The International Workshop on Agritourism wrapped up with the objectives well attained. Participants surpassed expectations garnishing invaluable knowledge, ideas, and friendships, while a global agritourism community solidified, and the new directions for many delegates identified.
Following the first World Agritourism Congress in Bolzano, Italy in 2018, this second edition was held in partnership between Eurac Research and the University of Vermont Extension in Burlington, Vermont, the U.S. It was a milestone for the agritourism sector, in the context of the historic timing – when outdoor activities have gained popularity amid the pandemic; when the global tourism industry is fighting to recover; and when the United Nations SDGs are calling for urgent action. At a crucial time, agritourism, a relatively quiet sector, is now unleashing its mammoth potential to join forces in combating the aggregated challenges.
Agriculture is the world’s largest business. Evolved from agriculture, agritourism in turn braces the agricultural sector. Together, agriculture and agritourism directly impact six of the 17 United Nations SDG goals: Decent Work and Economy Growth (Goal 8), Sustainable Cities and Communities (11), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Life below Water (14), Life on Land (15) and Partnership to Achieve the Goal (17).
The hybrid Burlington conference attracted more than 500 participants from 57 countries, and over 350 from 35 countries attended in person. 26 international sponsors supported the mission. It represented agritourism players well, including farmers, tourism professionals, entrepreneurs, educators/researchers, NGOs, government agencies, etc. A large young researcher contingent with different nationalities presented their impressive research findings, indicating the promising future for this agritourism element.
The conference showcased over 150 speakers, interactive workshops, and poster presentations. Topics covered included agritourism entrepreneurship, marketing insights, research discoveries, sustainability/diversity/inclusivity issues, and many more. The conference offered various farm-based study tours. The conference meals featured Vermont fare with maple pork sausage, Vermont cheddar cheese, apple cider, etc., all presented by proud Vermont farmers and farm-to-table restaurants. The local tourism promotional organization, Hello Burlington, provided enthusiastic support to the event and needed delegates.
Equally fruitful was the networking in and off the sessions. Foodies, strategic thinkers, those super-jazzed for farm-stay, tour operators scouting for country-bound products, and people of all interests actively mingled on the conference App or in other forms.
Vermont’s agricultural landscape served as a beautiful backdrop for the conference. State officials joined to extend their support. “The delegates from more than 50 countries set the stage for more growth both in our region and other parts of the world. From Vermont we are committed to the growth of agritourism with the support of the government agencies,” said Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets of Vermont, while addressing the audience. Heather Pelham, Commissioner, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing also spoke. “Agritourism experiences can offer a chance for regeneration on many levels for our guests as well as for our communities and the land around us. We have an economic interest in working together,” said Pelham. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy shared an encouraging message, and Senator Bernie Sanders wrote an appreciation letter, both delivered by their spokesmen.
The closing event organically evolved into a heartfelt sharing session. Attendees signed a pledge to strengthen the sector’s collaboration. Maple syrup, chocolates, cheese, and more Vermont gifts were happily shared. Some 20 delegates shared their thoughts on stage, in tears or with a song, along with sleepless virtual attendees globally. Their spoken words and passion amplified who they were – and who they are: They are visionaries, action-takers, change makers, and survivors. Agritourism will continue with momentum to drive concrete results, because of these leaders and doers.
“I went into the conference with high expectations — and it was even better than I could have possibly imagined,” elated conference chair Lisa Chase, Professor and Director of the Vermont Tourism Research Center at the University of Vermont Extension. “We spent three days together sharing and learning about agritourism and immersed in farm experiences in Vermont. A delegate from Africa said this was life-changing and would have a profound impact on his community back home. I know he represents many of the participants who traveled to Burlington, Vermont, from far and near,” says Chase.
Post-conference work has already begun. Based on a conference survey, the international network will develop supporting programming accordingly. The process will repeat in six months, to enable the network to stay the course and maintain focus/relevance. The next agritourism congress will be held in Bolzano in 2024. Watch it – the powerful action word: Agritourism.