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Lessons Learned from U.K. Agritourism
By Jane Eckert
The 2012 England Agritour is now history, but for the twenty six participants, it will not be soon forgotten. For anyone wanting to get “new” ideas for growing your agritourism business, I recommend a visit to the United Kingdom.
While our tour showcased a variety of farm businesses, this article is going to focus on what folks in the U.K. call “Farm Parks.” For our tour, we selected several that in recent years have been awarded the title of “Farm Attraction of the Year” by the National Farm Attractions Network, www.farmattractions.net.
While we saw many activities that we have here in North America, their focus is somewhat different than ours, and they introduced us to many features we had not seen before. Since Halloween and the fall season is not a very recognized time of year in the U.K. (but it is growing), they have made their family entertainment into a year round offering with a particular focus on play and animals.
Target Demographics Age 2 - 8
It was interesting to hear that many of these farms want to target age 2- 8 and not cater to the older ages of children or pre-teen. By selecting this demographic, they are able to focus all their attractions on the younger family audience. In order to be viable year round, they have large indoor facilities to accommodate multiple birthday rooms and play arenas with slides, ropes, and obstacles, with plenty of space for parents to watch the play. The adults have easy access to the food concessions, Wi-Fi and amenities to encourage making the farm park their afternoon play group. As a measure of the size and scope of these indoor play areas, each one cost in excess of $200,000 for installation.
Annual Membership a Convenience
In order to encourage repeat visits, the farm parks offer very attractive annual passes over the general daily admission price. They have learned, as we also know, that frequent visitors buy other stuff – food, gifts, etc. and they want to encourage multiple visits. One of the parks actually offers a monthly pay option whereby they deduct the fee from the guest debit card.
Animals Provide the Entertainment
For many of us in North America, we provide a petting corral, pony rides and maybe pig races, but in the U.K. the animals are the central focus for most of their entertainment. Since sheep are the most abundant animals in England, it is only natural to showcase them at the Farm Parks. Sheep racing is done as a performance very similar to our pig racing shows, with an announcer providing the entertainment and calling every moment of the race as they head into the “ewe-turn.”
Sheep are used in sheepdog trials as well as sheep shearing demonstrations and competitions, and bottle feeding of lambs is provided daily. Other animal shows include: duck trials, horse whispering, animal shows where the animals are trained to come on stage individually to music, where they are introduced and perform, much to the enjoyment of the crowd.
One show that we all really enjoyed was at Farmer Palmer’s Farm Park, where Phillip Palmer provides multiple daily cow milking demonstration with humor, education and audience participation. Actually, all of the shows were not only to showcase the animals but to provide educational information in a fun and professional manner.
Attention to Detail – Superior!
These farms took the course about how to provide the best guest experience. The attention to detail was superior at these farms. They had great fun signage, plenty of hand washing facilities, sturdy playground equipment, appropriate fencing, functional wagon design, ample seating both indoor and outdoor, good food selection, cleanliness of the grounds, etc. All in all, our group just couldn’t find fault with the overall layout or experiences that are provided.
Personality Sells the Experience
We truly visited some of the best agritourism operators in the world. The one thing that separated them from each other was our hearing and seeing the owner’s passion for the business and how that was displayed in the execution of everything on the grounds. We might not often be as aware as we should that “the owner” can make a big difference in how our guests perceive the experience at the farm.
All of these farms had numerous, well trained employees on hand in uniform and ready to greet the public with a pleasant manner, and each was enjoyable. But the clear favorites, as you might expect, were those farms where the owner was still actively involved in creating and delivering the guest experience.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel the beautiful countryside of the U.K., go for it. The south of London is still untouched by large box stores, neon signs and big asphalt parking lots. The beauty of the fields, the style of 18 and 19th architecture, and the narrow country roads created for our group an agritour we will speaking about for years to come.
Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.