Agritourism can provide a significant option for farming families experiencing a reality check after three wet seasons followed by a dry period of unexpected intensity.
According to the CSIRO, the annual opportunity for agritourism in Australia is expected to reach $5.6 billion by 2030 - including $3.6 billion by international visitors and $1.9 billion spent by domestic travellers. It is expected that cross-industry growth between accommodation, transport and retail sectors will be collectively valued at $18.6 billion by 2030.
The opportunities offered by agritourism were under the microscope on the Liverpool Plains property Springfield, between Spring Ridge and Caroona, with about 80 or so representatives from the tourism sector, local government and members of farming families who are keen to diversify further or already practising agritourism hosts keen to learn more.
Local government organisations sent representatives to the forum, including staff from Maitland, Riverina, Moree, Upper Hunter, Gunnedah, Mudgee, Walgett, Coonamble and the Liverpool Plains Shire Councils.
One of the keynote speakers was Rose Wright, the director and founder of Regionality Australia, who suggested a first step for those considering the agritourism pathway is to check out the Global Megatrends forecast.
She said the once-in-a-decade report from CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, identifies seven global megatrends that hold the key to the challenges and opportunities ahead. They include Adapting to climate change, Leaner, cleaner and greener; The escalating health imperative, Geopolitical shifts; Diving into digital, Increasingly autonomous and Unlocking the human dimension.
Within this forecast are the drivers of conscious consumers and what they seek as recreational opportunities. It can also be a compass for agritourism providers when they begin to plan what they would or could provide as an attraction.
"Consumers are shifting," Ms Wright said. "We need to change with those shifts."
She said many farmers are now leaders in embracing new technology with labour-saving equipment on their paddocks, so they should not be challenged by the ideas identified by the megatrends forecasts.
Under the label of personalised nutrition, Ms Wright said farmers should investigate providing more alternative proteins to a marketplace that hungers for these options.
Ms Wright said an agritourism adventure should offer an immersive experience. "Let them be part of the farming experience; don't just show them."
"It should also be sensory, engage their senses. Make it memorable by creating a desired experience and something influential when they share their experiences and travels via social media and through their friendship groups. Agritourism visitors want a conscious experience - they want to make a difference and give them a take-home factor. Food and drink from your or neighbouring farms are the new souvenirs."
Another of the speakers was Lucy White, the director of Destination Country and Outback NSW.
Ms White said since the State Government simplified planning rules for farmers to offer tourism-related activities on their property, there are plenty of ways for those living on the land to think about what their point of difference could be and what they could offer.
"It could be a garden tour, it could be showcasing produce, it could even be hosting a farm stay," she said.
"We want to roll up our sleeves and help communities in NSW get on the front foot and realise the potential of regions like the Liverpool Plains, Gunnedah and Tamworth. In partnering with The Plains Inc, we wanted to highlight the good work these community-led groups do while helping similar agricultural areas unlock their potential."
Another of the co-hosts of the forum was The Plains Inc, and its chair, Clare Lee, Windy Station, Quirindi, said the Liverpool Plains is an agricultural powerhouse with much to offer visitors from the metropolitan parts of NSW and also for interstate and overseas visitors.
"There is so much to offer in our region. The Plains Inc. believe that by working together to share our story, produce and region with the world, we can create prosperity for our community," Ms Lee said.
"By working with Destination Country and Outback NSW, we want to allow businesses and interested community members to access relevant information about agritourism, engage with key stakeholders and gain the tools to initiate their first steps into the industry."
Carl Solomon, from the Destination Marketing Store, said the idea of sustainability definitely influences people's travel decisions after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the desire to travel continues to strengthen, and sustainability is definitely an influence on people's travel decisions.
"Regenerative tourism is definitely a growing movement," he said. However, stakeholders should be aware that potentially, in the future, carbon reporting standards will be more like today's accounting standards.
"Wellness travellers typically spend more than the average tourist, so consider how you can engage this into your business," he said. "On average, they spend 180 per cent more than the average tourist. And they love the behind-the-scenes stuff.
"They are looking for an experience that says it 'will make me happy and healthy'," he said.
Mr Solomon said younger people were no longer interested as much in wine consumption. "They are moving away from wine and chasing distilled botanical spirits like gin and fruit flavouring," he said.
He added that social media should not be discounted as a mode of promoting your agritourism attraction.
"It's really important when you are optimising your social channels to consider influencers," he said. "They are always looking for content, and how can they get great content? Perhaps, you can work with them by providing them with an exchange of information for influencers to use."
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