Friday, March 5, 2010
Agritourism in Australia
Michelle has asked me to provide an overview of agritourism in Australia, our website (www.agritourismaustralia.com.au), and how we got into agritourism in the first place; so here we go!
My interest in agritourism started teaching my tourism students about business planning and looking for new business ideas they could work on. Agritourism appeared a number of times in the forward government tourism planning documents and I had already noted a lot of agritourism in Italy where we have a holiday home. The two factors together started me reading up on agritourism on the net and I became fascinated with what seemed to be a wonderful ‘down-to-earth’ or ‘escape-the-rat-race’ form of tourism. I felt people were starting to move away from traditional forms of tourism and looking for more natural products; agritourism seemed to provide this.
There was some funding available through the International Specialised Skills Institute here in Australia to study some skills and knowledge which were not adequately developed in this country, so I applied and won the ‘Veneto’ fellowship to travel to Italy and study their well-developed agritourism system and see what we could learn from that. The journey certainly opened my eyes to what I believe is a very sustainable form of tourism, from an economic, social, and environmental point of view; a sector of tourism that has developed well due to good Government intervention, planning and funding. I transformed from being interested to being passionate about agritourism.
Some of the features of the Italian system that make it so successful are;
· They have had Government funding for farmers (up to 70% of set up costs) since 1985
· Farmers must do compulsory training before commencing, at least 100 hours, and government provide funding through training organizations to support this
· Each agritourism has a limit to how large it can grow, ensuring that the business is shared around in each region
· Farmers must continue to earn more than 50% of their revenue from farming; this protects the strong agricultural base in Italy and ensures farmers continue working their farms as well as the tourism business
· Farmers who access government funding to modify their farms for the new business must remain in business for at least 10 years; the government is obviously protecting its financial interests
· Farmers accessing funds must not be over 50 years old
· There is signage in every country town identifying all local agritourism establishments
These features have contributed to the growth of the successful agritourism industry in Italy; a country where the idea of agritourism is so ingrained in the culture that people talk about having an ‘agritourism holiday’.
On return to Australia I was obliged to disseminate my findings from the study trip and wrote a 130 page report that has been distributed to a range of interested bodies. In addition to this I felt morally obliged to do something about trying to grow the industry here. Since returning we have started our on-line agritourism directory so people can find all relevant agritourism information in one place. The website, www.agritourismaustralia.com.au is growing slowly but surely, with the state of Victoria and Western Australia already with a great deal of listings; Queensland will be next to be up and running.
Since starting late last year we have already had a couple of thousand hits from 46 different countries around the world. It has been very exciting. We believe this interest has come from using the international terminology ‘agritourism’; previously in Australia only the term farm stay was used in marketing farm accommodation. There are two problems with this, the term used in many other countries is agritourism not farm stay, secondly, agritourism is an inclusive term as it includes produce sold from the farm gate, events on farms, wineries, tours of farms etc., so it is a much broader term. Some of the farmers that have taken out featured listings with us are reporting a lot of international visits that they weren’t getting in the past; the new term is obviously working.
Australia has an abundance of wonderful tourism products on farms; the problem till now has been finding it, we hope that we are able to remedy this and we welcome you to have a look around the site at some of the great products on offer and perhaps consider a trip to Oz to experience our very “Aussie” farm hospitality and a delicious range of fresh produce.