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Travelling with intolerances

by Linsey McNeill | 01 March 2018

These days, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone and their dog is gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or comes out in hives if they accidentally drink non-organic coffee. And whilst it’s fun to scoff at the legions of hipsters who have sworn allegiance to obscure diets with often-spurious health benefits, there is a growing slice of the UK population for whom these diets are not a fashion statement..

Allergies, intolerances and diseases relating to foods are on the rise worldwide, with around 21 million adults in the UK living with at least one allergy, and that figure doesn’t include intolerances to foods such as wheat or lactose. And while being gluten-free is trendy, coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune condition which makes it a necessity, affecting one in every 100 people in the UK today, and an increasing number globally.

So this begs the question: how do these people eat when they travel? Most savvy allergy or intolerance sufferers will have done their research long before they book their trip, but in an industry built around customer service, travel agents who can inform and empower their customers through their own knowledge will be one step ahead.

Useful Words and Phrases
We all like to think we can blend in and act like a local and while learning ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘how much?’ is enough for most, it pays for the allergy-conscious to have a few extra tricks up their sleeve. Knowing the word for ‘nuts’, or ‘milk’ can make life easier when scanning the menu, and learning the local phrase for ‘I’m allergic to soy’ might make all the difference when negotiating an evening meal. Knowledge is power, so give your customers a greater sense of control by pointing them towards the wealth of online language resources available. Phrase cards are a popular option, and available for all manner of allergies and intolerances from Celiec Travel and BrokerFish, amongst others.

Playing it safe
Unless you’ve cooked it yourself, it can be hard to trust that a meal isn’t going to cause you an evening of agony. But giving customers an idea of which local dishes are generally considered ‘safe’ for their condition is a reassuring starting-point that can take the stress out of mealtimes. In Thailand green and massaman curries are seen as a safe bet’ for those avoiding soy, and their use of coconut milk is a promising start for lactose intolerant foodies. But knowing which dishes to avoid is just as important - a number of Thai dishes include cashew and tree nuts. Point your customers to online blogs from experts who have done the research for them.

Total Freedom
For those with allergies, this is a foreign concept when choosing from the menu but there is a small number of restaurants around the world that specialise in allergens and intolerances - shining oases in the desert of cross-contamination, wrong orders, and risky dishes. Whilst allergen-friendly restaurants are a rarity (and often an expensive one at that), many travellers will be keen to visit and enjoy a meal in the knowledge that they are in safe hands. Tell your customers that they can eat dairy-free porridge in Utrecht, gluten-free pastries in Italy, nut-free peanut butter ice cream in London, or visit a 100% gluten free restaurant in Buenos Aires and they’ll feel reassured that their needs can be catered to.

Home Comforts
Trekking to the remote corners of the globe, only to head for the nearest McDonalds is seen as a cardinal sin by many travellers. Sadly, for stricken coeliacs and lamenting lactose-intolerants, there is there is often little choice but to shun the street stalls, and shuffle into the local Seven-Eleven for a conciliatory pack of rice cakes. Sometimes it’s not only forgivable but also wise to stick to what you know best and compiling a list of local fast food joints, convenience stores and chain restaurants for your client will be a great help. If your customers are travelling to India, they might be secretly relieved to know that Domino’s can be found in 230 cities, often not far from a KFC. In the Philippines there’s always Jollibees, a fast food chain that has since spread to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and the U.S; South Africa has Nandos, Canada A&W; Russia Wendy’s. Not all chains present an allergy-friendly option, but for someone exploring a new country with so many culinary question marks, a taste of home (however greasy) is a welcome experience.

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