Cape Town - Here's something to chew on: African countries are some of the largest producers of the world's biggest niche foods - think coffee, chocolate, spices, wine, and especially the new, upcoming superfoods like baobab and shea.
And yet, global foodie travellers think 'health risk' and 'emaciation' when you ask them about Africa and food.
Sure, there are many emerging economies with many political and social challenges. But if anyone calls London or Seatle the capital of coffee again I'm going to lose it. Neither of those cities grow coffee, and yet they are renowned globally as being 'coffee capitals'. Who is Ethiopia, the fifth largest producer of coffee beans on the globe, anyway?
The same with chocolate. Please, Switzerland... without West Africa, that produces two-thirds of the world's cocoa crop, you're screwed.
Let's talk wine. Let's talk lamb and let's talk apples and pears and oranges. Africa, and our home country South Africa especially, has a wealth of agriculture and genuine farm-to-table offerings, yet no one sees it this way.
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Food culture in Africa is greatly overlooked and in dire need of some re-appropriation. But how do we go about showcasing African destinations as the incredibly diverse and farm-to-table food destinations they are?
According to Julian Asher, founder and managing director of Timeless Africa speaking at World Travel Market Africa 2017, currently underway at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, this injustice is being set straight by travellers looking for a more 'authentic' travel experience.
Food plays an integral part in travellers choosing a destination and sharing their experiences, Asher says. Over 64% of leisure travellers share their food and drink experiences on social media, and food and drink makes up 25% of a traveller's daily spend - the biggest section of overall spend after accommodation.
Food for Africa
More than the tourism and economical value it holds, "food travel is the ultimate analogue experience," he says. "It is one of the few travel trends that cannot be experienced virtually and online. It remains very authentic and very real".
African countries can offer these analogue experiences in so many shapes and forms, and the fact that Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and the likes remain very untapped and novel destination choices for travellers, makes them so much more appealing.
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And the more foodie travellers choose African cuisine, the more the potential for positively influencing both peoples' perceptions of African countries.
Perceptions of food travel is already changing, Asher says.
Travellers aren't into gourmet travel - where tourists want to eat in Michelin-starred establishments headed by award-winning chefs - as much as before. They're rather looking for what the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's Forum on Gastronomy Tourism labels as 'Authentic', 'Eclectic' and 'Localist' foodie experiences - something which Africa boasts in abundance.
The new, millennial generation of travellers don't want fine dining. They want street food, local food experiences and hands-on eating where health and wellness are highlighted in authentic farm-to-table practices.
Considering this, Africa is the epitome of future 'Gastronomy Tourism'.
Sowing the seeds
In anticipation of Africa being 'discovered' as the foodie destination it really is, Asher says, the continent and its many diverse tastes and countries "needs to position themselves as a food destination to tourists."
Everybody already knows that Africa equals safari, but marketing authorities and tourism stakeholders should also start showcasing Africa as the culinary bucket list experience it is.
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