If you had French friends in Paris, Turkish friends in Istanbul, or Italian friends in Florence, and they had you over for lunch or dinner during your travels, it would be the kind of authentic, insider, cool experience travelers are eagerly seeking these days.
Well, as Irish poet William Butler Yeats famously put it, “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.” In this case, technology is making Yeats’ statement truer than ever, in the form of an app called VizEat (a culinary play on “visit” if you didn’t get it).
It’s a good thing the app is available for Apple phones – the company’s CEO, TIM Cook, used it to have lunch with a local family during a recent trip to Paris.
I just attended the Virtuoso Symposium, a meeting of the luxury travel industry that looks at data, emerging trends and new offerings. I’ve written here before about why any serious traveler, especially one with a decent budget, should absolutely use a travel advisor (the good ones now prefer this to travel agent) and you can read “Why You Need A Travel Agent” here. Virtuoso is the best-known consortium of expert agents specializing in luxury travel, and besides serious expertise and critical differentiation, their unified force (there are over 10,000 Virtuoso certified advisors worldwide) gives them a lot of clout with their preferred suppliers. This is a top name brand group that includes the usual suspects, like Four Seasons Hotels, Crystal Cruises, Micato Safaris, all best in class, so consumers booking through an advisor get special value added benefits and VIP access. Every year Virtuoso brings some meaningful new products into the fold for their members, and one of the reasons I attended the conference was to get access to the latest and greatest travel tools. For me, the class of the field at this year’s event was VizEat. I get pitched on new travel apps all the time, and they are usually redundant at best, stupid at worst, but like Uber, VizEat is the rare game changer.
“Like Airbnb at the beginning, we curated the hosts and took pictures and helped get them all up and running,” Jean-Michel Petit, the CEO & Co-founder, told me. The idea is simple: local “hosts” entertain visitors for lunch or dinner in their homes, allowing travelers to “purchase” new friends and local access. As the collection has grown it has expanded to include other local food experiences like cooking classes and market tours, all by savvy locals. Hosts set the terms, such as minimum or maximum number of guests, price, menu options, languages spoken, smoking or not, dress codes and more, and you can look through, shop around, read reviews, and book. When he describes it as the “Airbnb of dining,” Petit is not kidding, the models are very similar, and hosts get rated by users. The company takes a 15% commission and insures both diners and hosts for several hundred thousand dollars.
VizEat was launched in Paris in 2014 and already has around 20,000 hosts in 110 countries, including the biggies like France, the UK, Spain and Italy. When London’s Telegraph did hands on tests, they wrote of Paris “Conviviality was the overriding atmosphere of the evening,” and added “Most importantly the dishes were accompanied by a slice of French hospitality unachievable in a restaurant in a capitol city.” In London, they paid 20£ for a dinner they thoroughly enjoyed hosted by an accomplished food blogger, leaving with a dessert doggie bag and a sense of awe. If you love food, conversation and digging beneath the surface when you travel, VizEat seems like a no brainer.
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If You Love Food And Travel, You Need This New App – The Airbnb Of Local Dining – Forbes