Gastro-diplomacy: the way to another country’s heart

Renowned cook James Beard, champion of American cuisine, once said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

This is the concept of gastro-diplomacy, a form of public diplomacy using national cuisine, which has recently emerged in the world’s consciousness. The technique — used by countries to win the hearts and minds of the foreign public — is said to have originated in Thailand, with the government rolling out the “Global Thai” programme in 2002 to increase the number of Thai restaurants around the world.1

On the surface, it may seem like a straightforward food tourism campaign. But, this strategy has deeper factors at play and can also be used to persuade more people to visit a country and deepen international relations.

As Thai food rose in popularity, so too did tourism numbers. In 2016, Thailand estimated they had welcomed a record 32 million foreign tourists — almost a 200% increase from 2002.2  A survey by Travel + Leisure magazine revealed that food was one of the top factors that Bangkok was named one of the world’s Top Overall Cities in 2015.3

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