The Deputy Minister was addressing a Food Tourism Workshop in Machynlleth organised by Mid Wales Local Food Talks, a joint initiative between the Welsh Government and the Tourism Partnership Mid Wales. The purpose of the day was to provide opportunities to share best practice and experiences and to identify future opportunities to promote food tourism.
The Deputy Minister told the delegates:
"Food touches everything that’s important to people: it marks social difference and strengthens social bonds. Food culture takes in the social, symbolic, and economic role of food.
"A strengthened Welsh food culture, leading to a steady demand for quality food is one of the most important attractions of the visitor offer in Wales. When one thinks of a holiday in France or Italy, the promise of great food is a huge attraction. I want tourists, from the UK and beyond, to think of Wales in the same way.
"Food and tourism are inextricably linked. For many tourists, sampling food and drink is one of the main reasons to visit new locations. Local food and national dishes are also an important manifestation of a nation’s culture and identity. Good food attracts tourists and encourages them to return. Tourists in turn, provide a very important market for food producers and the hospitality industry.
"My role allows me to travel around the country visiting producers and tasting their products. The more I see, the more convinced I am of the wonderful quality and flavour of Welsh food. We are producing excellent food and drink and can boast some wonderful restaurants. We need to make sure that the rest of the World knows this to boost the number of tourists visiting Wales."
Recent research has shown that over half of producers in Wales sell directly to the food service and catering sector and that the most significant markets for Welsh food producers are identified as tourism and catering. Restaurants such as Ffresh at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff promote the ethos of local sourcing with a menu that has an emphasis on the local and seasonal, with 80% of their products sourced from within Wales.
The Food and Drink supply chain employs approximately 230,000 people in Wales or 18% of the total Welsh workforce, making it the largest combined industry in Wales; while in 2010 over 9.6 million overnight visitors came to Wales spending nearly £1.8 billion.
The Deputy Minister added:
"It says a lot about Welsh cuisine, once so derided, that emphasis on locally sourced produce is now king. Both food and tourism are big business in Wales so it follows that improving the output of these industries will be a big boost for the Welsh economy as a whole . Ensuring the two sectors work together to improve the overall visitor experience that Wales can offer as a Food Tourism destination is essential to ensuring the ongoing success of both industries."
While at the event the Deputy Minister also launched the latest version of the Mid Wales Local Food Directory. Produced by Wales Local Food Talks , the directory highlights food and drink producers, food festivals, farm shop outlets and farmers’ markets across the region.
Roger Hughes, chair of Wales Local Food Talks said:
"We are extremely glad the Deputy Minister has joined us today to launch the latest version of the Mid Wales Food Directory, which highlights the region’s many producers. Mid Wales is fast gaining a reputation as a food destination and a great deal of experience has been built up by a range of organisations in the development and promotion of food tourism. Getting practitioners to specific events such as today allows us to share best practice and provide delegates with new ideas to drive and shape future food tourism activity."