CANNES, France (AFP) ―Forget five-star restaurants.
Food-loving tourists are getting their kicks in other ways, from cooking up a hotpot with a Mauritian grandmother to market shopping with a Venetian countess.
More than just fine dining, well-heeled travellers in search of gourmet luxury are seeking out “experiences,” sparking a shift in the tourist industry, according to experts at an upmarket travel fair in Cannes this week.
“Gourmet travel as a niche market is huge everywhere,” Jennifer Campbell, a member of the bespoke travel specialist Virtuoso network, told AFP at the annual International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM).
“The trend is growing strongly,” said Campbell, whose firm will shortly fly a small group of epicureans on a truffle-hunting expedition to Italy.
“Travellers now want to go out and about to see for themselves, for example, how truffles grow, where to find them and how to cook them.”
The movement kicked off three to five years ago, boosted in the United States, Britain and elsewhere by rising interest in organic produce and local food, as well as global television hits such as “Masterchef.”
Frank Farneti, regional head of France’s luxury Relais et Chateaux hotel network, told a packed conference on gastronomic travel that success rests on creating an impression of authenticity.
One example is “Grandma’s Kitchen” at the Shanti Maurice Nira beachside resort in Mauritius, an alternative to the resort’s high-end restaurants ― run by the real grandmother of one of the staff.
Grandma rustles up traditional Creole fare that might include honey lamb or fish curry at her home whilst sharing stories with her guests, before sending them off with a selection of handwritten recipes.
The simple experience has proved a hit with the resort’s well-heeled guests, along with a fish and rum shack set up on the beach.
“It’s all about taking people out of a cosseted, gated community and giving them an experience that they can’t get by themselves,” said the owner and chief executive of Nira Hotels and Resorts, MPS Puri.
Hoteliers and restaurant owners are not the only ones to benefit from this new-found appetite for authentic dining.
From Italian aristocrats to ordinary housewives in China, individuals are opening up their homes to amateur cooks keen to master local dishes, from the most simple to the seriously exotic.
“These travellers want to learn about new ingredients and new mixtures,” explained Paul Bruning, head of sales and marketing at the Southern Africa branch of luxury travel provider Abercrombie and Kent.
The new Philippe Starck-designed boutique Hotel Palazzina Grassi, in the heart of historic Venice, is tapping into the culinary-driven market.
Guests can accompany one of the city’s best-known aristocrats, Countess Enrica Rocca, to the city’s famous Rialto market to learn how to select fresh, locally-caught fish.
The countess leads them and their shopping baskets back home to prepare Venetian specialities, whilst regaling them with stories about her family history.
Guests are coming from around Europe as well as Australia to enjoy a day out with the countess, at a cost of around 1,000 euros ($1,300), said a hotel spokeswoman.
The thirst to learn about local produce reaches beyond foodie tourists.
Vikram Madhok, the managing director of Abercrombie and Kent India, organizes an annual trip around India for a group of London chefs, to visit spice markets and help them explore new regional dishes.