Harvesting hospitality

It is time for agritourism in South Africa to be taken seriously, writes Jacqui Taylor

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Tourism generates more revenue and provides more employment for the rural economy than farming in the United Kingdom and in several other European countries, notably, Italy. Why? Because farming has had to reinvent itself to become relevant in an economy where trade has intensified and climate change is a reality.

The Norwegian Department of Agriculture is also highly supportive of agritourism as it has helped change the negative perceptions of farmers as users of scarce resources, for example, forestry. So, what is agritourism? An agritourism farm must be a working farm.

Farmers need to aggressively approach the changing environment around them and as farmers are not subsidised in South Africa, diversification, maximising income, adding value and marketing a brand all play an important role in agriculture. Farmers cannot afford to be passive in the current economic environment. They need to think like entrepreneurs in order to succeed: as Denene Erasmus has written, “Tourism can become one of the most profitable ventures on any farm.”

So where does a farmer start? Look at your farm through the eyes of a visitor. A visitor would like to experience farm life and meet the “elusive” farmer. Visitors are inquisitive and will expect an experience that is different to an experience they can have elsewhere. Bear in mind that there are many different types of visitors to farms–not all visitors want accommodation or sophisticated catering. An uncomplicated, simple, relaxing experience is what most visitors expect.

So, what influences the success of an agritourism venture? Being within a three-hour drive from a city (i.e. location) certainly; working with other farmers in the same vicinity so that a diversified tourism route is offered to entice visitors; and offering a unique experience, whether story-telling by a farm worker or offering “kaiings, kolwyntjies or slaphakskeentjies” (food that we as South Africans eat) and having friendly, welcoming staff, are just a few pointers. If the farmer does not want to be involved in the agritourism experience, then outsource it to a family member or entrepreneur nearby.

It is important for farmers to consider speaking to those who have experience in agritourism to gain advice. There are legal implications, for example, liability and business decisions, for example, does the farmer want the business to register as a private company for tax purposes? Different municipalities have different by-laws with regards to land-use rezoning, so ensure that you know whether you need to rezone or not. Signage is vitally important. Visitors easily get lost on farm roads. Provide some advance warning if the conditions of the roads are bad. Also important is for farmers to address visitors safety concerns–tell the visitor what safety precautions you have taken to ensure their well-being.

There are many examples of successful agritourism farms in South Africa:

The Gamtoos Tourism Route promotes the Gamtoos Valley Farms from Baviaanskloof, through the Patensie, Hankey, Loerie and Thornhill farming areas. The Gamtoos Valley has become a very popular tourist destination with many B&B’s, self-catering and camping establishments.

Honeywood Farm has been in the Moodie family since 1817 and borders the wild and wonderful Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve up against the Langeberg Mountains.

It is a nature lover’s paradise and offers hiking, mountain biking, birding, horse riding, and swimming in rivers and pools - all in a peaceful and secure environment. John Moodie offers Beekeeping courses. He was chairman of the South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) for many years and is still an active member of SABIO and the Southern Cape Bee Industry Organisation.

Millsleigh Irish Sport Horse and Pony Stud in Ladybrand breeds quality Irish Sport Horses and Connemara Ponies. Mares and Stallions (South African bred and imported) of Thoroughbred, Irish Sport Horse and Connemara breeds have bred with South African Irish Sport Horse, Irish Draught and Connemara breeding lines. To visit is a treat for a horse lover.

Tzaneen Country Lodge is in the heart of the north eastern Lowveld of the Limpopo Province. Exclusive and private, the lodge is nestled on 150 hectares of farmland and indigenous forest.

Imla Luxury Guest Farm is on the Waterfall Farm in Clocolan of more than 4000 ha. The third generation of Groenewalds farm this land. Maize, soya and sunflower are produced, with livestock comprising Bonsmara cattle and Merino sheep. A grand sandstone house, dating from the late 1800s, has been beautifully restored and expanded to a modern guest house. Various accommodation options are available for single guests, couples, families and groups. Dinner, bed and breakfast or self-catering, the latter available in one unit.

The activities on the farm include accommodation, birding, farm experience, fishing, flowers, hiking, mountain biking, swimming, game meat and the sale of other farm products.

The concept behind Agritourism South Africa is the creation of an information hub highlighting tourism farm experiences across the country, thereby allowing tourists (local and foreign) to incorporate visits to farms as part of their travel plans.

Agritourism South Africa provides advice to its members, marketing (social media, exhibitions, conferences) as well as representing the agritourism category at stakeholder meetings, whether with government, tourism or agricultural bodies. ASA also has a videographer who takes free video footage to enable us to market the farm visually as well. The Agritourism South Africa team has years of experience in tourism, agriculture and marketing.

Jacqui Taylor, Managing Director, Agritourism SA

jacqui@agritourismsouthafrica.com

www.agritourismsouthafrica.com

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