By Vinayak Koul
The tourism industry across the globe got severely impacted by the pandemic. As we are opening up our borders for international tourists and domestic tourism has largely resumed, post-Covid times have presented us with the opportunity to implement innovative ideas in the domain of tourism and hospitality.
One such vertical is agri-tourism. Agri-tourism intends to focus on activities like rural tourism, eco and nature tourism, alternative farming, heritage tourism and agri-education. Agri-tourism is expected to grow at a much faster rate than the conventional form of tourism. The forecasts for 2021-2027 by allied market research, projected a global agri-tourism market to grow at a rate of 13.4 per cent during this period and reach USD 62,982.6 million by 2027. Asia Pacific region has a high potential to grow and with India having one of the largest agriculture sectors in the region can easily complement the fast growth of agri-tourism.
The term ‘agri-tourism’ was initially used in the US, but it originated from an Italian National Legal Framework passed in 1985. This law promotes overnight farm stays to diversify the incomes of Italian farmers and support the landscape of farming operations. The seeds of agri-tourism in India were first sown by the formation of the Agri Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) founded in 2004 in Baramati, Maharashtra.
Maharashtra is also among the first states to approve its agri-tourism policy in 2020 and to launch the protocols for the farmers and tourism professionals to receive the benefits. Soon after that Karnataka government also announced its tourism policy with an emphasis on agri-tourism.
At present, agri-tourism is being pushed through government subsidy programmes and technical support to induce the growth of the market. It is an emerging concept in the tourism industry, which is bringing opportunities to both the travellers and tourism sector. These policies are primarily aimed at creating more direct and indirect jobs and sources of alternative income in rural areas through tourism and also increase the contribution of the tourism sector to the state GDP.
Some format of rural, cultural tourism and recreation already exists in the country that gives the tourists flavor of local cuisine, dances, dresses, and heritage, for example- Rann Mahotsav – Gujarat, Pushkar festival – Rajasthan, Hemis Festival – Ladakh, Hornbill festival – Nagaland, etc. Agri-tourism intends to be more than this – it is a combination of farm stays along with a mix of culture and exposure to rural living. Though the industry looks forward to expanding the scope of agri-tourism, there are also some lessons from our past experiences that need to be kept in mind. Over the years, the massification of products such as the white sand of Rann, lakes of Ladakh, meadows of Uttarakhand, has created a threat to the natural heritage and has raised concerns about environmental imbalance. Thus, it is important to understand and deliberate on what format of agri-tourism is to be promoted in India. Unplanned movement of tourists to rural areas under the banner of agri-tourism can raise concerns about the environmental sustainability of this model.
Keeping in view the long-term vision for agri-tourism it is important to give due weightage to aspects of responsible and sustainable tourism. The roadmap in this direction will need to prioritise the value of tourism over the volume of tourists. The planning and implementation of agri-tourism from its very start will need to ensure not to disturb the rural ecology and avoid exploitation of natural resources.
Agri-tourism has to be more than another recreational spot for the urban tourist, it would need to have better inclusion of certain important aspects of agri-learning, educational exposure about agricultural practices and nature conservation. School and college students can be made as visiting tourists on educational excursions. Engaging them with activities like plowing, seeding, and harvesting can be both fun and learning.
Agri-tourism can also contribute to the rural economy and farming community by providing them with markets for their produce. For niche products like organically grown fruits and vegetables ‘pluck and purchase’ models can be developed in collaboration with farmers’ cooperatives. This will encourage the production of such products as it will provide direct income to the farmers without having a middleman to market the produce. It will also help reduce post-harvest wastage and transportation losses. Such practices have already been accepted by consumers and have shown a positive impact in many countries across the world.
Another future confluence of the two sectors can be getting the agricultural community involved in tourism activities. Both businesses in many ways are seasonal in nature and thus can support each other in lean periods for additional employment and income opportunities, creating a win-win for both sectors and at the same time bringing in a lot of synergies in the local communities.
The pathways are yet to be fully explored; however, agri-tourism is in sync with the national vision and policies such as Dekho Apna Desh, Atmanirbhar Bharat and Swadesh Darshan.
The author is Director of SnowLion Expeditions.
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