The Internet enables communities in developing countries to directly communicate with potential visitors at a relatively low cost. The Internet also plays a significant role in the development of a sustainable tourism industry and can enhance the consumption of local food in destinations. The rise of culinary tourism and the demand for participatory experiences offer the opportunity to strengthen linkages between tourism and local food; such developments cannot, however, occur without effective dissemination of information.
The purpose of this research is to explore the role of the Internet in enhancing the use of local food in the tourism industry in Vanuatu. The study presents a conceptual framework to explore and create links between tourism and local food through the use of the Internet. The study identifies 500 tourism organisations and businesses, of which 190 have a website. An audit of the 190 tourism websites – 39 destination and 151 business sites – is conducted from an interpretivist perspective. Content and discourse analyses are used to analyse images, texts and hyperlinks to ascertain the way local food is promoted by the Vanuatu tourism industry and the importance placed on it. The study also includes the analysis of 346 online reviews of tourists’ feedback about their experience of local food when staying in local bungalows.
This research reveals that the potential of the Internet to link tourism to local food in Vanuatu is not being maximised. Although there is an increasing presence of local food in tourism websites, the analysis of text descriptions and images shows that the key features promoted are related to ocean views and marine activities. A limited number of tourism businesses have a menu in their websites and fewer still promote their restaurants’ local cuisine as a valuable tourist experience. There is also a lack of internal and external hyperlinks to enhance relevant food information and guide visitors to other websites of communities’ interests, such as local producers, events and festivals. Low local Internet presence appears as a major challenge to linking local tourism businesses’ websites to potential food networks. The lack of local tourism businesses’ websites also constrains the promotion of authentic local food experiences to provide a sense of place to visitors.
The study shows that the way food is promoted in tourism websites varies across the different islands: familiar “Western” food is depicted in websites of businesses based on Efate, whereas the authenticity and uniqueness of local food is shown in the websites of businesses on the outer islands. Promoting a greater variety of food experiences has the potential to make Vanuatu more attractive as a tourism destination. Tourism websites can still promote and integrate local food-related activities to improve visitor yield. The examination of tourists’ online reviews shows there is tourist demand for local food experiences, but that this demand is not being fully met. A meaningful use of the Internet to promote diverse and distinctive food-related tourism activities would enhance visitors’ experiences and benefits for local residents; however, in Vanuatu, such potential remains largely untapped.