By Evie Andreou
CULINARY tourism is the latest move by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) to diversify Cyprus’ appeal to visitors.
It is a move the CTO believes will appeal to tourists looking for something different and will give a boost to local businesses and, of course, promote a quintessential Cypriot past time: eating.
As a first step, the CTO in cooperation with Travel Foundation, UK and the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI), launched a pilot programme last month to urge hotels in the Paphos district to promote the Cypriot breakfast.
The consortium hired a consultant agency to carry out Cyprus breakfast seminars to the staff of participating hotels, taught by culinary arts instructors Yiannakis Agapiou and George Kyprianou, former chairman and deputy of the Cyprus Chefs’ Association, respectively. Three of the four scheduled seminars have already taken place.
“There are already 16 hotels in Paphos participating in the project, we are expecting at least 20, but at the moment it is difficult because it is a high season for the hotels and they are too busy to take the course,” said CTO official Monica Liatiri, adding that they expect more hotels to take part in September.
The trained chefs are taught how to use traditional Cyprus products such as carob syrup, epsima (concentrated grape juice), fresh goat milk and cheeses, fresh herbs and smoked meats as well as traditional preserved sweets. Restaurant staff are also trained to identify and explain these products to tourists.
“There are many ways to use these products to make breakfast recipes. Anari cheese for instance, is a great product and can be used both in sweet and savoury dishes,” said Kyprianou, adding that Cyprus cheeses and smoked meats are in no way inferior products to other better known European products.
“Why are mozzarella and prosciutto used widely and not anari and choiromeri?” he asked.
He added that by seeing and tasting these products in breakfast dishes, like omelettes, pies, pastries they would want to buy them and take them home, and maybe search for them in their local supermarkets.
He said that participants had showed great interest in the seminars and that general managers and other officials as well as kitchen staff and waiters had participated.
CTO is awaiting feedback both from participants and the tourists but are optimistic about the outcome.
“It is still too early to evaluate but I am positive the project will be a success. We will receive the questionnaires filled out by tourists and their evaluation in September and October,” Liatiri said.
If the pilot project succeeds, the aim is to introduce it island wide.
Apart from the Cyprus breakfast, the CTO is exploring the idea of promoting a common branding, also on a voluntary basis, which aims to promote culinary tourism in Cyprus.
This branding follows the international trend of consumers seeking authentic experiences instead of globalised and standardised ones.
“It will be a horizontal programme and include producers, shop-owners, restaurants, hotels, small businesses that sell traditional sweets, meat and dairy products, etc,” Liatiri said.
She added that the use of traditional products should not lead to boring standardisation of dishes with just a Cyprus twist.
“We teach them how to use the materials, we provide ideas, but the presentation is up to them. They might use the products to create traditional recipes or modern dishes, the possibilities are endless,” she said.
CTO believes that the project will also provide a promotion platform for businesses locally and abroad through the press, social media and, websites.
“It is a win-win situation; it will be a marketing tool. Once they see the cost and effect factor, they will want to participate,” Laitiri said.
“We will have a competition before the end of 2014 and hire an expert that will make the business plan first so that we know how to best proceed with criteria, conditions etc,” Liatiri said.
She also said that the brand could become an umbrella for many activities incorporated within the culinary tourism theme.
“It could be cooking courses, food festivals, tours in traditional places, organised by individuals or organisations that can all be incorporated under the umbrella of the culinary tourism brand,” Liatiri said.
Culinary branding is nothing new. In Greece a similar project is called Aegean Cuisine and Austria is also promoting their culinary products.
Kyprianou said the success of the project will depend on businesses participating seriously and maintaining standards.
“It is not about getting the brand just to increase business, you only participate because you want to do this and promote the products properly,” he said.