This paper aims to provide a perspective on food waste by tourists and tourist households, now and in the future.
This is a perspective article that summarizes contemporary thinking about food waste and conceptualizes food waste specifically for tourist household settings.
In tourism, food is more than nourishment and extends to visitor experiences and attractions. Yet food waste arising from tourism activity is a major environmental and societal issue. Festive moods and holiday spirits – synonymous with over-sized portions, bountiful buffets and entertainment excess – exacerbate food waste. Cultural norms that portray food waste as a sign of good hospitality further aggravate the problem. This paper argues that efforts to reduce food waste in tourism require new conceptualizations of tourist households, and where food waste occurs in relation to tourism, and of who should be responsible for preventing and managing food waste.
The tourism industry faces ever-growing economical, societal and legislative reasons to address food waste, which are dynamic and difficult to predict.
Savvy meal providers will migrate towards reducing their food waste or turning it into assets. However, a focus on preventing food waste only in traditional food service and accommodation establishments ignores the reality of growing tourist households and will stifle sustainability efforts unless theoretically unpacked and practically addressed.
A third of food produced globally is lost or wasted. Stark facts, proclamations and regulations underscore food waste as a burgeoning global problem with major environmental, social and economic costs.
Food waste, in general, and by tourists, is a burgeoning environmental, social and economic challenge. This is one of the first articles to focus on this topic and introduces the concept of tourist households.
Gretzel, U., Murphy, J., Pesonen, J. and Blanton, C. (2020), "Food waste in tourist households: a perspective article", Tourism Review, Vol. 75 No. 1, pp. 235-238. https://doi.org/10.1108/TR-05-2019-0170
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited
In tourism, food is more than nourishment and extends to visitor experiences and attractions (Henderson, 2009). Yet food waste arising from tourism activity is a major environmental and societal issue. Festive moods and holiday spirits – synonymous with over-sized portions, bountiful buffets and entertainment excess – exacerbate food waste. Cultural norms that portray food waste as reflecting good hospitality further aggravate the problem (Wang et al., 2017).
Blakeney (2019) estimates that a third of food produced globally is lost or wasted. While food loss describes accidental wastage in the food supply chain’s beginning phases, food waste refers to food intended for human consumption but fed to animals, recycled, treated to recover energy, composted or sent to landfills (WRAP UK, n.d.). Stark facts, proclamations and regulations underscore food waste as a burgeoning global problem with major environmental, social and economic costs (FAO, 2014).
Filimonau and De Coteau (2019) identify food waste as the most prominent type of hospitality waste, strongly correlated with tourism activity in an area. Reducing tourism’s carbon “foodprint” has therefore become a major goal in the overall effort of making tourism more sustainable (Gössling et al., 2011; Wan et al., 2017). This perspective article argues that efforts to reduce tourism food waste require new conceptualizations of food waste, where it occurs in tourism, and who should be responsible for its prevention and management.
Past perspective 75 years of developments 1946-2020
A Google Scholar search for “food waste” and “tourism” identifies Youngs et al. (1983) as one of the earliest papers on the topic and suggests that not until the late 1990s did this research area gain traction. Similarly, hospitality-related food waste research emerged in the 1990s, but attention grew only over the past decade (Filimonau and De Coteau, 2019).
Like the development of its academic research, regulatory efforts to highlight and combat food waste seemed dormant until this century. Food waste initiatives surfaced with the United Nations providing full cost accounting in 2014 (FAO, 2014) and global food loss and food waste standards two years later (United Nations, 2016).
Commercial hospitality establishments, however, have long had a keen interest in reducing pre- and post-consumer food waste, respectively kitchen and plate waste, mostly because of its impact on profitability. They also try to limit food disposal cost. Large establishments today, such as Disney World, have industrial-scale initiatives to compost food waste into soil additives or digest food waste anaerobically and generate electricity from the captured methane gas (Waste360, 2018).
In line with this industry interest, most research has studied food waste in food service and accommodation operations (Pirani and Arafat, 2016; Sakaguchi et al., 2018; Wan et al., 2017; Table I below). Only recently have Murphy et al. (2019) drawn attention to food waste in tourist households, referring to settings, such as self-catering accommodation, camping and boating, in which tourists prepare/serve their own food. Food waste in tourist households depends on various factors across all stages of the tourist household food waste sequence (Figure 1). Most research takes on management and marketing perspectives; literature on food waste’s socio-cultural meanings is rare (Närvänen et al., 2018) and non-existing for tourist households.
Future perspective 75 years 2020-2095
Demand for alternative, richer, more local and less commercial tourism experiences will grow as will tourist household-related food waste. Legislation will inevitably mandate source separation of food wastes and penalize non-compliance. Destination organizations and self-service accommodation providers will have to support such legislation. Research will be needed to examine pathways to food waste reduction outside of traditional hospitality operations.
Filimonau and De Coteau (2019) hint at emerging technology to help forecast food demand, proactively manage food stock, and stimulate demand through dynamic pricing and alternative distribution channels supported by mobile apps. IKEA, among others, uses artificially intelligent waste bins and the internet of things to recognize, track and reduce food waste (Parsons, 2019).
Technological solutions should continuously emerge, but their diffusion will be largely restricted to commercial establishments in the near future. Food waste-focused smartification of households, especially tourist households, will take considerably longer. Importantly, Martin-Rios et al. (2018) describe technological changes as leading to incremental innovation while radical innovation will require attitude changes and a complete rethinking of the food waste concept.
A recent paper suggests that consumers are both lobbying for regulation and form movements to actively change higher-order value/taste regimes and redirect food object pathways to combat food waste (Gollnhofer et al., 2019). Such consumer movements should increasingly spill over into the tourism and hospitality domain and could lead to grassroots efforts to prevent or re-distribute food waste in the hospitality sector and, ultimately, also in tourist households. Regardless, changing consumer behavior is critical to combating food waste.
The tourism industry faces ever-growing economical, societal and legislative reasons to address food waste. Savvy meal providers will migrate towards reducing their food waste or turning it into assets. However, a focus on preventing food waste only in traditional food service and accommodation establishments ignores the reality of growing tourist households and will stifle sustainability efforts unless theoretically unpacked and practically addressed.
Tourist household food waste (THFW) research matrix
|Commercial housing||Non-commercial housing|
|Little to no self-catering facilities||e.g. Hotels, Resorts, Motels, Cruise Ships | Some THFW research||e.g. Bare bones camping | Little THFW research|
|Self-catering accommodation||e.g. Airbnb, Vacation rentals | Little THFW research||e.g. VFR, Second homes, Drive camping | Some HFW research|
Blakeney, M. (2019), Food Loss and Food Waste: Causes and Solutions, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.
FAO (2014), “Food wastage footprint-full-cost accounting-final report”, available at: www.fao.org/3/a-i3991e.pdf
Filimonau, V. and De Coteau, D.A. (2019), “Food waste management in hospitality operations: a critical review”, Tourism Management, Vol. 71, pp. 234-245.
Gollnhofer, J.F., Weijo, H.A. and Schouten, J.W. (2019), “Consumer movements and value regimes: fighting food waste in Germany by building alternative object pathways”, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 46 No. 3.
Gössling, S., Garrod, B., Aall, C., Hille, J. and Peeters, P. (2011), “Food management in tourism: reducing tourism’s carbon ‘foodprint”, Tourism Management, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 534-543.
Henderson, J.C. (2009), “Food tourism reviewed”, British Food Journal, Vol. 111 No. 4, pp. 317-326.
Martin-Rios, C., Demen-Meier, C., Gössling, S. and Cornuz, C. (2018), “Food waste management innovations in the foodservice industry”, Waste Management, Vol. 79, pp. 196-206.
Murphy, J., Gretzel, U., Pesonen, J. and Elorinne, A.L. (2019), “Wicked problem: reducing food waste by tourist households”, Journal of Gastronomy and Tourism, Vol. 3 No. 4.
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About the authors
Ulrike Gretzel is based at School for Communication and Journalism, the University of Southern California Annenberg, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Jamie Murphy is based at the University of Eastern Finland Joensuu Campus, Joensuu, Finland.
Juho Pesonen is based at Centre for Tourism Studies, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland.
Casey Blanton is based at the Daytona State College, Daytona Beach, Florida, USA.