home/locally grown produce, thus clearly illustrating the policy commitment towards rural diversification with a specific focus on tourism, food, gastronomy and sustainability (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, n.d.). This policy commitment is further evidenced by Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, which aims to ‘support science-based innovation in the agri-food sector and the broader bioeconomy that will underpin profitability, competitiveness and sustainability’ (Teagasc, n.d.). To this end it supports a range of projects related to food, tourism and the rural economy. These include the development of rural tourism, artisan food production and organic farming.

At the local level, the West Cork Development Partnership (2003) identifies rural tourism as ‘closely correlated with agricultural activity and . . . a valuable source of income’ and, more specifically, specifies agri-tourism as a complementary activity to farming. Again here, the development of niche tourism, including speciality food provision, is specifically identified. In this context, from a national to a local policy level, gastronomic tourism in County Cork has further developed.

Cork has successfully branded its food and tourism product, building on the very traditional aspects of its local food production heritage, notably the English Market in Cork City, and further developing the more contemporary side of food through its associations as a renowned food tourism destination and initiatives such as the Kinsale Good Food Circle of Restaurants, Taste of Kinsale breaks, numerous food festivals such as the Kinsale Gourmet Festival, Baltimore Seafood Festival, Cork Food Week and the West Cork Food and Drink Festival, and further expansion into creative/educational/experiential food tourism with food schools such as the world famous Ballymaloe House and Cookery School.

To draw out a couple of examples further, the English Market in Cork City, established as a municipal market in 1788, is billed as the ‘best covered market in the UK and Ireland’ (English Market, n.d.) and the ‘mother of all markets’ (McKenna and McKenna, 2001: 98). The market underwent considerable refurbishment in the late 1990s and early part of the subsequent decade after a fire caused considerable damage in 1980. Traditionally the market housed the local fishmongers, butchers and vegetable stalls; however, recent years have seen significant growth in the more contemporary foodstuffs, led by the trends identified earlier in this chapter, where the market has become a place where ‘tradition and innovation sit side by side’ (McKenna and McKenna, 2001: 98) and is now also home to the Farmgate Restaurant, which sits above the covered market in the gallery, a new addition at the time of refurbishment. Also in resurgence and regrowth in Cork are country markets and farmers’ markets, increasingly occupied again by alternative and artisanal producers who have ‘reinvigorated the market by broadening the range and increasing the volume of produce’ (Sage, 2003: 55).

This growth and development is also complemented by Ballymaloe House and Cookery School, further strengthening and developing the gastronomic tourism brand in Cork. Originally established in the 1940s as a small mushroom farm and apple orchard, expanding into the restaurant trade in the 1960s as one of the first ever country house restaurants in Ireland, Ballymaloe quickly established a reputation for its ‘distinctive Irish culinary’ experiences (Sage, 2003: 57), where produce was either grown on the farm itself or locally sourced. Ballymaloe has since expanded into a hotel and cookery school but, perhaps more importantly, Myrtle Allen, the founder of Ballymaloe, quickly gained a reputation as an ambassador and supporter of quality, locally grown Irish produce, both at home and overseas. This reputation has been furthered by subsequent generations and their rising media profiles, principally through television programmes and cookery books, presented and authored by both Darina and Rachel Allen (Sage, 2003). Indeed, such is the significance of Ballymaloe and its association with Cork that Sage (2003: 58) notes that it ‘has consequently established a high profile and worldwide reputation [which has] proven an unassailable platform from which to broadcast an important message about the integrity of food’. Indeed the Slow Food movement in Ireland has its roots in Cork, when the first local convivium of the movement was established in 1998, led by Myrtle Allen and subsequently coordinated by Darina Allen.

Numerous other food-related initiatives have been established in Cork in recent years, including Taste Cork, the Fuchsia brand and Cork’s Coastal Food Trails. Taste Cork is a brand that aims to develop linkages between food producers and marketers, and ‘promote sustainable regional food production’ (Taste Cork, n.d.) across the county. The Cork food brand has been further strengthened with the West Cork marketing initiative, the Fuchsia brand; developed by Failte Ireland, it brings together local tourism and food companies in a ‘single regional identity’. Fuchsia Brands Ltd. has a membership of around 100 tourist and 40 food enterprises, the objective of which is to ‘emphasise excellence and quality [reflecting] local characteristics, environmental quality and richness of the heritage, culture and landscape’ (Fuchsia News, 1998, as cited in O’Reilly, 2001: 6).

The purpose of the initiative was to establish a brand that would indicate indigenous regional produce quality, promote the food product as a differentiating factor in the Cork tourism product portfolio and further develop marketing linkages between the various sectors of food, tourism and local craft. Indeed it is recognised that the ‘linkages between the food and tourism industries create a synergy in the region, with high quality local food . . . becoming an integral part of visitors’ quality experience’ (Placebrand, n.d.). Further, artisan and organic food enterprises in Cork, and in particular West Cork, have proliferated in recent years into a network that includes organic farmers and growers, artisanal food producers and food markets (Sage, 2003). Indeed, West Cork is home to the largest ‘concentration of rurally-based speciality food producers in Ireland’ (Placebrand, n.d.). Further linkages to development and marketing of artisanal food production are exemplified by the accreditation of many of them as Fuchsia brands.

The Cork’s Coastal Food Trails initiative, developed by Failte Ireland, promotes three food trails that incorporate a broad range of artisanal, organic, indigenous produce, including artisan food producers, cooperatives, wholefood and organic retailers, restaurants, cafés, pubs, breweries, markets, bakeries, farm shops, smokeries and cookery schools. The trails cover the geographic region of Cork, from Cork City to Youghal in the east of Cork and as far as Schull to the west. In the promotion of the trail there is a clear focus on developing and marketing sustainable gastronomic tourism across the whole county.

The gastronomic tourism product of Cork is further strengthened by the reputation of Kinsale as a high-quality food tourism resort. Situated on the south coast of Cork, Kinsale is a traditional fishing village and popular tourist resort and has established a reputation around its many eateries including bars, cafés and fine-dining restaurants, so much so that 12 fine-dining restaurants are marketed under the umbrella of Kinsale’s Good Food Circle. The Circle organise a number of food-related events and offers throughout the year, such as Taste of Kinsale breaks and the Kinsale Gourmet Festival (Failte Ireland, n.d.). In addition, numerous other food-related initiatives are well-established in Kinsale that promote the sustainable development of indigenously grown and produced food, including the Community Supported Agriculture Project (a shared self-sufficiency initiative between the local community and local farmers) and Kinsale Green Growers (an enterprise that grows and sells vegetables to local households).

The Kinsale Gourmet Festival is also just one of a whole portfolio of food-related festivals that have been developed and marketed across the county of Cork in recent years. These include the Baltimore Seafood Festival, Cork Food Week, West Cork Food and Drink Festival, Mitchelstown Food Festival and Food Awards, Taste of West Cork, Cork Folk and Food Market, Belling West Cork Artisan Food Awards and the Christmas in Cobh Food Fair (Go Ireland, n.d.).

A final example is that of the Midleton Distillery, in south-east Cork, founded in 1825, and home to some of the major Irish whiskey brands including Jameson, Powers and Paddy. The original distillery was closed in 1975, making way for an ultra-modern facility and lay unused until its restoration in the 1980s. It is now home to the Jameson Experience tourist attraction, incorporating a tour of the original distillery building and its original kilns, pot stills, water wheel and warehouses. The restoration of the distillery as a tourist attraction makes a clear and established link between the gastronomic heritage of the county and tourism development. Indeed the town of Midleton and the distillery itself are identified as highlights in the aforementioned Cork’s Coastal Food Trails. Along with the Midleton food market, an annual food and drink festival and a growing reputation for its food and drink establishments, Midleton also adds to the overall gastronomic reputation of the county.

Du Rand et al. (2003) recommend a number of strategies that can be utilised to contribute towards the optimisation of destination development and marketing around its food offering. These include generating media coverage, funding to develop and exploit the food experience, promoting speciality restaurants, developing local food as a tourist attraction, branding locally produced foods, developing food festivals and events and developing a food route. When we examine the experience of Cork we can appreciate that many of these strategies contribute to this objective. In so doing, it is evident that Cork has developed and marketed its gastronomic tourism offering very successfully, creating a clear and established link between tourism, gastronomy and the sustainable development of its indigenous food production industry to create an enviable model of sustainable gastronomic tourism development.


This case study of Cork is presented here as an ‘investigation of a particular contemporary phenomenon within its real life context’ (Robson, 2002: 178), and hence is not necessarily a suitable basis from which to make generalisations (Yin, 2009). However, Veal (2006) notes that the conclusions from cases can present general propositions and have validity in relation to theory and/or policy, which is the intention here.

There are clearly lessons to be drawn here around replication and suitability of the development of gastronomic tourism on the island of Ireland for regional destinations possessing similar competitive advantages. There are clearly established and growing links between tourism, rural tourism, food, agri-tourism and the agri-food sector, in particular as evidenced by the case of Cork. Numerous issues emerge in this case, including the diversification of the tourism product and the rural economy, increasing visitor spend, developing niche tourism, contributing towards sustainability of local food production and suppliers, developing and maintaining artisan and niche food production, extending the tourist season and creating back linkages between the food and tourism sectors. Not every destination has a Ballymaloe or an English Market, nor necessarily the extensive restaurant network of Kinsale. However, many possess advantages in relation to food, tourism and sustainability that may well be the seeds of the development of sustainable gastronomic tourism and the adoption of the Cork model, if not, at least, development and marketing of a destination towards such.

Ultimately there are still many underexplored issues surrounding food, tourism and sustainability in general and on the island of Ireland in particular and so the authors call for more empirical work in this area. Such investigations might include a closer examination of the relationship between local food initiatives and tourism, and the relationship between local food branding and its appeal to the tourist market. Investigation into the potential tensions between tourism development, gastronomy and sustainability is also desirable, given that managing the development of gastronomic tourism in the context of sustainability may well be, for many, a contentious debate. More case studies focusing on gastronomic tourism and sustainable development are also desirable, given the suitability of case study research to this topic, a growing body of which might help in in making comparisons and generalisations (Yin, 2009; Veal, 2006; Eisenhardt, 1989, 1991; Easterby-Smith et al., 2008) and identifying suitability for application and replication elsewhere.


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