The six steps from farming to agri-tourism

Published:23 June 2016

Dr Michelle Thompson pictured during the RUN conference.

Agricultural regions looking for an economic kick-start now have a template to value-add their activities by moving into agri-tourism.
Cairns-based CQUniversity Australia Associate Lecturer in Tourism, Dr Michelle Thompson, recently completed her thesis which investigated the keys to successfully transforming agricultural resources into food tourism experiences.
Dr Thompson researched areas including the Barossa Valley and Margaret River regions which have successfully moved from traditional agricultural regions to now be renowned for their wine production and their appeal as food tourism destinations.
“Some sectors of Australia's agricultural industry have struggled to remain economically viable as the industry is susceptible to ongoing changes in the market environment,” Dr Thompson said. 
“With the decline in some of regional Australia's traditional, agricultural industries, the development of tourism offers an opportunity to diversify and revitalise the economy. What we have developed is a conceptual framework that can act as a model for regions to emulate the success of areas like the Barossa or Margaret River.”
Dr Thompson is among a large group of post-graduate researchers who presented their findings at this week’s Regional Universities Network (RUN) 2016 Regional Futures Conference, currently being held at CQUniversity in Rockhampton. 
She identified six critical steps in that transition: understanding the local geography and what the landscape can provide both agriculturally and for tourism, as well as proximity to target markets; ability to adopt innovation; passionate and motivated people; a community culture that supports change; developing a regional brand that appeals to tourists; and tapping into a collaborative network that can provide the specialist skills and expertise needed.
“There’s growing demand for food tourism globally and from a farmer’s perspective it’s about transforming your product into something that people can come and experience, either at your own farm-stay, or through a local B&B or restaurant, or for sale at the local farmers’ markets,” Dr Thompson said.
“But the successful transformation of a region's agricultural resources into tourism experiences really requires an in-depth, conceptual understanding of the relationships between the drivers, barriers and regional context within which tourism is being developed. 
“It is important to adopt a holistic, place-placed approach to understanding tourism development in agricultural regions, and how this concept underpins a region's ability to transform its comparative advantages into competitive advantages through the development of tourism experiences that are based on agricultural resources.”
Dr Thompson said farmers or regional agricultural networks interested in pursuing agri-tourism opportunities should also look to tap into the advice available through tourism bodies, government agencies and regional universities.
“This sort of change to a business or a regional economy isn’t something that happens very quickly and long-term projects really require people to work together, be that with other farmers or with existing tourism facilities,” she said.
She cited the collaboration between the farming community on Queensland’s Atherton Tableland which is working in with the nearby Cairns tourism sector to develop food-based tourism experiences.
The next phase of Dr Thompson’s work is applying her conceptual model in other agricultural regions and communicating the process to the public.
More than 150 delegates are attending the RUN Regional Futures conference, which is addressing the unique challenges facing regional Australia and draw attention to the ways in which universities can work with government, community and industry, to drive innovation, engagement and research, and create vibrant, successful futures for regional economies and communities.
The program features presentations under five theme areas of Economic, Healthy, Sustainable, Digital and Creative futures and includes keynote talks from Dr Geoff Garrett, the Chief Scientist of Queensland; Jack Archer, Chief Executive Officer, Regional Australia Institute (RAI); and Nick Behrens, Director Advocacy & Workplace Relations, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ).
RUN was established in 2011 with six founder members; CQUniversity, Southern Cross University, Federation University Australia (formerly University of Ballarat), University of New England, University of Southern Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast.
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