A critical assessment of the culinary preferences of international tourists to South Africa
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Food consumption plays a vital role in shaping the tourist experience overall. It is estimated that tourists’ expenditure on food and their demand for culinary experiences around the globe are growing daily. The International Culinary Tourism Association and the International Culinary Tourism Development Organisation ranked South Africa as the least-prepared culinary travel destination and the travel destination with the greatest potential for growth in the world. An in-depth knowledge of the determinants of tourists’ culinary preferences could make an important contribution to the development of quality culinary tourism products that lead to tourist satisfaction and address the gap identified in South Africa. The main goal of this study was to critically assess the culinary preferences of international tourists to South Africa. This goal was achieved through four main objectives. The first objective was to conduct an in-depth literature review on the existing knowledge on culinary tourism globally, including tourists’ culinary preferences, and theories, models and frameworks influencing culinary preferences. This objective further included an investigation of South African culinary tourism, focusing on the current policies and strategies utilised in the domain. The second objective was to identify the determinants of the culinary preferences of international tourists in South Africa and develop a taxonomy of South African tourists on the basis of these determinants. The third objective was to make recommendations for the promotion of local food, and the last objective was aimed at drawing conclusions from the results and making management and policy recommendations to stimulate growth in culinary tourism in South African. This study was based on the theory of positivism. Positivism believes that the basis for knowledge should depend on scientific method. Even though the approach has been labelled as inflexible, benefits of positivism include providing wide coverage for a range of situations and helping to generalise research findings. The positivist philosophy is associated with deduction and a quantitative research design. Deduction is used to apply theories to specific situations. Existing theories were used to establish possible determinants of the culinary preferences of international tourists in South Africa. Strengths of quantitative research include it often being regarded as having higher credibility than qualitative research and being useful for studying large numbers of people. All these facts led the researcher to select a quantitative research design. A popular technique to gather quantitative data is to distribute questionnaires, and questionnaires have even been stated to be the most important tool for data collection in tourism research. A questionnaire based on the literature review was newly developed for the study. Simple random sampling was the selected sampling method, as the results obtained through this sampling technique can be generalised back to the population and it gives each tourist an equal opportunity to be included in the research. International tourists awaiting flights in the departure halls of the international terminals at O.R. Tambo International Airport (the busiest airport in Africa) were the sample. In total, 627 questionnaires were analysed by means of descriptive statistics, factor analysis, t-tests, Spearman’s rank order correlation analyses, analysis of variance, and structural equation modelling (SEM). The main findings of the study included that international tourists regarded ordering from a menu that is easily understood as the most important element to them when they made culinary decisions. The second most important item was the availability of reasonably priced cuisine, and the third most important item was that the food had to appeal to their senses. Tourists were highly satisfied with their overall culinary experience while in the country and the value for money of food and beverages purchased. They were the least satisfied with menus indicating local items. Five factors with respect to culinary preference were identified from the 32 variables on culinary preference. These five factors were social influence, culture and religion, exploration, the culinary experience and environmental sensitivity. The factors (and other statistics) were used to develop a taxonomy of international tourists on the basis of culinary preferences. Socialisers tended to be Africans, respondents who did not regard themselves as adventurous eaters and respondents who had visited South Africa before. Explorers generally visited South Africa for leisure purposes and spent a lot of money during their stay in South Africa. Devotees did not dine out frequently or consider themselves to be adventurous eaters. Experience seekers tended to spend a lot of money on packaged tours. They were mostly not sure whether they had ordered local food in South Africa, but many had also had local food during this trip. Conservationists, many of whom were Australians, often made use of campgrounds and bed and breakfasts. These five segments (conservationists, experience seekers, devotees, explorers, and socialisers) formed the CEDES taxonomy of international tourists to South Africa. In additional to the CEDES taxonomy, other contributions the study made included the contribution towards the scarce literature in terms of offering greater insight into culinary tourism and the role it plays in a developing country. A South African perspective of the determinants of international tourists’ culinary preferences was also provided. A conceptual framework was proposed to critically assess the culinary preferences of international tourists to South Africa. An empirical model was also developed through the SEM analysis detailed which factors regarding culinary preference had statistically significant relationships with satisfaction with personal culinary preferences being met, satisfaction with affordability of cuisine and satisfaction with the dining environment. The model supported five hypothesised relationships: the importance of social influence, culture and religion, and exploration linked directly to satisfaction with personal culinary preferences being met while in South Africa, and the importance of culture and religion had a direct relationship with satisfaction regarding the affordability of South African cuisine. Finally, the importance of the culinary experience was directly related to satisfaction with the dining environment in South Africa. The newly developed quantitative questionnaire added methodological value and can be used in similar studies in the future. Recommendations and clear guidelines for future research based on the findings were provided to government and industry stakeholders in order to reap the various benefits of the knowledge that was gained on culinary preferences.