Targeting Your Niche: Food & Wine Travel

Consumers seeking more gourmet travel experiences

By: Lisa Jennings

There are travelers who consider tasting the food and wine of any particular destination as simply one component of their entire travel experience.

But there are a growing number of travelers who consider the food and wine to be the primary goal of their vacations.

These are people who love to eat, cook and learn about wine production. They may be looking for hard-core cooking classes, or simply a gourmet insider’s insight. But mostly they want a literal taste of the place they are visiting.

“Foodie” travelers are not always in the same camp as those interested in wine, but often they overlap. And tour operators are offering more to appeal specifically to both types of traveler.

“We see it as a growth industry,” said agent Richard Turen, a former restaurant critic and food writer who has developed a specialty in culinary tours. “There’s a tremendous market for it.”

Turen’s agency, Churchill and Turen Ltd. in Chicago, only handles high-end travel. His clients may not want to spend a week at a cooking school, but they want real “cooking experiences.”

The agency offers culinary tours in Italy that include stays in luxuriously restored farmhouses, visits to local salami makers and, of course, restaurants. But travelers also get to spend a day in the kitchen of a mother-and-daughter team learning about true Italian home cooking.

Turen also arranges culinary tours in Asia and France, but in general he can weave food experiences into any vacation. For cruise clients, for example, he can arrange restaurant visits in every port, or recommend dishes to try in specific destinations.

Tour operator A Cook’s Tour (, based in Seattle, aims to offer “recreational” cooking experiences.

“We make it so everybody can learn something at the level they are at, and can have fun doing it,” said David Iverson, the “big cheese” of A Cook’s Tour.

The company offers food-and-wine itineraries in Italy, France, and South Africa, as well as customized tours. In groups of eight to 20, the tours include cooking lessons from local chefs, visits to restaurants, wineries and boutique food producers, and guided sightseeing tours.

A Cook’s Tour was launched three years ago, and the company handles a lot of affinity groups as well as working with travel agents. A 10 percent commission is offered.

Food and Wine Trails (, based in Santa Rosa, Calif., is another tour operator catering to food-and-wine travelers that offers commissions.

“Napoleon said an army travels on its stomach. We think so do travelers,” said Larry Martin, president of Food and Wine Trails.

The company has about 35 escorted tours offered per year in the Sonoma and Napa regions, Spain, France and Italy, and new this year is a culinary tour of New Zealand’s wine country.

Interest in culinary and wine-oriented tours is growing, said Barbara Crawford, executive vice president of Visit Italy Tours, based in Los Angeles.

Visit Italy offers general tours of Italy, but the company has expanded its offerings of culinary tours because “they’re becoming more popular,” said Crawford.

Visit Italy offers group and FIT itineraries, though about 90 percent of business is custom-designed trips.

“It’s a growing market,” said Crawford, “but it’s not going to make you a millionaire.”