Purpose A food tourism destination can fully exploit its competitiveness if food-related attributes are consistently highlighted both in its promotion and in user-generated content. However, in the context of food tourism research, a possible image incongruence has not yet been studied. Tourism destination image incongruence occurs when different travel information sources reflect inconsistent representations of a destination's attributes. This study addresses this gap, focusing on Italian food and wine as drivers to attract visitors. This study examines whether food-related attributes are present in online travel-related conversations and are perceived differently by people with and without knowledge about the destination. Design/methodology/approach Content analysis based on a Bayesian machine-learning technique utilizing Leximancer software was applied to analyze questions and answers posted on TripAdvisor forums by potential and past visitors of four destinations in Italy (Naples, Florence, Parma and Ferrara). Questions and answers expressed by people with different knowledge in Italian and English were analyzed separately to gain deeper understanding. Findings Contrary to expectations, food-related themes were almost completely absent in the conversations analyzed, with only a few exceptions in Italian question sections. This situation depicts a sort of "cannibalism", in the sense that the centrality of food-related attributes is engulfed by other, less sensorial, enjoyable and memorable aspects of the travel experience. Research limitations/implications Analysis suggests that hype may exist in food tourism promotion related to destination image incongruence. However, while based on a large volume of conversations, the analysis covers only four Italian cities. Practical implications Destination management organizations (DMOs) should develop their strategy and communication considering internal and external elements: their marketing targets on one side and the local culture and attractions' perceptions on the other. Standard marketing processes (segmenting, targeting, positioning) and theories should be put in place. The application of standard marketing dynamics and studies should push the DMOs to understand that the internally perceived cultural values of the touristic destinations could not be known or joint univocally by the global external customers and that a local promotional activity should start with branding and not commercial activities. Originality/value This is the first study to suggest the existence of hype in food tourism promotion of Italian destinations and to provide evidence supporting this argument.
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