Agri-tourism without the aggro

11 June 2010

Jenny Cave

Open the farm gates: Waikato University's Dr Jenny Cave.

Opening the farm up to tourists might sound like an easy way to make some extra money but farmers should do their homework before letting camera wielding strangers onto their properties, even if they are paying.

Dr Jenny Cave from the Tourism and Hospitality Department at Waikato University Management School will be talking about tourism on the farm at the university’s seminar series at Fieldays.

She says for some farmers, opening the farm gate takes a huge change in thinking, when they’ve been used to protecting their property and animals from strangers.

She says rural tourism may have once been seen as a quick way to make some extra cash during hard times, but these days it’s also about diversifying or a semi-retirement option for Mum and Dad farmers who want to take life a little easier but remain on the farm.

“The first thing you have to think about is what you’ve got on the property that people are interested in and would pay to see or do? You also have to consider how much time you want to spend working on your tourism venture. It’s a good idea to look around other rural tourism offerings, even overseas to get ideas about what’s possible.”

Dr Cave says some people will be good at hosting the home-based, garden and accommodation type activities while others can offer more adventurous options, like 4 x 4 riding, horse treks, tramps through bush, or even the complete farm experience of shearing, dipping, mustering, milking and smoko.

“In Europe, ‘staycations’ are becoming popular. Instead of going away for a holiday, families take shorter breaks at home and do tourist activities in the region. I can see Waikato benefiting from ‘staycationers’.

Waikato is often regarded as a province you drive through to get to somewhere else, but perhaps the city dwellers would come here for real-farm experiences. There’s a huge population not far away.”

But Dr Cave warns that while tourism ventures are often cheap to set up, operators tend to be overly optimistic about the money they’ll make.

“It may take a low capital investment, for example to set up a barn to run a 4 x 4 operation, but you have to have frequent and regular customers to operate. I’d advise doing focus groups and talking to visitor information centres and regional tourism organisations before embarking on a new business. And I’d also make sure I talked with my accountant and lawyers. There’s plenty of potential, but you want to make sure you do it right.”

Dr Cave will be speaking at Fieldays on Thursday 17 June at 1.30pm.

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