Food is essential to all of us. But beyond being necessary to life, food has come to represent so much about who we are as a people and society. That is why it has generated industries spanning the globe, from farming and processing to shipping and logistics.
One food industry in particular, has seen a stratospheric rise in recent decades, and that is the food tourism industry which is now a vast part of the travel industry as a whole.
From the dawn of man, as people ventured further and further afield, they took food with them, whether it was live animals, herbs and spices or plants. And as our very nature as a species is curious, these ingredients were developed differently in each locale, some being directly incorporated into local diets, others being adapted to suit the climate or tastes, others yet being innovated into something unique and different; food and flavours clearly representing the places they are made and the people who make and eat it.
Echoing the journey of food which spread across the globe over the millennia, today more and more people are travelling to a greater variety of places around the world. Whereas some travel to visit sites and others to meet peoples and cultures, a rapidly growing sector in the travel and tourism industry is the food industry.
According to the World Food Travel Association, “Food tourism is the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place.”
While Thailand has long been considered a major tourism destination of the world, and the Thai cuisine has also enjoyed being ranked as one of the best to be found, it is only now that the World Food Travel Association has appointed a Thai food ambassador, Chiang Mai resident Eknarin ‘Max’ Thammaraks.
Max, who runs his family’s travel agent company, Intco, has eaten his way through 50 countries and his appetite has a long way to go before it will ever be sated. “I have a curious nature and always questioned why,” he told Spoon&Fork about his food journey from his student days of simply eating to survive to now stepping up to take charge of reshaping Thailand’s food tourism industry. “’Why did this fish go with that wine, why is this sauce only good for this meat,’ these were questions I was always looking to answer. The more I travelled and the more I tasted, the more curious I got. Especially when I began to see the relationships between food and culture. As managing director of our four-decade long travel business, it has also become abundantly clear that we had to expand our services and packages to incorporate people’s interest in food tourism.”
“Thailand is fortunate in that we are one of the prime examples of a food tourism destination,” continued Max. “Our street food is unsurpassed and full of such variety in terms of ingredients, techniques, cultural and historical lineage and flavours. Thai people genuinely enjoy eating out, so our restaurants are plentiful and varied, providing great food at all price points. In recent years we have also become known as an haute food destination with many world class restaurants people actually travel to experience. So there is much to experience and enjoy as a visitor. On top of that we have cooking schools, home stays and many other food-related activities and destinations to attract visitors.”
So what’s the point of being an ambassador?
“Well, it’s two fold, one is to continue to promote Thai cuisine to the world, and this can be done through tourism promotional campaigns, investment in the development of cooking schools, processed food, exported raw ingredients, personnel such as chefs or other such support that would help grow the reach of Thai cuisine worldwide. In this sense, I aim to work with organisations such as Tourism Authority of Thailand, big companies and government sectors, destination marketers, business owners, students, researchers, entrepreneurs and the media. The other role is to help the World Food Travel Association to find opportunities within Thailand for joint promotion or projects and partnership opportunities. So basically I want to carve out a space where I can be the narrator and help connect and facilitate.”
Max talks excitedly about some of his beloved street food which is often overlooked by visitors, but which he believes should become a large draw for many visiting gastronomes. He then switches to his recent discovery of a chef working out of a restaurant in Chiang Rai who is reinterpreting local food in a way which is, he predicts, will become one of the North’s most coveted dining experiences.
“There is so much that we can do if we start telling our food stories and making the right connectivity. We can hold webinars for food professionals in rural areas, or organise a food summit, or create a food campaign, or work with travel industry professionals to help them craft food tours. I hope to be able to leverage the vast amounts of research data from the association as well as its connections, to really elevate Thailand’s food tourism landscape,” added Max.
“In fact, Intco is ready to launch three very exciting food and beverage routes across Thailand this September,” added Max. “There will be Northern, Central and Southern routes, with an option to combine or tailor them to any group’s specifications. We are currently selling the programme to leading agencies in the world as well as food and beverage enthusiasts.”
A wine lover, a curious Epicurus a bon vivant and a man whose family has been in the business of promoting Chiang Mai to the world and taking care of them when they get here for forty years, Max is the perfect candidate for the World Food Association ambassadorship. He is bursting with ideas and hopes to have an impact which would see more tourists delving deeper into the authentic experiences which food can offer them on their visits to Thailand.
Travel Food Facts by World Food Travel Association
61% share food experiences on their travels, two thirds bring back food or beverage products from their travels.
62% purchase food or drinks at home that they first encountered on their travels.
83% felt that food and beverage experiences helped create a lasting impression from their travels.
25% of all travel budget is spent on food and beverages and a whopping.
93% of travellers can be considered food travellers as defined by the fact that they have participated in a food or beverage experiences other than dining out, at some time in the past 12 months.
* IG: thammaraksmax