Skift Research Interviews: How Hotels Can Play a Role in Food Tourism

by Meghan Carty + Skift Team - Feb 2019

Skift Research Take

Hotels are often discounted as serious players in the food tourism space. The food and beverage executives from Marriott International and Jumeirah Group would beg to differ.

Report Overview

In Skift Research’s recently published report, The New Era of Food Tourism: Trends and Best Practices for Stakeholders, we defined food tourism as it exists today and looked at the role multiple types of organizations can play in the space. Experts and executives from various sectors have contributed to our report through interviews. To help various stakeholders gain perspectives on what our report topics mean to their specific business, we will release a series of complete interviews complementary to the report. This report includes our interviews with food and beverage executives of two major hotel companies: Marriott International and Jumeirah Group. They talk about how hotels can play a role in food tourism and what they are doing in their respective roles to integrate this trend into their operations.

The transcripts have been edited for brevity and clarity as necessary.

Executives Interviewed

  • Matthew Von Ertfelda, Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage, Global Operations, Marriott International
  • Michael Ellis, Chief Culinary Officer, Jumeirah Group

Matthew Von Ertfelda, Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage, Global Operations, Marriott International

As the senior vice president of food and beverage, global operations, for Marriott International, Matthew Von Ertfelda, leads food and beverage (F&B) strategy for all 30 Marriott hotel brands, in 6,900 properties, and 10,000 restaurants in 130 countries and territories. Skift Research spoke to Von Ertfelda about how hotels fit into the food tourism space and how Marriott’s food and beverage strategy has been impacted by food tourism’s rising popularity.
Do you think hotels have a direct role to play in food tourism, outside of just being a place for tourists to stay while they engage in food tourism activities? If so, how would you describe this role?
Yes, I believe hotels both drive food tourism by providing exciting, discovery-focused food and beverage experiences on property, as well as by acting as interlocutors, enabling access to unique experiences off property within the local community. On-property artisans can fashion unique restaurant and bar menus, meetings and events which drive taste and flavor exploration and discovery, while concierges and property associates can and will offer their informed recommendations. Guests may, through our Marriott Moments platform, choose from over 100,000 experiences, many focused on exclusive food and drink experiences with well-known chefs like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, or classes on cooking and Champagne sabering in exotic locations like Rome and Paris.

Many of our restaurants and bars give people a taste of the local flavors and community through gastronomy and design. For example, we recently ran an internal associate challenge asking people to share the “coolest thing they cooked or stirred” in 2018. 450 chefs all over the world described dishes that are unique, not only to their country, but to their neighborhood and region. In other examples, we create spaces that truly tell a story, not just through food, but through color, scent, texture, and history.

I believe hotels should be ambassadors of discovery, enabling access to exciting, original food and drink experiences and personal connection which add to a traveler’s story. Marriott International’s restaurants, at our full-service properties, are made up of amazing artisans who create experiences that connect with people. Food is prepared by chefs. Drinks are prepared by mixologists. Ultimately these experiences should captivate, educate, and inspire our guests in ways that allow them to leave a place with more than they came.
How do you define what “food tourism” actually is?
To me food tourism is exploration, stimulation, and education around food and drink, canvasing the drinking and dining experience, the testing of ingredients, as well as customs, culture, and rituals. I believe that people can experience a place, a culture, or a community through food and drink which are immersive and emotional experiences which expand our thinking and knowledge.
Has the rise of food tourism influenced how your team designs the food and beverage experiences at Marriott’s hotels? If so, how?
The growth of food tourism lends even more importance to food and drink as an area of critical focus for Marriott International, empowering and challenging associates across our properties to deliver menu offerings which authentically represent a concept, a locale, a classic preparation. We aim to give people a sense of place and community through food and beverage. I think that, going forward, as consumers become increasingly savvy and knowledgeable about product, we will need to ensure our teams are always one step ahead relative to product knowledge, trends, etc. to maintain relevance.
What are the most exciting trends in food tourism that you see from the hotel perspective? What aspects of food tourism does your team draw inspiration from the most?
What inspires me most is the increasing focus and respect for artisanship and the people behind the product. It’s reassuring to see the value consumers attach to quality, authenticity, and story, and how this drives creativity and entrepreneurship in local communities around the world. Many of our chefs work with the local communities in purchasing locally prepared and manufactured products which have a story unique to the area. Our guests appreciate the transparency and the story of how a product may be grown or how it became of importance to a particular area.
Does your team worry about how introducing food and beverage options within Marriott hotels could impact the local restaurants, bars, and other food and beverage companies?
As new hotels open across the globe we look for opportunities to make a positive impact on the communities we operate within. As hotels come online, they raise the visibility of F&B, as well as create local economies for surrounding restaurants and bars. We recognize hotel guests will enjoy hotel-based restaurant, bar, meeting, and event experiences, as well as seek out experiences within the local community, providing economic drivers which can inject energy and vitality into surrounding areas. Again, it is important to partner with local farmers or artisans to show guests how intensely engaged we are within the local community by featuring their products on our restaurant and catering menus.
How important are local partnerships for Marriott when it comes to food and beverage?
As the largest hotel-based restaurant and bar operation in the world, we need a dynamic, versatile F&B strategy to be successful. While we concept, design, and operate most of our bars, we have over 200 third-party partnerships across our company, many with both established and emerging chefs. Local partnerships allow us to really understand local markets, positioning our offerings to ensure they are relevant to local residents as well as hotel guests.

We also partner with food tourism operators and companies large and small that offer thousands of unique experiences through our Marriott Bonvoy Moments platform.
How do you select food and beverage artisans, manufacturers, and/or local businesses to partner with at Marriott hotels?
We identify the players from a quality and reliability perspective, as well as emerging and lesser known artisans who have products which speak to the locale, an established or emerging trend, etc. We look for partners who have the same goals and passion in mind by featuring their products on our menus to bring the local products to the guests’ attention.
Marriott International Case Studies of Food Tourism:

Fragrances Bar at The Ritz Carlton, Berlin Showcases Local Flavors
At this inky-dark bar called Fragrances, just off the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin, every drink on the menu is inspired by the signature scent of a notable local’s favorite scent. Award-winning mastermind and mixologist, Arnd Heissen, makes cocktail hour a truly sensory experience.

The Restaurant at Coronado Island Marriott in San Diego Focuses on Sustainability
Chef Aaron Obregon is passionate about crafting new recipes that are locally inspired and reduce food waste at Coronado Island Marriott’s restaurant, Currents & Tides. For example, one dish utilizes 100% of a suckling pig for different components of the dish. The purpose of this dish is to give respect to the animal and utilize everything from tail to nose. The farmer’s market crudités salad follows this sustainable concept by showcasing leftover vegetables from other dishes while the dressing is made with avocados that weren’t perfect enough for sandwiches.

Pop-Up at Marriott International Luxury Hotels in UAE Features Local Oysters
Recently, five Marriott International Luxury Hotels in the UAE hosted a roving pop-up featuring local oysters from Dibba Bay, The Middle East’s first shellfish farm, producing gourmet oysters. The first event was held on Jumeirah Beach at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai and traveled onto the other hotels from there.

Event at The Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes Orlando Combines Locally Grown Food and an Interactive Experience
The Highball & Harvest restaurant of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes holds an annual farm-to-table, interactive F&B experience called Homestead Harvest hosted at Whisper Creek Farm. It is a truly authentic local farm dining and drinking experience for guests, that raises money to support sustainable agriculture.

Michael Ellis, Chief Culinary Officer, Jumeirah Group

Michael Ellis joined Jumeirah Group as Chief Culinary Officer in October 2018 after serving as the Global Director for Europe, Asia, and the Americas at Michelin Restaurant and Hotel Guides. Now, Ellis is in charge of making sure that Jumeirah’s food and beverage outlets are following the Michelin criteria for quality and incorporating new cooking and creative concepts. We spoke to Ellis about the role of hotels in food tourism and about larger trends in the space, from the perspective of his new role and past experience at Michelin.
Do you think hotels have a direct role to play in food tourism, outside of just being a place for tourists to stay while they engage in food tourism activities? If so, how would you describe this role?
Yeah, absolutely. The line between independently owned and run restaurants and restaurants in hotels is more and more blurred. The last 20 years have seen a complete transformation of the perception of hotel restaurants. In the past — the not-too-distant past — a hotel restaurant was where you went because you basically had to go there. You had no choice, or you didn’t want to go out. Hotel restaurants would be filled with many single business travelers. But now, hotels — especially on the higher-end of the ladder, if you will — have realized that guests now want to have great F&B offerings in the hotel. I think if you look wherever it is in the world, you do have hotels that are upping their game and not just having fine-dining, three-star Michelin type food, but just great food, a fun atmosphere, a great look and feel, places that people want to go. You now have restaurants in hotels that are attracting locals and you see this all over the world. So I think hotels have a very important role to play in that.
Has the rise of food tourism influenced how your team designs the food and beverage experiences at Jumeirah Group’s hotels? How?
Ultimately, we want to design our F&B throughout our properties to make our guests happy. We have three pools of guests. We have those who are staying in Jumeirah hotels, and that’s obviously our core constituency. Then we have those other guests that are visiting Dubai and staying in other hotels or staying with friends. We want to get them in as well. We want to offer them a food and beverage experience that is fun and exciting for them. And the third target pool of guests are the locals or expats, those who are either local Emiratis or expats living here in Dubai. So between our internal guests, guests who are staying at other hotels, and the local Dubai residents, we want to have an F&B offering that’s attractive to them all.
In many ways, food tourism is getting less “gourmet” and “high-end” and is instead focusing on more “authentic” and “local” experiences. How can a luxury hotel group with such high level dining experiences fit into this? Does it need to?
It depends upon where you are in the world. The gourmet, high-end, if you’re in Paris, that’s very much of a local experience. In France in general and Paris in particular, having that type of experience, that’s part and parcel of the French fine-dining experience. People go to Paris for that experience. But you know, people don’t necessarily go to Bangkok, or Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur, or Miami for that experience. As head of the Michelin Guide for seven years, there’s kind of this misconception of the fact that Michelin Stars mean starched tablecloths, and silver, and baccarat or crystal, but no. We have Singaporean street food that has Michelin Stars, Bangkok street food has Michelin Stars, Japanese sushi bars that have nothing but very, very austere, eight wooden stools and a very austere, zen environment.

Of course people are definitely looking for authenticity. But authenticity can mean anything from what people consider high-end or gourmet, to street food. So I think the important thing is to have a choice. Give people the opportunity to, if they’re celebrating something like an anniversary or a birthday or a business deal, whatever it is, to go somewhere where they’ll pull out the stops and have a really high-end experience. But also to have an authentic street food experience — to go have fish tacos or bihn mahn or Singaporean street food. I think that’s the most important thing is that you can be a luxury hotel group and offer something for everybody, but the important thing is to make sure whatever you’re offering is of the highest quality, whether it’s a street food experience or a gourmet experience, it’s got to be authentic and it’s got to be at the best quality level.
What are the most exciting trends in food tourism that you see from the hotel perspective or from your prior experience at Michelin Guides?
I think there’s no question that people are looking for local experiences. People want to, wherever they are, want to eat like locals. They want to have locally grown products. They want to have ingredients that, if possible, come from not too far away from where they’re being consumed. I think people like to have more of a casual, fun, relaxed environment. But also, people want experience. Food is important, but food is not the only thing. Good food is necessary, but not sufficient to make the experience overall a success. It’s lighting. It’s seating. Are you comfortably seated? It’s the music. Is the music good? Is it too loud or too soft? Is the lighting not too bright or too dark? Is the service not too present or too absent? So it’s really getting all the components of a dining experience together. I think that’s what people want now.

In my experience, guests will say, “The food was ok, but everything else was fantastic, so I’ll be back.” They might not say that if they instead they say, “The food was great, but everything else wasn’t good. The service wasn’t good, the lights were too bright, the music was too loud, so I’m not going to go back.” No matter how good the food is, food is not the only thing that draws people.
You mentioned that people are caring more about where their food is coming from and if it’s coming from the region. Is this something your team is emphasizing in terms of having local partnerships or getting local produce?
We are starting that. Most of our hotels are based in Dubai, and most of our attention in focused on Dubai. There’s not a whole lot that’s produced in Dubai. Most things are imported since we’re in the desert. But, having said that, we are in the process now of identifying local producers for a wide variety of products including organically grown vegetables, and poultry, and eggs. So we’re looking at local producers and we are really excited about our ability to bring locally, organically produced, sustainably developed products into our restaurants.

I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a demand from our guest, but I think that’s good. I want to be able to say “We’re using Emirati products from Emirati companies.” I think that’s going to continue.
Aside trying to focus on local produce, what is your team doing to feature local cuisine?
It’s interesting because when I’m looking at what’s known as Arabic food or Middle Eastern food, that’s generally associated with things like Lebanese food. There’s also obviously North African food in the region like Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian. There’s Egyptian food, Iranian food, Persian food which is wonderful. Turkey has fantastic food. So there’s great food all throughout the region. What I want to do, is I would like to find some Emirati dishes. You know, 100 or 200 years ago, what were they eating here that maybe we can modernize and bring to our guests? I’m excited to use — whether it’s palms, or dates, or camel milk, or some of the other things that are found here — I think we can have some fun making modern versions of Emirati dishes.
Is there anything else you think I should know about food tourism from the hotel perspective?
Food tourism and gastro tourism have been huge. I saw at the Michelin Guide that there are so many tourists now who plan their trip around where they’re going to eat. So they’ll say “Ok, we are going to Copenhagen to eat at Noma,” or “We’re going to Madrid to eat at DiverXO,” or “We’re going to Paris to eat at Taillevent,” or wherever it may be. They will go with the specific destination in mind for the awesome restaurant offerings. People go on almost gastronomic pilgrimages. They will base their vacation on where they’re going to eat. They’ll say “Ok, I have a lunch reservation at Septime in Paris, so what are we going to do before that? In the morning, let’s be close to there, so we don’t miss the reservation.” Everything else will come from there, whether it’s shopping, or cultural, or sporting events, whatever they want to do. It will be organized around where they have their lunch or dinner reservations. I think that’s really fascinating. And those travelers are really coveted by all the world’s travel and tourism organizations because they tend to be educated, well-heeled, high-spending-power travelers, who support the tourism ecosystem in a very big way, and that’s a huge, huge growing sector — probably one of the fastest-growing sectors in the tourism industry. I know that at the Michelin Guide, we participated in that in a big way, and at Jumeirah, we’re very excited to up our offerings and cater to those guests.