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Taste of the Valley panel discusses Culinary Tourism in Cumberland Valley

SILVER SPRING TOWNSHIP – Restaurants often spring up around tourist attractions, but what if local cuisine could draw visitors to the Cumberland Valley on its own?

Panelists at the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp.’s fifth annual tourism conference this morning said “culinary tourism” is a growing trend, and given the county’s abundant farmland and interesting towns, the area could become the next big food-based travel destination.

The term “culinary tourism” may sound technical, but 51 percent of survey respondents say they look at what is available to eat when deciding upon a tourism destination, said Valeria Palmertree, a Virginia-based public relations account supervisor for the travel marketing agency BCF.

“While we’ve always dined out when we travel – that’s just part of the travel experience – now food is playing a role in how and where we travel, and people are really demonstrating a desire to travel a really long way … for a really unique culinary experience,” Palmertree said. “They’re quickly becoming economic drivers in their own right.”

Culinary tourism is dominated by such locations as New York, New Orleans and the Napa Valley, but other areas have the potential to become secondary leaders in the market, she said. Most culinary tourists aren’t looking for anything fancy, instead preferring authentic, local cuisine that can be afforded on a budget, she said.

“They’re really looking for experiences beyond fine dining, and to them, local is key,” she said.

Several panelists agreed on the authentic experience Cumberland County can offer: farmland and populated areas side-by-side, creating opportunities for farm-to-table experiences that allow guests to learn the full story of their food.

“All our produce is taking place where our population is. Our producers and our consumers are next-door neighbors,” said panelist Johnny Roberts, a marketing coordinator for Isaac’s Famous Grilled Sandwiches.

 

Local attractions

Jonathan Bowser, the development corporation’s CEO, said culinary tourism was highlighted for the sixth annual conference because it is an existing, growing trend in the county.

As an example, the Catering Barn, site of the conference, has been a working farm since 1845. It still raises turkeys – which gaze upon visitors as they enter the rustically decorated wooden barn – but now serves as a catering destination with dinner tables and a stage.

“When you’re able to go outside and you’re able to see turkeys, and then you’re able to come inside and see a venue like this, which is very unique, it’s an experience,” Bowser said. “We want to be able to leverage that.”

Panelist Jennifer Delaye, the president and CEO of Camp Hill-based JDK Catering, said 30 percent of her wedding clients have no ties to the Midstate. Delaye said she attracts their attention by borrowing from the latest culinary tourism trends, such as wedding meals prepared from local produce available at the time of the wedding.

“You’re not selling a certain set anything six to 12 months out, you’re selling an concept six to 12 months out. … You’re selling the fact that you’re coming to our area, you’re getting the most local, freshest experience you can get,” she said. “You have to continue to reinvent. You have to continue to give more to the market than they expect.”

Farmers are also becoming more interested in providing unique products for cuisine collaboration, said panelist David Swartz, district director of Penn State Agricultural Extension. The older generation of farmers only wanted to grow basic products at world commodity prices, while the younger generation is more interested in producing products which meet consumer demands and can potentially give them a better payment, Swartz said.

 

Collaboration

Palmertree said culinary tourist destinations don’t happen on their own – they require intentional, collaborative efforts to connect with potential consumers.

Roberts warned that there are other Midstate counties with abundant farmland and charming towns, so Cumberland County needs to discover what separates it from other areas.

“Become the expert, both on your product and somebody else’s product,” he said.

Restaurant owners need to see other restaurants as partners in promoting the area rather than simply competition, Palmertree said.

“They’re all doing the same thing, but they’re all selling the destination as one,” she said. “I know it’s really hard to sometimes understand that – at the end of the day, you’re looking at your revenue and you’re looking at how many people go through your particular venue, but more than ever, collaboration for the culinary sector is super, super important.”

Palmertree also added a caveat to the magic of culinary tourist attraction – even when there is great local food in an area, prospective culinary tourists are still also looking for locations that have hiking, parks, culture, history and shopping opportunities.

You can find the article here from the Sentinel.

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