Traveling Spoon is one of my favorite peer-to-peer experiences companies for personal use. I love food tourism. And I really enjoy how Traveling Spoon experiences enable travelers to meet locals, learn some new recipes, and enjoy food together.
Unlike most peer-to-peer experience platforms, Traveling Spoon vets all of their home cooks before inviting them to participate. Having served as an ambassador for Traveling Spoon a few times, I know this involves testing and feedback on each experience. And where things don’t work smoothly Traveling Spoon asks hosts to change the program before adding them to the website.
I last interviewed the founders of Traveling Spoon, Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence, in 2014. Initially offering in-home meals and cooking classes in Asian countries, Traveling Spoon has expanded around the globe in the past few years. I caught up with Aashi recently to learn about the growth of Traveling Spoon and their plans for the future.
ShareTraveler: When we last talked you had 130 hosts in 14 countries, how many hosts do you have now?
Aashi: We have 500 hosts, in over 100 destinations, in 48 countries. And our goal is to bring on a couple hundred in the next year or so.
ShareTraveler: How do you find new hosts?
Aashi: When we need to scale new destinations we bring on regional managers in a location. They are tasked to find and vet hosts. We hired managers in India, Thailand, Japan and in Europe. Our ambassador program has also been really successful in referring and vetting new hosts.
ST: What is your focus for additions to Traveling Spoon?
Aashi: We were focused on Asia for a good 3 years and now we’ve really started to diversify. We just launched in Europe this year. We’re focusing now on APAC [countries in the Asia-Pacific region] and South America, and perhaps North America in the future.
We’ve also started offering some street food tours on our site. So in Amsterdam, for example, you can do an ethnic food tour. Or a cheese making tour in Parma. There’s an owner-led balsamic vinegar tour in Modena. You can learn how they make vinegar and have a pairing and food tasting – really unique experiences that help travelers understand the local food, culture and history.
ST: Why do you think Traveling Spoon is succeeding where some peer-to-peer activity networks are not?
Aashi: One of the reasons that we have been successful is our singular focus on food. It is what we are passionate about, do best and what we believe is the most meaningful way to have a cultural experience. Food brings people together at the dining table and allows them to open up and share stories. We don’t want to be getting into any other type of activity.
Additionally, 100% of our hosts are personally vetted which is how we are able to make sure quality remains high. We care about the experience – it’s a food experience and a human experience and we want to want to make sure travelers have a meaningful and memorable one. Our vetting also includes curating. Our goal is to not only to bring on new destinations but also to find those really unique destinations that are “off the eaten path”.
ST: In 2014 you were looking at partnering with NGOs to bring on lower income and more rural hosts, any progress there?
Aashi: We tried to do that and it didn’t work out then because many hosts didn’t speak English and including a translator and transport back and forth made the price really high. We typically directly communicate with our hosts so that 70-80% of our price goes to the host. When you add a middle layer to get to the host you add to the pricing and logistics complexity, but we will continue to work on this.
Having said that, we have been able to find a lot of rural hosts in other ways. For instance, our host Dewa in Indonesia. He used to be a local gardner. He hurt his back and wasn’t able to do that anymore but he gets so many bookings through Traveling Spoon that it has become his sole source of income. He called to thank us for providing him this opportunity and told us that because of Traveling Spoon he is able to afford to send his children to school.
TS: What new things have you learned as your business has grown over the past few years?
Aashi: London is not a culinary destination for home cooking for us! That’s one of the insights, places that you think would do well based on tourist numbers may not be a top destination for a variety of reasons. Some of the less mainstream touristy destinations such as Lebanon, Addis Ababa and Ghent have been really huge for us. Tourists now are not just looking for mainstream destinations, they want to branch out and get a more local experience and that is where we excel.
We’ve learned that cooking classes and market tours have become increasingly popular. There has been a big rise in solo travelers. We get a lot of bookings from solo travelers – it’s great for them to not feel like they have to be alone during a food experience at a restaurant. With Traveling Spoon, they join a host and feel like part of the family. One of our travelers went to Seoul not knowing anyone there. She told us that through Traveling Spoon she made a friend for life and really connected with the local region.
ST: Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Aashi: We want to make sure every traveler has at least one traveling spoon experience in their travels. And to do that we plan to serve millions of travelers.
Enjoy private meals and cooking lessons with locals through Traveling Spoon. Get $20 off your first booking with my referral link. (And I get a $20 discount on my next booking too!)