`Promoting (Real) Greek Food to Culinary Tourists - Olive Oil Times

Promoting (Real) Greek Food to Culinary Tourists

Feb. 7, 2011
Elena Paravantes

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Tourism has always been big busi­ness for Greece. People flock here for its gor­geous beaches, the his­tory and the hos­pitable locals. But what about the food? That was the ques­tion that the 7th International Meetings & Incentives Conference, Valuing the Food Experience in Athens was on a quest to answer. The con­fer­ence orga­nized by Heliotopos, aimed to raise aware­ness and under­stand­ing about the grow­ing impor­tance of the food expe­ri­ence in tourism. The con­fer­ence comes at an espe­cially crit­i­cal time as food tourism is gain­ing momen­tum in Greece and else­where. Tourism experts, jour­nal­ists, and chefs from around the world gath­ered to present and dis­cuss the impor­tance of food
and gas­tron­omy in the tourism sec­tor.

The con­fer­ence started off with a pre­sen­ta­tion by Mr. Nicolas Kanellopoulos, pres­i­dent of the Greek National Tourism Organization. In his pre­sen­ta­tion Kanellopoulos stressed the impor­tance of food as a fac­tor in select­ing a des­ti­na­tion, but he added that Greek gas­tron­omy is not one of the cri­te­ria that vis­i­tors have in mind when vis­it­ing Greece. However, he was opti­mistic about the future of the pro­mo­tion of Greek food cul­ture and pointed out that the indis­putable advan­tage of the Mediterranean diet pro­vides Greeks with the oppor­tu­nity to show­case it as part of their touris­tic iden­tity.

Kanellopoulos men­tioned sev­eral ini­tia­tives such as devel­op­ment of olive and wine touris­tic routes around Greece, pro­mo­tion of local prod­ucts in hotels and an offi­cial cat­e­go­riza­tion of restau­rants that offer tra­di­tional Greek cui­sine using tra­di­tional recipes and tra­di­tional ingre­di­ents. In clos­ing, Kanellopoulos pre­sented the two main goals of the Greek National Tourism Organization. Our goal is to improve the qual­ity of the food served in Greek hotels and restau­rants using eval­u­a­tive cri­te­ria and the adop­tion of the Greek break­fast,” he said.

Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, pro­fes­sor and direc­tor of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Nutrition at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of Athens, con­firmed the value of the Greek-Mediterranean diet in her pre­sen­ta­tion stat­ing that olive oil is the focal point of the diet and that stud­ies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is not only ben­e­fi­cial for health but also for the envi­ron­ment. However, she expressed her con­cerns about integrity in the pro­mo­tion of Greek food prod­ucts. She explained that many food prod­ucts are called tra­di­tional when in fact they are not. Because of this, the con­cept of tra­di­tional is destroyed and no longer has any value,” she said. For that rea­son she explained there should be cer­tain cri­te­ria and reg­u­la­tions in regards to defin­ing tra­di­tional prod­ucts.

A com­mon theme in all dis­cus­sions was the dis­con­nect between the food expe­ri­ence of a tourist and real” Greek cui­sine. While Greeks in the tourism busi­ness are aware of the value of the Greek-Mediterranean diet, some­how this knowl­edge and tra­di­tion is not trans­ferred to tourists vis­it­ing Greece.

The iden­tity of Greek food is in ques­tion and to expe­ri­ence the Greekness” of Greek food is elu­sive for the aver­age tourist as food writer Albert Arouh explains in his pre­sen­ta­tion. Tourists visit Greece with a pre­con­ceived idea of what Greek food is, due to the fact that most Greek restau­rants out­side of Greece serve typ­i­cal” Greek dishes, which are not in fact so typ­i­cal in Greece. Unfortunately when in Greece, these tourists are served these same cliché dishes because hote­liers and restau­ra­teurs want to ful­fill the expec­ta­tions of their for­eign cus­tomers.
The impor­tance of regional cui­sine was also pre­sented, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the islands of Crete, Aegina and Santorini as well as lesser-known islands such as Ikaria, Samos and Kea dis­cussing the poten­tial and pro­mo­tion of the cui­sine in these areas for Greek tourism.

Until recently, food and gas­tron­omy did not appear to be on the top of the list of pri­or­i­ties for the Greek tourism indus­try, how­ever today it is on everyone’s mind. In the past week sev­eral con­fer­ences and ses­sions in Greece have been orga­nized focus­ing on Greek food, includ­ing the estab­lish­ment of the Greek break­fast, Greek gas­tron­omy, and dis­cus­sion of the recog­ni­tion of the Mediterranean diet by UNESCO.

The event high­lighted the poten­tial Greece has to become a major food des­ti­na­tion, how­ever this can only hap­pen if the tourism indus­try can resist the old clichés and work together to embrace Greece’s leg­endary culi­nary tra­di­tions and authen­tic regional cuisines.

The con­fer­ence was orga­nized by Helioptopos, a com­pany that pro­vides inter­na­tional con­fer­ences, des­ti­na­tion man­age­ment ser­vices and spe­cial inter­est tours through­out Greece and under the aus­pices the Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the City of Athens, the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board, the Municipality of Thessaloniki, Hellenic Chamber of Hotels and the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises.

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