While hotel sponsorship of destination culinary festivals is well established at events such as Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic or the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, properties are now operating their own epicurean affairs as a successful promotional strategy. Running an annual festival that attracts hundreds of visitors can secure occupancy during slower parts of the year, encourage business from local customers, and place a resort on the map as a destination to lure travelers who follow their palate.
Last year, The Little Nell in Aspen hosted its inaugural food festival as a way to connect Relais & Châteaux chefs from around the country and “celebrate gastronomic excellence,” says the resort’s culinary director, Matt Zubrod. Guests purchased either à la carte ticketing to specific events or a full program pass, with an opportunity to book accommodations at a preferred rate. The festival was so successful that it has returned this month. The lineup includes a sommelier lunch headlined by Jay Fletcher and two-Michelin star chef Gabriel Kreuther and a gala dinner with an eight-course tasting menu.
The Little Nell event was just one of many hotel culinary festivals that exceeded expectations and secured annual programming. Others include Agave Fest at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in California; the Four Seasons Maui Wine & Food Classic (occurring this month from September 2 to 4); and The Art of Flavours at Reid’s Palace, A Belmond Hotel, in Madeira (September 16 to 18). “Once the William restaurant [at Reid’s Palace] was awarded a Michelin star, we agreed it was time to launch our own gastronomic festival,” says chef Luís Pestana about the experience, which also offers educational opportunities for guests to learn from industry-leading creatives.
Some properties could be recognized as trendsetters in the field, and the interest in culinary-centric vacations has allowed them to evolve further in recent years. The Boston Wine & Food Festival, for example, has been hosted by the Boston Harbor Hotel since 1989. “During our coldest months, when Bostonians often spend more evenings at home, the festival keeps business levels above industry average while delighting guests with an evening to look forward to,” says hotel general manager Stephen Johnston about the 12-week event that begins in late January. There’s also the Cayman Cookout, first presented by The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman in 2008. It began as a local event recognizing the islands’ culinary offerings, sparked by chef Éric Ripert and supported by friends José Andrés and Anthony Bourdain.
“Over the years the event grew, attracting more celebrity chefs, and became a testament to the level of expertise in the Cayman Islands as the culinary capital of the Caribbean,” says Marc Langevin, general manager at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman. The Cayman Cookout celebrates its 14th year from January 12 to 16, still led by Ripert, but having grown into a multievent-per-day epicurean experience. Guests can choose from intimate programs, sipping local rum alongside Ripert at the Barefoot BBQ, chatting one-on-one with A-list chefs such as Dominique Crenn and Daniel Boulud, and enjoying cooking demos including Andrés’ beachside paella-fest.
Denise Yamaguchi, CEO of the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival (October 20 to November 6), held at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa since 2011, emphasizes the importance of these experiences. Travelers have another reason to visit Hawaii beyond the sun and surf, which in turn benefits the community and economy. “Since the beginning all proceeds from the HFWF have benefited our local agricultural, educational and cultural organizations,” she says. To date, the amount raised totals more than $3.1 million. On Florida’s Amelia Island, Omni Resorts honors its locale with a Fish to Fork culinary weekend (September 29 to October 2) which includes a fishing excursion where guests are paired with chefs and the seafood caught that day will be served as part of the main event.
And at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia, the Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival, held each spring, attracts regional chefs to support local organizations. Resort general manager Ralph Vick says it’s an opportunity for guests and the community “to try new flavors and cuisines in our own backyard.” Guests will likely see even more of these events occurring around the country and the world, as they not only provide unforgettable, unique experiences worth traveling for, but also drive business and brand awareness for the hotels and resorts.