by Deron Johnston
One of the key topics of discussion that will be highlighted at this year’s Rural Summit, coming up on April 12 and 13 will be agri-food tourism. What is agri-food tourism? The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) describes it as: “Opening your farm gates to visitors”, and shifting some of the operational focus of your business from food production to hosting people. According to OMAFRA, farm owners who have successfully integrated agri-food tourism into their operations report that it has enhanced their lifestyle, as well as their business.
In a presentation at the Ontario East Municipal Conference (OEMC) last year, Rebecca Mackenzie, President and CEO of the Culinary Tourism Alliance (CTA), revealed a startling statistic about a current trend in tourism: 40% of travellers book a destination with its great food and drink as their primary focus. In Canada alone, almost 20% of Canadians plan on taking a trip this year dedicated to the food and drink experience of specific destinations. Eastern Ontario is well situated within Canada to take advantage of this trend. Consider that three of Canada’s four largest population centres are located within a four-hour drive of Eastern Ontario, with a total potential visitor count of over 5 million people.
The benefits of agri-food tourism to a region like Eastern Ontario are significant, based on the fact that there are a lot of agri-food businesses already operating in the region. Even converting a fraction of these businesses to potential agri-food tourism destinations could signal a big boost in revenue to those businesses. By combining these destinations together as part of a network of tours, these tours could help strengthen the tourism industry in Eastern Ontario, potentially creating new employment and helping to solidify our agricultural sector.
According to the CTA, some of the hottest trends in food tourism right now are: craft beer tourism, sustainable tourism, bleisure travel (combining business and leisure) and experiential travel (immersing yourself in the cuisine, history, culture and environment of a specific area). This region has the assets in place to provide these experiences for visitors. For some, the overriding sentiment is that day-tripping is this area’s best opportunity to generate economic activity through tourism. Agri-food tourism could represent a very important piece of that puzzle.
This year, the Rural Summit Organizing Committee felt very strongly that agri-food tourism not only needed to be part of the agenda on the first day, but that people should see exactly what one of these tours would look, feel, smell and taste like. So, on the second day of the Summit, Saturday, April 13, there will be a special agri-food tour organized for those who want a closer look at what exactly agri-food tourism is. The tour starts with people boarding a bus which will take them to stops at Upper Canada Creamery, Mountain Orchards, and Blue Gypsy Wines, for only $30. Each destination will give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at what they do, where they do it, and how they do it. There will even be samples available to visitors to help them get the full palate experience. To register for the Rural Summit and for the agri-food tour, go to www.ruralsummit.ca.