Globally, the agri-tourism market was valued at $42.46 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $62.98 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13.4 per cent from 2021 to 2027. Agri-tourism includes a variety of activities and services and it is in general considered to be a low-investment, low-risk sector. It can fuel rural economies through the multiplier effect and the benefits shared amongst different businesses within the community.
Agri-tourism was officially initiated and recognised by Italy in 1985, when the country’s parliament and senate passed the National Legal Framework for Agri-tourism. The fundamental concept of agri-tourism was entrepreneurial diversification of a farm. This was later amended to ‘Regulations of Agri-tourism’, which privatised and extended the concept of agri-tourism to agricultural firms.
Agri-tourism is regulated at the regional level in some countries, such as Spain, rather than at the national level, or through a national framework regulation. This is due to the regional autonomous communities’ expertise in tourism management. Many states in the US have passed agri-tourism laws, which may provide an affirmative defence to lawsuits brought by injured customers.
Agri-tourism in India
Revenue from agri-tourism is growing at an annual rate of 20 per cent in India. Maharashtra is the first State to formulate an agri-tourism policy, which aims at rural development. The policy governs who can engage in agri-tourism and how to apply for loans and tax benefits. It also directs that for registration approval, agri-tourism centres must have some basic requirements.
In 2018-20, 17.9 lakh tourists visited these agri-tourism centres in the State, helping farmers earn ₹55.79 crore. It also generated one lakh jobs for rural women and youth.
Karnataka’s policy addresses two key challenges — awareness and capacity building — for the development of agri-tourism in the State. The policy also seeks collaborative support from various departments and institutions. According to the policy note, agri-tourism projects are eligible for incentives, subsidies and concessions.
Kerala, on its part, has decided to set up the Kerala Agri-tourism Network to guarantee monetary benefits to the farming community, by linking farming activities with tourism.
The report of the committee on Doubling of Farmers’ Income (DFI) emphasised the need for a policy for developing agri-tourism. Keeping this in view, the Ministry of Tourism recently came up with a ‘Draft National Strategy for Promotion of Rural Homestays - An initiative towards Atmanirbhar Bharat.’ Under this, agri-tourism has been included.
However, regional development policies are equally important in the push for agri-tourism . Regional policies are vital as they focus on better exploitation of local resources, and provision of appropriate infrastructure network and essential services to tourists in a specific region.
Some of the measures that must be considered while implementing agri-tourism are:
State governments must form a separate committee for formulating guidelines for agri-tourism. The guidelines may include not serving prohibited materials and providing for utmost safety of the customers.
State tourism departments must provide a separate licence under agri-tourism to be eligible for getting loans and tax benefits. Co-operative societies may be included in providing loan facilities to develop agri-tourism.
Local administrations such as village panchayats can help in the coordination and facilitation of agri-tourism because panchayats have a strong influence on local communities and their support is important to the success of agri-tourism.
State tourism departments must organise seasonal festivals along with agri-tourism farms for a wider reach.
Rural youth may be trained for agri-tourism by offering diploma/certified courses.
Awareness of agri-tourism has to be increased through online and social media platforms because tourists are highly influenced by social media. For instance, Incredible India and Enchanting Tamil Nadu digital platforms can be utilised for promoting agri-tourism.
Marketing may be in partnership with the travel trade and online platforms, as agri-tourism centres can benefit from theformer’s network and marketing expertise.
The hospitality services of agri-tourism farms can be improved by roping in professionals to impart training. State governments must organise workshops to enrich the hospitality skills of farm resort owners and local communities of the region, to ensure better customer experience.
Sarath is ICSSR Doctoral Fellow, and Sivakumar is Professor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore