Can culinary tourism play an important role in helping create sustainable development in some of the countries along the ancient silk road? A new report recently released by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says that might be the case, suggesting that a growing demand for "experience based" tourism could open the door for countries to earn tourists' dollars by promoting their gastronomy.
The report, though plagued by poorly written language that often reads like it was taken from a tourism ministry brochure, does offer some interesting insights into how countries in Central Asia (and other parts of the world) are trying to capitalize on their culinary traditions, even if those traditions include, as in Kazakhstan's case, the consumption of horse meat.
That said, before they can capitalize on their culinary traditions, some of the countries along the Silk Road might need to start thinking about how to protect those traditions. The UNWTO report was launched earlier this month at a conference in Baku, where Azerbaijan's Minister of Culture and Tourism, Abulfas Garayev, told attendants that Azeris "care greatly for the traditions of our rich gastronomy stretching back to ancient times.” That may be so, but the release of the UNWTO's report coincided with other important culinary news in Azerbaijan: the opening of the country's first Papa John's pizzeria, with plans for more to come. Azeris may be tempted by Papa John's promise of "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza," but it will be hard to convince gastro-tourists traveling along the Silk Road that this is part of Azerbaijan's ancient and rich gastronomy.