San Sebastian, Spain, October 20, 2023 / TRAVELINDEX / The 8th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism was held Oct. 5-7 in Donostia–San Sebastian, Spain. The event was organized by UNWTO and its Affiliate Member, the Basque Culinary Center (BCC), with the support of the Basque Government, the Provincial Council of Guipuzkoa, the City Council of Donostia-San Sebastian, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Spain. More than 300 delegates from 50 countries attended, with 1500 connections on the UNWTO YouTube channel.
Forum Theme: Back to the Roots
With this theme, the topics of promotion and preservation of local products, the contribution of tourism to sustainable development, innovation, and food waste all took center stage. The two-day dialogues with over 40 international speakers discussed many key areas.
Opening the Forum, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated, “Gastronomy Tourism can play a leading role in promoting responsible agricultural practices, protecting biodiversity, and reducing the environmental footprint. It can also create new opportunities for communities to thrive and protect their heritage and traditions and become an engine of growth and diversification for destinations supporting our roadmap towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Joxe Mari Aizega, General Manager of BCC added, “This edition of the Forum celebrates the deep-rooted connection between tourism, gastronomy, and producers, highlighting the essential role they play in promoting the well-being of local communities. It also fosters a deeper understanding of the interrelationship between gastronomy and tourism, the diverse range of producers, and the challenges and opportunities that arise from these synergies.”
The Forum put the spotlight on gastronomy tourism’s role in preserving local territories and promoting sustainable practices. Tourism ministers of Bulgaria, Puerto Rico, and Zimbabwe discussed the policy framework for the development and promotion of gastronomy tourism that can only bring benefits to destinations and local communities.
Jointly presented by representatives of UNWTO and BCC on stage, the Forum concluded Ten Key Takeaways, which included: reducing food waste; offering more experiential services; building a gastronomy tourism roadmap for Africa; advancing agritourism; stronger alliances to bring producers and chefs together; preserving traditions and heritage with academic support; education to improve the food chain; responsible storytelling, etc.
UNWTO Sustainable Tourism Ambassadors Appointed
Three chefs were designated UNWTO Sustainable Tourism Ambassadors, i.e., Chef Fatmata Binta of Ghana, a dedicated contributor to promoting African gastronomy and community development; Chef Martín Berasategui, a native San Sebastian with the most Michelin stars in Spain (12 stars); and Michelin star Chef Pedro Subijana, a visionary, author, and co-founder of the New Basque Cuisine movement. Chefs Berasategui and Subijana are both trustees of BCC, underscoring their commitment to culinary excellence and education. The appointments recognized the chefs’ outstanding work in gastronomy and the enhancement of local produce and community development.
Elevated and encouraged, Chef Binta stated, “We have teamed up to ensure that both gastronomy and agritourism deliver on their potential to provide opportunities for women, youth, and all. We are leaving no one behind.”
Africa: A Land of Opportunity
With gastronomy tourism being one of the pillars of the UNWTO Agenda for Africa: Tourism for inclusive growth, the Forum explored the sector’s potential as a source of inclusive growth across the continent.
The First Lady of Zimbabwe, Her Excellency Dr. Auxillia Mnangagwa, was recognized by Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili for championing gastronomy tourism in Zimbabwe. The First Lady addressed the audience: “Gastronomy Tourism globally has become an effective tool for attracting tourists, particularly those who are cognizant of the natural and nutritional value embedded in traditional foods. As nations, we should be able to tap into our nutritional traditional cuisines to ensure healthy living and the socio-economic development of our nations. This is in line with our heritage-based philosophy for promoting tourism.”
UNWTO awarded Zimbabwe 100 scholarships from IE University in recognition of Zimbabwe’s strengthening of high-quality tourism education. A group of Zimbabwean university students also attended the Forum and experienced culinary education in San Sebastian.
Two African countries, Botswana and Zimbabwe, organized onsite stands. Botswana flew in meats and all supplies and cooked the Botswana official national dish, Beef Seswaa, and other delicacies, while Zimbabwe showcased traditional instruments like Mbira, along with various Zimbabwean snacks and Mapfura Wine, a modified version of Mukumbi Beer. The African demonstration brought African cuisine to life and grabbed attention.
In May 2023, Zimbabwe hosted the first Southern African Development Community regional gastronomy tourism competition. It created a platform for African countries to work together. Zimbabwe intends to expand the program further on the African continent. In his speech, Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated that Africa deserves a large-scale event to help boost its gastronomy tourism sector.
Stay Relevant to Industry Needs
Two moderators jointly led an interactive session, Sharing Is Caring. Through the Mentimeter app, moderators polled nine questions for the audience’s feedback, including definitions, challenges, strategies, priorities, etc. The topics for the next Forum also emerged clearly as education, sustainability, marketing, and storytelling.
The Forum offered a series of technical sessions, field trips, and tastings, providing an immersive gastronomic experience. Practical topics included reducing food waste, creating value for visitors and producers, overcoming legal obstacles faced by producers, utilizing digital tools, etc., all of which served the needs of businesses, large or small.
The Forum dedicated a session for five selected finalists from previous UNWTO Startup Competitions on Gastronomy to pitch their ideas. Oh Les Chefs of France took the winning title for its plans to introduce a locally crafted, quality food delivery app. The winning prize included access to a workspace within the LABe-Digital Gastronomy Lab for six months, engaging in the program Culinary Action!, which is BCC’s gastronomy entrepreneurship program, and a six-month membership in the GOe Digital Community.
The Forum attracted a broad range of grass-roots professionals: a marketing manager from an Indian village up in the Himalayas was seeking ideas to expand gastronomy tourism in his village and beyond; a Rwanda coffee marketing coalition manager was figuring out how his exportation could leverage the international gastronomy tourism trend; and a tour agent on an Irish island was looking for inspiration to best support the islander suppliers. The networking opportunities added further to attendees’ takeaway bundles.
Donostia-San Sebastian Under Spotlight
The Forum was held at Tabakalera, a facility conveniently located by the River Urumea. Tabakalera used to be a tobacco factory, and today it’s a large cultural center equipped for hosting exhibitions and conferences.
BCC is an internationally renowned culinary institute, offering accredited degrees. It’s responsible for helping bring the Forum to the region eight years ago, which takes place in Donostia-San Sebastian every second year. Joxe Mari Aizega of BCC commented, “Hosting this Forum means a series of significant benefits for our city and the region. BCC is honored to help present this important Forum on the international stage, which will continue to strengthen the deep-rooted connections between tourism, gastronomy, and producers globally.”
BCC held two consecutive dinner events for the Forum. The Chefs of Mahaia Kolektiboa, a group of chefs committed to the evolution of Basque cuisine, prepared the first dinner, with the entire supply proudly coming from local producers, setting an excellent example of local sourcing.
Donostia-San Sebastian is accessible by five airports as well as trains and buses. It is a city made for walking. Several Forum official hotels were in the historic Old Town, which is known for having the highest concentration of bars in the world, providing the attendees with easy access for a night out.
The Forum organized Technical Visits with five different excursions for attendees to experience and savor regional gastronomy. The itineraries covered Rioja, the internationally popular wine region, with top-ranked wines from critics and connoisseurs.
The 9th UNWTO Gastronomy Tourism Forum will be held in Bahrain in 2024—the first time for the Forum to take the stage in the Middle East. Following the announcement, Bahrain hosted the final dinner at BCC to welcome international visitors.
Haybina Hao reporting for Travelindex on travel, agritourism, adventure travel, destinations.
Haybina is an international travel industry journalist and reports in both Chinese and English. Linkedin