GETTING STARTED IN AGRITOURISM
Table of Contents
- Getting Started with Agritourism
- Visitor Expectations for an Agritourism Destination
- Customer Relations in Agritourism
- Income Sources in Agritourism
- Agritourism Liability and Questions to Clarify With Your Insurer
- Marketing Your Agritourism Enterprise
- Agricultural Tourism Publications and Web Resources
There is a great deal of interest in agritourism as a niche tourism sector for farms. One reason is that people are looking for an authentic experience that might link them to their past or that teaches them something new. Visitors also want to get away from the stress of every day life and experience a seemingly simpler life. Farm visits offer a day in the country, where guests may pick berries, go for a hayride, sample some homegrown or homemade products, see animals, and learn how farms operate.
The variety of agritourism experiences that can be offered is huge – from farm lodging or farm-based recreation like hiking or hunting, to pumpkin patches, u-pick farms, farm festivals, wine tasting, farm restaurants, agri-entertainment like corn mazes and more. Visitors are willing to pay for these experiences as long as the price is reasonable and they find value in what is being offered.
Agritourism provides an additional source of revenue for farms that allows them to keep farming and increase the quality of life for their family. Many farms with large wholesale operations that have struggled with low commodity prices have turned to agritourism as a way to keep farming and earn a higher return from direct to consumer marketing. Some have reduced their acreages, growing fewer crops but capturing more consumer dollars. Agritourism allows farmers to capture both the consumer’s food dollar as well as some of the money spent on entertainment and recreation each year.
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Agritourism is a trend that is not likely to go away soon. The growth of wine trails and the wine industry illustrates the potential. Other types of farms are jumping on the agritourism bandwagon and doing very well. As the agritourism offerings expand, the opportunities to attract visitors increases.
Collaboration among farmers to organize farm trails, host farm open houses, and other such joint ventures will strengthen the industry and help grow new agritourism attractions to keep visitors coming back for more.
Agritourism – Is it Right for You?
If you are considering the development of an agritourism enterprise or want to add agritourism as a new enterprise for your farm, the place to start is with a hard-core assessment of your abilities and goals, also consider those of your family members. Discuss the idea, consider the options, assess your skills and time realistically, visit other farms, and most of all, develop a plan.
Start by generating a list of all the possible types of agritourism enterprises you could realistically develop. Write down pros and cons of each including how much work it will take and the cost. Narrow the list by considering which ideas you or family members get most excited about and are most doable. Also, consider what skills and time you and family members will have to devote to developing the enterprise. Think hard about what wouldwork best given the physical resources and location of your farm.
Once the ideas seem solidified, don’t assume you and your family are the best judge of what may work or not. Run the ideas past friends and acquaintances, tourism and extension staff, visitors to thearea, and business representatives. Get their honest appraisal of the ideas you have selected. Would they visit your farm to participate in activities you are considering offering?
A key point to remember is that agritourism brings people to your farm, so you must enjoy meeting people and plan activities that visitors will want to participate in, all the while managing the situation to avoid risks.
Start with a Plan
An agritourism attraction need not be something different than what you are already doing at your farm, the difference is that you are going to show the public what you do. Many people start by planting a pumpkin crop and offer u-pick pumpkins in the fall or host a maple farm open house when boiling sap.
Once you have identified some agritourism activities that seem doable, that fit with your goals and your farm resources, and that you have time for, list all the tasks or steps to get started. Once done, have someone else review it with you – call the extension or tourism office for input, or enlist the help of a business counselor or event planner. They may identify some details you might have missed.
Develop a launch date for the activity, then work backwards and list all the resources you will need and the tasks that need to be performed to be ready for your “launch”. Make sure publicity figures prominently into your plans as it takes a lot of promotion to get the attention you will need for launching a new enterprise.
Start-up, advertising and promotion costs may outpace your returns initially so be prepared for this. If you have low numbers at first, don’t sweat it. If you have organized a high quality experience, that receives favorable responses from visitors, then you will have achieved a measure of success. Remember that word of mouth is a key way to build business, so if you do it right the first time, the next visitors will not be so hard to attract.
Plan a soft opening – a way to get started without a big launch is to plan a small activity targeted at a select group to test your ideas. For example, offer one fall event like hayrides around the farm.
Take time to get feedback from visitors about what else they might like to see, do, learn or buy at your farm. Then each year, add in another attraction. This way, you grow your level of comfort with visitors and get to know their expectations plus you don’t have all the cash outlay at once. Grow the enterprise by taking small steps, but don’t forget to plan with the big picture in mind. It is important to set income goals that you would like to reach.
Cater to Visitor Interests
Another important activity at the outset is to identify the type of the customers you hope to attract. If you know you don’t want school children at your farm, that’s ok. But you do need to know whom you want to attract to your farm and then develop your enterprise to cater to their interests. Be selective about your advertising in order to reach the group you want to reach. Each audience you hope to attract will have different needs and expectations and you will need to employ audience specific strategies to attract them.
If you want to attract motor coaches to come to your farm, organized tours are required. You need to plan everything from the greeting when they arrive, what they will do, see and buy, and most of all, the bathrooms. Marketing to tour groups will require a nice brochure describing your farm tour. You will want to enlist the help of your county tourism professional.
They know what motor coaches come to the area and how to get them to stop at your farm.
An example of attracting a niche group of visitors is the Finger Lakes Fiber Tour. Two weekends were arranged for knitters that included lodging, food, farm tours and workshops. Where do you find knitters who will come to the Finger Lakes for such a tour? Start with ads in knitting magazines, knitters websites, and yarn stores. The weekends were both sold out.
For more information about the tour, check the following website:
There are many niche market opportunities that can easily be targeted if you have the right offering that caters to their interest.
Key Ingredients for Success with Agritourism
Evaluate your time and talents and those of family members who will help
Make sure there is a point person to plan the enterprise
Make sure there is an enthusiastic, energetic person involved that likes interacting with people
Start with solid, well thought out ideas for activities you will offer
Plan the activities thoroughly before opening
Start small and get feedback
Grow a little each year
Know whom you want to attract and what they expect
Tailor promotion to specific audiences
Offer something to see, do and buy
Set goals for income so you can measure progress and track costs vs returns
Minimize all the potential risks, plan for emergencies
- Visitor Expectations for an Agritourism Destination
Having visitors at your farm and adopting a tourism orientation is likely to take your farm in directions you have probably never considered. There will be times you are “open” or “closed” and may need to enforce those hours by turning potential customers away. There will be expenses for bathroom facilities and beverage inventory for thirsty patrons. In addition to all the farm chores, there are tasks to keep the premises in top condition to stay attractive and safe.
This chapter provides a list of typical visitor expectations for almost any agritourism destination. After reading it, you will have a better understanding of what visitors are generally looking for. If you know their expectations, you can formulate your plans to meet their needs.
In every county, the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Agency office refers visitors to local attractions. Staff at these offices are familiar with the types of visitors that come to the county and region and can provide good advice to farmers interested in knowing more about what visitors expect from tourism destinations.
The people who visit your farm are not farmers and have little understanding of farms in general. However, many visitors will generally expect the following:
The main farm area is clean and well-maintained.
The farm has sanitary public bathrooms with a toilet and sink.
Parking is easy to find and adequate.
Visitor facilities are safe and accessible for all visitors, especially small children, older adults and people with disabilities.
The farm accepts credit or debit cards, particularly if an ATM is not nearby.
The farm meets the visitor’s image of a farm.
Clean and Well-Maintained Farm
Many visitors will not be surprised to see farm implements and materials around the farmyard, but farm junk and salvage equipment should be removed from the premises or stored far from visitor areas.
Building exteriors should be in good condition; a newer coat of paint indicates pride and reinvestment in the farm.
Children’s toys and family play areas will attract young visitors, so be sure to keep family property separated to avoid confusion for visitors about where they are generally permitted to go.
Livestock fencing should be intact and labeled to indicate a possible hazard if it is electrified.
The practical effect of maintaining a neat appearance is added labor. Responsible individuals in the farm operation should be assigned clean up duty or make a point to hold everyone responsible for their own tidiness. If this seems like a burden, remember that every visitor who turns away due to “curb un-appeal” is lost income for the farm. First impressions have a huge impact on visitors.
Sanitary and Accessible Bathrooms
Farm bathrooms are typically functional little rooms tucked into a back corner of the barn, dotted with motorcycle posters, and not really meant for visitors.
Farmhouse bathrooms are meant for family use. Neither is going to be appropriate for the public.
Visitor bathrooms at your farm must be clean, uncluttered, bright, fully-supplied, and easily accessible. Within 2 minutes of getting out of their car, many tourists are looking for a suitable public bathroom; children and older travelers particularly.
They often expect separate facilities for men and women, but will accept a unisex bathroom. They would prefer to find the bathroom easily, without having to ask where it is or if it is locked.
Since this is often the first room they will visit, they will be judging your hospitality immediately. Even though it is a farm, visitor bathrooms must sparkle. For special events or seasonal needs, a clean portable toilet is acceptable.
Parking that is Easy to Find
Farm owners and their employees generally park wherever it is suitable in the farmyard, so farms rarely have designated parking areas. Visitors, who unfamiliar with the layout of farmyard, need clearly marked visitor parking areas.
Signs directing visitors to proper parking areas should be posted at the entrance, and anywhere the farm driveway divides.
If your farm has more than one driveway, use a sign to direct visitors to the proper entry. Chances are they will not figure this out for themselves at a typical farm, unless you provide good signage.
Visitor parking signs are typically designed with green lettering on a white reflective background. Pre-printed aluminum signs are inexpensive ($15 – 20). If you are only hosting occasional events, mount signs on portable stands.
Do not assume visitors will know where not to park. They may park in front of a hay barn, behind an idling tractor, in front of the equipment shed, or in the middle of a cattle laneway. Use signs to restrict visitor parking and vehicle access, such as around a milk house, chemical storage, or in front of an equipment shed. A farm is unfamiliar territory for visitors so clear signage is important for safety reasons.
Accessible Farm Visitor Areas
As an agritourism destination, you will be hosting visitors of all abilities. Expect some visitors in wheelchairs, with walking assistance, or strollers, as well as visitors who cannot see, hear, or speak English very well. For all farm events and activities that are open to the public, be prepared to accommodate a wide range of visitor abilities.
Once your farm is open to the public, you should reduce barriers to access to where it is readily achievable, or “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense”
For example, door thresholds should be level, ramps should replace or augment steps, bathrooms should have grab bars, and narrow doors should be widened where possible to 36 inches. You would not be expected to put an elevator in a historic barn to provide access to upper levels. All new construction should be barrier-free; meaning any visitor with physical limitations can still access all visitor areas.
Credit Card and Cash Access Services
Many tourists will expect your farm retail operation to accept major credit cards for admission fees, farm product sales, and activity fees. For these travelers, it is a matter of convenience.
For the farm, it usually leads to much greater sales. Plan on building credit card fees into the prices you charge, or set a minimum for credit card use (such as $10 minimum).
If a credit card terminal is not in your plans, make it easy for customers to use other payment methods, like cash and checks. Figure out where the nearest ATM machines are to the farm and post these locations. If someone writes a check, make sure it is clear to whom the check should be written and post a small sign at the checkout with the farm name and any other instructions. (e.g. Make checks payable to “Willow Valley Farm” and include a phone number).