Recently, I got in touch with my friend, Michelle Nowak, who writes for The Farm Stay Project. She posed the following question to me – how can organizations that promote agritourism better cooperate with organizations that promote ecotourism considering consumer confusion about both types of tourism and the overlap of environmental goals? I willingly took on the challenge and wanted to share my thoughts with you.
I became interested in ecotourism when I noticed my own young son’s wide-eyed fascination with nature whether we traveled across an ocean or across the state. Nothing delighted him more than going to zoos, going hiking through the wilderness, kayaking through scenic waterways and watching artistic exhibits. Consistently, my husband and I noticed the absolute wonder and amazement he had for the spectacle of music, art, flora or fauna in front of him, which was almost always followed by an onslaught of illuminating questions about people and the natural world.
These were teachable moments for my son that marked his personal growth. In this way, agritourism, which brings visitors to a farm or ranch, and ecotourism are very similar. And, to answer the question at hand, there are some fundamental ways the industries can work together to promote our common sustainable goals, including:
Incorporation of farm stays into ecotourism itineraries
Last month, the University of Costa Rica published a study that discussed agritourism and ecotourism marketing efforts there. Costa Rica is one of the very few countries that have strong agricultural traditions and a thriving ecotourism industry.
The study delineated some interesting examples of how cross-industry promotional efforts have helped farmers as well as ecotour operators. These examples included incorporating ½ day to full day coffee plantation, traditional fishing, dairy and pineapple tours. Ecotour itineraries featured local guides and accommodations as well as meals made with, of course, locally-sourced ingredients. These eco-activities were positively received because visitors could see that they emphasized the key principles of sustainable tourism and directly benefited conservation.
Development of relationships with ecotour operators
With the exception of Alaska, the United States is relatively new to the concept to ecotourism and certified ecotour operators are looking to provide their customers with unique experiences in the United States that will set them apart from the traditional mass-market tourism that has existed in this country. Therefore, it would be worthwhile for farm stay operators to contact ecotour operators to see if the farm can be included as part of an itinerary (i.e. providing accommodation, providing local farm lunch, helping with some light conservation work, conducting a tasting of local farm products, attending a farm food festival).
Targeted promotion to urban areas including international cities
What is additionally interesting about the University of Costa Rica study is that the majority of agritourism visitors in Costa Rica are international visitors. This was because most of the locals did not see a need to pay for a rural experience since they could visit their relatives in the countryside. I think there is a marketing lesson here when promoting agritourism, namely to target urban populations and publications that have a critical mass of environmentally-conscious consumers. An example in the Washington, DC region is Flavor magazine, an independently run publication dedicated to sustainable food, gardening, local farmers, and organic restaurants.
Promotion of the education value of farm activities for school field trips
Many school curriculums are beginning to incorporate the use of a school garden into their science, health, nutrition, and math lessons. What better way to bring these concepts to life than to have a designated farm stay school program that teaches about farm traditions and food production.
Basically, for both ecotourism and agritourism, it comes down to increased awareness and better perception of the industry’s economic, social, and environmental benefits. The industries can collaborate more – and should.