«Oxford Farming Conference Speech – 7th January 2014 Caroline Millar Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Introduction I grew up on our family farm ...»
One of the best agritourism experiences I encountered both in Italy and on my travels was Agritourismo Marciano. Farmers in the UK could learn a lot from Italian farmers about product development in agritourism, marketing and sales. This description from Marciano‘s marketing materials sums up that this is not simply about staying on a farm, it is not just about accommodation, you are buying into a unique experience that only a farmer can deliver.
The farm conducted farm tours, had a farm shop which sold farm as well as local produce, promoted the wildlife, flora and fauna, offered cookery lessons and promoted heavily, the psychological benefits from experiencing life on an agritourismo. Identifying health benefits to staying on a farm, both physical and mental, is something which was strongly promoted.
The Cities in Tuscany promoted small agritourismos in a big way. Brown tourism signs promoting the smallest of businesses were on every roundabout, signage in general to the
Size does not matter in Italy. The best micro businesses, some of the best agritourism businesses were heavily promoted by tourism authorities as they realised the draw to international tourists of the sector overall.
Unlike Italy, anyone can open a tourism business in the UK. You could go home tonight, give your spare bedroom a hoover, put a sign outside your door and say you are a farmhouse bed and breakfast. No requirement to deliver any standard of accommodation, any welcome or service or indeed any quality of breakfast. Feed guests value cornflakes and a cheap sausage made somewhere in the rest of the world and send them on their way.
I believe that we should have a minimum quality standard to be allowed to run a tourism business. Poor service, poor facilities and poor marketing by some tourism operators spoils the experience for visitors and makes a return visit to a similar type of business or even the country as a whole unlikely. Following my Nuffield experiences in Italy I will continue to lobby in Scotland to implement compulsory quality assurance, for which there is a growing demand by the business community.
Case Study – Tasmania - Sam and Jane Parsons, Hamilton
My final case study is Sam Parsons and his wife Jane from Hamilton in Tasmania. They farmed tourists in the same way they farmed crops and livestock. Sheep profits were split into three elements, wool production, lamb production and the return from sheep on being part of a farm tour every day which saw the same 200 rounded up by the dogs, brought in and then one was picked for a sheering demo. There was no such thing as diversification into tourism and leisure, it was part of the core business but helped to contribute double the profits in the business. This Ozzie farmer could turn on the charm when a coach appeared full of the tourists from Asia he could welcome and converse with in their language (he spoke several Asian languages). Sam and Jane made me appreciate an interaction with a real live farmer is a saleable experience, in high demand from consumers and something to make real money from. They also believed that education was a two way street. Why should farmers go on about educating the public about where their food comes? Why should the public care. Sam thought if you listened to your consumers and their needs, by just showing an interest in their lives you would create demand for farm produce. 50% of their tour was looking at the poo of nocturnal Australians animals in a 4 acre bit of scrub forest – the tourists were fascinated. We didn’t see an animal the whole tour apart from sheep. The Australians I met were all, like Sam and Jane, market focused.
Sam got on a plane every couple of months and went to Asia to market his business. How many of us market our business, let alone get on a 7 hour plane journey to go looking for customers.
I believe that we have a large number of farms who have diversified into tourism and leisure. I don’t believe that we are anywhere near the stage of having a developed, high quality, agritourism “consumer product” in the UK.
I fundamentally believe that UK agriculture and UK tourism is not good enough. We can do a lot better. The easy bit about being a Nuffield Scholar is being away, taking in new knowledge and being inspired by great people. The harder bit is creating positive change when you come home. I would really love to achieve that.
During the past two years I have engaged with a large number of people on the topic of agritourism including speaking at the Scottish Parliament on the subject.
I do worry that our culture in farming is holding us back, both individually and as a sector.
Common feedback I have received is –
1. It won’t work in the UK, farmers here can’t communicate.
2. “It’s aweways been.” – on the subject of farmers wishing to only look at their farms as producing core produce and not willing to think outside the box and add value to their asset to make the core business sustainable.
3. We don’t have sun, infinity pools, wine or hot looking farmers so agritourism won’t work in this country.
Thankfully the positive feedback has outweighed the negative people, but I do think in general as an industry we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and take a look at how the rest of the population i.e. our customers view us.
We have to get out of the mindset of thinking we are not real farmers if we use our assets for something added value relating to growing crops and producing livestock. We can indeed enhance and protect our existing business by doing more with what we have. We can make a huge impact on our sector and its relationship with consumers through more interaction with these consumers.
We do have a heritage in farmhouse hospitality. We all have farmhouse tables where if someone arrives at the door another chair is pulled round and the meal is spun out. We are already cooking with our own or locally farmed produce. We grow the barley which makes the best whisky in the world and many of us like to drink it so we are well aware of the story of our food and drink.
So what happens now?
These are some of the things taking place in Scotland to progress the agritourism sector.
Farming tourists Page 8 of 9 For those with the correct attributes and skills, I believe “farming tourists” will become mainstream in the next five years as this industry uses agritourism to interact with consumers, to drive demand for UK food and drink and to deliver a product demanded by the public - an opportunity to experience a real live farm and its farmer. We will come to have confidence in our offering so that we can charge consumers the opportunity to experience farm life and make money from just being effective communicators and telling our story in an engaging way. If we put forward a value proposition and a great experience people will pay. So if you are listening to this and as they say in Scotland, you have good banter, I hope you will go home and consider how you might put this skill to good use.