Culinary “Tourism” in Uncertain Times (Part 3)
Part 3 in a five-part series.
This week we continue with Part Three of Culinary “Tourism” in Uncertain Times. Last week we looked at revenge travel and how current affairs are affecting the propensity of consumers to travel for food and drink experiences. This week we will look at changes to the workforce and also consumers, and how change actually can be regarded as a good thing.
The world has changed, and as business owners and managers, we need to adapt. Some businesses are trying to cash in on “revenge travel” and charge higher prices to recoup losses from the past two years. This seems counterproductive to us, since there is a lot of competition for destinations, hotels and activities. Nevertheless, there are some constants like sustainability that we can factor into our planning. And when we talk about sustainability, most people focus just on the environmental component. Equally as important are the sociocultural and economic elements. Shame on any company or destination that tries to get away with greenwashing. Consumers demand evidence and there is no alternative but to provide it. Check out Ecofoodies for an example of a great company doing great work to establish a new precedent to help consumers make sustainable dining choices in a changing world.
Changes to Workforce
Many people who worked in gastronomy (servers, cooks, chefs, hospitality managers) were forced out of work and had to find jobs elsewhere, and typically not in gastronomy. The great brain drain from not just foodservice, but fine dining too, was discussed in our recent podcast with Ana Ros, a two-star Michelin chef based in Slovenia.
Now that these people have found employment elsewhere, it is no easy feat to replace servers, cooks, chefs and hotel receptionists. Many people are reticent to return to the workforce, ostensibly for fear of another rapid layoff, the next virus scare, or something else. Truthfully, waiter and cook jobs were always hard to fill. Ask any restaurant manager around the world. They are low pay, high turnover positions. Some countries like Canada rely on either a summer workforce sourced from Commonwealth countries, or work visas for people from lesser-developed nations like The Philippines.
What is the solution? Previously we suggested that robots and automation could fill in the gaps. This may turn out to be a very real solution in the next few years. However, one of the joys of food and beverage tourism is meeting locals, and the conversations that ensue. A robot barista will not be able to share their favorite biking trail or walking path. A hotel check-in kiosk cannot recommend its favorite restaurant in the neighborhood.
Additional improvements have been made in the short-term, and businesses everywhere are already working to make the gastronomy workplace more sustainable. For example, foodservice workers around the world have seen pay increases that in some cases, doubled their previous salaries. Besides pay, workers are demanding better treatment. Sometimes this is in the form of benefits, such as more time off or paid training. Other times, it is simply a matter of showing genuine respect. The people who staff your restaurants, your hotels and your tours are real human beings with real feelings. In the past, many companies looked at them as expenses that could be reduced when needed. This is a hard pill to swallow for someone who struggles to pay their monthly rent, let alone any other expenses, such as electricity which is also skyrocketing. And no discussion of respect would be complete without a mention of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), supporting and respecting your staff regardless of their skin color, shape, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, etc., whatever characterizes your staff and whatever they espouse.
Consumers Are Changing Too
The bottom line is that the world is changing rapidly, and in so many ways. What was regarded as tomorrow’s consumers — generation Z — are quickly becoming today’s consumers. And the previously sweet spot gen X and baby boomers are dwindling in numbers. Businesses will need to transform, sometimes radically, to understand better their customers and their desires and values. We know from research our Association has done that all food lovers are not all the same. We explained this with our PsychoCulinary profiling methodology first introduced in 2010. More than just how we choose our food experiences, consumers today are looking at company values and policies. Aligned too far with the political right? Too many donations to politicians with questionable ethics? Behavior like this cannot be hidden any longer. Companies that do not evolve — change with the times — will be made redundant.
The good news is that we are seeing so many current and new businesses that are embracing change. Take, for example, Stem and Glory, an award-winning vegan restaurant in London and Cambridge, UK. This is one of the few foodservice establishments that actually grew, and substantially, during the pandemic. They have great food, and customers wanted takeaway during the pandemic. But there were other choices, so why Stem & Glory? They launched a fundraising campaign and, because of their transparent commitment to their workforce, the environment and the local community, they were able to raise the funds to expand.
Speaking of takeaways, your lesson here is that now you know and can plan for the future of your business, even with the myriad factors that make running a business so hard today. Check out marketing automation and customer segmentation software to be a better digital marketer so that you can send more relevant communications to your customers. Be better at tracking shopping cart abandonment so you make more sales and so also customers feel more valued. Start using landing pages (because everyone else is so you’re missing out if you’re not!). If these suggestions do not mean a lot to you, now is the time to begin your research. Not sure where to start? Start with some YouTube videos that resonate with you until you become more familiar with the concepts.
And no matter if your newest customers turn out to be local or regional residents, or even long-haul travelers, offer the right product to the right audience and you’ll make plenty of sales.
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Erik Wolf is the founder of the culinary 🍕 travel 🛩 trade industry, and Executive Director of the World Food Travel Association, the world’s leading authority on food and beverage tourism. He is the publisher 📗 of Have Fork Will Travel (a practical handbook for our industry), author of Culinary Tourism: The Hidden Harvest, and is also a highly sought strategist 🔀 and speaker 📣 around the world on gastronomy tourism. He has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, and Forbes, and on CNN, Sky TV, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, PeterGreenberg.com, and other leading media outlets.