Restaurant reservations are no longer something travelers book through the hotel concierge once they arrive. Travel industry executives attending Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas say the quickest way to the wallets of their well-heeled clients is through their stomachs, and it’s food and drink that often drives where they end up going.
Food writer and culinary instructor Julia Celeste Rosenfeld says friends initially questioned her decision to start writing about restaurants and recipes. She’s now turned increased consumer interest in eating and drinking into a business, Food Chick Tours, where she helps visitors to San Antonio explore its diverse food scene. It’s one of just two UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy in the U.S. Tucson is the other.
Rosenfeld says she is already working six days a week, taking small groups and private tours into the kitchen to talk with the chefs and learn about food history. Sometimes she has to take a couple of days off to recharge.
Ashley Roe Stevens of Trellis Travel now specializes in Culinary Tourism, a segment that earned itself a dedicated track during the weeklong confab that attracts around 5,000 travel advisors and industry suppliers.
She says her clients are often inspired by what they read, but then come to her to figure out what to do. She says, “They’ve been to Rome, Florence and Paris, and they are looking for that customized experience in a little village where they can interact with the chef, something that’s amazing, where there isn’t a long line of people waiting to get in.”
“Food travel has become a thing,” adds Rosenfeld.
For luxury resorts, the trend has meant creating experiences that enable guests to bring something home with them.
At Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, its beverage team traveled to Oaxaca to learn about blending different Mezcals, something they now share with guests daily. If you are adventurous, you can coat the rim of your glass with salts made from worms, ants or grasshoppers. You can bring home your private blend in a hand-painted, artisan-made bottle.
Resorts are reaching to the stars to create unique ways to dine. Soneva, which has locations in the Maldives and Thailand, publishes a calendar of VIP visits by celebrity chefs where guests can mingle with the top cooks. Its Treepod Dining at Soneva Kiri lifts you up more than 200 feet in the air into the tropical foliage of a rainforest, with your food delivered via zip line.
The interest in food travel is on fire with all generations. Collette, which specializes in motor coach group tours, has been launching more itineraries with smaller groups. They stop for home-hosted meals and to take private cooking classes. A trip to Morocco includes a dinner in the desert.
Rocky Mountaineer, which operates luxury trains in Western Canada and between Colorado and Utah, has adapted to client interests by tapping into local distilleries and breweries for the beers and spirits it features onboard.
There is also a big appetite for big city fine dining, say the experts. Vancouver and Istanbul have now welcomed the Michelin Guide to their cities, providing star collectors – foodies who try to visit as many rated restaurants as possible – an extra reason to come.
In case you think we’re kidding about the sizzling temperature of culinary travel, tourism officials from the Canadian city say Granville Island Public Market, a foodie’s paradise, draws over 10 million visitors per year.