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Vegan tourism. Not too long ago, that probably would have been an oxymoron. After all, diets that excluded animal products hadn’t gone mainstream. But in recent years, tours catering to vegans have grown in popularity as the number of people adopting such a diet has grown substantially in numerous countries.

As the pandemic brings greater emphasis on personal health priorities, vegan tourism is poised for a new wave of growth once people begin traveling again.

“Bookings for our vegan holidays have more than doubled in recent years, rising by 120 percent between 2016 and 2019,” said Justin Francis, the founder and CEO of tour operator Responsible Travel, one of the relatively few tour operators to have trips scheduled in the early portion of 2021.

Indeed, Responsible Travel is far from the only travel business to benefit from the boom in veganism. “[We] have noticed an increasingly-high number of requests for vegan meals on all our tours,” noted Matt Berna, the managing director for the North American office of Intrepid Travel, which runs Vegan Real Food Adventures, a set of vegan-focused tours of India and in previous years, Thailand and Italy.

The company halted its Vegan Food Adventures tours in the latter two countries due to the pandemic but hopes to restart the India Vegan Food Adventures when possible.

In addition, those seeking vegan-friendly accommodation can turn to Vegan Welcome, a project launched in 2015 (by the brains behind Veggie Hotels, the world’s first hotel directory for solely vegetarian and vegan hotels and B&B lodgings) that lists more than 130 hotels in 20 countries on its website.

Tempeh satay, yellow tofu curry, organic red rice, urab, acar pickles, sambal matah, sesame crackers at in Bali from VeggieHotels.

As evidenced by the growing number of vegan food tours taking travelers around the world. Contiki last year announced plans for its own vegan food tour of Europe starting this August, appealing is not only good business but “necessary business,” according to Berna. “Running the Vegan Real Food Adventures allowed us to gain greater insight into our vegan travelers: what they expect and crave in a food-themed tour. We believe it’s necessary to cater to dietary requirements on all our tours, especially the Real Food Adventures, so we can offer peace-of-mind and inclusivity for travelers who want to explore the world through cuisine, while adhering to their vegan lifestyle,” he added.

Intrepid Travel had already been prepared for some time to satisfy guests on its Vegan Food Adventures. “When we first started Real Food Adventures in 2013, we were already briefing our foodie leaders on different dietary preferences, as we wanted all our travelers to enjoy a taste of a country through their senses on all our food trips,” Berna added. “So when it came to developing our vegan food trips, we had a great head start, as we’d already been delivering vegan food experiences within our standard food trips for a number of years!”

Of course, tour operators dangle the carrot of delicious food to entice guests to vegan tours. But tourism businesses have found such excursions have a much greater benefit for the planet than just stuffing people’s stomachs: well-run vegan tours can support local communities and benefit the environment.

“Eating less meat while away—and opting for locally-sourced, organic produce in locally-run establishments—is one of the most significant ways to lower your carbon footprint on holiday, while also contributing to the local economy,” Francis asserted, adding that many of Responsible Travel’s 400 partners include “many of those leading our vegan and vegetarian trips.”

Responsible Travel commissioned a study last year that found that emissions associated with food are potentially greater than a trip’s transport emissions.

La Cena di Pitagora restaurant in Ponte Nizza, Italy, from VeggieHotels.

So is a vegan tour different from a non-vegan tour? Not really. “Our Real Food Adventures, including the India Vegan Real Food Adventure, are designed like all Intrepid Travel’s tours—small-group, locally-led, sustainable adventures—but they’re shaped by culinary experiences, and include all meals,” Berna explained.

Likewise, “some of (Responsible Travel’s) trips don’t differ from others aside from their vegan focus,” Francis stated. “A number of our wellness holidays offer plant-based cuisine with a health and nutrition focus, and we offer a vegan conscious cooking holiday. But the vegan holidays range from food tours and yoga retreats to cycling breaks, trekking and group adventures.”

So how are activities for vegan tours determined? “All our tours are designed from conception to production by our product managers and our local DMCs (destination marketing corporations),” Berna said, adding they collaborate to find activities and meals with a local touch.

“Whether it’s a shared meal with a local Turkish family or a stop at a women-run restaurant in Marrakech, these tours are designed so local cuisine and shared meal experience are central to the experience, teaching travelers how local cuisine is influenced by culture, geography and history,” Berna said.

What does the future hold for vegan tourism after the pandemic? If current trends hold, it could be set for even bigger growth. Already, rapidly growing practice in the United States. GlobalData states the percentage of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1 percent to 6 percent between 2014 and 2017, a 600 percent jump. A July 2020 survey revealed that 58 percent of American respondents said they want to eat more plant-based foods. Across the pond, according to the Vegan Society, there are roughly 600,000 vegans in the United Kingdom—a significant increase from the estimated 150,000 British vegans in 2006.

And a reason for the rise in veganism may have come from — Covid-19. A healthy percentage of respondents to a survey conducted by the charity Veganuary in July and August 2020 admitted the link between animal agriculture and the pandemic contributed to their decision to consume more vegan food. Furthermore, roughly one-fourth of British 21-to-30 year olds have stated the pandemic has made veganism more appealing to them. And on this side of the Atlantic, a recent report revealed that 30 percent of North American seniors are consuming more plant-based foods because of the pandemic.

So it’s obvious why companies like Intrepid Travel are giddy about a more lucrative future for vegan tourism. “Our range of Real Food Adventures will expand, as these tours are designed for all dietary requirements,” Berna asserted. “We’ll take what we’ve learned from the Vegan Real Food Adventures and apply these insights and ideas to our new products.”

Photo Credit: A vegan tour in India. Intrepid Travel