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The world’s first international Congress on Agritourism at Eurac

Farm holidays, or agritourism for short, have been experiencing a significant increase in overnight stays for years. At the same time, it is more and more developing into a high-quality holiday offer. The striving for ever more demanding customers is to be seen quite sceptically. All too touristic structures endanger the originality of the farm and thus the credibility of the offer. In November, international experts will meet at Eurac Research to discuss these topics at the world’s first Congress on Agritourism. The aim of the researchers was to clearly define agritourism and to distinguish it from other forms of tourism by clearly promoting it.

While the guests are still slumbering deep in their holiday apartment with a view of the Dolomites, diligent hands gently place five types of homemade jam on the chest of drawers next to the entrance. Just in time for breakfast, they then find homemade bacon, cheese and fragrant cake slices on a tray, carefully placed in front of the room door.

A hearty breakfast is also necessary, because the restful sleep with climatic health resort character provides for tidy appetite. Only bird calls break through the silence at alpine altitudes. The quiet and monotonous humming of the milking machine, which the farmer starts at dawn, doesn’t bother anyone. Strengthened, the guests leave the guesthouse for the guided Dolomite hike. There, the farmer’s family reveals their favourite spots to the guests. In the evening, farmer and guests discuss the milk price situation while milking cows.

What does “farm holidays” actually mean?

Milking and other agricultural activities are just some of the many characteristics of farm holidays. The guest gets to know the farm and the daily way of working and living on the farm. Consuming and buying homemade products is another important characteristic. Regulations, which vary from region to region, regulate how many products must come from the farm itself or from surrounding farms. The decisive factor for all agritourism offers is: It has to be a farm, mostly family-run, which operates a functioning agricultural system. The provider has to spend more time on agriculture than on tourism. The agritourism activity is complementary to agriculture and does not disturb the agricultural processes.

A variety of offers
Today, agritourists can choose between historical farmhouses, vital holiday farms and allergy-friendly farms, as well as equestrian, organic and climate-friendly farms. The South Tyrolean trademark “Roter Hahn”, for example, has combined 13 different accommodations on its website and divided them into five quality levels. Those, who want to book a vacation on the farm on-line and last minute, here easily find an overview of the available accommodations.

Agritourism – a supporting pillar of agriculture
For years farm holidays have been growing strongly. In Italy, the number of agriturismi has increased by 60% in the last ten years. In South Tyrol every sixth farm now offers agritourism. Alongside fruit, milk and wine, agritourism has become the fourth supporting pillar of agriculture. The income is comparable to the one of wine growing. In South Tyrol, 2.5 million overnight stays account for 8% of all overnight stays. Spending a holiday on a farm is an ideal way of meeting the trend towards nature, regionality and authentic experiences. As a sustainable tourism it is an interesting alternative type of tourism offer in many places in rural areas, in particular in mountains. As an additional source of income, it contributes to farmers in peripheral and mountainous areas continuing to manage their farms. Falling prices for agricultural products and rising production prices are forcing many farmers to diversify and generate additional income.

Current Developments – Rural tourism versus Agritourism
The demands of the associations are constantly increasing. The rooms and apartments are often surprisingly modern and satisfy even the most demanding guest. It is entrepreneurial to pay attention to requested trends when developing agritourism offers. Certain developments should be seen critically. The pressure to develop a competitive offer leads, under certain circumstances – e.g. the farm offers wellness and spa with pools – to commercial and not authentic farms. This also applies to the maximum possible number of beds. In Tuscany and Veneto there are up to 30. Such figures remind of a hotel rather than of a farm. France Passion shows where caravans can be found on the farms and what the future may look like in the near future. In some cases it is, therefore, better to speak of rural tourism than of agritourism (see an overview of the discussion).

The aim of the Congress on Agritourism
Certain offers can, therefore, endanger the genuine image of agritourism, which is based on vital agriculture. The interested guest cannot distinguish between the offers. The boundaries and differences between different types of rural tourism (countryside/rural tourism), wrongly defined as agritourism, are blurred. The clear distinction between agritourism and other forms of rural tourism is one of the biggest challenges for marketing and promotion of the sector. This is where the first international congress on agritourism comes in: So far, no major conference has been devoted exclusively to the phenomenon and development of agritourism.

Researchers of the Institute for Regional Development at Eurac Research in cooperation with the association Roter Hahn now close this gap with the First World Congress on Agritourism, which will take place from 7th to 9th November at Eurac Research in Bolzano/Italy. The aim is to bring together all relevant regional actors, scientists and practitioners to discuss current challenges and developments. In addition to selected prominent and keynote speakers, the programme offers a variety of thematic sessions in the morning. Excursions to good practice examples in the region are an integral part of the congress.

A roadmap for agritourism
The congress is an international platform to develop criteria for genuine farm holidays and to support them in a targeted way. Numerous actors with different approaches to the topic exchange their experiences. They develop a white paper and thus recommendations for action in order to develop lobbying actions on the political level. In this way, the congress creates the basis for discussing current challenges and solutions with political decision-makers. Agritourism is a successful intersectoral symbiosis of agriculture and tourism. The aim is an internationally binding certification, which regulates the sector in order to promote and protect it in a targeted manner. This secures an important source of income for farmers, especially small family farms, against abuse. Potential guests receive a clearly characterised tourist offer in rural areas. The core element is a farm, which is mainly used for agriculture: First agriculture, then tourism!

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This article was written by EURAC 

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12 October 2018

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