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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » October 31, 2013
Polska... tastes good!
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Food Tourism in Poland
October 31, 2013   
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Culinary, or food, tourism is a major promotional opportunity for Polish regions and their local, traditional products.

Tourism of various forms in Poland has been growing rapidly in recent years, including culinary tourism. Although most tourists do not plan their itineraries entirely around what they want to eat, for many food is decisive when it comes to the amount of money they end up spending and the overall impression they have of their trip.

Culinary tourism has long been popular in Europe and many other places around the world. There are lots of culinary trails, “festivals of flavor” and blogs dealing with food. With its healthy and tasty food, Poland could pursue this kind of tourism as well. A pioneering, nationwide survey was conducted in September to identify trends in food tourism in Poland, examine Polish people’s level of interest in traditional food products and assess the impact that food-related tourist products and services have on buying choices. The survey was commissioned by the Office of the Chairman of Podkarpacie Province and conducted by the Citybell Consulting and ARC Rynek i Opinia companies.

Compared with the rest of Poland, the southeastern Podkarpacie province stands out with a remarkably diversified regional cuisine and tops the statistics in terms of certified, traditional foods. Jarosław Reczek, the head of the department of promotion, tourism, sports and international cooperation at the Province Chairman’s Office, said the survey sought to find out if the local authorities were right in regarding food tourism as a way for visitors to explore a destination’s distinctive features. According to Reczek, the needs of the contemporary tourist can only be satisfied with products and services which, apart from a standard package, give visitors a chance to explore local color with all their senses and experience the authentic local culture. “The findings confirm that this kind of tourism, with its air of something genuine, is the tourism of the future,” said Reczek.

With modern travel and unlimited access to information, Polish regions are able to compete for both domestic and foreign visitors. A rural tourism farm in Poland could particularly appeal to visitors from urban areas in Western Europe where traditional agriculture vanished a long time ago. A well-developed food tourism sector could help create new jobs and stimulate local economies if money from tourists is spent locally on other products and services.

Consumers in all developed countries are keen to buy healthy, traditional and organic food which they cannot get from large farms where food is produced on a mass scale. Small family farms where traditional farming methods are still in use have become a major asset, one that can generate a lot of income from tourism. Not so long ago, such farms symbolized the backwardness of Poland’s rural areas.

One extra benefit which culinary tourism brings to regions are new export opportunities. According to 67 percent of survey respondents, tourists who liked local products want to buy them even when their vacations are over. They bring such food home as a “culinary trophy” to try to relive part of the culinary magic that came with the trip. The average tourist usually brings home cheeses (35 percent), as they are unique to regions and can be easily transported. The second most popular foods are local honey varieties and fish (14 percent each), closely followed by cold meats (13 percent), and bread (8 percent). Alcoholic beverages form a separate group of “souvenirs” and include locally brewed beers (9 percent), vodka, tinctures and mead (8 percent) and regional wines (7 percent). Culinary tourists also like to take home sweets and pastries (6 percent), various kinds of preserves (4 percent), spices (2 percent), oils (2 percent) and bagels and pretzels (2 percent).

The survey also showed that tourists are after products which they find unique, natural, fresh and tasty. Vacationers are unusually open-minded and that also applies to the food they eat. Most (78 percent) travelers see a trip to a new destination as an opportunity to try the regional cuisine. Many (72 percent) are even willing to take a longer route only to have an outstanding meal at an outstanding venue. Asked about what they would pick from a wide choice of similarly priced dishes while on a vacation in one of Poland’s regions, 54 percent of respondents said they would opt for a regional dish they had not tried before. Seventy-eight percent would be keen to try dishes made from regional ingredients. The two reasons behind such high results are that people like trying new flavors and are increasingly interested in maintaining a healthy diet. Regional cuisine is commonly associated with healthy and delicious food and so are traditional dishes prepared fresh from ingredients supplied by local growers.

The high quality of regional and traditional products earns them a reputation that needs to be protected with certificates. In Poland, food products are certified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, while in the EU certification is handled by the European Commission. The Agriculture Ministry also keeps an official directory of foods that stand out with their quality and are produced according to traditional recipes, constituting part of the cultural heritage of a given region. Only food products with a proven, 25-year tradition are eligible for classification as traditional regional products. Consumers who buy one of the 1,100 traditional products currently listed in the directory know they are buying quality food.

The league table of Polish provinces with the most certified foods is topped by Podkarpacie at 149 products. A majority of those are meat products, followed by baked goods and confectionery and full meals and dishes. The province owes this abundance to its multicultural heritage and ethnic mix that have shaped the regional cuisine for centuries.

The traditional cuisine of Polish gentry from eastern parts of the country blended in Podkarpacie with dishes eaten by peasants and Vlach shepherds as well as with Armenian, Jewish, German, Hungarian and Austrian cuisines. All of these culinary cultures co-existed and influenced one another, producing the highly diversified regional cuisine Podkarpacie has today.

Polish regions are aware of the potential presented by food. Poland’s culinary tourist attractions include “festivals of flavor” such as the Honey Festival in Podkarpacie, the Pierogi Festival in Pilzno, and the Powidlaki Plum Stew Festival in Krzeszów, along with cooking workshops, tastings of local specialties and museums focusing on traditional dishes and beverages. Examples here include the Museum of the Distilling Industry in Łańcut and the breweries in Żywiec and Tychy, which are open to the public.

According to Anna Proszowska-Sala, general manager at Citybell Consulting and an expert in communication strategies for cities and regions, food tourism presents a tremendous promotional opportunity for regions. “A well-thought-out range of outstanding products and services can draw lots of visitors seeking to experience something special and unforgettable in a specific region,” said Proszowska-Sala. “What’s needed is a complete tourist product and the region needs to build a strong brand with such assets as quality, uniqueness and authenticity.”

Regions can also be promoted through culinary trails that showcase flagship local dishes, regional products and festivals. In 2010, a whisky trail in Scotland drew more than a million tourists who generated an extra profit for local distilleries and contributed £30 million to the economy of Scotland. The project also provided jobs for over 600 people. Podkarpacie, meanwhile, has launched its own pioneering tourist product, called the Tastes of Podkarpacie. The trail will allow visitors to try traditional dishes at inns and restaurants and get a feel of the local tradition, culture and cuisine during workshops and cooking demonstrations held at open-air museums and rural tourism farms located along the trail. Part of the experience will be regional festivals with traditional food as the central theme.

Informed tourists seeking new experiences are an attractive target group in economic terms. Poland has all it takes to become one of Europe’s key destinations when it comes to culture and culinary tourism. The Podkarpacie region offers a host of attractions that many tourists are willing pay handsomely to sample, including fresh air, picturesque mountain ranges, delicious regional food, organic products, fishing in crystal clear lakes and the chance to see animals in their natural habitats.
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