Curating Agritourism Experiences: Product Development

(Part 2 of a 6 part series on Agritourism)

By Dan Moore, AIANTA’s Tribal Agritourism Consultant 

Agritourism is a powerful and diverse tool for more than just bringing visitors to your communities.  Tribes and tribal agribusinesses are using agritourism to explore and reinvest in traditional practices, to connect elders and youth to share their stories, to reintroduce healthy food sources and to diversify sources of income generated on a farm or ranch.

For example, “In addition to providing historic crops and a variety of organic food products, the Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (OCIFS) provides community-based food production, education, youth programs, employment and opportunities to engage with local, regional, national and international visitors interested in experiential learning and activities.”[1]  

Agritourism is frequently defined as: “Business at a working farm, woodland, ranch, or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment and education of visitors, while generating supplemental income for the owner.”2 Using this definition, agritourism offers tribes, tribal enterprises and Native owned businesses many opportunities to connect visitors to agricultural land and operations. Further, because traditional Native American cultivation and harvesting has not been limited to farms and ranches in the modern sense, agritourism on tribal land and by Native Americans can incorporate a much broader definition. Aquaculture, fishing, hunting, wild crafting, gathering, and other traditional food and fiber sources provide an expanded opportunity to showcase practices reflective of a particular region or culture.

Culinary tourism and agritourism are closely related, and both can result in, or blossom from, efforts to invest in traditional foods and food sovereignty initiatives.

While there are plenty of benefits to engaging in culinary and agritourism, as with any tourism effort, attention should be given to crafting a compelling experience and determining whom your desired audience is. Step one is to consider the following questions:

1.What story do you want to tell?

While many people will espouse the economic benefits of tourism, it is really the power of storytelling that makes a compelling case for tourism development. Indigenous people worldwide have had to endure other people telling their stories. Tourism gives an opportunity for tribes to share their unique story directly with visitors. Start the process of developing your tourism experience by considering the storyline you want to share. Identifying your unique story early on will help to guide you during product development, and will give you unique selling points when you go to market your experiences. When identifying your storyline, consider what will connect the visitor to your destination. What are the stories that showcase the uniqueness of your community or region? It is important to consider the relevance of the story you choose to the visitor and if community input is needed to obtain permission to tell the story. Consider completing the following statement: At the end of this experience, I want participants to know…

2.Who do you want to attract?

Even if it were true that everyone would find your experience compelling, as I’m often told, you do not have the capacity or marketing budget to reach everyone. Defining your desired audience is important for several reasons. First, consider what is going to fit the best with your community. For example, you may lack the infrastructure for 50 passenger busses (bathrooms, road capacity, trained staff, parking). Or, perhaps there is not sufficient lodging for large groups. In these cases you will need to focus on attracting smaller groups and / or FITs (Free Independent Travelers). It is also important to consider who will find your story and experience compelling. Each demographic has a unique set of wants and needs that you have to account for. If your community is more suited for smaller groups, it will be best to attract a traveler who is seeking more intimate experiences – and willing to pay for it. Meeting this demographic’s higher expectations likely will be more taxing than a lower price point traveler.

3.What does success look like?

It is important to determine metrics in advance to measure whether your agritourism experience is meeting the needs of your business, partners, and community. Some factors to consider are number of participants, revenue and earned media. Success in tourism is often (incorrectly) measured by a singular metric: an increased number of travelers. This is not always congruent with a communities’ concern with being overrun by travelers and the subsequent impacts increased numbers will have on their resources. And, as was previously mentioned, there are numerous other benefits agritourism programming can bring to your community: renewed investment in advancing cultural practices, food sovereignty, and pride in telling and perpetuating your community’s story. Be sure to incorporate these into determining what success looks like. 

Once you have captured the story to tell, identified who you are trying to attract, and determined the metrics for success.  It is now time to start building out the experience you plan to offer. Go back to your story and the statement: At the end of this experience, I want participants to know… Then identify the assets available to tap into. Assets can be divided into four categories: Experiences, Attractions, Events and Human Resources.

Experiences are activities that can be completed by travelers such as harvesting berries, educational programs that teach a traditional skill, farm tours and preparing a meal using harvested foods.

Attractions are standalone elements that attract visitors such as farm stands, on-farm / on-ranch lodging, petting zoos and livestock and historic sites and buildings.

Events are great ways to rally the community and raise awareness of the experiences that you offer. Events include seasonal festivals, traditional celebrations and customized experiences meeting the need of visitors. Events can also showcase artists and performers from the tribe.

Human resources are the people in your community that can make this all happen. These are the tour guides, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, and anyone with the capacity (with or without additional training and education) to fill one of these roles. Especially important are elders who possess the stories and knowledge to continue to advance your culture and inspire the next generation to participate.

Using your story as the road map, start to build out a complete experience to offer. It is important to intentionally connect all parts of the experience. Ask yourself how each aspect reveals the information from your story, and conjures the desired emotion in participants. Consider your target audience throughout. Put yourself in their shoes and determine whether their needs are being met.  

Travelers are less likely to travel for a single culinary or agritourism experience. Instead, they are attracted by a ‘package’ of opportunities. What other experiences will reinforce your story? Who are likely partners that already exist? For example, perhaps your cultural center has an exhibit on traditional foods or fibers. Perhaps there is already a harvest celebration that you could tie into. Does your local chef prepare meals using locally raised produce? Do you have prepared or packaged food products visitors can purchase. The key is that it is not just a collection of agriculture or culinary activities; rather a single thread of a story that connects the entire menu of experiences. By keeping the story at the foundation, visitors are more likely to create a strong connection to you and the land and return home inspired. Be sure to provide information on where and how visitors can purchase your products in the future.

On a final note, even with a fantastic package of experiences, do not assume that “if you build it they will come.” Almost as important as the product, is the strategy to publicize and market your experience. Your story will be a powerful tool when crafting this strategy. And important to identify are the partners and resources that will help you get the word out. AIANTA, for example, offers numerous ways to help get the word out about your experiences, such as

Agritourism is a growing tourism sector. With the right experiences marketed to the right audience you will see new opportunities to increase tourism to your area, invest in healthy and creative food and fiber production, and most importantly as way to showcase the rich culture and story of your community.

[1] Cromer-Howard, R. “Agritourism can boost tribal economic success.” Tribal Business Journal, April 2017, page 38-40. Accessed 7/2017.

2 Stewart, Mary D. Agritourism master Plan for Clackamas County. 2012, page 3.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

Native American Agriculture Fund

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Bureau of Land Management

National Endowment of the Arts

National Park Service

United States Forest Service