Although food and wine are beginning to be acknowledged as an important dimension of the tourist industry, very little research has been conducted into the nature or the role of restaurant experiences in adding to the tourist product. This research investigates the contribution restaurants make to a tourist destination's image. Twenty-two senior personnel from food-related tourist, hospitality and journalism fields were sought across Australia for the purposes of this study. Semi-structured telephone interviews were undertaken in order to gather timely and in-depth information on the topic. Qualitative analysis of the interviews revealed six major categories. Results illustrated the growing popularity of regional produce in restaurants; the increased emphasis by tourist authorities on restaurants and food as an attractive element of the tourist product; and the worldwide recognition of Australia as an emerging gastronomic destination. These findings demonstrate the need for more research into consumer segments and the need for successful collaboration between the related food and wine industries.
Keywords: Restaurants, Tourism, Australia
Restaurants are a critical part of the tourism mix for destinations. They can enhance the image of a destination, they are a necessary support service, they create jobs and they can also create demand for foods produced in regions. Like any tourist destination, restaurants are important to Australia's tourist industry. The restaurant industry in Australia had just over 19 500 establishments as at September 1997 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998). The industry has continued to grow in the 1990s, with tourist destinations such as the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia reflecting a strong growth pattern increasing from 386 restaurants in 1994 to 596 restaurants in 1997 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998). With Australia's restaurant industry developing into an eclectic combination of Asian, French, Greek, Italian and `fusion' restaurants (Sparks, Tomljenovic, Collie and Morey 1998), the restaurant sector not only mirrors Australia's history but also evidences an exciting development of interest by consumers in visiting a destination for culinary experiences.
Besides being one of the support components of a tourist destination, food and wine can also be a reason for coming to a destination. Instead of serving tourists that come to a destination, restaurants can create demand.
`During the 1990's food and wine tourism has emerged as a growth market in
the portfolio of Australian lifestyle tourist products. A growing consumer
interest in food and wine generally, and particularly in unique regional
cuisine, has given rise to a number of opportunities for industry,
operators in the food, wine and tourist sectors to join forces to consider
becoming involved in this specialist tourist market' (Fontane 2000, p.4).
Certain Australian destinations are making a name for themselves on the world market as culinary destinations. For example, Sydney has been voted most favoured city to visit by Conde Nast Traveller magazine subscribers for the past five years (Wallace 1999). In 1999, subscribers gave Sydney's restaurants a rating of 80.5 out of 100. A leading newspaper in the United States also featured Sydney as one of the world's leading gastronomic food destinations, alongside London, Paris and New York (Apple 1999). Similarly, Melbourne and Adelaide have long-standing reputations of high-style dining experiences and these cities are being featured in overseas press as well (see e.g. Santich 1996). However, restaurants are not the only attraction for consumers interested in a culinary experience. Australian wines have earned global respect and Apple (1998) believes Australian cheeses are beginning to do the same.
It is not only consumers who are becoming increasingly interested in cuisine. …