Food travel

Gen Xers and millennials place more emphasis on the food component of their travels.

Foodies: the tourists you want to trap

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Operators who offer a farm-to-table menu or feature foodstuffs produced by local artisans are going to like the results of the World Food Travel Association’s latest study.  It shows that culinary travel is on the upswing, its practitioners spend freely on food and 71 percent are specifically looking to eat at local restaurants that serve regional or local cuisine.

This proprietary study—the official title is “2016 Food Travel Monitor”—surveyed 2,527 self-defined leisure travelers from 10 countries, but had a special focus on the U.S.

“‘Culinary Travelers’ are defined as Leisure Travelers who have participated in a unique or memorable food or drink experience on a recent trip and for whom food or drink experiences are a prime motivator in choosing a destination,” the report says. Forty-nine percent of respondents fit this definition.

A portion of the study looked at U.S-only leisure and culinary travelers. That data shows that U.S. travelers spend freely on all sorts of things, not just food. But looking at food alone, “regardless of high or low income, American Culinary Travelers prioritize spending on food and beverage. Average daily food and drink expenditures are $123 for culinary travelers vs. $80 for non-culinary travelers. Overall, they spend about 48 percent more than leisure travelers who live in the U.S,” the report says.

This market is only going to get bigger. The study found that compared to older generations, Gen Xers and millennials place more weight on the food component of their trip.

Already, 52 percent of Gen X  and millennial travelers qualify as Culinary Travelers; just 42 percent of baby boomers fit this profile. Travelers who belong to the younger demographics “are more likely to consider the availability of food and drink activities when choosing destinations.”

So how do these foodies find your restaurant? It’s important that your reputation proceeds you.

Traditional word of mouth is the biggest factor, with 70 percent of Culinary Travelers saying they were motivated by friends to visit a restaurant, bar or culinary attraction. Forty-four percent were inspired by writeups found at online review sites, 46 percent made their plans after watching TV programs or channels about food and 38 percent drew up their culinary itineraries after reading travel magazines or newspaper travel sections.

Much as social media matters to restaurant’s overall visibility, old-school methods seem to be of greater importance to Culinary Travelers. Just 34 percent relied on postings and photos about food and drink found on social media.

One data point found in the study suggests a marketing wrinkle that could help operators gain more visits from Culinary Travelers. While 67 percent of respondents consult online reviews of restaurants on at least half the trips they make, an almost-equal number—66 percent—simply ask the hotel staff for recommendations.

This latter figure indicates that restaurant operators who have traditionally reached out to concierges at nearby hotels are still getting a bang for their buck. It also suggests a related marketing tactic more in tune with contemporary travel realities.

While hotels remain the default lodging choice for most, it’s a strong possibility that adventurous culinary travelers book rooms through Airbnb instead. Airbnb says it now books 10 million guest nights a year worldwide. Its accommodations don’t provide concierge services, but do have local hosts who field “where should we eat?” questions on a regular basis. Restaurants who give these hosts the same treatment as a hotel concierge—maybe even comping the occasional dinner—could see worthwhile results.

Restaurant operators could take this approach a step further by becoming an Airbnb host themselves. That’s what Daniel’s Restaurant in Australia did. It offers a two-bedroom accommodation next to its restaurant in Cessnock, New South Wales, priced at $133 a night. It’s a steady buck, particularly welcome on a slow night. Keep this possibility in mind the next time you’re creating a business plan or scouting locations for your next restaurant venture.

Contact Bob Krummert: [email protected]

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