Coming of Age: Agritourism Growing Strong in America
By Karin Leperi

As more and more people feel the accordion squeeze from cramped urban living, increasingly they are looking to the land for diversionary rest and recreation, for breathing room; and to expand their focused lives through a combination of education and entertainment. It’s about the country and open-spaces. It’s about going back to the basics, about enjoying simple pleasures: it’s all about agritourism, sometimes called agritravel.


Whether it is the outdoors, food and fiber, festivals and fairs, or nature-based experiences, this type of travel is becoming a popular choice for people choosing how best to spend their travel dollars. Sometimes referred to as “slow travel,” the focus is on a rural experience, evoking the nostalgia of simpler times, a slower pace, and welcoming places with warm smiling faces. It’s about establishing a connection with the land, the sea; with the flora and fauna of the landscape. It’s about the food chain; it’s about the circle of life.

The United States first embraced agritourism as a way to supplement farm and ranch incomes. By marketing the nostalgia of rural America and the ingenuity of the country entrepreneur to the public in unique and innovative ways, many hope that the family land-owner can be sustained.


For example, festivals that celebrate the crop of the land, fruit of the vine, and the bounty of the sea, abound in every small town. From artichokes, rhubarbs, mushrooms and garlic to vintage wine, artisan cheese, and seafood – these all encompass agritourism.

Now, agritourism has blossomed into something more to include commercial enterprise activities such as wine-tastings at vineyards, cattle drives on the range, milking cows at dairies, gathering farm-fresh eggs on family farms, horseback riding at dude ranches, llama-trekking on wilderness preserves, or even touring the likes of shrimp farms or organic food operations.

Other forms of agritourism are pumpkin patches, haunted houses, hay and sleigh rides, Christmas tree farms, farm-animal petting zoos, U-pick operations, and farmer’s markets, to name a few. And let’s not forget simple pleasures like camping, picnicking, wildlife watching, garden tours, or even mastering one’s way through horticulture mazes of corn, hedges, and shrubs. Accommodations can range from bed & breakfast operations that offer locally grown food as part of their offered “board” to accommodations such as farms, ranches, youth exchanges and elder hostels.

Already a growth industry in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, Italy and other parts of Europe, a TIME Europe Magazine article dated August 16, 2004, says, “Vacationers are increasingly turning to the pastoral pleasures of rural holidays – and Europe’s farmers are reaping the benefits.” The United States is starting to see definable growth in this area as well.

For additional information on agritourism, check out the following sites:

Karin Leperi is the Agritourism Consultant to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES).

The Following Fact Sheet is courtesy of The International Ecotourism Society

Tourism: “Travel undertaken for pleasure”


• Major global industry: If tourism were a country, it would have the 2nd largest economy, surpassed only by U.S.
• 2004: Globally, contributed an estimated $5.49 trillion of economic activity
Accounts for 215 million jobs - 8.1% of total world employment
• In 4 out of 5 countries (over 150) tourism is one of five top export earners;
In 60 countries it is the number one export.


• 1950 – 25 million global tourist arrivals
• 2004 – 760 million global tourism arrivals
• 1990s – growing globally at 7%/year
• 2004 – grew globally 10% over 2003

Importance to developing countries:

• Tourism is a principle “export” (foreign exchange earner) for 83% of developing countries, and the leading export for 1/3 of poorest countries.
• For world’s 40 poorest countries, tourism is 2nd most important source of foreign exchange, after oil
• Over last decade, tourism has been “the only large sector of international trade in services where poor countries have consistently posted a surplus.”

Ecotourism: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people” (TIES, 1990)

Since surveys rarely ask either travelers or businesses specifically about ecotourism, precise statistics are difficult to determine. Ecotourism is frequently lumped ecotourism together with nature tourism and other forms of ‘experiential’ or ‘alternative’ tourism. These figures represent TIES best effort to put together an accurate assessment of the strength of ecotourism, particularly since 2000.


• Beginning in 1990s, growing 20% - 34%/year
• 2004: Ecotourism/nature tourism growing 3 times faster than tourism industry as a whole.
• In the U.S., ecotourism is estimated to be a $77 Billion market. This represents 5% of the overall US travel and tourism market.
• About 13% of the 18.6 million U.S. outbound leisure travelers (approximately 2.4 million Americans) can be regarded as ecotourists.

Consumer Demand: Strong, growing but largely passive

• In the US, over 75% of tourists feel their visits should not damage the environment, and 38% are willing to pay more; 55.1 million US travelers are classified as “geo-tourists” or interested in nature, culture, and heritage tourism.
• Over half (62%) of U.S. travelers surveyed in 2003 say that it is important that they learn about other cultures when they travel, and 52% seek destinations with a wide variety of cultural and arts events/attractions.
• Nearly half (49%) prefer trips with small-scale accommodations, which are run by local people.
• 16% of US adult population cares a lot about the environmental impacts of travel.
• 37% of the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability market (LOHAS) say that the environmental impacts of travel matters a lot to them.
• 66% of the US adult population is interested in environmentally responsible travel
• 75% of LOHAS are interested in environmentally responsible travel
• 9% of US adults are dissatisfied with the environmental impact of the travel services they use (this is consistent with other measures of dissatisfaction)
• More than two-thirds of U.S. and Australian travelers, and 90% of British tourists, consider active protection of the environment, including support of local communities, to be part of a hotel’s responsibility.
• In Europe:
o 20%-30% of travelers aware of needs & values of sustainable tourism
o 10%-20% look for ‘green’ options
o 5%-10% demand ‘green’ holidays

Seeking out—and paying for—responsible tourism

• In Germany, 65% (39 million) of travelers expect environmental quality; 42% (25 million) “think that it is particularly important to find environmentally-friendly accommodation.”
• According to a 2002 survey, these travelers are more likely to patronize hotels with a “responsible environmental attitude.”
• However, only 14% of U.S. travelers, and 26% of Australians, actually ask hotels if they have an environmental policy. Not a single British traveler surveyed spoke to the hotel about their policies.
• Nearly half of those questioned in one survey aid they would be more likely to go with a ‘company that had a written code to guarantee good working conditions, protect the environment and support local charities in the tourist destination… [E]thical tourism will rightly be a big issue in the new millennium.”
• A survey of U.S., British, and Australian travelers revealed that 70% would pay up to $150 more for a two-week stay in a hotel with a “responsible environmental attitude.
• In U.K., 87% say their holiday should not damage the environment; 39% said they were prepared to pay 5% extra for ethical guarantees.

Ecotourism vs Mass Tourism:

• In Costa Rica, tourism (most of which is ecotourism) generates $1000/visitor while in France, standard tourism generates only $400/visitor.
• In Dominica, in the Caribbean, “stay over” tourists using small, nature-based lodges spent 18 times more than cruise passengers spend while visiting the island.
• 80% of money for all-inclusive package tours goes to airlines, hotels, and other international companies. Eco-lodges hire and purchase locally, and therefore put a higher – sometimes as much as 95% of money into the local economy.
• Sun-and-sand resort tourism has now “matured as a market” and its growth is projected to remain flat. In contrast, “experiential” tourism--which encompasses ecotourism, nature, heritage, cultural, and soft adventure tourism, as well as sub-sectors such as rural and community tourism—is among the sectors expected to grow most quickly over the next two decades.

Ecotourist Profile:

In the U.S. the primary target market is:

• 35-54 years of age
• 82% have a college education or higher
• Willing to pay on average $1000 - $1500 per trip, more than mass tourists generally spend
• Top 3 elements of the trip include (1) wilderness setting, (2) wildlife viewing,
(3) hiking and trekking.

In Europe the primary target market is:

• Experienced travelers
• Higher education
• Higher income bracket
• Age: middle to elderly
• Opinion leaders