I am asked many times why certain Agritourism farmers are more successful than others. There are a number of reasons, but when the farmer views Agritourism as part of his/her farming business, then success is inevitable.
Agritourism on a working farm cannot be separated from the farmer himself. He or she is part of the Marketing Brand. Two farmers that immediately come to mind, are Skeiding Guest Farm owned by Neels and Anne-Lize; and Morne Jonker who farms together with his family up the Langkloof.
Skeiding Farm is near Heidelberg in the Western Cape. Guests are involved as far as possible in the workings of the 1200-hectare farm, which include the following farming activities: Ostriches, Merino sheep, Nguni cattle, Canola, Wheat, Barley and Peas. In other words, a variety of activities. Guests get up early to join Neels in his daily farming activities, then come back to have a farm breakfast cooked by Anne-Lize. Neels grew up in that area, so he is a walking encyclopaedia of local information. Most of his visitors are from Europe, who want to learn about Ostriches.
LKP, is a Company that owns several farms in the Upper Langkloof area (near Herold over the Outeniqua Mountains from George). There are 7 different guest houses on 3 farms that neighbour one another. All are working farms, with ostriches, sheep etc. Morne is integrally involved in LKP.
Not only is Morne a farmer, but he is also a highly successful marketer and entrepreneur. He worked for many years in the Saag Jonker (his father) Family Ostrich business in Oudtshoorn. Morne and Jonita are superb hosts. They understand very well that people relate to people, as well as the value of storytelling/history of the farm itself.
On Louvain there are hiking trails, (including a trail for women only), mountain biking trials, 4 x 4 trails and off -road motorbike trails. There is also the most magnificent Bishop Grey Church build in 1853 which is a wedding venue. In total they have over 80 beds. LKP focus on the Adventure tourist, but also those city weary people who seek peace and solitude. Morne also offers microlight flights over the area, which is a wonderful way to gain a perspective of the area and of the farms. Most of their market is domestic.
Both Neels and LKP’s farms are well signposted and have location pins. This is very important as guests frequently cannot find the farms.
Ensuring that those responsible for taking bookings are always available via cell phone is just as important. Visitors frequently make plans at the last minute and cannot wait for days for a response from the farmer. A website is not a necessity, they are expensive and need to be updated regularly. Social Media, You Tube and Blogs are a very successful way to attract tourists/visitors, as they are inexpensive and an easy way to keep their visitors updated. Ensure that the visitor gives feedback, for example, what did they enjoy and what could be improved on.
The successful Agritourism Farmer is a person who focuses on networking, innovation, marketing, diversification and adding value to his existing farm produce. Farmers must tell their visitors about the security measures they have put in place, so people feel safe. Communication is key to any successful Agritourism Farming operation.
To begin an Agritourism project, farmers should assess their assets on the farm. Start with what the farm currently has – Climate, Land usage, Improvements, Attractions, Activities, Owner/Manager strengths, goals and resources. Farmers must decide who they want as their target market and FOCUS on developing that market.
Another question, I frequently am asked by farmers starting their Agritourism Business relates to funding. I recommend that farmers look at the Land Bank website and see what type of funding options they offer. Visitors to farms are not expecting a fancy hotel. Visitors are seeking new experiences that are real, not man-made theme parks.
In closing, Agritourism is a serious business, not a side-line operation, if it is to be successful. Time, effort and an understanding of the market will ensure success.
Written by Jacqui Taylor.