(From "Cash In On Agritourism," by Barbara Berst Adams, page 2 of 4)
Project 2: The Small-group Farm Tour
You might be enticed by the idea of thousands of paying tourists flocking to your farm.
The idea of a year’s worth of Sunday afternoon tours and 7,000 annual visitors at $8 a head does sound good—plus the retail income from on-farm purchases made by all those customers. But unpredictable crowds and exhausting tourist disasters can result from jumping in too deep, too fast.
If you want to give farm tours, consider starting small and building up your crowd-pleasing agritourism savvy and confidence.
Instead of calling in the general public, start by targeting a group of people that are already a group. For example, contact a member of a local garden club to gauge interest in touring your farm. Send the members fliers for an exclusive walking tour at $5 per head paid in advance.
This lets you know ahead of time how many people will show up and that those people should be well-behaved because the members already co-mingle on a regular basis. (Tips for expansion)
Invite School Classes
As another method for testing the farm tour, connect with one teacher at the local elementary school and invite her classroom out for a tour at $3 to $7 per head. In this case, you’ll have a teacher familiar with his students who will help control the behavior of the young tourists.
Even without advertising your tours, these small-group tour opportunities can spread further from word-of-mouth.
Many say how much the tours help farm product sales, not to mention farm reputation. Plus, stories abound about the wonderful time that students have, according to reports from their parents--opening up more possibilities.
Slow Food Events
Another small group to solicit is your local Slow Food community. Go to the Slow Food USA website to see if there’s a Slow Food “convivium” in your area. These members often enjoy farm tours and are happy to pay an entry fee to support the farmers and to buy locally farmed products during their visit.
Open houses are more casual than farm tours but can have the same impact. Host a one-time Saturday open house for a local church or the regional Audubon Society.
Other Tour Possibilities
For more groups, look into your region’s Society of Retired Citizens, veterans associations, or civic and ethnic organizations. Don’t be shy to explain that fee-based farm events help local farms stay financially stable, but if you have enough on-farm retail products to sell, you might choose to not charge for tours and instead use your retail as an agritourism income stream.
One common example of this is the pumpkin patch farm that offers a free “haunted barn” to entice more customers to visit the farm and subsequently buy the farm’s autumn crops. It’s valuable, indeed, when you don’t have to ship products, rather you have customers gladly arrive at your door to pay retail.
If you want to test out-of-area tourists on a small-scale basis, network with another small, local tourist attraction, such as a bed and breakfast or antique shop, offering fee-based Saturday afternoon tours to their customers only.
When only that business's customers get to experience the farm, it adds value to that business's products or services, as well. They can promote your exclusive offer to their customers in a variety of ways.
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