Colleen Corbett, a bartender in Tampa, Florida, was vegan for approximately four years and worried that she might starve or be forced to consume meat when traveling overseas. Instead, it was just the beginning of her journey to discover the world’s rising vegan locations.
“It’s changed how I make my bucket list… It used to be just scenic stuff. Now, I find myself adding cities I wouldn’t have had an interest in before, but have booming vegan scenes. I just added Warsaw,” she said in an interview.
While vegans and vegetarians are still in the minority in the United States, an increasing number of individuals are interested in lowering their meat intake, generally for environmental concerns, as livestock operations emit a considerable amount of climate-disrupting methane gas.
Veganism is increasingly associated with sustainable travel, and not just during Veganuary, an annual January campaign to highlight the plant-based diet in the month traditionally associated with good intentions, as the travel industry responds with vegan travel options such as plant-centric hotels, restaurants, festivals, and tours.
“Collectively, we’re far more aware of the planetary impacts of food than we were even five years ago… As more people switch to planet-friendly diets, travel is responding to that,” stated Justin Francis, co-founder and chief executive of Responsible Travel.
Vegan diets consist solely on plant-based meals, omitting meat and animal-derived goods such as eggs, dairy, and honey.
It’s difficult to estimate the number of vegans in the United States. According to a 2019 poll by Ipsos Retail Performance, 9.7 million Americans are vegan, up from roughly 300,000 15 years ago. However, according to a 2018 Gallup survey, the 5% of Americans who call themselves vegetarians and the 3% who call themselves vegans haven’t changed much since 2012.
Despite this, many people are eating more healthily. According to a 2019 Nielsen poll, 62 percent of Americans are inclined to cut back on meat intake due to environmental concerns. Many people have found that artificial meats from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have satiated their carnivorous desires. 2020 was a record year for alternative protein investment, according to the nonprofit Good Food Institute, with $3.1 billion spent, more than three times the $1 billion invested in 2019.
“Never before has the demand for plant-based fine dining been as popular,” stated Joan Roca, the founder and chief executive of Essentialist. He anticipates “environmentally conscious dining” to rise in 2022.
With vegan cuisine and interior design, hotels are embracing the plant-based lifestyle.
Vegan restaurant additions range from Marriott Bonvoy’s Aloft Hotels, which recently added vegan and vegetarian breakfast items to its grab-and-go lobby markets in over 150 North American hotels, to the high-end Peninsula Hotels, which will launch a new wellness initiative in March that will include plant-based dishes as well as sleep-promoting aromatherapy.
The Andaz Mayakoba resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, for example, exploited the pandemic pause of 2020 to turn over a new leaf, introducing VB, short for vegan bar, which serves rice ball salads and Chaya leaf wraps by the beach.
The Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Mexico has been supporting a growing range of diets since hiring vegan chef Leslie Durso in 2017. She currently has a vegan menu with over 200 things, and she makes recipes based on guest sensitivities and dietary limitations.
“Instead of dealing with this as an afterthought, we are providing a safe place for travelers to relax and unwind that has already anticipated their needs,” she wrote in an email.
Vegan menus aren’t the only vegan features of animal-free hotels. Plant-based amenities and interior design are becoming more common in hotel rooms.
Koukoumi Hotel, on the Greek island of Mykonos, debuted in 2020 with a vegan restaurant, a spa that employs exclusively plant-based massage oils, and rooms with vegan beds made of coconut fiber. The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, which has 394 rooms, aims to launch two vegan rooms with vegan minibars and room service in February.
Hilton London Bankside has a vegan suite made with plant-based materials, including bamboo flooring and pineapple-based plant-leather pillows, among its 292 rooms in London. Down-free filling choices like buckwheat and millet are available on the pillow menu, while vegan foods are available in the minibar. In the restaurant, guests are assigned to plant-leather seating.
“People love it because we take it so seriously,” said James Clarke, the hotel’s general manager, adding that “it’s not cheap,” with rates starting at $800 a night.
Many new vegan hotels are high-end, such as the all-inclusive Palmaia — The House of Aia in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where all of the food is vegan and all of the decor are free of leather and feathers (doubles start about $900 per night).
Anse Chastanet Resort in St. Lucia, which launched a vegan restaurant four years ago, has seen an increase in vegan activities. Its vegan chef teaches vegan Rastafarian Creole cooking workshops. Vegan bars are made in chocolate-making workshops, while vegan beers are made with fruit and cassava in an on-site artisan brewery.
The resort’s co-owner, Karolin Troubetzkoy, equated providing vegan alternatives to maintaining environmentally conscious operations. “A certain percentage of travelers check,” she explained, “and vegan is the same thing.” “A small percentage say they come here because you have a vegan restaurant,” she said, noting that the resort recently hosted a vegan wedding for 24 guests.
Vegans Thriving Abroad
Vegan tour operators and travel brokers provide confidence to visitors who don’t want to study each meal that they will be able to keep their diets and eat properly, especially while traveling overseas.
Responsible Travel introduced about 1,000 vegan-friendly trips last year as part of its ambition to become “nature positive” by 2030, a pledge to not harm wildlife or ecosystems while instead ensuring that they are better protected and maintained.
Its vegan-only trips include a 10-day vegan tour of Ethiopia (starting at around $2,300; rates do not include flights), seven days of trekking volcanoes in Guatemala (starting at around $1,360), and eight days of snowshoeing in Austria (starting at around $1,160).
“I think this decade we’ll see travel companies not just improve in catering to veganism, but actively working to offer the best food and experiences,” stated Mr. Francis of Responsible Travel.
Expensive plates of pasta with tomato sauce and a lack of soy milk on the breakfast buffet at high-end hotels disappointed Brighde Reed and Sebastien Ranger, experiences that guided their company World Vegan Travel, which offers trips such as gorilla safaris in Rwanda and villa-based tours of Tuscany.
“When 20 people are coming for three nights, hotels are more likely to make an effort than they are for one person,” Ms. Reed stated.
When Leslie Lukas-Recio, a former food importer from Portland, Oregon, joined a World Vegan trip to Alsace, France, in 2018, she was well-versed in international travel.
“If you want to experience the culture or focus on the outdoors, the last thing you want to worry about is trying to find something that isn’t French fries and a green salad,” she added.
In the more than 30 years she’s been arranging vegan travel, Donna Zeigfinger, the owner of Green Earth Travel and a co-founder of a vegan travel conference running online through Jan. 30, said the diet has grown considerably more common.
“There are countries I started going to in the 80s that I thought wouldn’t do vegan that are now some of the top vegan countries… The joke used to be, you’d show up at the French border and show your vegan passport and they’d turn you away.” she said, citing Spain and France.
Ms. Zeigfinger ensures that hotels are aware of her vegan clients’ needs and arranges for feather bedding to be replaced. The warning frequently generated a shipboard letter from the culinary crew seeking a meeting for Heidi Prescott, a customer and regular cruiser from North Potomac, Md.
“I always hated meeting with the chef… I would eat around it.” Ms. Prescott stated.
The emails have ceased since there is now considerably more vegan choice at sea – Regent Seven Seas Cruises provides over 200 plant-based meals, and Virgin Voyages has a plant-focused restaurant aboard its ship, Scarlet Lady. Ms. Prescott took her 11th trip with Oceania Cruises across the Baltic Sea last fall. The ship supplies vegan essentials like cashew cheese and labels vegan options on pasta and grain-bowl bars.
Paul Tully, a vegan and the CEO of Better Safaris, organizes vegan-friendly, environmentally friendly tours to Africa, where he claims it’s quite simple to live vegan.
“Surprisingly, it’s been the airlines which appear to be slow on this uptick in veganism, many still offering extremely bland food and limited options for vegans,” he wrote.
Destinations, on the other hand, are eager to tout their vegan credentials. Visitors to Virginia’s tourist website spend nearly two minutes more on pages relating to vegetarian and vegan information than on general travel content, according to the state’s tourism bureau.
The global exhibition Expo 2020 Dubai is hosting the Middle East’s first vegan cuisine festival through January 30. Vegan Travel Asia by VegVoyages is planning the first vegan festival in the Himalayan area in September, with panel talks, culinary classes, and a Vegan Village with over 100 exhibitors taking place in Nepal and Bhutan.
Veganism is becoming increasingly accessible in more remote regions, such as Argyll, Scotland, which has a new vegan trail connecting vegan cafés and inns, and in smaller towns, such as Boise, Idaho, which has a vegan food truck, soul food restaurant, tattoo shop, and dining tour.
Vegan dining tours have sprung up all across the country, from Greenville, South Carolina, to Scottsdale, Arizona, as a means to educate vegan guests to local alternatives. In 2019, Eager Tourist in Tel Aviv began offering vegan culinary tours to food markets, farmers, and restaurants.
“To be honest, it’s more interesting than a non-vegan tour… What Israelis can do with a vegetable is rather unparalleled, in my humble opinion,” stated Ross Belfer, a partner in the company, who is an American living in Israel.
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