Covid-19 robbed her of her international food tourism business, so she’s leading food tours in Auckland suburbs

When Mary Taylor started her food tour business 20 years ago, she thought it would be something she’d live happily ever after with.

But Covid-19 struck last year, stopping overseas travel and putting the brakes on Taylor’s Food Matters Tours business.

Taylor posted on her website: “I have been hoping daily for a miracle cure for Covid 19…my tours have continued despite volcanic eruption, earthquakes, bombs, revolution, floods, civil war, demonetisation, tsunamis and massacres but these pale into insignificance compared to the global impact of this current virus.”

During periods when she wasn’t overseas, Taylor took groups for local food experiences as a part-time tour leader for local food tour agency Eat Auckland. In December, she decided to buy that business and is now looking to expand it.

“I was pretty down and at a lost for a while, but then I thought, hey I should pick myself up and get back to doing things I’m passionate about,” said Taylor, who is in her 70s.

Describing herself as a “fanatical foodie”, the former food marketer has led groups to catch dragonflies and fished eels for dinner in Indonesia, eat camel burgers in Morocco and sip Mandalay rum in Myanmar.

“Food is the window that opens up new worlds and new cultures for people, not only do I love experiencing that, it’s what I also love to share,” Taylor said.

“Now Auckland has a richly diverse and incredibly interesting food scene, and I thought if I can’t do my food tours overseas, why don’t I just do them right here.”

Taylor is looking at expanding the tours, which currently includes a food and spice tour at Sandringham, more than dumplings tour in Balmoral and a Korean food tour in the central city.

The Sandringham tour takes participants to several restaurants on the street, including Bawarchi, Paradise and the Satya Chai Lounge where they get to sample speciality dishes and meet the owners who will share stories about their culture and food.

“Auckland is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, but the reality is many here still find it hard to venture beyond their comfort zone when it comes to eating,” Taylor said.

“My aim through these tours, is to help people learn about particular cultures by exploring their food and also help small businesses during these tough Covid times.”

Taylor is a firm believer in giving back to the communities and businesses she works with. Overseas, her support projects include books for children, giving cricket gear to war survivors, support for women’s co-operatives and providing merino vests for fishermen.

“The places that we go to overseas may be spiritually rich, but are often financially poor. It is my firm believe that we get more back than we ever give,” she said.

“Here many business owners have been hard hit by the pandemic, and I’ll be speaking with them to see how I can help.”

Steve Armitage, Auckland Unlimited general manager destination said it was great that business owners like Taylor were seeing opportunities during the pandemic.

Auckland Unlimited is the city’s regional tourism organisation that also provides advisory support, advice and advocacy for tourism businesses in the region.

“It’s great to hear how businesses are seeing opportunities to serve domestic audiences in new ways,” Armitage said.

He said it was a challenging time, but encouraged businesses to apply for support such as the Government’s tourism transitions fund.

The temporary fund provides operator tourism business owners up to $5000 in funding, which can be used across key areas of support.

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