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Helping International Culinary Travelers Have “Wow Factor” Food Culture Adventures

September 12, 2008 By: Nancy Harkrider

Nancy Harkrider of helps you get novice culinary travelers beyond the “good food experiences” stage to confirming what, how, when and where they want their culinary adventures.

No question culinary travel is hot and there’s ample evidence that it’s a trend that’s here to stay. After all, we all eat and, when we travel, we want memorable food experiences unique to the places we visit. There are a couple of challenges travel agents face in designing a thumbs-up culinary tour.

The first is a truism that fits here— you can only effectively sell what you’ve experienced. And while your customers may know for sure that they want to see the Sphinx or Angkor Wat, they are probably less sure what they mean when they announce they want a culinary-themed itinerary.

As a savvy travel agent, you know that asking good questions and narrowing down the ambiguities is the way to go. Let’s say you have already identified your customers want more than adventures in eating. They want some hands-on cooking experiences.

Here’s some typical feedback our company gets from customers:

* I want to experience good local food in Thailand
* I want to learn to cook Thai food
* I want to go home with great stories to share about Thai food

We find it helpful to clarify customer desires with questions like:

* What is your definition of “good local Thai food”?
* How local are you willing to go? Eating things you’ve never eaten before, eating in local restaurants or from a street vendor?
* What percentage of your vacation do you want to spend on cooking lessons?
* Are you interested in urban, rural or a combination for your culinary experiences?
* What other kinds of activities would you consider complementary to hands-on cooking— wineries, tea or coffee plantations, farms, spa cuisine, festival and religious foods?
* When you are back home, what kinds of culinary experiences do you think would be most exciting to share with others?

After a decade of living in Asia, and now with frequent trips back to introduce my passion to others, I can still remember fish head curry, one of the first meals I had in Singapore— pungent, spicy and addictive, complete with fish eyeballs staring up at me!

So, nailing down “how local do you want to go?” is essential. Otherwise, your customers will come back from international travel with the primal disappointment of unsatisfied stomachs and unmet cultural expectations. It’s a learning curve we’re all experiencing.

My recommendation is to concentrate on one type of food (curries around the world, including the eye ball variety) or signature foods in a specific part of the world. And yes, fish head curry is still one of my all-time favorites. Now, I just push aside the eyeballs and plunge into a soul satisfying meal!

My deep expertise is in Asian cuisines so, for other parts of the world, I depend on the expertise of others. That’s why I’m active in groups like the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA). For some great background and key strategies on selling culinary, here’s an interview I did with Erik Wolf, the founder of ICTA.

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