This article was originally published at Forbes.com.
The months of June, July and August will forever be associated with travel and tourism. School’s out for the summer, the weather is prime for outdoor activities, and a series of holiday weekends make it easier for households to pursue whatever wanderlust beckons them away. Businesses in high-traffic cities and towns respond in kind, ramping up for the summer rush by hiring additional staff to accommodate out-of-town guests.
Tourism does not end with Labor Day weekend, however. Fall travel remains high, creating economic opportunities for farm operators and rural landowners to engage urban households in a variety of seasonal activities.
The Rise of Agritourism
The concept of agritourism—a revenue-generating endeavor that invites visitors to a farm, ranch or another type of agricultural business—has been around for quite some time. According to a 2017 USDA Census, agritourism generates an estimated $949 million in sales per year in the U.S. That is more than triple what it was just 15 years earlier, and this number figures to keep rising. In fact, a 2021 study conducted by Allied Market Research projected that the global agritourism industry will expand by an additional 13.4% by 2027.
Agritourism’s growth is happening in ways big and small—and not just due to the allure of harvest vibes. To be sure, we are fully immersed in you-pick orchards, corn mazes and pumpkin patches in our corner of South Dakota this fall. But these up-close encounters with agriculture can show up in a wide range of experiences year-round: an afternoon at a brewery with a hop garden on-site, a rustic wedding and reception in a converted barn, an overnight stay at a countryside bed & breakfast or a weeklong visit to a hunting lodge.
But these up-close encounters with agriculture can show up in a wide range of experiences year-round: An afternoon at a brewery with a hop garden on-site, a rustic wedding and reception in a converted barn, an overnight stay at a countryside bed & breakfast or a weeklong visit to a hunting lodge.
What’s Behind Agritourism’s Popularity?
I believe there are a few reasons behind the recent rise of agritourism. For one, the Covid-19 pandemic affected how people made travel plans early on. For example, stories about you-pick sunflower farms went viral in 2020 and attracted people out of quarantine in droves for a unique agricultural experience in an outdoor setting, complete with built-in social distancing. The same could be said for countless other agritourism enterprises that experienced a bump during the height of the pandemic.
Ag influencers on Instagram and emerging TikTok stars have also made their mark, providing followers with a firsthand look at farm life and piquing the interest of a largely urban/suburban audience. Additionally, younger consumers who identify as millennials or Gen Z are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and how it is produced. And while many are perfectly happy gathering information from these sorts of social media creators, this type of content can serve as a gateway to actually visiting a farm or partaking in some form of agritourism. (It should be noted that many aspiring influencers have also flocked to agritourism venues as a way of boosting their social media presence—think portraits in a sunflower field or video content feeding a baby calf.)
What Does This Mean for Marketers?
All of this bodes well for those working in agritourism. A consumer trend has already emerged; now it is up to smart marketers to capitalize on it. I recommend developing a geotargeted media plan around digital advertising and paid search in nearby urban areas to build awareness and drive consumer action. Working directly with social media influencers can also raise your agritourism business profile and help you reach untapped audiences. (Note: If you do pay an influencer to promote your business, be sure to follow FTC regulations.)
Partnering with businesses rooted in an urban setting can be a great way to access new markets, too. Hosting a beer tasting event in collaboration with a local brewery at your countryside bed and breakfast or inviting food trucks to your you-pick farm could expand your reach dramatically.
Even if you’re not in the tourism industry, understanding the attitudes and beliefs of your target audience is foundational to your success. If consumers are showing a preference for experiences in a rural setting, your marketing should reflect that.
One recent example of this we noticed came from a regional chain that, among other things, specializes in carryout pizza. The brand posted a picture to its social channels of one of its pizza boxes sitting on a picnic blanket adorned by small pumpkins, with copy implying that their pizza would be a great addition to your next pumpkin patch outing.
This sort of marketing demonstrates a clear knowledge of the brand’s audience—or at least one segment of their audience—and how they’re likely to spend their time. We could apply this same principle to companies selling clothing and apparel, soft drinks, cars, music streaming services, etc.
Agritourism appears only to be getting more popular. So how will your brand respond? Are you ready to hop aboard the agritourism train and ride it into more meaningful connections with your audience?