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Combining tourism and the unique character of the farm, can generate an income that is not only profitable, but can provide an income during adverse times (e.g. drought, low market prices).
Farms have a unique opportunity to provide services to tourists, for two reasons:
Farms are most often located in country areas where facilities for tourists are more limited than they are in city areas.
Farms can offer tourists opportunities to experience things which are different to their normal way of life.
A farm that carries on a range of tasks (animal husbandry, crop production) can have the advantage of enticing a larger number of tourists. Those farms that delve into more 'exotic' lines such as alpacas, herbs, or aquaculture will have further attractions to people who wish to experience a 'real farm'.
Most evidence indicates that the majority of tourists are looking for quality and difference in their experiences rather than the same type of facilities and attractions repeated over and over, each place similar to the last. The most successful tourist facility is generally the quality facility offering something different, something special, or something better than other places.
SERVICES YOU COULD or SHOULD OFFER
There are perhaps two main types of visitors: long stay and short stay visitors; and the types of services required will depend upon what type is most likely to be visiting your farm.
All farm tourism enterprises will require car parking and toilet facilities.
People who stay for any period of time (ie. more than 1 hour) will appreciate:
-a place to rest (eg. some seating, shelter from the weather, a fire or air conditioning, a shady tree, etc)
-something to drink (eg. complementary water, a drink vending machine, a cafe, etc)
-something to eat .
People who stay overnight will require shelter and somewhere to sleep.
You will also need to check out what is legally required....
Some services are subject to legal restrictions. These might include:
* Liquor licensing
* Car Parking
* Town Planning regulations - are farm tourism activities, or tourist accommodation allowed on your property. Do you need to apply for permits, or perhaps for rezoning to occur?
* Signage (sometimes you need permits to put up signs...sometimes certain things are required in terms of sign size, location, information portrayed, etc)
* Health regulations - toilet provisions, food handling, disposal of wastes, etc.
* Noise restrictions
* Hours of operation
What insurance policies will you need? Talk to an insurance broker, or a specialist small business advice bureau (most state governments operate such bodies).
WHAT YOU COULD OFFER
A farm could consider offering services to tourists in one, or several, of the following areas.
Selling food and drink to farm visitor can generate extra income. The simplest service might be vending machines which dispense soft drinks or snack foods. The most complex would be a restaurant which serves a variety of different meals. The type of food service offered should complement other enterprises which are developed (eg. A farm which offers wine tastings or an open garden, might provide light lunches or devonshire teas on a terrace or in a small room. A farm which provides overnight accommodation will need to provide full meals, or at least cooking facilities.
A farm restaurant can involve a great deal more work, and a significant investment in time and money; but it can also be a stand alone business which has the potential to be as profitable as the rest of the farm, and not affected as much by drought or flood.
Food produced from crops or animals grown on the farm, and/or other locally produced food could be a real attraction. This could include dairy products from goats, sheep, or cattle; local wines; locally grown meats, including more exotic meats such as ostrich, emu, kangaroo, rabbit, venison, or goat; herbs, fruit and vegetables; bush tucker; local grains, processed to make breads, cakes, damper, etc.
This can be as diverse as hotel style facilities, Bed & Breakfast accommodation; self catering cabins, camping facilities, or a combination of various types. Different types of facilities will cater for different types and numbers of people; and will require different levels of investment.
While some farms operate independently, others become affiliated with organisations which assist with the management and marketing of farm accommodation.
Some farms focus on catering for their guests from late afternoon to early morning, leaving them to fill their day with activities away from the farm. Others offer a total holiday package, which includes various activities during the day.
In countries like Australia, the UK and America there are thousands of 1300 holiday farms. Some of these specialise in a particular type of clientele (eg. Health Farm, Coach tours for International clientele, etc).
The main reason people choose to stay on a farm rather than other accommodation is because of the "uniqueness" of the experience. The physical surroundings AND the people who interact with clientele need to be appropriate to the farm experience. People like to experience a contrast to their normal "urban" lifestyle, including the smells & sights of a farm; the spaciousness, the friendly people, etc.
Wineries have developed tastings as a fine art; offering farm visitors the opportunity to sample their product, and then purchase. This can be an excellent marketing tool. Many people feel an obligation to buy a bottle of wine after having received a free sample.
The same principle can be applied with other types of farm produce. Cheese, Fruit, Preserves and other types of farm produce can also be offered as tastings to entice visitors to first stop, and later buy, from a farm.
Farm Produce &/or Gift Shop
Products grown or processed on the farm are generally fresher, and often unique when compared with the supermarket option. This is a strong selling point, and provided an ample and appropriate range of product at realistic prices is offered, a farm shop can be very profitable. Produce can include fruit, vegetables, herbs, crafts, cheese, wines, preserves, confectionary, nuts, fabric, yarn, clothing, etc.
A gift shop is something different to a produce shop (you can have both though). A gift shop aims to sell tourists souvenirs, or gifts to take home. This can be a lucrative market The culture of some travellers (eg. Americans, Japanese) is to spend a lot on gifts and souvenirs. If you have the appropriate type of person visiting your locality, and if you can attract them to your farm, then a gift shop could generate significant income...if not, it could be a costly drain on resources.
Be careful about buying in goods to sell. Larger retailers can generally operate on much smaller profit margins than a farm shop. If it is your own produce, you can get a profit from savings obtained by not having to market it by other means. If you buy produce in, you need to add on a margin for profit. Another option is to accept goods on consignment (eg. from local artists), paying the supplier only after the item sells.
The world is full of garden lovers, and many farms in places like New Zealand, America and Britain, have capitalised on this fact by developing unique gardens and charging an entry fee to visitors who like to look them over. The garden needs to be special in some way if this is to work though. This might be achieved by filling the garden with artistic features (eg. statuary); by creating a garden designed to a theme (eg. A rainforest garden, a herb garden, a cacti garden); by developing a specialised plant collection (eg. displaying dozens of different types of lavender), or by incorporating some other off beat unique feature (eg. A maze, topiary or a tree top walkway).
Horse riding can be a viable additional venture alone; or may be a complementary service.
Other animals (e.g. camels) could also be used, or perhaps cart or buggy rides drawn by horse, or even bullocks.
Various horticultural crops lend themselves to this type of operation. Allowing customers to pick their own can significantly reduce your picking costs, allow customers to pick what they feel is the best quality fruit, and at the same time they have fun (and usually a good feed).
An area of berries, tree fruits, vines etc. can be allocated for visitors to pick from. To ensure the quality and quantity of produce available to clients, the "pick your own" areas of a farm could be divided into sections, and the use of these sections could be rotated.
Example...Strawberries are picked from one paddock for a few days, and then clients are directed to a different paddock for a few days (allowing new fruit to ripen in the first paddock).
It is common for produce to be weighed after picking, and a charge made according to that weight, or a certain sized container is filled. An amount of money can be factored into the price charged to cover the amount of produce eaten during picking. One problem with this type of activity is that, depending on how many customers you get, not all of the harvestable produce is picked. This may require you to do follow up picking to minimise wastage, or alternatively a certain amount of wastage can also be factored into the price you charge.
Fishing & Hunting
A fee might be charged for individuals or groups to hunt or fish on your property.
This type of operation is particularly appropriate to aquaculture; because it offers families an opportunity of taking children fishing with a very high probability of catching a fish. Natural or man made water bodies might be stocked with fish in order to ensure "good fishing". The fish caught are then weighed and paid for as the customer leaves the property, or a set price is paid per fish caught. Fees can also be charged for the hire of fishing equipment.
Large farms with suitable areas of bush and feral and/or game species might support hunting activities. These might be limited to certain types of hunting (e.g. bow only, or certain types of firearm). Careful management would be needed to ensure that hunters only go where they are supposed to, and only shoot what they are supposed to.
Charging Entry Fees
If you have, or develop, worthwhile attractions, it may be appropriate to charge an entry fee to anyone visiting your farm. If you are going to charge an entry fee to come onto the farm, the potential clientele need to have a reason to pay it. People will pay an entry fee to see such things as a show (series of demonstrations), be taken on a guided tour, have unrestricted use of certain facilities (eg. water sports, bbq's, bush walking, fishing rights, etc); or to see displays (eg. a museum, labelled displays of animals or plants).
Many people like to see how farmers do things, so conducting demonstrations of any farm skills can attract a fee (eg. Branding, sheep dog trials, horse riding, shearing, whip cracking, etc.).
ECOTOURISM is the combination of two words ECOLOGY and TOURISM. Ecotourism activities are generally considered to be those that are based around some aspect of nature, and that have mininimal impact on the natural systems in which the activities are taking place. Examples of ecotourism activities might be white water rafting, wildflower walks, bird watching, nature photography, and low impact bush walking.
You might, for example, conserve part of a farm in its natural state for tourists to visit & experience, and carry out such activities, or you might provide a base for people involved in activities in nearby areas where accommodation might not be available (e.g. national parks, state forests, coastal regions).
Anyone interested in being involved in an ecotourism type enterprise would find it worthwhile contacting an Ecotourism Association for information. These have often developed a Code of Practice to provide guideline for those people who operate within the industry. Essentially it is designed to take heed of existing government regulations, but also addresses sensible work practises in order to maintain the integrity of the industry.
PROMOTING A FARM TOURISM OPERATION
It is one thing to offer a service; it is another thing for tourists to know about what you offer; and to feel encouraged to come and visit you.
Most regional tourism agencies/bodies generally have an extensive range of brochures available relating to farm tourism. It is worth getting hold of some of these to look at the types of facilities and activities being carried out, the prices charged for these, and how the brochures are put together to promote such information. Such tourism bodies are also a very valuable means of marketing your own farm tourism activities, and are well worth contacting for this purpose.
The first essential for any farm tour operation is a good brochure. This brochure should be distributed to all places where tourists are likely to look for information on your local area; including:
-The local tourist office
-Capital and regional city tourist offices
-Accommodation facilities (eg. Motels, hotels, caravan parks).
-Complementary tourist attractions - you could display brochures from other local facilities, and they could display brochures of yours.
-Possibly restaurants, some types of retailers, etc.
It is important to keep brochures up to date & keep supplies of brochures in all places where you arrange their distribution.
Brochures need to include clear directions of how to get to your property (preferably also a map).
Other Ways Of Promoting:
-Signs (local government may signpost the route...or you might arrange for signs on nearby properties, or at road intersections).
-Internet Web Site ...This is not to be underestimated. It is a cheap way of reaching literally tens of thousands of potential customers. An increasing amount of tourism business is being done over the internet. A large proportion of people who can afford to travel are also people who use the internet.
-Paid Advertising ...Be careful; this can be a good way to get the word out; but advertising can be very expensive & risky...you can easily spend more than you get back. Start with only a couple of small, inexpensive ads, and DO NOT spend more until you have assessed their worth.
-Press Releases ...A clever campaign of press releases can result in lots of free promotion (eg. articles in newspapers or magazines or mentions on radio).
Want to Learn More?
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