Developing agri-tourism provides an opportunity to support rural economy diversification and farm viability.  LEADER funding provides a vital support to realise this potential.

In 2017 Ireland welcomed approximately 9 million overseas visitors to the country. But regional trends show visitors are concentrated in tourism hotspots. Developing agri-tourism in lesser spotted areas can help attract visitors and more balanced tourism growth.

Organised in association with Teagasc, Galway County Council and Fáilte Ireland, an Agri-Tourism Conference was held in Ballinasloe on October 15th 2018. The event was also held in celebration of Galway’s designation as a European Region of Gastronomy in 2018.

The National Rural Network (NRN) attended the conference and displayed posters produced by the NRN team at NUI Galway. The posters highlighted the wide range of work carried out by the NRN in relation to the LEADER Programme 2014-2020. The conference was attended by Dr. Maura Farrell and Dr. Shane Conway from the NUI Galway team and Dr. Aisling Murtagh from the Irish Rural Link team.

Key take-home messages were Ireland’s existing advantages and strong opportunities for agri-tourism growth. Our reputation for quality food, good environmental farming standards and friendly, warm nature provides a strong basis for building authentic agri-tourism experiences. Greater availability of agri-tourism products can help attract visitors away from traditional tourism hotspots.

Above: Dr. Aisling Murtagh, Dr. Shane Conway and Dr. Maura Farrell at the agri-tourism conference

Sinead Hennessy of Fáilte Ireland highlighted how it is currently working to grow tourism outside of high density zones. Each part of the country is now covered by a specific brand such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East. Local brand officers are available to support tourism businesses leverage value from these campaigns.

Using technology to its best advantage in agri-tourism marketing and product development was a core message from Laura Magan of Momentum Consulting. Laura discussed the value of digital technologies such as virtual reality, geofence and localisation marketing, as well as resources in development through the Adventure Tourism Innovation Partnerships (AVIP) project. AVIP is developing a digital technologies open educational resource to support adventure tourism enterprises apply these technologies.

Initiatives such as AVIP and Fáilte Ireland brand campaigns highlight the broader facilitative environment for agri-tourism development in Ireland. LEADER programme funding has also played an important role supporting the growth of Ireland’s existing agri-tourism sector. Teagasc’s Barry Caslin highlighted a range of examples such as Carrick Quads and Cavan Canoe Centre. Bernadine Mulhall of Coolanowle Country House discussed how LEADER funding assisted renovation of an old barn on the family’s organic farm. This has supported an expanded service offering catering for functions and events. Coolanowle is now a popular hen party venue. Martina Earley of the Irish Leader Development Network discussed examples from Roscommon including the Arigna Mining Experience which has built a strong tourism product around the local mining heritage.

While the conference highlighted definite potential for future growth, agri-tourism development also needs to be placed in context and not seen as a panacea. Speakers highlighted how agri-tourism can form one part of building future farm viability. Martina Earley drew on her own family’s experience explaining how a number of entrepreneurial ventures have come together to build a sustainable farm business.  Agri-tourism as a diversification option is also more suited to some farmers than others. Professor Gerry Boyle referenced a Teagasc study which found 5% of farmers have an entrepreneurial spirit. Hans Wieland of Neantóg also noted that direct engagement with tourists by offering on farm experiences and tours is not the only way to tap into tourist markets. Supplying produce to restaurants and retailers with a local sourcing policy can be another approach.

For more information check out the presentations from the conference available here.