Interview with Erik Wolf, President & CEO of International Culinary Tourism Association

Erik Wolf President and CEO of ICTA

Erik Wolf President and CEO of ICTA

Being fascinated with Culinary Tourism as we are at THS Magazine I did an internet search a couple of years ago to see if anyone else out there was equally interested; as I really believed that this was a vastly underestimated sector of the tourism industry. It was then I fell upon the International Culinary Tourism Association based in Portland Oregon.

The International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA) was founded in 2003 provides a wide range of benefits for its members, including community, education, development and promotion – all relating to culinary travel. The ICTA is considered to be the go-to resource for culinary travel by media outlets around the world.

As their website says ‘Travel is the best education, and by experiencing each other’s’ foods we learn something new about each other’s’ cultures.’ This is what I love about culinary tourism whether you are eating food produced on the side of the street at a vendor stand or at a phenomenally expensive hotel or restaurant known for its gastronomically amazing delights we experience and learn so much about the place we are visiting, the people, their food and culture – in its honest and grounded form.

Not surprisingly the ICTA’s target market is all things culinary from cooking schools, culinary attractions, culinary media – retail – tours – destinations, farmers markets, food and drink producers and suppliers including restaurants, cafes, delis, vendors, take aways, hawker stands including exceptional hotels and dining establishments – anything culinary but veering away from the franchise chains. The franchises popping up in every corner of the globe are killing our culinary cultures, so in my opinion ICTA couldn’t have come long any later and I sincerely hope they are supported by an ever growing number of people from across the world.

If you are a tourism leader in charge of a tourism association, a tourism establishment owner or a traveller, I would urge you to use the resources available at the ICTA.

The International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA) is considered the world’s leading authority on culinary tourism.  An additional element to the ICTA is  



FoodTrekker Publishing is the company that delivers promotional assistance to culinary tourism destinations, groups and businesses around the world. With writers and coaches based all over the world to provide up to date support and information for people to access at one point.

I was so in awe of this massive task and the achievements gained to date I had to meet the master and creator behind the scenes and find out more about him, which is when I met Erik Wolf President and CEO of ICTA based in Portland, Oregon (Erik has also written an e-book on Culinary Tourism – Culinary Tourism: The Hidden Harvest introduces professionals to the concept of Culinary Tourism and presents ideas how to best promote food and drink as a primary visitor lure. Relevant examples from all over the world help illustrate the importance of this new industry. – of you would like to purchase this book click here and Save 5% instantly by using discount code VNIEKERS, normal price $11)

A chat with Erik –

THS Mag – Where do you live and why do you live there?

Erik – I travel so much it’s hard to call one place home.  I guess you could say that I’m a citizen of the world. But when I’m not traveling, I spend my time in Portland, Oregon, USA. It’s the best foodie city in the USA for many reasons, and it’s in the one part of the country I really like.

THS Mag – Why did you get into Culinary Tourism, what attracted you to it?

Erik – I was a casualty of the Dot Com blowout in 2001 and lost my job. I was doing some soul searching and asked myself 3 questions: what do I like doing, where do I have contacts, and what am I good at. It came down to food and travel in every case.  That exercise prompted me to write a white paper on culinary tourism, which was what started the industry.

THS Mag – when did you start the ICTA?Erik -Demand for the white paper kept growing and then finally I founded the ICTA in 2004.

THS Mag – what is your long term vision for ICTA?

Eirk – The ICTA’s mission has always been to help businesses and destinations to package and promote cuisine as an attraction to visitors and locals alike. We’re now starting to outgrow that mission. The current vision is that the ICTA will become more and more focused on culinary culture and the preservation of that culinary culture. Cuisine is a manifestation of culture in many ways, and it’s something that nearly every community around the world can embrace. It’s a valuable asset and needs to be preserved.

THS Mag – you also created, what is your mission behind this?

Erik – FoodTrekker is a consumer-focused website that focuses on culinary culture. It was created as a public-facing extension of the ICTA, and is a tool for which our members have been asking for years. It was created partly to bring sales and marketing help to small businesses of all kinds all around the world. It’s being designed as a unique multilingual, multi-cultural resource for culinary culture. While it will certainly have content on the USA, it will not be US-centred. It is unique in this respect.

THS Mag – what is the point of difference for

Erik – There are many secret sauces, just one of which is the multilingual and multicultural aspect I mentioned. We didn’t

want to create another restaurant listing website. So we went about thinking how we could reinvent online food publishing. FoodTrekker will publish quality, curated content focused on culinary cultures around the world. It embraces 13 different categories of culinary businesses and does not allow any chains. So in this regard, it helps small, local and independent businesses everywhere. We also have a fun matchmaking tool that will help you figure out what kind of foodie you are and then match you to culinary experiences that you would like most. The idea is to save foodies time, money and effort and avoid the mistakes we’ve all made before. Life is too short for bad food and drink.

THS Mag – in your opinion how do you see the Culinary Tourism sector globally in say 5 or 10 years from now?

Erik – Interest in food is mushrooming all over the planet, and the interest is much more than recipes and buying local. Sure, those are important components, but the power of the Internet means that foodies are more well-researched and prepared than ever.  Often we know more about every food and drink item on the menu than the servers do. This level of sophistication means that we are constantly striving to learn and experience more. There is an entire world of culinary combinations waiting to be unlocked. And let’s not forget the obesity pandemic, which is pushing more and more people towards healthy eating. I see our sector continuing to grow, especially because of the care we’re taking to focus on the local and independent business owner.

THS Mag – Do you think that different cultures and countries should endeavour to retain their culinary heritage?

Erik – Absolutely. The way to do this is by a coordination of bottom-up grassroots support with top-down strategic planning. The country or destination must first want to preserve its culinary culture, and its residents must work to help preserve it as well. If we do not support small, local and independent businesses, then in 20 years no one on the planet will have any choice. I travel extensively and it saddens me to see chains taking over the planet. A coffee I can buy in Seattle tastes exactly like that same company’s coffee in Singapore or London. That’s not interesting to me. I do not want to be homogenized. Even national chains can chip away at a nation’s culinary culture. Not all chains are bad, but there are only very few examples of chains doing the right thing. I’d like to think that is slowly changing.

THS Mag – what is your favourite food?

Erik – Only one?  Thai, Italian and Mexican are high on my list. And for some reason, I have a craving for cupcakes that I just can’t seem to satiate. Still looking for the world’s best cupcake so if you have any recommendations….

THS Mag – Do you have a favourite wine?

Erik – I tend to drink wine from the region where I find myself. I find that there’s usually something about the terroir that complements the local food. To me, Greek wine should be drunk with Greek food, for example. If I’m not in a wine-producing region, then I’ll switch to beer, sake, soju, juice, a soft drink or mineral water. Besides being the ultimate commitment to “buying local”, its what the locals do and to me, such choices taste better with the local foods.

THS Mag – when you visit a new place how do you decide which restaurant to eat in? What do you look for and where do you typically look for information?

Erik – My process is rather convoluted. It’s a combination of first asking local friends and colleagues for initial recommendations, then searching dozens of food blogs, restaurant rating websites, and critic reviews to get a composite picture of the establishments. I also look at uniqueness, location and price. Then I perform mental acrobatics and arrive at a short list. It’s not an easy process, and it takes a while, but it’s worthwhile as I have refined the process over time and improved accuracy. This convoluted process was part of the impetus behind FoodTrekker, which will make the decision-making process so much easier for everyone.

THS Mag – where have you not been to yet but would love to visit?

Erik – I’d like to walk on the Great Wall of China and fly over Machu Pichu. I’d also like to visit the 8000 year old wine excavations in the Republic of Georgia.

THS Mag – is there a restaurant or a food you haven’t been to or had yet that you would love to experience?

Erik – I’ve had Turkish food before but I would like to experience its authenticity in situ, in Turkey.

THS Mag– apart from all things culinary how do you spend your time?

Erik – I work constantly so free time is a bit of a rarity. I do enjoy sci-fi movies and I read a lot about too many things.  I have an insatiable curiosity about the world.

THS Mag – you are in the process of leaving an enormous legacy in the world of tourism and leaving a legacy is something we all aspire to – do you have any words of advice or guidance that will encourage others to be equally inspired to know their destiny and leave their own legacy?

Erik – Be kind but firm, always question the status quo, and care enough to make a difference.

If you would like to purchase Erik’s book Culinary Tourism, The Hidden Harvest, click here Save 5% instantly by using discount code VNIEKERS, normal price $11). The ICTA has a range of products available for purchase such as webinars, courses, certifications and other books – use the discount voucher to also purchase these other interesting items.

Thank you Erik, wishing you much ongoing success!

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