South Africa’s food tourism strategy has been six years in the making, but with global and local trends pointing to the rising popularity of gastronomy attractions, the lack of a cohesive plan could hinder this sector’s growth.
One of the key takeaways from the UNTWO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism held in October, was that gastronomy tourism is on the rise and, as such, destinations need a tourism strategy that involves all stakeholders.
Also on the list of takeaways was building a gastronomic tourism roadmap for Africa.
Responding to questions about gastronomic tourism following a recent meeting of BRICS tourism representatives in Cape Town, Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille highlighted the importance of gastronomic tourism but said: “There is a need for innovation and new products and gastronomy tourism and food has been left behind.
“The Department has been working on a gastronomy policy for the past six years, so I have brought that forward, and said, finish this policy now so that we can start implementing it.”
Provincial public consultations on the Gastronomy Tourism Framework were held during July and August with the aim of showcasing the country’s history, heritage, cultures and geographic and agricultural diversity through tourism, with a specific emphasis on sustainable tourism.
While no specific data exists for the sector, StatsSA’s domestic tourism survey data for 2022 indicates that day trippers and domestic overnight tourists spent a combined R5.5bn (€273 million) on food and beverages in 2022.
South Africa has a growing reputation as a centre for fine dining, with three South African restaurants, Fyn, Wolfgat and La Colombe ranked in the 2022 World’s 100 best restaurants list. However, there are several trends and opportunities that the country could harness outside of fine dining.
Burgeoning street food scenes
Rosemary Anderson, National Chairperson of FEDHASA, says Johannesburg and Cape Town both also have burgeoning street food scenes, and that South Africa’s diverse array of regional cuisines reflecting its multicultural population and township dining provide opportunities in gastronomic tourism for people looking for authentic and diverse dining experiences.
“We must leverage this diversity by promoting food tourism centred on regional specialities like Cape Malay curries, Durban's bunny chow, and Johannesburg's boerewors. These dishes provide built-in appeal for both domestic and international tourists looking for an authentic food experience,” she says.
She adds: “Township food tours and restaurants provide immersive cultural experiences that give tourists a genuine taste of township cuisines and community life. Venues that offer an authentic township dining experience should be highlighted.”
South Africa’s wine routes are already popular draw cards for tourists, and Anderson says by continually marketing established wine routes and allowing travellers to experience pairings of local cuisine and acclaimed wines, operators can showcase another side of South Africa's food culture.
According to a 2022 study by wine producer representative body Vinpro, wine tourism represents 14.7% of total turnover for wine cellars that crush grapes. However, micro wine cellars are most dependent on wine tourism, with 41.3% of their turnover coming from wine tourism activities such as wine tasting, restaurants, and other food-related activities.
“We focus a lot on wine and on the wine routes, but what has developed over the years is the beer industry,” De Lille says, while Anderson also highlighted rapid growth in artisanal and craft gin distilleries as a growing trend.
Other emerging trends identified by FEDHASA include sustainable dining practices that emphasise sustainably sourced, local ingredients, foraging tours which Anderson says tap into travellers’ desires for unique, hyperlocal culinary adventures, and traditional cooking classes that offer hands-on lessons in techniques like braai grilling and Cape Malay curry making which provide interactive ways for visitors to immerse themselves in South African food culture.
‘Significant room for growth’
Halal tourism also provides significant room for growth. According to the 2023 MasterCard Crescent Rating Muslim Travel Index, there were 110 million Muslim international travellers in 2022, accounting for 12% of all international arrivals, with this number expected to rise to 140 million this year and 230 million by 2028.
South African Tourism has identified the Middle East as a growth opportunity market, and consistently ranks in the top 10 countries in the Muslim Travel Index. Countries that score highly provide a mix of services such as the availability of prayer places and mosques, halal dining options, Muslim-friendly airports that consider the availability of prayer facilities and halal food, accommodation that offers amenities catering for Muslim travellers, and heritage experiences and attractions.
The report highlights South Africa as an example of best practice on the dining front: “South Africa prioritises halal dining by offering a wide range of halal-certified restaurants and accommodations in cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban. Muslim travellers can enjoy diverse halal dining options, while grocery shopping and takeouts are convenient with reliable halal-certified products.”