Greg Richards interview

16 Jun 2015

For destinations the link between gastronomy, culture and place is vital

Greg Richards is Professor of Placemaking and Events at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences and Professor of Leisure Studies at the University of Tilburg in The Netherlands. He is also President of the International Institute for Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT), the governing body for the European Region of Gastronomy programme. He has worked on projects for numerous national governments, national tourism organisations and municipalities, and he has extensive experience in tourism research and education in different European countries. As an adviser to the UNWTO he has produced reports on urban tourism and cultural tourism, both in Europe and Asia. With the OECD he has analysed the growing links between tourism and the creative economy and between tourism and gastronomy.

Can we consider that gastronomy is at the same level that culture as an element of tourism attraction? No – gastronomy is just one part of the cultural offer of a destination. But gastronomy is becoming more and more important as a motivation for people to travel to particular places, because it provides an easy entry point to the local culture, and direct contact with local people and their way of life.

We have reached what is called the ‘experience economy’ and has left behind ‘industrial economy’ and ‘service economy’. How does this new phase of the economy influence on tourism? The experience economy is driving a shift from market segmentation to a focus on the experiences that tourists want from the destination. So destinations are having to think more about the types of experiences that they can provide, rather than simply the services or products they have.

How can we link culture and gastronomy to enhance the attractiveness of the territories? For destinations the link between gastronomy, culture and place is vital. Gastronomy is not just about the food that tourists eat, but it involves the entire food culture of a destination. It is very important to make the links between landscape, culture, agriculture, food production and consumption visible for tourists. In some cases this is very simple, as in the case of bodegas and wine routes. In other cases the food culture may be less visible or accessible, and this requires more creativity form the destination to make it tangible for tourists.

Tourists feel the need to ‘have to experience’. It is no longer enough to ‘have to do’. How can cities adapt to these changes, to these new needs? There are a growing number of places where visitors and residents can sample and taste gastronomy, or learn to make certain foods themselves. Seeing is just one of the senses, and it is much more powerful when you can involve all of them. The involvement of visitors via skill acquisition is also very important, because this also triggers memory and associations with place, which make it more likely that people will return, or at least tell others about the places where they attained those skills. I am always telling people about my last trip to Venice, where I learned to make fresh pasta. This is not a normal association with Venice, but it is different and more interesting then walking around making photos.

How to promote gastronomy as a powerful new creative industry? Destinations need to think more actively about the links between different creative sectors, including gastronomy, and tourism. The combination of creative sectors is more powerful than gastronomy alone, because it opens up possibilities for fusion and spillover, for example in areas such as food design, food and film, the architecture of restaurants, etc. The recent report that we did for the OECD on Tourism and the Creative Economy has lots of examples of how this can be done.

What storytelling could transmit Burgos through its gastronomy? The story of the evolution of gastronomy since the arrival of humans in Europe….  

Could we identify tapas streets as a kind of gastronomic districts? Could be an urban and social tool design these districts? Gastronomy is becoming a mainstay of cultural districts, largely because these are often spaces of consumption rather than production. When visitors arrive, of course they need to eat, and the income generated by restaurants and bars helps to support the cultural activities in the cluster, as well as serving as a meeting place for the creative class. So one could definitely identify a model of gastronomic regeneration in many cities, also because the regeneration of former factories and other non-cultural spaces adds to the atmosphere of ‘shabby chic’ that is sought after by the boheminas that Richard Florida sees as being key to regeneration processes.

How can be strengthened the creative industries in medium-sized cities? In fact, smaller cities already have considerable pulling power for the creative class. In many cases creative want to move out of the large cities because of the disadvantages of size. The key is being small enough to offer a good standard of living and a basic level of services and cultural activities, while at the same time remaining small enough to avoid the disadvantages of the big city. In this respect Burgos has a clear advantage

How can a city be creative and innovative in managing culture and tourism? One model that has certainly been successful is to think about culture in terms of programming the city. It is not just a question of having venues and organising events, but of making sure that the cultural system as a whole produces the kind of outputs that people need. It seems to be important to have a body that is responsible for thinking about the cultural programme in a creative way, mediating between cultural actors and developing a distinctive profile for the city. The cities of Bruges and Antwerp have been very good at this, and they both have programming organisations that act as an umbrella body for the cultural activities in the city, as well as organising new events themselves.

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