03 JUN 2019: VisitBritain is in the mood for food. The tourist board is eager to tout its edible delicacies and drink, and at the same time, offer the travel trade tangible opportunities to help clients match their culinary interests with a visit to Britain.

At the heart of VisitBritain’s Food Hubs project is the notion that Britain gets a bad rap for its food and drink, hampered by a reputation for bland, overcooked vittles, pub grub, and an over-reliance on fish and chips (inexplicably paired with mushy peas).

“The stereotypes are alive and well,” admits VB product development and distribution executive Ed Cummins, who says his role is to help showcase “outstanding British food and drink experiences to the rest of the world.”

VisitBritain doesn’t want visitors to forget the staples – F&C, English Breakfast, cream teas, Yorkshire pudding, cider, real ale, etc. – but to realize that there is so much more, such as a smorgasbord of Michelin-starred restaurants (including locations outside London), burgeoning wine and craft beer scene, and sophisticated gastro-pubs that serve quality meals at reasonable prices.

Also, that there is a wealth of food and drink-related activities, from foraging and farm-to-fork experiences to fishing for lunch and cooking classes, all of which fit the current trends towards experiential travel.

But Cummins admits that trying to “tackle all of Britain in one go” would be a daunting prospect, so the initial Food Hubs project designated five areas – London & the Southeast, Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, and Devon & Cornwall (with more to come) – with a goal of identifying regional strengths spotlighting food and drink opportunities and curated itineraries that include local partners with unique products or experiences to offer.

Based on global consumer research, the project is also underpinned by VisitBritain’s mission to provide or highlight bookable product for tour operators and travel agents, with the premise that there is no point having product if you can’t get it to market. Hence, the program also includes training for local suppliers and businesses to ensure they know how to engage with the trade, pay commission, and improve their product overall to meet international standards.

The itineraries are published on VisitBritain’s travel trade site, in a dedicated section for Food and Drink, which declares: “You may not have previously considered Britain as an option for your clients to visit on a foodie vacation, but that will change after you see our inspirational food and drink itineraries… Britain’s food and drink is much like the country itself – rooted in history, yet always evolving, and hugely varied depending on which region you visit. For example, did you know that you can find sparkling wines to rival those of France and Italy in Cornwall? Or that Devon’s fishermen catch more species of fish than anywhere in the world?”

Sample itineraries include, for example, a five-day rail and self-drive SouthWest Food & Drink Adventure in Devon & Cornwall featuring seafood, wine and tea, and a two-day West Country Foodie Escape to Exeter in Devon, complete with partner details and contact numbers.

The site also features videos and useable images.

Cummings points to Devon and Cornwall as a prime example of the tourist board’s hub concept. “There’s a really strong seafood proposition,” he says of the southwestern counties that jut out like a toe into the English Channel and Celtic Sea.

But beyond simply dining on fresh fare, visitors to the tiny village of Brixham, for example, can take an early morning tour of the local fish market and watch a live seafood auction as it comes off the boats, and then have breakfast at the restaurant next door.

Travel Industry Today recently visited Devon and Cornwall and sampled some of the area’s diverse F&D experiences. Amongst them:

•  Fishing for lunch: Customers can catch their own lunch and have it prepared back on shore with Plymouth Boat Trips, which departs from Plymouth Harbour in Devon. The 3-1/2-hour catch-and-cook excursion (all gear included) sees participants cast lines on the open ocean and bring the fish back to shore where it is prepared at the Boathouse Café. Along the way, guests will have a fun day on the water and have an opportunity to spy whales, dolphins, and turtles.

•  Tea time: The historic Tregothnan Tea Plantation in Cornwall began supplying Britain’s first homegrown tea in 2005 and today welcomes guests to take part in tailor-made tea experiences, including picking, blending and tasting, as well as touring the estate gardens, learning about horticulture, bees, flower arranging and more. Visitors might meet the “only official tea keeper in England,” Nicholas Vale, and can learn why the Cornish place the jam beneath the clotted cream on their scones. Self-catering cottages are available in nearby Coombe.

•  Wine and cider tasting: Situated in Cornwall’s scenic Issey Valley, the award-winning Trevibban Vineyard and Orchards is a working vineyard open to the public for tastings and tours and meals made from locally sourced produce at Appleton’s restaurant.

•  Get cooking: Celebrity chef Rick Stein’s Cookery School in Padstow specializes in seafood (we cooked mackerel), but also runs classes on Indian curry, street food, tapas, baking and more. Catch and Cook and Field to Fork workshops are also on the menu (including a field trip to a local farm) and guests can book a Cook & Stay break that includes accommodation and a one-day course at the school.

Cummins is quick to add, that “these kinds of experiences are happening right across Britain.”

Patricia Yates, director of communications and strategy at VB, believes the tourist board’s efforts, in combination with a confluence of other factors, finally seems to be bearing fruit and changing perception about British food.

“A lot of things have come together over the past years,” she says. “Our produce has always been seen as good; we’ve seen the rise of the celebrity chef and cooking programs on television… Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Those programs (especially Jamie Oliver) have done a huge amount for popularizing and creating international demand for local food. And then the government has got involved, as they’ve seen food as a source of export… the biggest export through London Heathrow is Scottish salmon. There’s been a real renaissance in beer and local gin. All of this comes together.”

But Cummins says there is more work to do. “It’s our job to help make them (food and drink programs and itineraries) accessible,” he says. “There’s a lot going on and we, as a tourist board, need to make sure people know about that. We need to tell the world.”

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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