Agritourism has been around as long as there have been farmers hosting hunters, fishermen, city folks and outdoor enthusiasts. However, as natural spaces become more treasured, it seems that urban dwellers are aggressively seeking out rural places to rest, relax and play. For the farmers who host them, that's a good thing.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and North Dakota State University Extension services have teamed up to develop a free, interactive online magazine aimed at helping producers develop an online marketing plan for their agritourism ventures. "Marketing Agritourism Online" is available to families involved in agritourism enterprises like hunting and fishing outfitters and guides, U-pick operations, orchards and vineyards, farm stands, on-farm lodging, fairs, festivals, Christmas tree farms and pumpkin patches, says Connie Hancock, UNL Extension educator.
"The online magazine provides agritourism operators with a framework to help them establish online marketing, build their online efforts and give them a presence in the online community," Hancock says. "As they are engaging in decision making, they can look at various components and interactive resources, and write down plans as they think about the tools they will use."
The online toolkit assists producers in reaching a targeted audience with a focused message about what they have to offer. It also helps producers identify who their customers are, and what they might pay for a real life agriculture experience.
Glenn Muske, North Dakota State University Extension rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist from Bismark, N.D., says that the old adage, "Build it and they will come," doesn't work. "There is so much competition for the prospective tourist that you need to make yourself visible. And today, much of that visibility in the tourism category comes from one's online presence," he explains.
"Producers need to think about what it is they want to say and then get that message to their customers," says Hancock. "They first need to identify their own brand, and their values and philosophy. As they market themselves through traditional avenues like newspapers, radio and other print media, as well as online, they need to be consistent with the message." Producers should ask themselves what they want their customers to take away from their experiences.
"It all starts with a website," Hancock says. "Drive traffic to your website. You own it. Other social media can promote your business, but the website is where your content lives and breathes."
The agritourism online marketing toolkit helps producers understand how direct online marketing complements the experience-minded consumer of today. The course uses video clips of agritourism owners in Nebraska and North Dakota talking about their ventures and online marketing efforts, says Hancock. "The videos are the most useful part of the program. Having that real life story from true business owners is the most valuable piece of it," she says.
The goal of the program is to help farmers and ranchers develop their customers' expectations, help them meet and beat those expectations and encourage customers to be ambassadors for these agritourism ventures. You can access the program, or learn more by calling Hancock at 308-254-4455 or Muske at 701-328-9718.