How To Set Up An Agritourism Venture
With consumer interest growing rapidly in how their food is grown, farmers need to engage in communication and discussion on many fronts with customers and interest groups, many of whom could be potential tourists. Often this is difficult as farmers have time constraints, and it is important that spouses and farm workers are involved in the Agritourism initiative on the farm.
A suggestion would be to start a Farmers’ Agritourism group for an area or for a particular product, for example, the Stellenbosch Wine Route. So how would you start? The first step would be to arrange for interested farmers to meet out of harvest time and invite a guest speaker who can address a specific topic in a relaxing environment with food and drinks on offer. If the decision is taken to form a farmers’ route and/or agritourism committee, make sure that everyone involved understands their responsibilities.
Questions that need to be asked when planning, include answers to the 4 “W”, for example, WHO is the face of the farm/route, WHO is the targeted audience (be specific), WHAT ideas are practical and feasible, WHY should visitors come to your farm and WHERE do you want them to go (very important!). While formulating your plan, remember to think DESTINATION and not LOCATION.
Agritourism includes many different product offerings, for example, farm accommodation stays, farm animals, children’s parties and/or camps, walking or cycling trails, workshops or conferences, farm routes/co-operative ventures, farm markets, farm festivals, direct sales (pick you own), picnics, host hobby groups (e.g. flower arranging), vehicle shows, tractor rides etc. Direct sales are becoming increasingly important, as customers want to meet the farmer to ask questions about agricultural produce. This may seem tedious to some farmers, however, it provides the opportunity to add customers to a database for direct communication, and it provides the opportunity to build loyalty to a particular brand. Use the opportunity to tell your story in an interesting and educational manner.
With any Agritourism initiative it is very important to start with what you KNOW so confidence can be built up over time.
Visitors will have expectations and any farmer who wants to be involved in Agritourism will have to bear these in mind. Expectations will be that the visitor areas are clean and well maintained, that there are public bathrooms, that the facilities are safe and that parking is adequate and/or easy to find. If you are selling produce, you will need a credit card machine and cash to provide change. Remember that whatever expectations have been generated via communication, they need to be met. Ask visitors for feedback as they leave and take their contact details so you can remain in communication with them after their visit. Visitors need to know where to go to, so remember directional signage as well.
Opening hours, days and season (if applicable) need to be placed on prominent signage outside the farm. Visitors will appreciate regular business hours that are easy to remember.
If all of this sounds too much, then involve the expertise of someone with tourism experience that can at least get the Agritourism project up and running.
Written by Jacqui Taylor.