Sian Roberts | Do You Know What a Food Tour is?…

Guest blogger, Sian Roberts, is an award-winning Welsh culinary tourism enthusiast. Sian explains how she champions Welsh food and would like to see more collaborative digital marketing. Do you know what a food tour is?…

lwf award 1

My company Loving Welsh Food offers private and public food tours, cooking workshops, demos and Welsh talk & tastings presentations. Our two walking tours run regularly for the public – the Cardiff Tasting Tour every Friday & Saturday and the Cardiff Lunch & Landmarks tour on the 1st Saturday of every month.

My background is in travel and media. I worked as a Tour Guide in Europe and Asia for 8 years, then here in Wales as a TV Presenter/Producer and Radio Announcer. When I went freelance in 1991, I started promoting Welsh food and drink for the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) in Britain and abroad. Our food and drink were always well received, but it was surprising to see how little people knew about Welsh cuisine and Wales!

My first business project in 2009 was a bilingual Welsh cookery DVD – “Coginio” which showcased Welsh recipes and produce. Thanks to the DVD I was invited to run cooking workshops, demos and talks about Welsh food and drink and food tourism. While looking into food tourism I discovered food tours and thought “Why not give them a go here?”

I had no idea how challenging it would be to launch a new product!  I remember being told by a tour operator that food tours would work in London, Edinburgh and Dublin – but never in Wales!  It has taken a while, and I’m delighted to say – they do work.  Having started private tours in 2014 and the public tours in 2016, our numbers are increasing every year. We won “Best Activity in Wales” at the Wales Tourism Awards in 2018 that was fantastic and gave us lots of great press coverage.

One of our unique selling points is that all of our guides/demonstrators are Welsh speakers. Guests from overseas love the fact that our team of guides is made of up 3 Sians and 1 Ieuan, even though they find it difficult to pronounce our names! We include some phrases of Welsh on the tours and activities, which all the visitors enjoy.

group and daf cookinng

I totally agree with Sally Walters (NTGWales Blog) that digital marketing is crucial for business, particularly small companies like Loving Welsh Food with limited budgets. However, I also know how difficult it is to take advantage of the opportunities.

People say that social media is great as it is free – it may be, but it takes time and you need to develop skills such as photography, video production, copywriting, IT skills to name but a few. I have been on a variety of courses and always come away full of good intentions, putting those into practice however is hard. My list of things to do is always never ending.

This summer I decided to employ somebody to run my Twitter and Instagram, which has been great. It is not hugely expensive, and I have definitely seen an increase in brand awareness and bookings. I do my own Facebook posts aiming to post 2 – 3 times a week.  The posts concentrate on food and drink, things to do in Cardiff and Wales plus news items that I hope people will enjoy.

I do not run a booking system, rather I work with a tour operator who organises my website bookings and takes a commission from the sales. It is good to have this support, as their staff are in the office all the time so can deal with queries if I cannot. They can also answer telephone calls, which I think is still important.

There are so many online booking platforms to choose from, it is difficult to know which one is best and to find a platform that doesn’t take a huge commission. If Sally manages to run a seminar on demystifying the online booking process, I will be first in the queue!

It would be great if there was a collaborative way of working with other local companies like Loving Welsh Food that offer tours and activities so that we all use the same booking system. This could reduce costs and we could work together to promote activities in Cardiff and possibly further afield in Wales. Ideally, we would work with a local company who could create a system for us.

As far as sustainability is concerned, the aim of all of our activities is to showcase Welsh food and drink. On our Cardiff Tasting Tour, we have eight tasting stops where guests try local products/traditional recipes. These include Bara Brith at Pettigrew Tea Rooms, laverbread & cockles at Ashton’s in Cardiff Market and welshcakes at Fabulous Welshcakes. We work with small, independent businesses and give guests a voucher at the end of the tour to encourage them to revisit the venues where they also receive a 10% discount. On our other tours, we visit farms, vineyards, producers, restaurants and cafes – again all small businesses in the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff.

Animal Wall group

For our cookery demos, presentations and workshops, I use compostable, biodegradable and re-usable sample pots and glasses and I am always looking for greener ways of working.

When I started Loving Welsh Food very few people had heard of food tours and food tourism. I am still asked by many people “What is a food tour?” However, today the concept is much more common and many guests come to Cardiff to go on their first food tour – which is great!  Leading the way in food tourism – how good is that!