A few months ago, when my wife and I travelled to Mangaluru, Konkan seafood was on the top of our minds. My wife had ascertained in advance which restaurant we would first visit — it was appropriately named “Macchli”. As soon as we checked into our hotel, we walked hungrily to this hotel, waited patiently in queue and ate a marvellous lunch of fried kane (lady fish), spicy mackerel curry in a coconut-based gravy and boiled red rice. It was a brilliant start to our visit.
We do this all the time. Whenever we visit a place, we seek out local specialties in food and devour them. From the softest idlis in Chennai to the crustiest baguettes in Cannes, food and travel are inextricably linked in our minds.
Therefore, I was not surprised to read in a recent report published by booking.com (How India travels 2023) that 44 per cent of Indian travellers choose culinary experience as the top feature when planning leisure trips. Eighty per cent of all Indian travellers choose restaurant and room service as important features for an enjoyable stay. Indian travellers are foodies all the way.
However, what is even more fascinating is that Indian travellers seek out food in many different ways. There are distinct segments which marketers in the tourism and restaurant sectors should take into account, because they require very different product and communication offerings. Here are some of these segments.
Home comfort food
Many Indian travellers yearn for their home comfort food wherever they are travelling to. I have seen many South Indians searching for their daily idlis and dosas in Delhi, Hong Kong and Paris. They feel satisfied and almost jubilant when they find a place that offers them the right home food. The discovery of home in an alien land gives them an emotional high, apart from feeding their appetite.
At the other end of the spectrum is the discerning traveller who believes that when you are in Rome, you must eat just like the resident Romans do. So she shuns the touristy restaurants and seeks out the “real” local favourites, the places that actually churn out the most authentic cuisine of that region. For her, the search is as important as the discovery — often, the smaller and less known the eatery, the happier she is. Many years ago, while visiting Milan, I discovered a small tavern in a deep alley that made hand tossed pizzas in their simplest original form. I talk about this experience until today.
Television inspired foodie
The booking.com report highlights that 53 per cent of Indian travellers wish to try food or cuisine that they saw on a show or movie. As many as 48 per cent of all travellers wish to go to a restaurant they have seen in a show or a movie. The influence of movies, food shows and stars is huge. Marketers can appeal to this segment merely by highlighting where these restaurants are located and making them part of the tour itinerary. Better still, marketers can make a conscious effort to get their hotels featured in movies, television or OTT shows, particularly given that these shows are seeking good content all the time. Also, it would be helpful to make everything in these restaurants as Instagram-friendly as possible.
Here is a segment of elite travellers who greatly value eating at the top-ranked restaurants of the world, which typically also have long waiting periods. They will plan a visit to Lima in Peru based on the date of the table booking they have obtained at Central or Maido, which are ranked amongst the top ten restaurants in the world. Geranium and Noma in Copenhagen, Atomix in New York or Wasabi at the Taj in Mumbai are other top-rated restaurants with similar appeal. Eating at these exclusive restaurants is not just a beautiful culinary experience, it is inevitably also a talking point for the next year.
Local food tourist
The local food tourist wishes to explore a range of local options in the places that he visits. He is not hung up on extreme authenticity or badge value, and neither is he very adventurous. He is looking for food that reflects local tastes and is available at accessible prices. In this segment, you will find people seeking good quality of chole and kulchas in Amritsar, Maccher Jhol in Kolkata or vada pav in Mumbai. This is a large segment of travellers, and every city can appeal to them in many interesting ways.
These are just five illustrative foodie traveller segments I have highlighted, based on my own observations. The larger point for marketers to think about is that a powerful way to appeal to many different types of travellers is through their unique stomachs.
(Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views.)