Tourism brings a lot of money into our economy, so how can you reap the rewards? Samantha Trenoweth finds out
Last month, Tourism Australia launched its high-powered Restaurant Australia campaign. A team of great Aussie chefs, including Maggie Beer, Tetsuya Wakuda and Skye Gyngell, have been travelling the world, enticing international tourists to venture south and sample the best that Australian restaurants have to offer.
Food and wine are key factors in holiday destination choices. Interestingly, Tourism Australia has learnt that, while people who have never visited Australia don’t think of us as a great culinary nation, those who have travelled here, on average, rank us in their top three—ahead of Italy, though still a hair’s breadth below France (quite an achievement).
So, while our national tourism body is taking Australian culinary achievements to the world, it’s an ideal time to think about how local restaurants can make the most of the tourist market, attracting overseas visitors, interstate holidaymakers and out-of-town day trippers too.
Time and again travellers report that they’re interested in a unique, local experience. A great location is an enormous advantage in the tourist market.
The opportunity to eat brilliant food in our unique environment is “an experience we can offer people from overseas that you can’t have anywhere else”, says Quay’s Peter Gilmore.
Alan Imrie, who owns three successful restaurants in the NSW south coast town of Batemans Bay, agrees. “Location is what sets us apart,” he explains. “Starfish Deli is on the river and it’s also right in the hub of the town. It’s a vibrant place with lots of outdoor space and it’s very popular in the summer and school holidays.”
His second restaurant, the award-winning On the Pier, “is on the far side of the river. It’s a lovely spot for sunset dining. We hold functions and weddings there but it operates as a restaurant too, and it attracts people who are looking for a beautiful environment, great seafood and fine dining.”
Of course, location isn’t an aspect of your restaurant that’s easy to alter but local produce and a unique local experience can be even more important to travellers than a jaw-dropping view.
“We’re just so lucky in Australia,” says renowned Barossa chef, Maggie Beer. “Our produce really is the best in the world. It surprises the visitor and it surprises visiting chefs.”
Food tour specialist Jonathan Milne of Barossa Taste Sensations agrees. “When we stop at a restaurant,” he explains, “I choose something a little bit unusual with a lot of Barossa character. Travellers are interested in restaurants that highlight local traditions and local produce. It’s very German here, which is lovely, but now, with the likes of Maggie and Saskia [Beer], it has an interesting, modern twist to it. So that’s something I look for in a menu.”
If restaurateurs are interested in attracting tour groups, Milne suggests they also try to offer a unique experience for each tour. “I’d like the travellers on my tour to have an experience that they won’t be able to have again,” he explains. “Perhaps it’s just one dish that’s only available if you come to the restaurant with me. I like the people on my tour to feel special.”
Milne also stresses that timing is important for tour groups. “There are restaurants in the Barossa,” he says with a smile, “where lunch takes a whole afternoon, and that’s lovely, but we can’t do that on a tour. The idea is to spend a relaxed hour—maybe an hour and a half—but then there are things to do, and tastings that have been booked.”
Catering for groups is just one way to access the tourist market. Another is to communicate with travellers through mainstream and social media. Alan Imrie doesn’t do a lot of advertising but he does make the most of opportunities for reviews and features in local media. And Milne and Imrie insist that TripAdvisor and other food and travel apps have become indispensable. Most travellers nowadays check online for restaurant and hotel reviews. Each of Imrie’s restaurants manages its own website, social media and TripAdvisor listing and encourages clients to contribute reviews.
Getting started on TripAdvisor isn’t hugely complicated. Visit www.tripadvisor.com/pages/getlisted_resource.html and the step-by-step guide should see you through. The most crucial tips to remember are:
- Make your copy descriptive and emphasise your unique features.
- Do mention glowing reviews in respected publications, chef’s hats and awards.
- Don’t resort to clichés or shameless sales pitches.
- Update your listing regularly, with new images and current menus, and don’t forget to revise your phone number and web address if they change.
- If you want to get even more involved, investigate something like the Google Keyword Tool and use a couple of the keywords that they recommend as appropriate for your particular cuisine and location. Don’t overdo the keywords or your description might sound as if it was written by a Google robot, but a couple of strategically placed keywords can help your restaurant climb higher on internet search lists.
- Photos are essential and they must be good. According to TripAdvisor, travellers react much more favourably to listings with 20 or more photos. You may not need to recruit a professional photographer but your images can’t look as if your visually impaired grandmother took them. They should capture the restaurant’s ambience, location and its most visually interesting or signature dishes, and they should have captions.
- Make a point of going online regularly, reading reviews and responding. It makes a great impression if clients see you care enough to respond to their feedback.
Other apps (Australian Good Food & Travel Guide, Urbanspoon, Yelp, YumTable and others) are also worth investigating, and it’s important, where possible, to link apps with your web and social media sites.
Much the same rules apply to social media and web pages as to app listings. The cardinal rule is to keep them current and fresh. Share your news, upload new menus, give those who find you on the internet new reasons to visit or to keep coming back.
“A lot of restaurateurs,” says Imrie, “think of travellers as fly-by-nighters who they’ll never see again, but that’s not always true. We have customers who have been coming to Batemans Bay every Christmas for as long as we’ve been in business. I’ve watched families grow up. So it’s important to treat a traveller as well as you would a local.”
And being authentic is important. As Kylie Kwong says, some things travellers like best about Australian cuisine are things that make us unique: “the people, the passion, the innovation, the multiculturalism … It’s an exciting place to be and a very exciting time.”
Finally, you now have the chance to- share your restaurant and your unique Australian food story with the world by visiting Tourism Australia’s Restaurant Australia website. Follow the link: www.tourism.australia.com/campaigns/restaurantaustralia.aspx.