Janice Gault: Food no longer just a side dish for tourists
Over the last couple of weeks, TV cookery programmes have shown me Mary Berry skipping through a souk in the Moroccan capital of Marrakesh, Rick Stein beating his way through beer halls in Berlin and the Hairy Bikers navigating Norwegian fjords.
All great TV, beautiful scenery, amazing destinations and tremendous food.
It only seems like yesterday that I strolled, slightly the worse for sunburn, along continental streets looking at out-of-focus pictures of local delicacies or sought out the familiar territory of the nearest fast food outlet.
How times have changed. I met a young couple on holiday in Asia. Yes, they wanted to see the local sights but they had a list of restaurants and food tours on their 'to do' list.
Food was the central theme of their trip. Indeed, I felt much the same way having seen Marrakesh, wanting to take in the vibrancy of the markets, the new ingredients and tastes.
This has really brought home to me the growing role of food in tourism - no longer a side dish but often the main reason to visit and a key influence in destination choice.
Instead of travel guides, people now consult local food bloggers, scrutinise Michelin guides and interrogate friends for the best places to eat.
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This applies in equal measure to high end dining right through the spectrum to street food, with tourists seeking more adventurous food experiences.
In 2016, Northern Ireland celebrated a year of food and drink. This really elevated the role of food and saw a growth in confidence in our local produce. Last year Northern Ireland was voted The World's Best Food Destination at the World Travel Awards.
This year there will be a new eight-week food promotional campaign entitled Taste the Island celebrating our food heritage, tours, trails and festivals.
Promoting Ireland as a food destination, this initiative will run for three years allowing us to build a food legacy, plan new culinary events and build on the success of 2016.
Food remains firmly on the menu for the tourist and I'm looking forward to seeing how we can develop Northern Ireland as a great food destination. In addition to promoting our authentic culinary heritage, we have the opportunity to create new attractions based on food and drink and adopt sustainable practices.
Northern Ireland is world leading in the quality of its produce, responsible husbandry, traceability and sheer abundance of amazing ingredients and fantastic culinary skills.
We're now going to show the world what we have to offer and put Northern Ireland on the food tourism map.
- Janice Gault is chief executive of the NI Hotels Federation. The federation hosts Taste of Tourism at the Culloden Hotel and Spa outside Belfast Today. Visit www.tasteof tourism.com for information