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Assessing Demand for the North Carolina Oyster Trail

Shellfish marine aquaculture, or mariculture, experienced tremendous growth in the eastern United States of America (USA) over the past decade, but the nascent industry still has much potential to be realized with regard to revenue streams and public awareness. Most seafood consumers in the USA have little knowledge of product origin and aquaculture practices, restricting the growth of the shellfish mariculture industry (Kecinski et al., 2017). Sustained growth for shellfish mariculture will require integration with other key sectors of the coastal economy. Tourism, the third largest job creating sector in Atlantic Coast counties (NOAA, 2016), can leverage connections with the shellfish mariculture industry through food experience that can stimulate the sustained growth of both industries in the region. Interest in food tourism has grown considerably among tourists in the USA (Stone, Migacz, & Wolf, 2018). Mandala (2013) reported that 77% of U.S. travelers recently participated in food tourism activities such as experiences at breweries, wineries, cooking schools, culinary events, or operations where food is produced and harvested, such as farms (Phillip, Hunter, & Blackstock, 2010; Stone et al., 2018). Tourists build meaningful connections to the food they eat through these experiences, and they tend to seek out the food they enjoyed while traveling when they return home (Stone et al., 2018). This suggests that food tourism may be a powerful vehicle for expanding consumer demand and market share for food that is featured through tourism experiences (Lopez & Martin, 2006). Therefore, food tourism may have considerable benefits for food producers and their surrounding communities, as it can stimulate higher demand and prices for food products. Increasing shellfish mariculture in North Carolina (NC, USA) has provided greater access to locally grown and harvested seafood, increased economic diversification of NC coastal communities, and provided environmental benefits such as improved water quality resulting from the water-filtering properties of oysters and clams (NC Shellfish Mariculture Advisory Committee, 2018). Increasing shellfish mariculture supply and overall interest in food tourism prompted efforts to establish the North Carolina Oyster Trail (NCOT) in 2020. However, to expand and ensure the sustainability of NCOT, this work aims to expand understanding of demand for mariculture tourism experiences.