When it comes to booking travel — either for work or for pleasure — I have a strict routine: Book flight, book hotel, and hit TripAdvisor to see where the highest-rated eats are at my destination.
Why not? I’m traveling for at least a few days and I have to eat. Why wouldn’t I use the opportunity to try something new and learn what makes that location unique?
I’m certainly not the only traveler who plans trips around food, and as the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) notes, it’s happening more and more. Citing its 2016 Food Travel Monitor, the organization says 80 percent of leisure travelers visited destinations because of a certain culinary activity or attraction.
Social media makes it even easier for sweets shops, restaurants, breweries and wineries to share their stories, new products and specials — or have visitors do it for them. Who hasn’t checked a restaurant’s rating before dining there? And if I had a dime for every time I fell for a delicious-looking photo on Instagram, I’d have enough money to try everything I’ve seen.
This represents huge opportunity for independent food businesses, but being local and serving high-quality products aren’t all that’s needed to attract and charm food-minded tourists. That’s now the baseline, the WFTA contends in a new report.
Last fall, the WFTA surveyed experts in the tourism and hospitality industries, seeking insights on the importance of food tourism, as well as on what’s working and what isn’t. Responding experts say there’s room for improvement.
Specifically, the experts rated 1 through 5 the importance of certain benefits for food tourists and how well they thought the industry was achieving them. For example, using food and drink to educate visitors received a rating of 4.23 on the importance scale, but received 3.13 on the performance scale.
Offering authentic experiences to visitors is the most important to food tourism experts, earning a 4.64 rating, but performance lagged at 3.46. Furthermore, providing unique or innovative experiences earned a 4.41 importance rating and 3.33 in performance. 
“The food/drink experiences provided by businesses and destinations often don’t match visitor expectations,” the report reads. “Businesses need to understand that they are selling not just a food/beverage product but also an experience. If visitor (customer) expectations are not met, negative word-of-mouth ensues. Know your customer journey and plan accordingly to prevent that.”
This is especially important in the digital age, since potential customers are only a few clicks away. Fortunately, many members of the candy industry already offer experiences beyond their products, whether it’s through factory tours, tastings or historical and educational exhibits.
The Chocolate Fetish and French Broad Chocolates, based in Asheville, N.C., and Creo Chocolate, based in Portland, Ore., make it a point to educate visitors about chocolate, their passion for it and the process they undergo to make delicious finished products. Meanwhile, Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jefferson, Ind., operates a candy museum alongside making its famous Cinnamon Red Hots.
There are many companies I’ve missed, but the point stands: candy makers have a distinct advantage when it comes to illustrating to tourists — and their social media followers — how sweet the world can be. They just have to get a piece of it.