With bans on the sale of alcohol, prohibitions on visits to beaches, rivers and dams and a 21:00 curfew in place, the future of agri-tourism looks bleak. Yet, stakeholders are not prepared to give up.
Despite the pressure that Covid-19-related lockdown measures have put on the tourism industry, farmers and owners of agri-tourism related facilities have refused to back down. Instead, they are looking to innovations in marketing practices to keep afloat.
In the thick of the Covid-19 chaos, farms and accommodation in rural areas have become a haven, says international agri-tourism advisor and CEO of Rural Tourism Africa, Jacqui Taylor.
Amid panic, farms offer a picturesque frozen moment in time when life was simpler and peaceful, she says. “It is as if things were before Covid-19. It is beautiful and healthy for the mind.”
Farmers have now created interactive farm life experiences for prospective visitors.
“It is very healing to hug a little calf. Just be careful where mom is because she wouldn’t be so friendly to catch you in your embrace,” Taylor says.
“A few farmers have been using horses for therapy for men and women who have lost their jobs in fairly senior positions who have been retrenched.
“It doesn’t cost a lot of money. Instead of going to the chemist and having a whole lot of feel-good pills, you can drive out or research an agri-tourism facility where some of these treatments are offered.”
Battling to recover, adjusted level three regulations have impacted local tourism income in rural areas predominantly.
“A FEW FARMERS HAVE BEEN USING HORSES FOR THERAPY FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE LOST THEIR JOBS.”
Owner and CEO of Motsobella Farming Enterprise in Brits in North West, Ipeleng Kwadi, tells Food For Mzansi she now keeps her agri-tourism business afloat with income from her cattle operations.
“Most of (our agri-tourism) income come from people who are fishing. It’s a problem because they are no longer coming.
“We are selling the livestock. When we come back from auctions, we use the money we get to boost the other side of our agri-tourism business in terms of paying the employees who are maintaining the camping site and making sure it is always clean and environmentally friendly.”
Under normal circumstances business would be booming.
Kwadi explains that her agri-tourism business generates income from daily school trips with learners on nature and conservation expeditions as well as angling competitors from across the country.
“We accommodate the learners from different schools to come and learn about nature conservation and we allow groups of people to come and fish.
“Families come for entertainment. We used to host a fishing competition for competitors who would travel from all over the country.”
If you think farmers will back down from the crisis, Kwadi has news for you.
“Regulations of the adjusted level three lockdown has taught us a lot about planning for emergencies.
“We never had one, but right now we just developed a plan for how we going to manage our agri-tourism business for times where there is no income.”
Embracing new opportunities
Owner of Cheverells Farm, Catherine Boome, says she too has noted the downturn in business this January.
Typically, the month of January is a slow month, but as it stands she has experienced cancellations in bookings for the entire month.
Cheverells is a working apple and pear farm located in the heart of Grabouw in the Western Cape. For them, wedding cancellations in the wake of the pandemic has been a particularly big blow.
“I think what is happening to agri-tourism from an accommodation point of view, mirrors what is happening in the hospitality industry in totality,” she says.
Boome says she has had to become quick and nimble in her packages for accommodation services.
“On the accommodation side I think we are a little bit better placed for getaways.
“I have been doing a bit of marketing for myself in the current pandemic where people who are working from home can come work from the cottages, there is Wi-Fi, the air is very fresh, there is no one around you. It’s safe for social distancing purposes.
“I think from a hospitality perspective we are at a slightly better place in the current pandemic because of the natural resource we have.
“We have wide open spaces and its quite easy for us to apply the code of protocol where guests don’t have to see other guests.
“They don’t have to see us and they can safely self-isolate on the farm without having to encounter other people as opposed to a hotel or renting an apartment in the city,” she explains.
Millennials to the rescue
Accommodation has now become less lucrative for owners of agri-tourism farming facilities in especially remote areas, Taylor explains.
“Usually there would be visitors on two or one week-long trips and that is not happening anymore. People are nervous about contracting the virus in a rural setting.
“They feel comfortable when they are close to home and opt for visits that are two to three hours away as opposed to if they are going to visit a farm on the Orange River or Mpumalanga and they are going to be in the mountains, they think twice. At the moment it really depends on where your farm is,” she says.
Taylor adds that the age of your clientele has also become a factor in the survival of your business.
“Millennials and people who are under the age of 35 feel quite happy to take the risk.
“People over 60 who were going on weeklong trips are not traveling because they were categorised as high risk.
“Adventurists and adrenaline junkies have been unaffected by the current crisis; they have not stopped traveling.”
Farmers in agri-tourism have become transparent in how they implement stringent measures to keep facilities Covid-19 free.
“Farm workers are wearing masks, they spray accommodation down twice a day, most farms are self-catering. That means no meals are prepared or can be bought from facilities.”