Farm and Food-based Travel Create Opportunities for Ohio
$8 million Spent Directly at Farms for Recreation
Years ago, when you thought about agritourism, images of hay mazes and U-picks were likely top of mind. And although these activities are still offered – and loved by visitors of all ages – there’s a real opportunity for Ohio’s agriculture and travel industries to work together to market and create new, authentic experiences that appeal to foodies, experience-seekers, and niche markets.
Spending at Ohio farms for agritourism and recreation has increased approximately 64% since 2007, with $8 million generated in 2012 (according to the most recent USDA census data). The number of farms engaged in providing agritourism activities has also increased, up 55% to 649 Ohio farms.
Recognizing the growing demand for local foods, slow foods, culinary tourism and outdoor recreation, the Ohio Travel Association sponsored a series of workshops last week focused on agritourism. Farmers, attractions, convention and visitors bureaus, breweries, wineries, park districts and others gathered to learn more about the demand for and design of these experiences, including hearing from those who are currently hosting guests on their properties.
Christie Welch, Rob Leeds and Eric Barrett from OSU Extension provided a morning overview. They talked about how agritourism can contribute new product for the travel industry, turn day trips into overnight stays, increase visitor flows into rural and under-utilized areas and lengthen the season for operators in rural regions, not to mention boost the economy.
Although looking at visitor research is important, they reminded attendees that by the time these numbers reach us, they are typically already behind emerging trends. We must understand the importance of trends and not just the numbers. They advised watching fashion and home décor trends for clues as to what may be coming down the pike next.
The best markets for agritourism activities – but certainly not the only based on the experience being delivered – were identified as multigenerational, family and millennials. But the products to be delivered for these various groups may differ greatly, which is perfectly okay. The experiences created and delivered should reflect the personality, culture and brand of the farming operation. Some experiences may be more family friendly, while others may choose to create sophisticated packaging, events or on-site activities that could appeal to Boomers and Millennials.
In addition to the food products and activities, the beauty and charm of a farm is a draw itself. Welch said they have seen increased use of farms for weddings, events, engagement photo shoots, baby reveals, cooking classes, and photography conferences. Other increasing trends are farm tours, concerts, harvest festivals, farm markets, u-pick enterprises, fishing, hunting and birding. Emerging trends include educational workshops (such as simple living and cooking), farm stays, dinners on the farm and wellness activities (such as yoga and nutrition classes).
Panel discussions allowed attendees to hear first-hand about how to develop, sustain and market farm tours, u-picks and other agritourism experiences. Joining the discussions were Shelly Detwiler from Mitchell’s Berries, Tina Knotts from the Union County Convention and Visitors Bureau, George Lawrence from Lawrence Orchards, Angela Rayner from Young’s Jersey Dairy and Duke Wheeler from Wheeler Farms.
Opportunities for Ohio that were discussed by attendees toward the end of the events included the following:
- Develop programs to help communities and producers create exceptional and compelling agritourism activities
- Connect with local foods and foodie movement
- Encourage collaboration and partnerships, including more marketing education and collaboration between the travel industry and producers
- Increase networking events with travel industry and producers
- Educate decision makers and the business community about the value of farmlands
- Jointly advocate for agriculture and travel, as they represent two of the largest industries in Ohio