IN DEPTH

How agritourism is changing the voice of Tasmania's tourism industry

Shane Pearl, executive chef at Guide Falls Farm, is hoping to run cooking masterclasses at Grazings in the future. Photo: Brodie Weeding
Shane Pearl, executive chef at Guide Falls Farm, is hoping to run cooking masterclasses at Grazings in the future. Photo: Brodie Weeding

There's no question that the tourism industry has been put through the wringer since COVID-19, with constant border closures and lockdowns leaving vendors facing uncertainty.

But Tasmania is in a time of rediscovery and adaptation, and tourism operators and producers alike are working hard to amplify their identity as a premier agritourism destination.

A SHIFTING MINDSET

Put simply, agritourism encompasses a venture where agriculture and tourism intersect - be that a paddock-to-plate restaurant, or a farm stay, and produce tastings.

Chief executive of regional tourism body West by North West, Tom Wootton said there was no doubt there had been an explosion of interest in this sphere seen on the Coast, and that it had created a shift in the region's tourism identity.

He said while agritourism wasn't new, the change was in the level of producers, farmers and vendors reaching out for help to step into this field. He said one only had to look at the growth of producers in the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail to see it.

Tasmania has the opportunity to really own this space

Tom Wootton

"We've seen an increase in producer members from pre-covid times by 10 new members, which is a really compelling sign of the appetite or the increase in the sector," Mr Wootton said. "The trail now has 37 producer members."

He conceded the previous 'Cradle Coast' brand has had its ups and downs, with a study conducted by West by North West finding that visitors struggled to understand what it truly represented. However, with a re-launch of the tasting trail set for September 3, the region will have a refreshed focus for visitors.

Mr Wootton said this, in combination with the Opening the Gate tourism accelerator program, would allow producers, farmers and vendors alike to deeply understand what it means to be involved in agritourism. It would also help bridge the gaps in creating a clear, connected tourism experience for visitors.

NEW FRIENDS: Farm visits, such as at Guide Falls Farm, are on the rise. Picture: Jess Bonde

NEW FRIENDS: Farm visits, such as at Guide Falls Farm, are on the rise. Picture: Jess Bonde

"The strength of (agritourism) is the opportunity for other farmers and producers to come and play into this space," he said. "Anecdotally, there are many farmers who are either not so aware of the opportunities, or how they might navigate that move."

"We're trying to get them to understand this opportunity, and show it's not about getting farmers to help tourism, it's about showing them there might be another way to create an ancillary revenue stream.

"Tasmania has the opportunity to really own this space, and we see the North-West Coast as being the shining light."

AGRITOURISM EPICENTRE

Over at Ridgley, Rachel Jacka has recently opened Grazings,a paddock-to-plate experience complimenting their family-friendly animal park.

She said with farming having become "sexy again", the North-West was on the cusp of becoming "the epicentre" of agritourism.

"I've said it before, but I believe the North-West could be the Barossa Valley of agritourism," Mrs Jacka said. "It's definitely a growth area, but what I'm seeing is that there's also more support (now)."

She said mentorship, such as through the Seedlab incubator program, the upcoming Opening the Gate accelerator program and increased government grants, were pivotal in maintaining this growth.

"It's attainable now. When you're a farmer, you've already got a full time job. The hardest part is branching out," Mrs Jacka said. "What I hope to see is small producers, such as ourselves, working together to promote and guide each other."

"Like with the Barossa Valley for wines, you don't just go to sample Jacob's Creek - you want to try all the wines."

Rachel Jacka, owner of Guide Falls Farm. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

Rachel Jacka, owner of Guide Falls Farm. Picture: Simon Sturzaker

A COMRADERIE IS FORMED

Over in the North of the state, Visit Northern Tasmania CEO Chris Griffin said there was a similar focus being placed on agritourism. However, the biggest shift to the industry he'd noticed was the relationship between client and customer, destination and community.

"One thing we've witnessed across the industry is a heightened sense of empathy towards businesses," Mr Griffin said, "and that care and consideration around rolling cancellations."

"We hear stories all the time about clients who have booked five times to get a certain experience, and in a lot of ways the relationship between businesses and customers has become a lot closer."

He said this aligned with a growing shift towards mindful travel, with visitors expressing a craving for an authentic engagement with the destination. This, he said, was helping to encourage more people in the agricultural sector to explore the relationship they could have with tourism.

"It's that exploration of the view that a visitor wants to give back more to the places they visit, rather than just extracting pleasure."

EXPLORING AN ISLAND'S IDENTITY

Over on the Furneaux Islands, Flinders Island is exploring how these values can be taken one step further.

Aided by a $300,000 pledge from the State Government, the council is engaging with sustainable tourism experts to create a Regenerative Tourism Plan.

Flinders Island Mayor Annie Reevie said the nature of regenerative tourism was about putting the power back into the hands of the residents.

"People have expressed, at times, concern that if you have too many tourists, you lose sight of what your home actually is," Cr Reevie said.

Flinders Island. Picture: File

Flinders Island. Picture: File

"At the base of regenerative tourism... it's about making a place that has as much to gain by the community as there is to gain from tourists," she said.

While plans are very much early stages, she said suggestions of how this may look include volunteer projects for visitors to help maintain the natural beauty of the island, a visitor hub where 'The Islander' Story' can be shared, and increased capacity to manage Flinders Islands' natural resources and infrastructure.

"Sometimes, in traditional tourism, tourists can tend to go places and almost say 'what's there for me?'

"With this, we're really saying 'this place is our home, but we're happy to share it. It's about you taking care of this place, it's about us hosting you, and sharing the good things that are already here."

STILL A TIME OF TURMOIL

Both Mr Wootton and Mr Griffith noted that while exciting shifts were occurring, it was important to recognise that, as a whole, the industry was still hurting from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

"It's an interesting context to talk about the future of the industry, when we're seeing the release of a hardship package just (last week)," Mr Griffith said.

On Friday, a $20 million Business Support Package was announced to support Tasmanian businesses struggling at the hands of ongoing border instability, and closure to their biggest visitor markets.

"It's two sides of the current reality as we look into the future, but try to work through the survival instincts needed currently," Mr Griffith said.

"We're not out of the woods yet."

This story How tourism is changing in one Australian state first appeared on The Examiner.