The current boom in Chinese and Indian groups to Australia stirred up the question, are we listening to what our foreign visitors want, especially when it comes to food choices?

The recent launch of Tourism Australia’s $10 million “Restaurant Australia” campaign based on the idea of Australia being the world’s greatest restaurant, comes in response to surveys held across 15 of Australia’s key tourism markets that showed that there was a significant gap in the perceptions of our country’s food and wine offerings.

We all know that food served at an event needs to be spot on – get it wrong and no matter how well everything else went – poor food or the lack of it will linger long in the memory and be talked about by those attending well after the event is over.

Similarly, when it comes to appealing to the diverse palates of international visitors, giving them the right food and restaurant choices is paramount to their overall enjoyment of the destination, whether they are FIT travellers or business event delegates.

It leads us to the question, are our Asian visitors getting what they want? Apparently not if discussions held with both a Chinese and Indian inbound group operator are anything to go by. Both agreed that our understanding of what these groups wanted from hotels and restaurants, not only in food choices but also in touring, had left them wanting.

Grace Ng, managing director of Powell Consultants, an event services company, said that generally Chinese clients would like us to listen to what they want to do and where they want go.

“They do like to try the authentic food when in a foreign country but not for every meal,” she told micenet.

“The first two days are fine but after that they yearn for something Chinese. In fact, no matter how expensive or lavish that western meal is, they will push it around their plate without eating a morsel. Later that night you will find them in their hotel rooms cooking up the cup of noodles brought with them in their suitcase. Noodles are something that they can fall back on if the local food is not to their liking.”

Nayaz Noor CEO of Safir Tours, a destination management company based in Victoria, agrees that food is often a challenge with groups from India.

“Indian cuisine is a must on the tour menu and the alternate course serving is just not for them,” he said.

“It has to be a buffet with choices of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. When it comes to restaurants these have to be different every day and the dishes should be different every day too,” he cautioned.

Most Indian groups, he explained, stay in five-star hotels and only eat breakfast and no other meal there.

“It is something that five-star hotels need to understand, especially for large groups. It’s because they don’t have the chefs or they’re just not geared for Indian cuisine. As is the custom in India, they also eat late – around 8.30 to 9.00pm and they like to drink prior to dinner.

“Rarely will they drink during or after dinner,” he said, adding that Indians will also carry snacks while travelling.

Starwood’s Personalised Travel Program

In response to the food challenges experienced by our Chinese and Indian visitors, Alexandra Walsh, director of sales and marketing at Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park said that when it comes to addressing the unique preferences of Chinese and Indian travellers, they utilise Starwood’s new Personalised Travel Program. These include:

  • In-hotel Chinese Specialist – From a warm welcome to a fond farewell, they will assist Chinese guests at all participating hotels with everything from translation assistance to facilitating transportation.
  • Comforts of Home – Anticipating the needs of these guests, each hotel has tea kettles, slippers, instant noodles and toiletries either in-room or available upon request.
  • Translated Collateral – Upon arrival, guests receive a packet of local area information — shopping, sightseeing and key hotel information — translated into Chinese.
  • Familiar Foods – Hotel restaurants have Chinese-friendly menu items like congee, noodles and rice.

“Starwood has compiled a Chinese Culture and Etiquette Guide that is available so that associates can be aware of what to expect from Chinese guests and how to treat them in return. Having a buffet restaurant makes it easier in catering for guests of different ethnicities,” Ms Walsh said.