Sunday, April 6

Agri-Tourism Answers Demand for Real-Life Experiences

Source: Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food

A group of farm buildings and a herd of cattle may look pretty ordinary to Saskatchewan residents, but they could be a tourist gold mine, according to Claude-Jean Harel.

Harel should know. He's the owner of Great Excursions of Regina, and a specialist in agri-tourism development.

"The time has never been better to look at agri-tourism opportunities," Harel said. "People are realizing the value of locally grown products. Behind every product there is a story, and authenticity is key."

Harel has been in the industry since 1998, beginning his company by showcasing Saskatchewan destinations and since expanding to offer experiences right across Canada.

"Our offerings in Saskatchewan are centred around authentic activities, like stays on guest ranches where people raise livestock and are willing to share that experience with guests from other parts of the world," he stated. "Our clients are usually people who are well-traveled, who have been to other parts of the world, and who want to find out about the grasslands environment and what comes with that. We are using an agricultural resource like ranching to stage value-added experiences and create new products for these producers."

It's not just recreational tourists who are interested in agriculture-based experiences. There is also a corporate market.

"We can use these experiences as team-building activities," Harel said. "There are opportunities for enterprises to take their staff outside their comfort zones and discover new relationships that they can work with."

Great Excursions and its partners in Saskatchewan have created tourism programs for guests from as far away as South Korea, which sent a group of 4-H students to the Beaver Creek Ranch near Lumsden.

"They needed some help to create a program for them that involved not only staying at the ranch, but doing the other activities available here, like visiting a Hutterite colony or taking in the RCMP-themed attractions in Regina," Harel said.

Great Excursions has also hosted visitors from the U.S., Scotland, Belgium, France and England, and are getting increasingly more interest from Asia.

Harel has translated his passion for the agri-tourism industry into a second career as a facilitator of workshops on agri-tourism development. He will soon be visiting Nebraska, at the invitation of the governor of that state, to participate in a rural tourism conference.

"It's a way to preserve dedicated lands for agriculture," Harel stated. "We try to work with them to develop and market tourism products that make it more attractive for producers to stay engaged in agriculture."

Harel recommends that any producer considering entry into the tourism market start with local or regional tourism associations.

"The first step is to carry out an inventory of the resources that you have, to understand what kinds of knowledge and skills you have, as well as your physical facilities. The next step is identifying potential partners, such as your local tourism organization and other partners that may be willing to work with you," he stated.

"When they market an event, they want to know what other products they can bundle together to create packages that will allow visitors to benefit from the richness of the experiences we can offer in Saskatchewan."

Many farmers and ranchers may not realize that what they do to produce food and make value-added products is of great interest to others who do not share this province's heritage. According to Harel, our secret ingredient is ourselves. "Being who you say you are and trying to develop something that's unique to you is the formula," he said.

Harel welcomes new entrants to the agri-tourism sector. "Come to Tourism Saskatchewan events and meetings. Get engaged and become active stakeholders in the industry, and together we will make Saskatchewan shine on the world tourism scene."

For more information, contact:
Claude-Jean Harel, President
The Great Excursions Company
Phone: (306) 569-1571
E-mail: cj@greatexcursions.com
Website: http://www.greatexcursions.com/
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