Photo Credit: TW Illustration by Jenn Martins

Focus onCulinary Travel


By the Travel Weekly staff

If millennials are the future of travel, agents would do well to follow the fork.

According to Destination Analysts' quarterly report, "The State of the American Traveler," more than half (50.7%) of millennials won't visit a destination that lacks good restaurants, and 62% said that unique, special or interesting culinary travel experiences are "very important" to them, expressing more interest than either Generation X or baby boomers in those categories.

Seeing those trends, Contiki, a tour operator that caters to travelers ages 18 to 35, this summer will launch Munch, a product "dedicated to the die-hard foodies who need nothing but a knife, fork and passport when traveling." The tours through France, Spain and Italy will include cooking classes, market tours and winemaking. A "foodie social influencer" will ensure "only the most delicious establishments are visited."

But millennials don't own culinary travel. A full 95% of travelers said they engage in a unique and memorable food or beverage experience while traveling, according to the World Food Travel Association's 2016 Food Travel Monitor. But with the first millennials turning 35 last year, entering their peak spending years, it makes it worth agents' time to hone their culinary travel chops.

The following reports by Travel Weekly reporters shed some light on the trends and products emerging from the growing demand for unique culinary experiences.

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On Oceania's culinary tours, Michelin chefs and local markets

By Jamie Biesiada

There are few culinary experiences that could surpass eating a meal prepared by a celebrated chef at a restaurant in the south of France as you sit at an open-air table under the late-April sun.

Thankfully, that's exactly where I found myself on a beautiful afternoon last spring, eating dishes full of the same local ingredients I had just scrutinized at a nearby market.

Oceania Cruises hosted me on a media preview of one of its Culinary Discovery Tours while in Marseilles, France. Our tour included a visit to the market in Aix-en-Provence as well as a demonstration by Michelin-star chef Reine Sammut at Auberge La Feniere, her nearby hotel and restaurant located between the villages of Cadenet and Lourmarin. The demonstration was followed by a lunch highlighting local, seasonal dishes.

Our tour was led by Noelle Barille, a chef instructor with Oceania, and local guide Caroline Rocca (Oceania hand-picks all of its guides). Barille briefed us on what the Culinary Discovery Tours can include; the dozens offered each year are catered to their individual location.

Most include a trip to a local market and a dining experience on shore. Some also include shipboard cooking classes in the Culinary Center on larger Oceania ships after participants get a chance to explore local markets on shore.

Participants often are given a few euros, which goes a long way in these markets, and are assigned to buy a specific local product that will later be used in a culinary demonstration, Barille said. There are never more than 24 participants on a tour, and some tours are capped at even lower numbers.

The market in Aix-en-Provence, France, where guests on Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Discovery Tours can pick ingredients to be prepared by chefs later. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada
The market in Aix-en-Provence, France, where guests on Oceania Cruises’ Culinary Discovery Tours can pick ingredients to be prepared by chefs later. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

In the southern region of France where our tour took place, the cuisine is similar to that in Italy, Barille said. It's all about vegetables, herbs and olive oil. And a meal there wouldn't be complete without a glass of the quintessential dry, fruity Provencal rose wine.

On the bus from the coast to the market in Aix, Rocca took over the tour, using her local expertise to discuss the sites we passed, both the modern and the historical. Her tour continued as soon as we arrived. On the walk to the market, she pointed out her top picks of bakeries, wine shops and lavender stores.

As they do on other tours, Barille and Rocca stayed nearby in the market, pointing out some local delicacies. We didn't have any specific assignments but were encouraged to wander about and try local specialties such as a variety of olives and pickled garlic cloves (my favorite).

After shopping in the market, we boarded the bus to Auberge La Feniere, with Rocca again providing some local color.

At the restaurant, Sammut greeted us and led us to an outdoor area for a cooking demonstration. There, she prepared what would become a course in our lunch: Artichokes a la barigoule, or atop a mix of bacon, onions, carrots and garlic.

Sammut explained the art of trimming artichokes while she deftly peeled away their stems and leaves.

Artichokes were in season and had been heavily present in the market. That's one of the goals of the tours, Barille said, enabling participants to connect what they see in the marketplace to what they use later in the cooking demonstrations.

After Sammut's demonstration, we sat at a large table in the sun (we were provided with straw hats), enjoying the artichoke dish and several others full of seasonal, local ingredients. The meal was, of course, accompanied by rose.

Throughout 2017, Oceania is offering dozens of Culinary Discovery Tours around the world. Prices start at $199 per person. The majority are in the range of $199 to $249. For a full list, visit oceaniacruises.com/experience/ashore/culinary-discovery-tours/.

Princess passengers are sure to be in 'Good Spirits' while onboard

By Tom Stieghorst

It's a bar.

It's a TV show.

No, it's both!

The Carnival Corp. creation called "Good Spirits" refers both to the show and the bar where drinks seen on the program will be served to ship guests.

It might be a bit hard to picture at first, said John Padgett, Carnival's chief experience and innovation officer, especially since "Good Spirits" the television show is available for viewing right now, while Good Spirits the bar is still nine months away.

"Good Spirits" debuted Feb. 16 on the FYI cable channel. The half-hour show follows the adventures of Los Angeles mixologist Matthew Biancaniello as he explores 10 destinations visited by Princess Cruises ships.

Biancaniello's signature is foraging for herbal, botanical and other vegetative ingredients around which he creates new cocktails. His mission on "Good Spirits" is to find an item, or several items, in each cruise port that will lead to a destination-specific drink to be served on Princess ships.

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That's where the Good Spirits bar comes in. They will be installed on each of the three Princess ships now being equipped to be the first to use Carnival Corp.'s Ocean Medallion and Ocean Compass technology.

The Medallion, a wearable token with a Bluetooth transmitter that will serve as both room key and passenger identification, will activate a variety of functions, such as enabling the staff to recognize guests by their photos on a tablet, then customize various services for them.

Starting with the Regal Princess in November, guests who have seen Biancaniello rooting out ingredients and devising cocktails on TV will be able to order and taste them onboard during their cruises.

The menu in the Good Spirits bar will change by itinerary. By using the Medallion, drinks on the menu can be tailored to a guest's taste (substituting vodka for rum, for example), and the recipe can be saved to a guest's Compass to be ordered at other bars around the ship or re-created at home.

It's the kind of synergy that Padgett is striving for as the Ocean Medallion is introduced.

"This is about creating a story behind the spirit. Matthew just happens to be a character in that story," Padgett said. "He takes in the people, places and cultures and then his chemistry puts that together in a drink that's never been created before."

Padgett said that by creating stories, Princess and other Carnival Corp. brands will give guests more reasons to choose among Carnival's around 700 ports of call. If guests know why they want to go to a place, chances are they will be willing to pay more for the experience.

For travel agents, Biancaniello's concoctions offer a selling point unique to the cruise and the destination.

"In this particular instance, we're using the creation of a cocktail from scratch to exemplify what is special about the intersection of that ship, that brand and the people in the destination the ship happens to be at on that particular day," Padgett said.

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One example is a Pacific Princess voyage that stopped in Tahiti. There, Biancaniello found breadfruit, the exotic plant that English sea captain William Bligh sought to bring back for cultivation before his crew mutinied in 1789.

So Biancaniello created a cocktail around breadfruit. Padgett said it enables guests to connect to Tahiti as more than just a pretty beach.

"Ultimately," Padgett said, "we'll have all this content on demand so [travel agents] will be able to target in if a guest comes in and says, 'Hey, I'm interested in Tahiti, how should I go to Tahiti?' And they can say, 'You can get on a plane, book this hotel, go through all this stuff or you can take a Princess cruise. Just watch this show and let me know.'"

Healthy increase in options for travelers who have dietary restrictions

By Michelle Baran

Anyone who follows food fads knows that gluten-free diets have become the culinary lifestyle choice du jour. In fact, the number of Americans following a no-gluten diet tripled between 2009 and 2014, according to a 2016 study headed by the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

So it comes as no surprise that there are a growing number of travelers looking for gluten-free options when they are on the road, joining a long list of special dietary needs and requirements. Those preferences range from vegan or vegetarian diets to religion-based diets such as kosher or halal to special medical diets or those who need to avoid certain foods because of allergies.

Not to mention the growing number of travelers who simply want to eat more healthfully.

Ellen Morse is the owner of the Chicago-based agency Ellen Morse Travel and was born with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is ingested, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Morse said she also was diagnosed with a dairy allergy "way before most people even knew what those things were." 

Seven years ago, experienced in both travel and managing her own eating restrictions, Morse launched a travel business called Gluten Free Travel-Us. She said that her business is booming.

"When the terms 'gluten-free' and 'celiac' became household expressions I realized there might be a market for what I wanted do," said Morse, who works to accommodate gluten-free clients by building itineraries around the world in collaboration with suppliers that can accommodate gluten-free eating. "Over the past two years business has gone off the charts."

Pacific Delight Tours, having also noticed an uptick in travelers with gluten-free diets, this year introduced a gluten-free tour series, starting with a 17-day escorted China itinerary that departs on May 12. In fact, Pacific Delight has a new focus on culinary niche tourism and recently launched kosher tours, having added India and China to that product line.

Kristin Lajeunesse
Kristin Lajeunesse

Kristin Lajeunesse, founder and manager of the blog Will Travel for Vegan Food, said the number of her followers has doubled in the last two years.

Lajeunesse said she has also noticed that more travel suppliers around the world offer vegan food "making it easier than ever to travel while maintaining a vegan lifestyle."

The Wynn in Las Vegas, she said, has separate vegan menus at all of its restaurants.

"There are also airlines that now offer fully vegan meals as well, which is awesome," Lajeunesse said, adding that Emirates, American Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas and United in particular provide excellent vegan meal options.

Indeed, even tour operators and travel companies that don't necessarily cater directly to those with special dietary needs are seeing an uptick in requests from travelers who are gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian or have specific allergies.

Mefi Alapat, owner of Houston-based Journey to Africa, said, "If I go over my list of clients, I think we have about 10% who come with special requirements. We have catered to gluten-free, dairy-free, nut [allergies] and vegetarian diets."

Alapat said that because it has become so much more common, suppliers on the ground throughout Africa have become accustomed to catering to special dietary needs, and it has become much easier to handle these requests.

But according to Morse, making sure clients' dietary needs are properly handled requires a lot of work and enforcement to ensure that they are executed adequately.

"Simply putting 'gluten-free, please' on a reservation was and is not good enough," Morse said. "I cannot count the number of times I have explained my situation and the food comes out wrong."

Now, she said, "we contact the hotels directly, speak with [food and beverage services], the kitchen staff, guest relations. If this is a resort where the traveler will be having most of his or her meals, we insist that the guest be met upon arrival by someone from one of those departments."

And while almost nothing is impossible to work around, she said that in destinations where celiac or gluten intolerance isn't found in the local population, it can be hard to get even high-end hotels to work with her on gluten-free diets.

"Our clients are those who travel with other people such as a spouse, extended family and friends who do not have the gluten-free issue," Morse said. "And therein lies our specialty -- creating a trip that works for everyone."

Pan Am Experience: A night out in a 747 from aviation's golden age

By Robert Silk

It's just past 6:30 on a Saturday evening in Pacoima, Calif., in February, and a well-heeled crowd of approximately 60 people has gathered in an unsightly warehouse district in this San Fernando Valley town, 25 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, for a most unique dining experience.

Jim Atwood, a recreational pilot and the chairman of the Wine & Food Society of Oregon, has traveled here from Portland with his wife, Dana.

Rob Ekern of Phoenix has come with his date, Barb Cecrle, who lives in Tucson.

Drake Bell lives locally, in the community of Silver Lake, and he's arrived dudded in a garish blue suit that could only have come from the 1970s.

"I like retro," says Bell, who a decade ago was one of the stars of the hit Nickelodeon sitcom "Drake & Josh."

They and five dozen other attendees have descended upon this unlikely spot to turn back the clock to the golden age of flying, when a trip on an airplane was glamorous and flight attendants were called stewardesses.

Loosened up with drink, they walk up a ramp, present their faux tickets to one of the uniformly beautiful flight attendants, then find their seats in one of three cabin classes, where they'll spend the next four hours indulging in a five-course meal on a mocked-up Boeing 747 retrofitted to replicate a 1970s Pan American Airways interior.

The Pan Am Experience, as this event is called, is a 2-year-old creation of Talaat Captan, owner of the film studio Air Hollywood, and Anthony Toth, avid collector of all things related to 1970s commercial aviation, especially Pan Am memorabilia.

Air Hollywood has served as the studio for countless commercial, television and movie scenes set on airplanes and in airports, including 2011's "Bridesmaids" and 2013's "The Wolf of Wall Street" with Leonardo DiCaprio.

The collaboration came about after Captan took his first look at Toth's enormous collection.

"I said, 'You're selfish, keeping this all to yourself,'" Captan recalls.

Anthony Toth, co-creator of the Pan Am Experience, talks with passengers Courtenay Taylor, left, and Maureen Taylor, a former Pan Am stewardess, in first class. Photo Credit: Robert Silk
Anthony Toth, co-creator of the Pan Am Experience, talks with passengers Courtenay Taylor, left, and Maureen Taylor, a former Pan Am stewardess, in first class. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

Toth moved one of his prize possessions, the front third of a Boeing 747, to Air Hollywood, where it serves as the venue for the Pan Am Experience. But that's not all he moved. The aircraft itself is outfitted with original Pan Am seats, table settings and serving carts, all from Toth's collection. 

Stewardesses, hired via a casting call, wear original Pan Am uniforms, courtesy of Toth. Fliers can even choose among a selection of original 1970s magazines. (When John Travolta held his birthday party at the Pan Am Experience in February, he spotted a cover about a new Hollywood sensation named John Travolta.)

On the evening I attended the Pan Am Experience, two former Pan Am stewardesses were among the patrons -- or fliers, if you will. Cecrle flew with the airline from 1969 to 1976, calling those years the best of her life. She showed up wearing the wings pin she wore during her years in the sky.

Also sitting in the mocked-up first class section was Maureen Taylor, a Pasadena resident who worked the Pan Am aisles between 1964 and 1966.

On this night, though, Cecrle and Taylor needed only to eat, drink and enjoy the show.

The "flight" began with safety instructions, issued with a combination of respectful reverence and humor. The five-course meal, designed from actual Pan Am menus, was served with real silverware and on real china.

Choices included three entrees but most everyone went with the chateaubriand. A fourth course of cheese, fruit and port wine left me almost too full for dessert. But the chocolate cake was so light and tasty that I couldn't stop myself from finishing it.

"Fliers" sitting on the second level of the 747, in what would have been the lounge on a Pan Am flight, also enjoyed a caviar course.

Just as the planes were configured in the 1970s, there was a lot more space between the seats on this one than one would find now. The business (Clipper) class, where I sat featured a trainlike setup: two and two facing each other, with a table in between.

For entertainment, the stewardesses doubled as fashion models, parading the aisles in various iterations of the Pan Am uniforms. The "in-flight" movie was "Airplane!"

Captan says that while he has never advertised the Pan Am Experience, it nonetheless fills up every time it's held, which is every two weeks, at the starting price of $490 a pair.

"After two years, we have tried so many things that you are looking at the perfect experience of Pan Am," he said.

Costa Rica markets itself as the place for gastronomic experiences

By Jamie Biesiada

Costa Rica is known for adventurous and health-conscious travel, but the country is also making its mark when it comes to gourmet food experiences highlighting locally sourced and sustainable dishes.

That was the message at last month's New York Times Travel Show during a culinary tourism panel that focused on the country's National Plan of Costa Rican Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy, which brings together groups like the government and tourism entities to promote Costa Rica through sustainably prepared, traditional food.

"We're doing this because the world is going in that direction," said Alfredo Echeverria, director of the Club de La Gastronomia Epicurea, a Costa Rican culinary organization that is part of the committee that proposed the plan. "People want to know what they're eating, where it's coming from, who is behind the production and so on."

The panelists offered the agents in the audience advice on marketing culinary travel to Costa Rica to their clients. George Soriano, master chocolatier and general manager of Sibu Chocolate in San Isidro, suggested selling the unique culinary experiences that a client might have in Costa Rica.

At the New York Times Travel Show, from left, panelists George Soriano, Sibu Chocolate; Joxan Obando, Greentique Hotels; Glenn Jampol, of the Global Ecotourism Network and Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort; and Alfredo Echeverria, Club de La Gastronomia Epicurea extol Costa Rica’s gastrotourism. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada
At the New York Times Travel Show, from left, panelists George Soriano, Sibu Chocolate; Joxan Obando, Greentique Hotels; Glenn Jampol, of the Global Ecotourism Network and Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort; and Alfredo Echeverria, Club de La Gastronomia Epicurea extol Costa Rica’s gastrotourism. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

"I see people getting excited once they're in the country when they see where things grow," Soriano said. "That to me is a great way to get people to say, 'You know what? You love a good cup of coffee? Well, we'll show you not only how it's grown, but we're going to turn you into a coffee connoisseur. You're going to leave Costa Rica knowing more about coffee than you ever have before.' And you can apply that to chocolate and other things."

Glenn Jampol, chair of the Global Ecotourism Network and co-owner of the Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort, said that the culinary arts in Costa Rica have been booming for the last 10 to 15 years, leaning heavily on incorporating things like chocolate and coffee into recipes. Using native, sustainable ingredients like those is a draw for tourists, he said.

He suggested that agents market Costa Rica's culinary attractions to clients who are fairly well traveled and have developed a "foodie sense" in other countries but might not be aware of what Costa Rica offers in that realm. An agent would do well to market the country's culinary scene to that kind of traveler, he said, especially if that client also fits into the mold of an adventure traveler.

"Costa Rica clientele has traditionally been a kind of adventurous tourist," he said. "It's really about adventure and ecotourism and nature and the wonderful warmth of the people."

Echeverria suggested that agents work with local entities in Costa Rica -- such as the panelists in attendance -- to create a new product, like a food tour, to sell to clients.

There seems to be no shortage of them in Costa Rica. And as far as accommodations, Joxan Obando, operations manager of Greentique Hotels, said the chefs at his hotels strive to source local ingredients in their dishes, which varies by location: one has more dairy products, while another relies heavily on seafood. But all offer food with responsibly sourced ingredients.