Profile updated October 2015 By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is a $759 billion industry in the United States that has directly generated more than 7.4 million jobs. The U.S. travel industry ranks as the fifth largest employer and among the top 10 industries in 49 states, including the District of Columbia, when measured by employment. Travel and tourism generates $118 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments, with the restaurant industry accounting for the majority of this economic activity.
An increasingly popular and growing opportunity for agricultural producers is Agritourism. This is generally defined as activities that include visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation to enjoy the rural setting, be educated, or be involved in a special activity.
The U.S. Census of Agriculture clearly shows an increasing trend in agri-tourism and related recreational services. Between the 2007 and 2012 censuses, 10,249 farms grossing $546-million in income increased to 13,334 farms grossing $674-million. Farms with gross farm receipts of $25,000 or more, increased from 3,637 farms to 4,518. This strongly suggests that the rural United States is a popular tourist destination.
If you decide to develop an operation, it is critical that you undertake something that you understand and are passionate about, and that the scale of the undertaking fits your lifestyle. Once that is done, it is extremely important to develop a marketing plan that looks at the available demographic you hope to attract and ways to use targeted communications to reach them. Much of your marketing will be word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. In this age of social media and instant messaging, “quality-of-product” “quality-of-service” are critical considerations with respect to promoting your business and generating new and repeat customers. New customers grow your business; satisfied repeat customers sustain and market your business to another wave of new customers.
Agritourism includes many areas outdoor recreation, retreat, education, accommodation or entertainment. A few examples of agritourism are:
- Retreat and rendezvous centers;
- Nature centers;
- Farm tours for families and school children;
- Farm-based lodging and cross-country ski or snowshoe trails;
- Children’s educational day camps;
- Maple-syrup harvest and production;
- Country overnight ”bed and breakfasts;
- Bird or big-game hunting preserves;
- Bird- and wildlife-watching blinds with feeders and food plots;
- Corn mazes and haunted forests;
- Boat-building, quilting, painting and sculpture (welding, pottery, print-making, painting), fly-fishing or similar craft- or skill-oriented clinics;
- Hands-on U-pick “self-harvesting” “work-on-the-farm,” as in a “pick-‘n’-pick” music and harvest vineyard weekend;
- Horse-back, hay, sleigh, vintage tractor, snow-machine or sled-dog rides.
Some people have become involved in agritourism as a way of supplementing their income, while others desire an opportunity to educate the public and introduce people to farming. On-farm sales of products such as maple syrup and maple products, Christmas trees, fruits, vegetables, cut flowers, nursery products, cheese and an assortment of other items are common sources of additional income generation.
When starting a business there are several issues to consider when starting an agritourism business. University specialists suggest that you closely examine the following three factors:
- Define the "attraction” that will draw initial, then repeat, customers;
- Research your competitors and cooperators (how do you fit into the existing agritourism landscape), identify a support and advisory team of state and industry professionals;
- Develop a simple feasibility study, then a business and marketing plan;
- Have your feasibility study, business and marketing plans reviewed by a knowledgeable third party (industry, trade organization or extension professional);
- Review other issues such as insurance, labor and biosecurity (especially if food is involved).
- Develop a risk-management plan (first-aid availability, emergency contacts and procedures).
Additional tourism or marketing opportunities may interfere with normal farm activities. Having visitors on your property means dealing with the public, which increases the farm’s risk and liability; also, the enterprise may require more employees (additional employee or sub-contractor labor costs). Local, state and federal regulations will need to be addressed on such topics as zoning, signage, employee tax withholding, food-related inspections, licenses or fees, and the risk management planning associated with animal exhibits and animal-human health concerns.
Close proximity to a significant population center is another important factor. Additionally, many producers who are involved in agritourism note there is synergism in having non-competing agritourism enterprises in the area to increase traffic to the area and provide more tourism attractions for customers.
With respect to agritoursim across the United States, several states are profound examples of the value of the industry. The Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service pegged the value of agritourism-related activities at $38.8 million in 2006, up 14 percent from $33.9 million in 2003. There were 112 Hawaiian farms that had agritourism-related income in 2006. On-farm sales direct to farm visitors was the leading category of revenue, with $12.1 million, followed by retail sales of products from other farms or souvenir items. Other revenue-generating activities for Hawaiian farms included outdoor recreation, accommodations such as bed and breakfast and meeting rooms, entertainment and education.
In Montana 10.5 million nonresidents visit the state in 2010, spending $2.48 billion. Yellowstone and Glacier Parks are the most visited sites, overall. A survey indicated fishing, wildlife watching, hiking and shopping as primary Montana tourist activities.
According to one state survey, one-third of all Vermont farms received income from agritourism in 2002. Average income received from agritourism for 2,200 farms was nearly $8,900. The survey found that farms with fewer acres tended to be more involved in agritourism than larger farms. Thirty eight percent of farms with less than 50 acres received income from agritourism compared to 29 percent of farms with 150 or more acres.
Related Tourism Markets
Several types of related tourism activities are available in addition to agritourism. They include the following.
A segment of rural tourism is referred to as nature-based tourism, ecotourism or sometimes recreation-based tourism. Nature-based tourism attracts people interested in visiting natural areas of the United States for the purpose of enjoying the scenery, including plant and animal wildlife. Examples of nature-based tourism include hunting, fishing, photography, bird watching and visiting parks.
Weddings are an $48 billion a year business. About 2.2 million couples get married each year. Weddings cost from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, with the average U.S. wedding costing between $21,000 to $24,000. An outdoor wedding is appealing to couples because it offers a beautiful setting with lawn, trees and flowers, and may be more affordable than traditional ceremony sites.
Hosting weddings on a farm can entail considerable work, as well as ensuring all details associated with weddings and large groups of people in general are considered. Some of these important factors include liability insurance, restroom facilities, staffing, marketing, parking, chairs and tables, an alternative indoor facility such as a barn or pavilion in case of inclement weather, a kitchen for catering and other activities for kids.
Family-owned wineries are popular tourist attractions in certain regions of the United States. These wine-producing vineyards host visitors for educational tours and wine tasting.
California accounts for two-thirds of all wine sold in the United States. Wine is the number one finished agricultural product in retail value in California. The state produces 90 percent of all U.S. wine production. In 2010, California’s wine industry generated $18.5 billion in retail sales in the United States. Tourism directly related to California’s wine industry accounts for nearly 21 million visitors and expenditures of $2.1 billion annually. California has 3,400 bonded wineries, with Napa and Sonoma counties accounting for the most wineries. There are more than 6,670 wineries in the United States. Some locations offer overnight stays. For more detailed information on wineries, see the Wine Tours page.
The California Wine Industry/Wine Institute
First Statewide Agritourism Survey Yields Early Results, Small Farm News, Small Farm Center, University of California, 2009 - California farmers and ranchers hosted more than 2.4 million agricultural tourists in 2008, based on results from California’s first statewide economic survey of agritourism operators.
Hawaii Agricultural Statistics, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA - Select "Miscellaneous" under Hawaii Publications.
Multi-Enterprising Farm Households: The Importance of Their Alternative Business Ventures in the Rural Economy, Economic Research Service, USDA, October 2012 - In 2007, 686,600 farm households engaged in 791,000 income-generating activities distinct from commodity production, creating $26.7 billion in household income.
National Association of American Wineries
New England Agricultural Statistics, NASS, USDA.
Nature-Based Tourism Enterprises, Potts, Thomas and Thomas Rourke, Guidelines for Success, Clemson University, 2000.
Statistics for the Wedding Industry, Association for Wedding Professionals.
Survey of California Agritourism Operators, Small Farm Program, University of California Cooperative Extension, 2009 - This presentation was given at the National Extension Tourism Conference in June 2009.
Travel Statistics, U.S. Travel Association.
U.S. Census of Agriculture, USDA (2007, 2012). Table 7. Income From Farm-Related Sources.
Wedding Industry is $48 Billion in 2015, IBIS World, 2011.
Wolfe, Kent, and Rob Holland, Considerations for an Agritainment Enterprise in Georgia, University of Georgia Extension, 2002.
Links checked October 2015.