Agritourism is a rapidly emerging sector. People are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and are eager for opportunities to explore rural destinations. Farmers and producers are keen to welcome new customers and diversify their revenue stream, but often do not know how to begin. The Simcoe County Agritourism Toolkit is a 54-page document that provides essential information about developing agritourism products in Simcoe County. Whether an individual is considering an idea for a novel start-up, the addition of an agritourism component to a farm business, or expanding existing agritourism offerings, the Simcoe County Agritourism Toolkit provides guidance that will help to avoid costly and devastating delays.
The concept for the Toolkit came from collaborative work done by the County of Simcoe’s Economic Development Office (EDO) and Tourism Simcoe County (TSC). In 2018, the County’s EDO conducted an extensive Agriculture and Agrifood Value-Chain Business Retention & Expansion study (BR&E). At the same time, TSC established the Simcoe County Agritourism Working Group to collaborate with stakeholders from the County’s 16 member municipalities. Feedback from the BR&E stated that respondents felt that “regional organizations and municipalities could assist [them] with positioning [their] business to attract tourists” by providing information, advice and consultations on how to improve their business. The Working Group determined that a toolkit should be created that would contain a thorough outline of essential information as well as what an operator should expect to encounter during the development process.
Stakeholders throughout Simcoe County provided input regarding the information that should be included and decided that topics such as Legal and Liability considerations, Marketing and Social Media, and Workforce Development were essential. The Toolkit is divided into four components based on a standard business development planning approach: Plan, Prepare, Launch, and Evaluate. It has the dual benefit of supporting economic diversification and reducing the need for extensive staff involvement during the planning phase.
Effectiveness: The Toolkit’s content was compiled by Wilton Consulting Group in consultation with the Simcoe County Agritourism Working Group, 14 additional stakeholders, and 39 survey respondents. It has received attention from tourism specialists across Ontario and was presented at OMAFRA’s Community of Practice webinar: “Growing Agri-Tourism Initiatives in Your Community”, which had 68 people in attendance and an overall satisfaction rate of 94%. Municipal staff have praised the Toolkit as a time saving means for them and the public. It has generated numerous introductions to farmers and entrepreneurs who are in the process of launching new products and experiences. 125 full version copies and 1500 condensed version copies have been distributed.
Challenges & Changes: The original plan was to distribute the Toolkit to Economic Development, Township and Real Estate offices, but the final product contains over 50 pages of rich image content and is expensive to print and distribute. It was determined that a condensed version should be developed that would be easier to distribute and could be used a teaser for the full version.
The target audience is farmers and entrepreneurs who are seeking to diversify on-farm offerings or to develop new products that will increase revenue. The content is written at a grade eight reading level to ensure accessibility.
Sustainability: The Toolkit supports time and cost effective work processes for staff members who are engaged in agritourism development. It safeguards the prospective operator’s time and expenses by outlining steps that people often fail to consider. It is available in print and digital formats and features photos of local businesses as a means of supporting existing operators and inspiring new products.