Startup pitch: Foodie&Tours offers culinary activities and classes
Launched this January, Foodie&Tours is a online marketplace that matches travelers with culinary tours and activities in Europe, starting with ones in Spain.
So far this Barcelona-based has gathered more than 150 food tours and activities, such as cooking classes, walking food tours, one-off wine and cheese tastings, and pop-up tapas sessions, in Spain’s gastronomic destinations.
A Q&A with founder and CEO Hugo Palomar:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
Having worked in the tourism sector for over 15 years, I had already launched two tourism startups, one of them being ByHours (which received more than $3 million in funding last year — see Tnooz’s profile).
I wanted to pursue a more personal project involving my two passions: quality tourism and gastronomy.
The idea of creating Foodie&Tours came after a casual brainstorm with my two partners and cofounders; we had worked together in the past in other ventures.
We found that there is newly emerging niche in the market of gastronomic tourism that isn’t filled and decided to take the risk to launch the startup to help foodies select and book the best foodie activities and experiences on their travels.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
We are a team of 5 full time individuals, a couple freelancers as well as a group of mentors.
We are three founders: I’m the CEO, Juan Peist is our CTO, and Enric Elvira is our backend developer.
Tendelle Sheu is in charge of marketing and product and had worked in management consulting at Oliver Wyman in NYC. Mireia Pascual manages product and customer relations; she joined the venture after working at 3star Michelin restaurants El Bulli and Celler de Can Roca.
We are currently in talks of securing seed funding round of €250K.
Estimation of market size?
The global food tourism market is estimated by the World Food Tourism Organization to be $150 billion per year and growing.
Concretely, in a survey by the Pangaea Network to travel agencies in Spain, France, Italy, and the UK, it is reported that food tourism represents at least 10% of their business.
In Spain in particular, according to the Spanish Association of Enotourism and Gastronomic Tourism, 64 million foreign tourists visit the country every year, 7.2 million of which are gastronomic tourists (foodies).
Along with statistics, salient trends such as the pursuit of “Travelling like a Local” and the rise of the “Slow Food Movement” also signify the growth of the food travel subsector.
Considering that tourism is one of the highest growing and fragmented industries in the world, we sure do have competitors both inside and outside of the niche of food tourism.
I would say that we are most similar to Winerist, in terms of specializing in food tourism with curation, but there is no single global market leader at the moment.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Our revenue model is transactional: we keep a percentage of every purchase made through our platform. We also run a couple of our own tours in Barcelona. Additionally, we are testing one new service to offer, a ‘Foodie Concierge’ service for 4 and 5 stars hotels and apartments.
What problem does the business solve?
Culinary tourism is fragmented: we have numerous local operators but lack a consolidated and curated platform specifically catered to travelers who love gastronomical experiences designed by professionals.
Although booking engines like Viator exist, they are a hodgepodge of tourist experiences of varying quality and the market does not have a leading distributor of quality gastronomic experiences.
Local producers don’t have a centralized platform advocating for best quality tours from which they can distribute their products; foodies visiting Spain have to spend tons of time consulting a wealth of sites to find food and wine experiences that suited their needs or fitted their expectations with the guarantee of quality we offer.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
Originally, our plan was to sell via a direct ecommerce model. As we sought to validate our business model, we saw that 50% of clients book indestination, with concierges being an important source of information.
In Barcelona there are more than 150 four or five star hotels, but their concierges only have access to only generic tours and activities or to experiences run by their personal contacts.
This is when we had the idea of becoming the Foodie Concierge to provide high quality gastronomic experiences for hotel clients. We have currently established the partnership with 4 hotels by having a tablet displaying our experiences in their lobby.
We are maintaining both the ecommerce website as well as the Foodie Concierge services.
Why should people or companies use the business?
￼It’s a winwin equation. For the professionals that create the experiences we distribute we offer a unique single platform which can reach their intended audience.
For foodie travellers, we offer a onestopshop where they can find amazing gastronomical experiences without the need of consulting numerous sources.
We had received positive feedback from our customers on our product range, simplicity, and customer service. In fact, 15% of our sales come from clients who have purchased more than one experience with us, twothirds of which are for different destination cities.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
As conventional online acquisition channels face stiff competition, we have established two additional sales channels, one of which we have mentioned the Foodie Concierge and the other being an API for affiliation and crossselling with other companies in the tourism industry.
We have active partnerships with blogs and online travel guides, and are establishing partnerships with tourism promotion agencies, cruise lines, car rental services, hospitality services, and other tour operators to crosssell our products.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years we hope to build Foodie&Tours into the world’s largest marketplace of high quality gastronomical experiences. We aim to be operating in five continents and be the reference on B2C and B2B sales offering activities for discerning foodies.
We want to become the goto partner for destinations seeking to promote food tourism in their region. Two challenges that we anticipate having to overcome are customer acquisition, which is costly in the travel industry, and maintaining live inventory as each tour operator tends to have its own system.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that it requires a startup like yours to help it out?
The tourism sector is evolving towards an hypersegmentation, which makes it possible for new actors to exist and to meet the specific needs and expectations of every type of traveller.
For a foodie traveller, planning a trip takes a lot of time, effort, and Google searches. There is a need for a consolidated source providing preselected foodie experiences by those who know what foodies seek.
What other technology company (in or outside of travel) would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
We identify well with a web company like Designhotels.com because we both are vertical platforms focused on a niche products within a huge industry.
Which company would be the best fit to buy your startup?
TripAdvisor, TUI and Priceline would be good fits.
Describe your startup in three words?
Foodie travels, streamlined.
If there has been any clear rising trend in Western European travel in the past decade, it has been culinary tourism.
Yet today’s online travel platforms do an imperfect job of matching travelers with gastronmic tours and activities that will suit them best. Tastes and styles in foodie activities are idiosyncratic. Plus, suppliers often lack savvy about digital marketing.
That said, finding consumers to use your product is getting harder and more expensive in the mobile-first era. A lot will depend on word-of-mouth marketing, getting lots of free/earned media coverage, promotion by suppliers themselves, and some clever growth hacking techniques.
The potential for commissions on the supplier side is strong, given that suppliers often don’t have other ways of marketing to customers around the world and the marginal cost of using this channel for demand generation could be relatively low compared to other options.
The startup might benefit from following Monocle‘s branding advice more closely. It certainly would benefit by being featured in a magazine like Monocle or a similar European lifestyle publication. Print still matters for this customer demographic.
Overall, the startup looks promising. The team has prior experience in startups, and Spain’s culinary scene is unlike any other. Let’s hope they don’t get distracted by the loveliness of Barcelona and really put in the hours to succeed.
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.