Agritourism is any commercial enterprise that combines agriculture and tourism on a working farm, ranch, or other agribusiness operation. The Commonwealth of Kentucky defines agritourism as “The act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural, or agribusiness operations for the purpose of enjoyment, education or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.” Also referred to as “entertainment farming” or “agritainment,” agritourism is a means of diversifying the farm and adding value (i.e. the farm experience) to products already produced on the farm. This is a hospitality business that requires strong public relations skills. It also necessitates the cooperation of the entire farm family and a willingness to take risks.
The opportunities for agritourism are virtually endless and can take the form of providing accommodations, entertainment opportunities, educational activities, and/or outdoor recreation. A myriad of farm activities, special events, festivals, and demonstrations are possible. Direct agricultural sales opportunities exist in the form of U-pick, roadside stands, farm stores, and food services. In addition to standard fare, on-farm sales can include specialty crops and products, as well as agricultural gift and craft items. Providing visitors with something to see, something to do and something to purchase is a sound strategy. The target market will largely be determined by the type of agritourism planned. For example, a bed and breakfast is more likely to attract out-of-town tourists, while hayrides, pumpkin patches, and petting zoos will tend to draw local families with children, as well as school tours. Marketing strategies should be directed toward the appropriate target audience. Consulting with or surveying potential customers can help to identify the products, services and recreational activities that are most desirable. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) Division of Agritourism has launched a Web site for the purpose of promoting agritourism in the Commonwealth. Agritourism operators can have their business information included in the site’s searchable database. Currently there are roughly 300 agritourism and agritourism-affiliate operators in the Farms Are Fun database.
It is important to examine and weigh all of the pros and cons before entering into any kind of agritourism venture. On the plus side, agritourism can provide supplementary income to the farm business and serve as a means of employing staff beyond the regular growing season. For those who enjoy working with the public, agritourism can be fun and rewarding. It is also an excellent way of promoting crops and value-added products produced on the farm. Agritourism can also strengthen the local economy of the community by drawing more tourists (and their dollars) into the area, as well as providing employment opportunities. However, there can also be challenges to agritourism. Start- up costs, including farm renovations, marketing, and liability insurance, can be high. Operating an agritourism business requires management and marketing skills different from those needed for running the typical farm. A tourism enterprise can require long, labor-intensive hours often focused on weekend and holiday traffic. Even for those with excellent social skills, dealing with the public can be challenging. Finally, agritourism may significantly impact the entire farm family; be sure all members are “on board” before moving forward.