Agritourism – a way forward

By Lice Movono

THE travel industry has completely changed as a result of COVID19 and as world governments reel from the lasting impact to global economies, there is much uncertainty. The one clear message is when borders open towards the end of 2021 by early estimates, tourism will require more innovation, the likes of which could cost more to already struggling economies.

The lessons from agritourism in particular provide pathways for travel as well as agriculture industry stakeholders in Fiji. 

Research conducted by the multi partner regional project, Pacific Agribusiness Research in Development Initiative Phase 2 (PARDI 2) found that farm experiences including farm tours, farm stays and farm to table experiences, are an opportunity for farmers to diversify and grow their revenue base. 

PARDI’s work looks at the reasons certain agribusinesses have succeeded, document their positive impacts on community livelihoods and investigate how best to extend and make their economic benefits more inclusive and sustainable.

Emerging changes include new requirements in hygiene standards and changes in visitor behaviour and demand. Those that are paying attention to and adapting to these shifts will best evolve in the new normal. 

Diversified revenue streams now become critical to business survival, a reality that certain agribusinesses had smartened up to even before the pandemic occurred.

Testing these experiences with the domestic market is a great way to understand more about what visitors find interesting and refine the experience. 

Patricia Bibi, the Lead Researcher of PARDI 2’s latest report – Agritourism Experiences: A Situational Analysis – says investing in the development of agritourism experiences has the potential for a broader positive societal impact beyond increased incomes.

The situational analysis confirmed what recent travellers to Fiji have known and paid for; that farms in Fiji offer a good variety of agritourism experiences based on the types of produce available on these farms.

“Realising potential opportunities in this area will require collective collaboration and talanoa of experienced operators, government ministries and agencies and tourism stakeholders to support and build a sound foundation for these niche experiences,” Ms Bibi said.

Agritourism based on traditional, sustainable and regenerative agriculture can play a role in supporting the resilience of farming households.

“Unique agritourism experiences can be an attraction in their own right and can change the perceptions of tourists to encourage them to expect and seek out local food and to purchase value-added products made from local ingredients.”

“Farm to table experiences allow farmers to engage directly with visitors to showcase local produce, planting and harvesting techniques and can lead to more equitable distribution of tourism revenue.”

Another important feature of the research finding is that many agribusinesses may not always have access to product development support.

So following the release of the situational analysis, PARDI 2 hired Alisi Lutu, a product development specialist to work with agribusinesses, mostly farmers; some already offering tours and others who had realised the potential and started to work towards a different business model.

In late October, PARDI and its local partner implementor, the Pacific Island Farmers Organisation Network (PIFON) brought farmers to the table with tourism industry stakeholders including Tourism Fiji and government, at a National Agritourism Talanoa 2 to discuss current market trends, challenges and opportunities of agritourism experiences in Fiji. 

At the talanoa, around 50 participants, most of them operators of agritourism ventures shared lessons on how to succeed in the market particularly against the backdrop of COVID19.

A large part of the strategic planning which took place was around how to succeed in the market and how best to position businesses to be ready for when global travel resumes.

From existing agritourism businesses, talanoa participants learnt of significant challenges that exist in licensing and compliance requirements; particularly with regards to land ownership requirements.

Participants expressed concerns over insurance, legal and tax requirements. 

The participants created an agritourism association to chart a way forward together to address not only the challenges as a group but also to leverage available research information on travel industry market trends. 

Agritourism Talanoa attendees
Agritourism Talanoa attendees (Photo: Lice Movono)

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