Food tourism: A strategy to attract tourism dollars to Michigan communities

Attracting visitors to your community can be accomplished by featuring a unique and special asset – an extraordinary experience with food.

The World Food Travel Association defines food tourism as: “The pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near.” It describes food tourism as inclusive and includes food carts and street vendors as much as the locals-only gastro-pubs, dramatic wineries or one-of-a-kind restaurants. “There is something for everyone in the food tourism industry,” the source explains.

Frankenmuth, Mich., known for its Bavarian heritage, holiday theme and chicken dinners is one of Michigan’s most popular food tourism destinations. The holiday season puts the spotlight on this small, east-central Michigan town, however, it’s known year-round for Frankenmuth-style chicken dinners served at two landmark restaurants.

According to the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Zehnder’s is the older of the two restaurants and is easily recognizable by its Mt. Vernon style and expansive front porch. At the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Restaurant across the street, the atmosphere is truly German. Costumed waiters and waitresses in lederhosen and dirndls serve chicken along with a selection of German entrees.”

The Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s can seat over 1,200 and 1,500 diners at one time, respectively. Together, they serve 700 tons of chicken annually, along with dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, soups, noodles, other side dishes and homemade bread.

Another up-and-coming food tourism destination is Traverse City, Mich. According to the Pure Michigan travel website, “Food writers, chefs and lovers of tasty food have been flocking here to sample the area’s fabled cuisine. For two years in a row, Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns. Last spring, Livability.com gave it first-place billing among 200 American cities in its Top 10 list of Surprising Foodie Towns, and in September Bon Appetit magazine listed it as one of America’s Top Five Foodie towns.” The “Tasty Traverse – a self guided foodie tour” booklet is an example of an effective strategy that’s helped establish northwestern lower Michigan as a food tourism destination.

Does your community have a unique, yet undiscovered culinary delight? Or are you already known for great dining, wine and brews? The World Food Travel Association says, “By celebrating your area’s food and drink delights as unique products, you can add intrigue to your destination.”

Michigan State University Extension provides community food systems educational programming and technical assistance. To contact an extension educator, use MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” tool and search using the keywords, “community food” or “tourism.”

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