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  Agritourism in India
 
  INDIAN AGRITOURISM INDUSTRY
 

CHALLENGES AND STRATEGIES

 

Many Indian farmers are currently involved in or are considering the use of agritourism as a means of diversifying their farm operations. How they will accomplish this is the challenge. The full growth potential for agritourism can only be achieved if strategies to address their challenges are developed and implemented. The following sections identify these overriding challenges and recommend strategies to address them.

 

Indian Agritourism Industry and Strategies

 
  1. Agritourism Industry Recognition.
  2. Supportive Agritourism Policies and Regulations.
  3. Supportive Agritourism Financing.
  4. Effective Training Programs.
  5. Liability and Risk Management Programs.
  6. Product and Service Quality Control.
  7. Strategic Partnership Development.
  8. Marketing Programs.
  9. Conflict Management Programs
  1.AGRITOURISM INDUSTRY RECOGNITION
 

While the number and diversity of agritourism and value added businesses are growing in India, there is limited recognition of its development potential. Support varies significantly between states. Individual Farmers have played a significant role in enhancing the viability of the agritourism and value-added processing sector. Those farmers who are involved with agritourism activities can also become members of regional tourism associations in order to participate in broader tourism marketing initiatives. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries is currently the primary government agency providing indirect support to agritourism  ( small farmers finance scheme , fresh water fisheries development finance , to build the farm water lake, install drip irrigation plant; horticultural cultivation subsidies, food processing finance support, etc )  followed by assistance from the Ministry of Rural Development,( clean village scheme, )  Tourism and Culture.MTDC Mahabraman Scheme and ( bed and breakfast) scheme.

  Recommended Strategy
  Establish an Indian Agritourism Council (IAC) as the body responsible for co-coordinating product development, marketing and training for all agritourism initiatives in India .The primary mandate of the IAC should be to address the key issues identified in this report. This Council should be comprised of a combination of government and private sector agricultural and tourism representatives from across India who will guide the IAC in its strategic activities. The Council members should be selected based on their familiarity with product development and marketing tactics in their respective sectors. They should also have a demonstrated commitment to building strategic partnerships between agricultural and tourism operations. The ongoing funding of the IAC should be derived from a combination of government and private sector sources. After initial start-up government funding support (e.g. 3-5 years) for the IAC, a public – private sector matching fund formula for the sustained operation of the Council should be established. Revenues for the private sector portion of this funding should come from agricultural associations, agritourism operators, food processing companies and distributors, and tourism operators using agricultural attractions as portions of their product portfolios.
  2.SUPPORTIVE AGRITOURISM POLICIES AND REGULATIONS
  A broad range of policies and regulations affect the operations and viability of most farms operations. The main policy and regulation challenges facing the agritourism industry are as follows:
A.At all government levels there is a lack of understanding concerning how existing regulations and policies impact agritourism operations.
B.No Policies and regulations with respect to the appropriate size of facilities and the use of land for agritourism activities.
C.Policies are perceived to be developed without consultation with farm operators and without an analysis of the potential impacts on agritourism operations.
D.There is a lack of consistency in regulation interpretation by government administrators.
E.
There is limited awareness and understanding of existing( if either ) agritourism policies and regulations amongst farmers. As well, many farmers are unaware of how to obtain information on these regulations and how to apply them to their specific operations.
  Recommended Strategies
  The IAC should initiate programs which increase awareness and understanding of the Agri Tourism amongst governments and farmers. The following are possible strategies for increasing overall awareness and understanding.
  Identifying an Advocate for the Industry
  The IAC should be the primary advocate for the development of appropriate agritourism and value-added sector policies and regulations in India. It should lead initiatives that support the development of more effective and useful regulations, as well as the realistic interpretation of those guidelines.
  Working With Government for More Effective Regulations
  The IAC should conduct workshops with government agencies (e.g. ministries, regional Districts, municipalities, Land Reserve Commission, etc.) .To encourage the development of effective agritourism policies and regulations, as well a consistent interpretation of their intent.
  These workshops should address
 
a.
Methods of insuring a consistent and clear interpretation of existing regulations affecting the availability and continuity of financial support for these farm operations.
b.
Tactics for the communication of information concerning appropriate forms of farm operations as defined by the IAC Assessment Authority.
c.
Approaches for increasing awareness amongst regulators about the impact of existing regulations on the long term viability of farm operations.
d.
Methods for streamlining the implementation of policies and regulations which relieve legislated burdens that are currently confronting farmers.
e.
Methods for developing, maintaining and communicating information (e.g. print or on-line manual or directory) of all relevant rules and regulations for agritourism. Included in this manual or directory should be a list of advisory contacts that could assist other farmers in their interpretation of these policies and regulations.
f.
Methods for ensuring that government agencies consult with farm operators in the development of new policies and regulations.
g.
Methods of providing “primer” programs to farmers wanting to develop agritourism and related value-added businesses or to those existing farm operators who want to be updated on the regulations and policies.
   
  3. SUPPORTIVE AGRITOURISM FINANCING
  Some agritourism and value-added processing enterprises can be launched with very little money while others will require significant financial support. The main challenge for agritourism operators is accessing funds provided by financial institutions. The challenge exists because:
 
1
There is a lack of farmer awareness of how to approach financial institutions.
2
There are problems obtaining the necessary "equity” position to acquire funding.
3
Financial institutions have limited awareness of the value and benefits of the agritourism.
4
Related value-added processing and are often reluctant to support funding in these sectors.
5
Within the farming community, there is some intimidation about applying to financial institutions for agritourism funding.
  Recommended Strategies
  The IAC should be proactive in obtaining financial support for agritourism and value-added processing businesses. It should educate farmers about the types of financial assistance programs available and the procedures required to apply for such support. It should undertake the following strategies:
  Create Effective Relationships between the Farm Owner and Financial Institutions.
  There is a need to educate financial institutions about the value and benefit of the sector to agriculture and tourism businesses. Using this document’s findings as a foundation, the IAC should initiate an awareness campaign that increases understanding of the agritourism sector within the financial community. In addition, the IAC should organize workshops that build relationships between farmers and financial institutions. Such workshops should address topics such as:
  Agritourism related funding programs available from financial institutions. Numerous
existing programs can assist farmers in expanding their business opportunities
  Each of the programs should be unique in its source of funds and application requirements capital and economic performance requirements of lending institutions; and development of effective business plans.
  Provide Information to Assist in the Application Program
  In order to access financial assistance, farm owners are required to develop effective business plans. These business plans need statistical information on the markets for agritourism and value-added products, as well as industry norms concerning expenses and revenues. The IAC should monitor initiatives that have been recommended in this report. Additional surveys should be conducted on a 2-5 year basis to provide time series information on the growth of the sector. Marketing information is also required. This report provides a foundation of market information concerning agritourism travelers. However, more current information from emerging studies (e.g. Tourism Attitude and Motivation Study) is needed. The IAC should work with the Ministry of Rural Development, Tourism and Culture to obtain more information which profiles travelers interested in agritourism. As well, a standardized on-site visitor survey could be conducted on an industry wide basis, with the implications of the findings presented in annual or semi-annual IAC workshops.
   
  4. EFFECTIVE TRAINING PROGRAMS
  Adding even a small agritourism or value-added processing business to an existing farm operation may require more time and attention than expected by farmers. The ability to train and properly manage good employees is critical to success. Tapping into existing training opportunities that relate to customer service and marketing as well as tourism business management practices is required.
  Recommended Strategies
  Encourage Effective Hiring Practices
  The IAC should establish and implement training programs dealing with hiring employees, customer service, business plan development and marketing. Information sources such as those produced for the Opportunity Analysis for Farm-Based Businesses study provide a good start for the development of such training programs. IAC should coordinate with Tourism Industry Institute’s professionals to find out weather the existing manuals and training programs from FHRAI Training Institute that might be adaptable to Indian agritourism industry.
  5. LIABILITY AND RISK MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS.
  When farmers invite customers on to their land and encourage them to purchase products and services, they are obligated to take measures to insure that no unreasonable harm occurs to their customers. This liability also applies to farmers who may be renting or leasing land and facilities. The extent of farmer liability depends on the status of the visitor, but it is normally greatest for public and/or business ‘invitees’. All Indian farmers involved with agritourism should develop and use a comprehensive farm risk management and liability protection program. In India, the key challenge related to liability management is the high cost and availability of liability insurance. As a result, some farm ventures may operate without appropriate liability insurance, leaving the farmer at significant risk. Farmers need a stronger understanding of why risk management programs are needed and how such initiatives can help to reduce insurance costs.
  Recommended Strategies
  Encourage Adoption of Risk Management Programs
  The IAC should play a leading role in encouraging agritourism operators to develop and implement effective risk management programs which clearly identify the benefits of risk management programs and the steps required to establish safe visiting environments for tourists. It should disseminate this information through agricultural meetings, workshops, and print materials.
  6. PRODUCT AND SERVICE QUALITY CONTROL
  Like many other consumers, travelers visiting farms are also concerned with getting good value for their money. Consequently, it is important to strive for the highest product and/or service quality that can be delivered. This should happen on a consistent and on-going basis. The challenges facing the agritourism industry with respect to the delivery of a quality products and service are:
 
6
Information on traveler expectations of agritourism product quality.
7
Awareness of the benefits of meeting expectations for product quality standards.
8
Awareness of appropriate pricing and its relationship with quality standards.
  Recommended Strategies
  Establish Quality Standards
  For agritourism in India to be credible, specific efforts should be placed on developing a quality standards system. These are standards which should guide general business requirements (i.e. meeting health standards) as well as relate to customer service and products sold. Several of Indian tourism businesses have developed various “Codes of Conduct” which are promoted by tourism organizations such as the FHRAI or the Indian Hotel Industry
  These voluntary guidelines provide examples of operating principles which could
be adapted by agritourism operators. In addition, Indian Tourism Department offers opportunities for tourism related businesses to attain recognized quality product standards. For instance, last year the tourism department implemented the unique program called the “Atiti Devo Bhava” India wide customers service program. Similarly Tourism department’s approved bed and breakfast accommodation Guide Program provides a standard for quality control of lodging facilities. From an agricultural perspective, quality product control occurs in a variety of ways.
  Encourage the Use of Quality Standards
  The key to ensuring the effectiveness of this initiative is training and awareness of what constitutes a quality product. The IAC in association with agritourism operators should develop a code of conduct associated with the delivery of agritourism products and services. As part of the establishment of quality programs, an industry based assessment program to audit quality of on-site safety and health activities on farms could also be developed. Agri Tourism Baramati unit is a potential model for such an assessment program.
  The Ten Commandments of Good Service
 
9
Guests are the most important people in any business.
10
Guests are not dependent on us - we are dependent on them.
11
Guests are not an interruption of our work - they are the purpose of it.
12
Guests do us a favour when they call - we are not doing them a favour by serving them.
13
Guests are part of our business - they are not outsiders
14
Guests are not cold statistics; they are human beings with feelings and emotions like our own.
15
Guests are not to be argued with.
16
Guests are those who bring us their wants - it is our job to fill those wants.
17
Guests are deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give them.
18
Guests are the lifeblood of the farm and ranch recreation business.
  7 STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENTS
  Wherever a mutual benefit can be found, businesses should attempt to capitalize on the advantages of creating productive partnerships. Some partnerships are formed among similar tourism or value added processing businesses and interested government agencies. This often occurs in order to pool their resources for a common goal. Others may be formed to reduce risk, co-op competition, create economies of scale, improve market coverage, improve market image, or to trade information or products in exchange for expertise. The Singapore Tourism has encouraged the development of strategic alliances through its Product Club program. The program has brought small and medium sized businesses together to create strategic alliances in tourism sectors related to festivals and events, skiing and snowboarding, golfing, bed and breakfast accommodation, ecotourism, health spas, and themed food and beverage businesses.
  Their partnerships have focused on creating new and innovative tourism products and packages. The challenges facing Indian agritourism industry with respect to the creation of productive partnerships are related to the limited awareness of the potential value of partnerships:
  A. Within specific types of agricultural industries and between related but different types of industries (e.g. agritourism and/or value-added processing and tourism industry accommodation suppliers).
  B. between non-similar and seemingly unrelated businesses (e.g. agritourism and/or value added processing and equipment suppliers).
Recommended Strategies
  Create Product Partnerships
  Through networking and workshops, the IAC should:
  Encourage the development of partnerships between agritourism and value-added
processing businesses and other types of businesses at the regional level. Develop networking partnerships between researchers and agritourism organizations to provide the farmers with information on product and marketing partnerships occurring world wide. The Internet is a tool which can facilitate this networking of ideas and information.
  8 MARKETING PROGRAMS
  Farmers who do not have experience in marketing a service business often overlook the importance of this function. Even the best managed agritourism business can be
unsuccessful if prospective customers are unaware that it exists or do not know what it has to offer. Beyond the development of strategic partnerships some of the critical marketing challenges facing the agritourism industry are related to the limited:
  1. Use of available channels of distribution.
2. Regional tourism awareness of the sector’s potential.
3. Marketing abilities of many farm operators.
  The IAC should encourage stronger and more effective marketing of agritourism across India.
  Recommended Strategies
  Develop and Promote Thematic Images of Indian Farm Experiences
  The creation of a world wide image of Indian agritourism experiences will help strengthen growth opportunities and provide new marketing avenues. Such an approach was successful for other tourism sectors including Incredible India, Kerala Tourism, Goa Tourism, etc; specific to agritourism, the Maharashtra region has been successful in increasing the awareness of its farm touring experiences.
 

Incredible India is the classic example that has adopted the concept of a common imaging for all of its regional and sectoral marketing. These marketing materials have consistent images and layout on their front covers.

  There are others several examples in wine tourism destinations where the focus has gradually shifted from centering on wine production techniques to an emphasis on wine tourism experiences that combine visits to wineries and vineyards with a broader range of tourism products and services.
  This imaging can also incorporate the value-added processing activities. The emphasis on the opportunity to see the processing of farm produce and to purchase these products on the farm complements the farm touring experience. Therefore both agritourism and value-added processing opportunities should be included in the development of national image.
  Create Marketing Materials for Reaching the Market Place.
  To support the image of Indian farm experiences, marketing materials should be developed for distribution to consumers. These materials should include regional brochures which provide visitors with specific information on farm experiences (e.g. what experiences are offered, where are they located and how can they be purchased?
  The Product Guides do this in part by including descriptions about farm-based leisure activities. Furthering marketing initiatives of this kind serves to effectively promote the agritourism industry. There are media avenues that individual farmer and agritourism associations can use to reach a wider marketplace. Examples include TOURISM DEPARTMENT website, or toll free number or call centre which can be used by the general consumer to obtain travel Information and to book their holiday; the Product guide which is placed at all visitor information centers; as well as regional tourism association brochures. Similarly, communication channels can be developed between agritourism operators and consumers via well designed websites. An example of a well-designed agritourism website is www.agritourism.in
  9 CONFLICT MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
  While agritourism can create benefits for farm and tourism operators, it can also increase the chances of conflict between primary farming pursuits and more leisure travel activities. Planning for controversial issues and the expectations of guests can lessen the potential conflict between the working farm and the visitors. These conflicts may relate to issues of noise, smell, farming practices, and disease control. In each of these situations, it is important to establish clear communication strategies on what should be expected on-site with respect to the character of the agritourism experience. For instance, with a heightened public awareness of the potential dangers of animal disease dissemination by farm visitors, it is critical that agritourism organizations such as the IAC develop clear guidelines concerning access to farm sites by visitors.
  A current crisis, which is damaging many agricultural and rural tourism businesses, is the bird flu disease epidemic that started in the north Maharashtra now is the concern over the potential spread of the disease is causing strict quarantines of farms and major restrictions on access to and travel within the North Maharashtrian countryside. This includes visits by school field trips, rural tours and conferences. Farms, parks, zoos, horse racing venues, rural footpaths, and rural heritage attractions, have been prohibited from visitors or are under quarantine in order to reduce the risk of any further spread of BIRD FLU disease.
  Recommended Strategies
  The IAC should develop a clear and co-coordinated approach to dealing with crisis management challenges that may confront the agritourism industry. It should: review and take lessons from the tourism communication approaches used in Europe to address
recent animal disease outbreaks; and develop policies and guidelines for agritourism partners on the most effective ways of managing public relations associated with such events.
  This article is written by –
@copyright
Pandurang Taware
Director Sales & Marketing
Agri Tourism Development Corporation
  Note : Please do obtain the written permission from the author before any part of this article is required.
 
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