This Agribusiness Bulletin looks at how agritourism has grown in recent years, its importance to the economy, and the regions where it is booming.
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Agritourism, otherwise known as food tourism, is becoming an increasingly important sector of the Australian economy, providing direct and indirect benefits to Australian agribusinesses and regional economies. Food and wine experiences are being increasingly sought after as consumers desire to better understand where their food comes from, learn how it is produced and experience the ultimate in low food miles by enjoying produce where it is produced.
In this article, we take a look at how agritourism has grown in recent years, its importance to the economy, and the regions where it is booming.
What is agritourism?
Traditionally thought of as being simply farm stays and winery visits, the term agritourism now encompasses a wide variety of activities where agriculture and tourism intersect. Essentially it is the act of going to a region to visit a farm or food-related business (including restaurants, markets, produce outlets and natural attractions) for enjoyment, education, or to participate in activities and events1.
Key agribusiness products prominent in agritourism include wine, craft beer and spirits, gourmet foods (cheese, olives, condiments, and confectionary), fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat and seafood. Agritourism activities are many and diverse and examples include direct shop front outlets with produce tastings, regional markets, farm and winery tours, cooking classes, food and wine festivals, farm stays, restaurants sourcing local produce, self-picking experiences and farm gate sales.
Agritourism has an important role in creating a more direct connection between the primary producer of food and drink and the end consumer. For primary producers, it provides an opportunity to supplement their income and market their produce through alternative channels, often attracting a premium price2, or capturing margin that would otherwise be captured elsewhere in the food value chain, whilst gathering valuable direct feedback from end consumers about their produce and emerging consumer preferences.
More broadly, agritourism also allows regional economies to showcase what’s good about the region, its unique growing conditions and natural resources (pristine air, water and soils) and provides a visitor drawcard from which other regional tourism businesses and experiences can benefit.
Over the last five years the number of agritourists visiting farms or wineries in Australia has grown significantly. According to data collected by Tourism Research Australia3, between 2010-11 and 2015-16:
Combining domestic and international visitors, this represents an additional 1.8 million tourists visiting farms each year, and an additional 3.7 million tourists visiting wineries.
While the number of international visitors to Australia has had significant uplift over this period, farm and winery visit growth rates are slightly above this trend, and are significantly above trend for growth in total domestic overnight and daytrip visitation.
What’s it worth to the economy?
As agritourism spans a variety of sectors (agriculture, wholesale trade, retail trade, accommodation and food services and recreation) it is difficult to get a precise number of its contribution to the Australian economy. Further, agritourist data has traditionally been limited to capturing farm or winery visits. However, from 2016 Tourism Research Australia is collating data on a broader set of agritourism activities including breweries and markets4.
Keeping in mind the limitations inherent in the historical data and the emerging nature of the sector, what is it worth?
Looking at total trip expenditure for visitors that went to farms and wineries (for the whole of 2015-16) and breweries/distilleries, farm-gates or food markets (from January to June 2016) we begin to get an idea of the sector’s contribution to the economy - both directly (expenditure on these activities) and indirectly (expenditure on other trip activities such as accommodation and transport).
In 2015-16, visitors who participated in agritourism activities spent $9.4 billion on their total trip5. This includes expenditure of domestic daytrip visitors ($600 million6), domestic overnight visitors ($4.1 billion7) and international visitors ($4.7 billion8). It is important to note that these estimates reflect expenditure on the total trip, not just expenditure on food and wine activities.
For some regional economies, the expenditure by agritourists can be a major driver of economic activity. In some regions, the economic value of agritourism is likely to be bigger than the value of the primary produce. And if visitation growth continues to increase like it has over the past five years, agritourism could become an important sector in its own right.
What are the top regions for agritourists?
The maps below show the number of domestic day and overnight visitors experiencing the five main agritourism activities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the capital cities and surrounding areas attract many agritourism visitors due to these regions being the easiest to access. Importantly, however, agritourism (particularly farms and farm gate visits) is also attracting visitors to regions that are not typically thought of as popular tourist destinations.
Across all five categories, the region that attracts the most agritourists annually is Australia’s South West – home of Western Australia’s culinary capital, the Margaret River Region. Among the region’s main attractions are farmers markets, cellar doors, wineries, restaurants, breweries and providores9.
Other notable results include:
The increasing interest of consumers to know the provenance of their food is leading to strong growth in agritourism in regional areas. Recent growth indicates that it has the potential to contribute significantly to sustained regional economic growth for some areas outside of Australia’s major cities, and outside of traditional tourist destinations.
This growth and momentum is providing producers with; new streams of income, direct relationships with consumers, and a greater slice of the value chain. Food tourism also provides a draw card from which other regional tourism businesses and experiences can benefit. While a precise value contribution to the economy is not easily derived – one thing is for certain, it is significant, particularly when considering the indirect and flow on benefits that agritourism provides.
1 Ecker, S, Clarke, R, Cartwright, S, Kancans, R, Please, P and Binks, B 2010, Drivers of regional agritourism and food tourism in Australia
2 Ecker, S, Clarke, R, Cartwright, S, Kancans, R, Please, P and Binks, B 2010, Drivers of regional agritourism and food tourism in Australia
3 Tourism Research Australia International Visitor Survey and National Visitor Survey.
4 Since the start of 2016, TRA has started collecting data on visits to breweries/distilleries, farmgates and food markets in its International Visitor Surveys and National Visitor Surveys.
5 Only includes six months of data (January to June 2016) for breweries/distilleries, farm-gates or food markets
6 Number of daytrip visitors who experienced at least one agritourism activity, multiplied by average daytrip expenditure by TRA region in 2015-16.
7 Number of nights spent by visitors who experienced at least one agritourism activity, multiplied by average nightly expenditure by TRA region in 2015-16.
8 Number of international visitors who experienced at least one agritourism activity, multiplied by average trip expenditure for international visitors in 2015-16 (by state).