Gastrodiplomacy is the Tasty Way to Grow Tourism
Have you been to a Thai restaurant lately? Did you know that the Thai government was probably involved in its creation, and that the popularity of Thai food is no mistake? In this growth strategy framework, we will discuss the rise of Thai restaurants and Thai food in the United States (and globally), and the concomitant rise in Thai tourism.
What are the origins of this growth strategy framework? According to Food Republic:
“In 2002, the Thai government launched the Global Thai initiative to increase interest in Thai cuisine, cast a positive light on Thailand, generate tourism, and scale up the country’s food and labor exports.”
The Global Thai initiative supported the creation of thousands of Thai restaurants worldwide. While the Thai government’s support for these restaurants is good for the individuals who open them, the overall goal of the initiative is to increase tourism to Thailand. As Fabio Parasecoli writes in Foreign Policy, this is a good example of “gastrodiplomacy,” which is a term describing:
“global campaigns of soft diplomacy meant to increase interest in a country’s gastronomy and products in order to raise its profile, generate goodwill, and enjoy economic and commercial windfalls.”
According to the Thai Ministry of Government and Sports, there were 15.4 million visitors to Thailand over a one-year period in 2022-2023, up from five million in 1990, according to tripprivacy.com. While tourism in the country has ebbed and flowed due to various geopolitical and natural events (such as the COVID and H1N1 pandemics), it accounts for a substantial portion of the Thai economy, and one reason that it has been successful is gastro-tourism fueled by the growth of Thai restaurants. In this growth strategy framework, we will focus on the way that Thai restaurants have grown in popularity, paving the way for Thai tourism.
Growth Strategy Framework:
Pad Thai Introduces Consumers to Thai Cuisine
The first aspect of this growth strategy framework is an understanding of the customer base. The classic example here is Pad Thai, an iconic Thai dish that has gained popularity in the United States and around the world. Its unique combination of flavors, striking a balance between sweet, sour, and savory, has not only captured the palates of many but has also served as a gateway dish, introducing people to the world of Thai cuisine.
What is remarkable about Pad Thai, and what makes it a good example of understanding the customer base, is the fact that in Thailand it was actually a rather obscure, regional dish. In his Foreign Policy article, Parasecoli emphasizes the downsides of the choice to highlight Pad Thai, writing that the dish “largely catered to non-Thai palates and has little cultural history within the country.” However, according to Aloythai.com, the dish also has several upsides, both within Thailand and outside. What is culturally inauthentic can be a savvy business move! The dish was actually created in response to national economic conditions, as:
“the Prime Minister… was concerned about the country’s high rice consumption. So, to promote nationalism and lower rice consumption, he encouraged citizens to eat more noodles—which Chinese merchants were selling at the time. The combination of Chinese rice noodles and native Thai flavors used for this dish eventually paved the way to creating what we’d call ‘Pad Thai’ these days.”
The sweet, sour, rich dish that we are familiar with in Thai restaurants is a further modification of that original dish, a:
“nod to the American palate, introduced to the United States by Chinese immigrants who used “pad” as a catch-all term for any stir-fried noodle dish.”
By modifying Thai food to suit the foreign palette and then encouraging new Thai restaurants to serve this modified Thai food, the Thai government recognized its customer base.
Growth Strategy Framework:
Thai Government Supplies Master Restaurant Plans
Another element of the growth strategy framework to increase the number of Thai restaurants is the provision of a variety of restaurant plans. According to Thai Select, a blog operated by the Thai government, the advantage of providing these ‘master restaurant’ plans is:
“for the investor, the start-up and early operational costs are minimized. There are three very different styles available, aimed at three different sectors of the consumer market, and an investor is able to select the type preferred.”
These options allow would-be Thai restaurant owners to assess their particular market and pick which style of restaurant they think best fits the surrounding customer base.
Growth Strategy Framework:
Embrace Change (and Fusion)
The final element of this growth strategy framework is embracing change, which the Thai restaurant sector has demonstrated through their willingness to open fusion restaurants and incorporate different kinds of cuisines. According to Auguste Escoffier,
“As the world continues to ‘get smaller’ through advances in transportation, technology, and accessibility to regional ingredients, fusion restaurants are cropping up in many places. The career avenue of fusion cuisine is one to watch across the global melting pot.”
In this way, while the goal of opening Thai restaurants was a form of gastrodiplomacy, the success of gastrodiplomacy and the interaction between Thai culture and foreign cultures has shaped the restaurants themselves, making them more appealing to a foreign customer base. This seems to be a positive feedback loop.
In conclusion, the growth strategy framework for Thai restaurants includes understanding the customer base, providing diverse restaurant plans, and succeeding in cultural adaptation and fusion innovation. This strategy has proved successful not just for Thai restaurant owners but for the Thai tourism industry broadly, as well. This gastrodiplomacy example is a wonderful growth strategy framework.
Be sure to explore the wealth of knowledge on the Insight to Action resources page. Our newsletter is your go-to source for staying updated on the ever-evolving world of market strategy. Furthermore, our team is at your service during office hours, ready to meet with you and tackle any questions that come to mind. We’re here to empower you with a deeper understanding of growth strategy frameworks and more.