Bangkok, 30 May 2018 – A record 475 delegates from 52 countries have turned up for the 4th UNWTO Forum on Gastronomy Tourism which opened today in Bangkok, the first time it is being held in Asia.
The conference, which will run until June 1, is being attended by dozens of Thai restaurateurs, chefs, food and beverage executives and hoteliers who are getting a chance to update themselves on new techniques and technologies in preparing, marketing and managing the strong linkage between tourism and gastronomy.
Organised by the UN World Tourism Organisation and Basque Culinary Centre, the conference is being attended by Secretary General of the UNWTO, H.E. Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, Hon. Mr. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica, and Mr. Joxe Mari Aizega, Director, Basque Culinary Center.
The conference is focussed on raising awareness both nationally and regionally as to the significance and role of gastronomy tourism as a key towards the development of sustainable tourism in the region. Speakers from Macau, Japan, Indonesia and the Basque region of Spain discussed the current situation in their regions and the global outlook for gastronomy tourism as well how the public and private sector can establish successful partnerships.
The conference has also examined how countries can related their gastronomy tourism strategies to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.
Addressing the opening ceremony, H.E. Mr. Weerasak Kowsurat, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, said the Royal Thai government was pleased to host the conference as part of the national strategy to more firmly link its two bedrock economic sectors, agriculture and tourism.
H.E. Mr. Weerasak said, “Both agriculture and tourism are major job creators and contribute significantly to economic livelihood and income distribution all over the country, especially in the rural areas. Farmers get to make more productive use of their land and try out new concepts such as, herbal and organic products and wineries. The multiplier effect nationwide is of massive value and benefit.”
He added, “Gastronomy has been linked to tourism and further influenced as well as enhanced by technological advances. However, both gastronomy and tourism are undeniably related to local cultures and communities.
“Both the Eastern and Western worlds have cuisine that is rooted in local wisdom. Each is unique in its own way. If we can fuse their combined strengths, it will allow us to have a better understanding of their physiological benefits as well as the intellectual value of our respective cultures.”
The Minister stressed how gastronomy tourism is helping many small and grassroots communities all across Thailand boost sales of their fruits, rice and general crops and create a strong international brand for Thai food and ingredients.
“Thai cuisine helps us to drive tourism and boost spending. In 2017, 20 percent of our tourism revenue was on food. We are hoping to increase that in the years ahead.”
H.E. Mr. Weerasak also highlighted the gastronomic linkages amongst the member states of the ASEAN Community.
“The most important crop for us (in ASEAN) is rice, as it is our staple food. In other words, rice is not just a source of food, but also a source of our culture and way of life. ASEAN countries are top exporters of rice. It may interest you to know that the ASEAN emblem also has stalks of rice paddy bound together on the ASEAN flag.”
Mr. Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, Deputy Governor for Policy and Planning, Tourism Authority of Thailand outlined how Thai food was not just food but a story in its own right, with each well-known dish like Phat Thai, Tom Yam Kung or Som Tam having its own background and history about its origins.
The conference heard two powerful presentations on how Thai farmers are shifting away from using pesticides and fertilisers in the food chain, thus improving their physical and financial health as well as the quality of their products for consumers. PATA CEO Mario Hardy outlined his association’s campaign to curb food waste and invited all the participants to join up.
A representative of the Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia, stressed how the country will start promoting its culinary culture by setting up a number of uniformly-branded restaurants worldwide.
On May 31 and June 1, delegates will fan out across communities and various districts of Bangkok to check out the vast variety of culinary delights ranging from Michelin star restaurants to street food and family entrepreneurs.