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Uptick in travel shines light on hotel dining

By
Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

Happy days are here again!

With COVID-19 no longer designated a public health emergency in this country and most others, both domestic and international transportation carriers have ramped up to full throttle, and consumers, eager to spread their own wings, have returned in large numbers to the air and highways/byways.

That pivot benefits the world’s economy, of course, as well as just about every conceivable industry in that economy — including the Spanish Sweet onion industry of Idaho-E. Oregon’s Treasure Valley.

This 2023 version of normal also gives a boost to the domestic and global foodservice industry, a major market segment for those onions. More business-related and tourism travel translates to increased hotel lodging, and that carries over to increased hotel dining and foodservice sales.

And that can be extrapolated a step further, quoting the National Onion Association on the importance of onions in this equation: “Foodservice professionals often comment how indispensable onions are in their operations. As the third most consumed fresh vegetable in the United States, onions add layers of flavor, color, and texture to an array of cuisines. From the center of the plate to the garnish and from raw to caramelized, they are one of the most versatile vegetables.”

Covering a broad spectrum, hotel dining ranges from accommodation chains such as Hilton, the Four Seasons and Marriott to the ubiquitous Starbucks and on to independent dining operations. The independents can also vary widely, from white tablecloth to family style and even dinner theater.

Now connecting the dots back to the upward trajectory of travel dining, we look first at global data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, which posted impressive numbers in May 2023 and indicated that overall, international arrivals reached 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023.

The UN went on to say an “estimated 235 million tourists travelled internationally in the first three months, more than double the same period of 2022; and tourism has continued to show its resilience. Revised data for 2022 shows over 960 million tourists travelling internationally last year, meaning two-thirds (66 percent) of pre-pandemic numbers were recovered.”

Similar good news was posted by Forbes in June, noting that in spite of the past three years’ restrictions and hassles – not to mention current inflation — nearly half of U.S. consumers who took part in a Forbes Advisor Survey had planned to increase their time away from home in 2023.

And US Travel Association weighed in on overall travel spending at www.ustravel.org with its calculations. Noting in June for the previous month and YTD, “Total travel spending improved to 1.4 percent above May 2022 levels and was up 5.5 percent year-to-date through May 2023.”

Inflation be damned! At least to some degree.

As hotels respond to these intrepid travelers’ need for sleep and sustenance, the lodging facilities are also looking for ways to meet food and beverage demands in ‘23. A June 7 story by Adam Crocini, global head, food/beverage brands at Hilton, posted at www.hotelmanagement.net highlighted “culinary tourism” and presented some good tips on how hotel restaurants might take advantage of the travel/culture.

One is to “connect guests with locally inspired offerings.” Citing a 2023 report, the piece noted that “nearly half of global travelers report wanting to be immersed in local cultures and products in 2023… [and] not only showcase local flavors and recipes but also immerse guests into their surroundings by foraging for ingredients or working side-by-side with chefs to uncover new tastes and take part of meal preparation.”

Another tip is to feature “creative menus that accommodate health-focused movements.” There’s also the suggestion to provide “conceptualized experiences travelers crave…” and “… building a tailored, localized story and integrating it throughout the entire hotel.”

Some specifics in hotel dining trends that could be seen emerging in summer 2022 are found at www.restaurantbusinessonline.com.

Locally-sourced produce and other ingredients are receiving added emphasis, author Patricia Cobe said. The Four Seasons brand’s dining programs “strive to celebrate the food culture of the city or region in which each hotel is located.”

Vegetables have assumed a much higher profile at many hotel restaurants, including Evelyn’s at the Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale where customers “are not ordering these plant-based dishes because of lifestyle or dietary choices; they’re really enjoying them.”

All of this brings us back again to onions and their irreplaceable place in the wide world of foodservice. Boasting a history that includes use in stone tablets, the first “cookbooks” in recorded history, onions have been part of mankind’s diet since Babylon’s heyday five millennia ago. Hotel chefs have been using onions for as long as people have sought lodging away from home and dining out.

With travel and eating top of mind for millions in 2023, there’s no reason to think onions will fade in their enormous popularity in foodservice or in home cooking.

Moreover, agreement is universal when it comes to the versatility of onions regardless of time or place: Spanish Sweets from the Treasure Valley enhance cuisines of every culture and dishes from every menu category, including desserts. If you’ve any doubts, visit www.usaonions.com, courtesy of the Idaho-E. Oregon Onion Committee.

Julia Child once said, “It is hard to imagine a civilization without onions,” imparted other pearls of wisdom including one that seems to fit well as refound love of travel and options for good service and good food are in full bloom around the world. “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients,” the famous chef said. We think Julia must be smiling as chefs everywhere agree.

Kathleen Thomas Gaspar

About Kathleen Thomas Gaspar  |  email

Kathleen is a Colorado native and has been writing about produce for more than three decades and has been a professional journalist for more than four decades. Over the years she’s covered a cornucopia of crops grown both in the United States and abroad, and she’s visited dozens of states – traveling by car from her home base in Colorado to the Northwest and Southeast, as far as Vancouver, BC, and Homestead, FL. Now semi-retired, Kathleen continues to write about produce and is also penning an ongoing series of fiction novels. She’s a wife, mother of two grown sons and grandmother of six, and she and her fly fisherman husband Abe reside in the Banana Belt town of Cañon City.

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