Although there is a big push for less meat production and consumption around the world, it seems that the travel industry still has some catch up to do.
There are many great projects to introduce vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, travel and to change consumer behaviour. Amid the multi-sided race to save our planet, slow climate change and create a better, liveable, healthier future, there are still areas where they are missing the point. Without changing there will be no change.
In recent work assignments I needed to come to the sad realisation that many tourism suppliers still handle vegetarian and vegan eating habits as special diet. And to be able to cater for the guests with such wishes, they require advance notice. It is still a wish. A request that has to be handled as out of the norm. I have to admit I am slightly baffled by this approach. How do we expect our guests to choose and pick up healthy habits that helps them and the environment, if we still roll challenges in their way? How are we planning to reduce meat production if all what is offered for meals is meat- based dishes and fruit and vegetable meals have to be pre-arranged?
The variety of plant-based food items, the vegan and vegetarian culinary experiences, the number of restaurants specialized in and offering such alternatives for any budget has jumped enormously, yet it is still not built into the norm of tourism products. There are of course multiple reasons for that. In the long journey of the travel industry, the gastronomic experiences have played always crucial roles, but these mostly have been based on meat dishes. Change is always slow. If there is still large demand for such meal experiences, suppliers and business will not change easily. However, if consumers do not find offers for their new needs or they find that smooth and enjoyable experiences are not available for them easily, their enthusiasm and advocacy for change faces real challenges.
I always say that businesses have to keep up with the fluctuation of new trends and that professionals have the responsibility to create avenues for educating consumers and travellers. Hence, they have to be ready to be flexible to adopt to the exciting changes of gastronomic styles. Indeed, this change needs careful preparations and modifications of the supplier chain. Needs learning best practices, needs researching and understanding guests’ choices and wishes, needs open conversation with others in the field, needs getting to know the trends and offers on the market. Then operation and finances, marketing and employee training needs to come in focus. Although this may sound terrifying and a long process, it does not have to be. Every small step counts.
So, why not start with simple steps? For instance, a tour operator instead of thinking only about the standard selection of e.g. chicken-fish-pork meals, could sit down with their contracted restaurants and catering providers to see how some percentage of the meat dishes can be altered into vegan options? What would it take to prepare already from the beginning at least one dish of vegetable creation? Then instead of pushing the guest back that they have to report 2-3 day prior to their trip that they want to eat vegetables and fruits, the operator can step forward that it is the norm to have such options available for any meals. Because it is normal not to eat meat.
Another solution could be for each operator to replace standard menus fully with vegetarian meals. Advertise and run tours with vegetarian BBQs, picnics, restaurants. If the restaurants cannot cater for this, indeed you should search for alternative business partners, at least for some of your products. There are so many amazing options for all budgets. In this way you can also expand your business network and your consumer groups. It does not have to be a specially advertises “vegan tour” or for vegans only, it should slowly become the norm that some tours simply include a lunch or dinner stop in a restaurant specialized in plant-based gastronomy.
An important change should also be to review breakfast offers, buffet lines as well where the alternative to having cold cuts and diary products is to eat high sugar and carb content pastries, or canned fruits in sweet syrup. No wonder people do not fancy dropping their salami and cheese if the alternatives are flour and sugar….
I do not incline to say that we should expect all travellers to suddenly only munch on carrots and lettuce. I do respect everybody’s choices. However, there is always a way to expand the perspective and invite people to try options and teach them how their choice impacts their own life and the life of others in the long run. These options though should be readily available, otherwise the opportunity to draw and capture attention is lost.
Every small change and adjustment matters. These new offers will also positively impact the overall performance of a business. The more variety you offer, the faster you keep up with trends and important issues, the more audience and customer base you grow. Plant-based eating should no longer be limited to pre-arrangements and special requests. It is our job to ensure it becomes an accepted and enjoyable lifestyle without obstacles and hesitation. It is a smart and responsible business choice. While nothing should be forced on anybody, we can use the hospitality and tourism services to be force for good and positive changes.