The income gap between farmers and urban workers has become a major problem in the Asian and Pacific region. The situation is likely to get worse over the next few years, now that the Uruguay Round is being implemented and Asian markets are being opened to cheap agricultural produce from abroad. To maintain their present standard of living, farmers will have to find new ways of earning money. In favorable areas, agricultural tourism can become an important source of farm income.
When small-scale farmers first become involved in the tourist industry, they often need some outside support. They may require credit and outside expertise to help them improve their facilities to meet the standards of urban visitors. They may need new skills of management and service, so that their visitors will be pleased with their stay and want to come back. They may also require outside help in advertising and publicity, to attract tourists from distant cities.
There are many terms for tourism in the countryside, including rural tourism, agricultural tourism, ecotourism, green tourism and agrotourism.
Opinions vary as to whether both types of tourism deserve equal support from governments. Some people feel that all tourism in rural areas brings in income and regenerates rural communities, and is therefore beneficial. Others feel that the primary beneficiaries of rural tourism should be farmers. Tourism which simply transplants urban investment and enterprises to a rural setting does little to improve farm incomes. Certainly it makes a considerable difference how well rural tourist resorts are integrated into the local economy, and whether they use local capital and local products.
The way in which rural tourism is organized and the forms it takes vary from country to country. In some countries, the government or cooperative movement is the main source of investment. In others it is private enterprise.
. In Indonesia, rural tourism has been developed mainly in the plantation areas of Sumatra and Java. Visitors stay in hotels, but visit farms to see activities such as rice planting or rubber tapping. In Japan, the most common type of farm tourism is the farm inn, which offers accommodation and usually meals. Korea offers tourism farms, developed by a group of more than five farm households, and home-stay villages near tourist resort areas. In Malaysia, the government has provided most of the funding for more than 30 agrotourism centers. These are intended for education as well as recreation. Sometimes rare plants or animal species are the main attraction, sometimes traditional foods, handicrafts or historic buildings. A European example of well developed rural tourism is France. Camping and caravans are the most popular form of accommodation in rural areas, many of them on farms. Many farmers have developed camping sites on their farms. Other farmers prefer to invest in various kinds of short-term rental houses known as "gÃ®tes".
Planners and policy makers usually see farm tourism in economic terms, as a source of additional farm income. Farmers themselves tend to see agriculture as their main economic activity, and tourism as secondary. Farmers may not even have profit as their main motive when they invest in rural tourism. Two surveys of farmers providing tourist accommodation, one carried out in Japan and one in France, both found that a major reason farmers engaged in this activity was to meet people and make new friends. Both surveys also found that it was women rather than men who were primarily involved in rural tourism. Many women were looking for an independent economic role, rather than income alone.
Good planning is vital if rural tourism is really going to benefit rural communities. To city dwellers, the countryside may seem a peaceful haven. For rural people, tourism may cause conflict and distress if there are too many visitors causing too much noise and traffic. Local services such as rubbish collection and sewage may not be able to cope. Poorly planned development can spoil community life and ruin the landscape.
Good planning not only minimizes the destructive impact of tourism, it is useful in other ways. It helps farmers assess the tourism potential of their farms and their local area, and develop this potential in a coordinated way.
A problem shared by most Asian countries is the lack of management skills among farmers involved in tourism projects. Lack of skills is also a problem among the local government staff responsible for planning and regulation of tourism. Most have little knowledge or experience of tourism development. This makes it difficult for them to select suitable projects for development permits, or assess the impact of these projects on rural areas.
Most rural tourism facilities tend to be small and widely scattered. This makes it difficult to market them to potential visitors, and makes it almost impossible for them to cater for the mass tourist industry.
Many rural areas of outstanding natural beauty have a poor road or rail network, and are difficult to reach. In some densely populated countries, road access may be made difficult by crowding. In others, roads are poor so that travel is slow. City dwellers are unwilling to spend their precious free time visiting the countryside if it takes too long to get there.
Even more than cities, rural areas receive most of their tourists during the height of the season. This limits the number of days in which tourist accommodation and other facilities are used, and reduces the return on investment.
Returns on capital invested in rural tourism tend to be fairly low. They are nearly always lower than the returns from other kinds of commercial enterprises. In general, small-scale farmers are well advised not to invest too heavily in new buildings or expensive facilities. It is difficult for them to make a profit if they are burdened by heavy interest payments. Cheap credit and other financial help from governments can make a big difference in the profitability of a tourism farm.
Climate plays an important role in investment. Countries in the temperate zone with pronounced seasonality need a higher investment into tourist accommodation than tropical countries such as Thailand, where temperatures are much the same throughout the year. Temperate countries are also likely to have a shorter tourist season, and a relatively low number of days of occupancy per year.
Farmers who provide accommodation for tourists, especially visitors from overseas, are dealing with people who have a different life style from their own, and an unfamiliar set of preferences and values. Success in rural tourism is based on return visits, and word of mouth recommendations. Farmers need information about their visitors, including feedback, so they can adapt to the wishes of their visitors. A good questionnaire, or some other way of telling farmers what their customers liked and what they didn't like, will help them develop a successful enterprise.
Most successful rural tourism is the product of good planning and a good location. Tourist farms are much more likely to succeed if they are near tourist attractions such as national parks or good swimming beaches. Good roads are also important. Tourists will not want to drive for hours over rough roads, however beautiful the place is once they get there. Some areas may benefit from large-scale tourist development by local government or some public organization. Large-scale development, if it is well-designed, can attract more tourists, and have a spillover effect in generating income for farmers over a wide area.
Farmers beginning a tourist enterprise can benefit very much from outside support. They need information and guidance in deciding whether their farms are suitable for tourists, what facilities they can offer, and what return they can expect. Once the decision to develop is taken, they need training in management and hospitality, and sometimes they also need credit. Finally, they need to be part of some system of marketing and advertisement, and benefit greatly from some system of feedback and customer response. A national system of accreditation or licensing is also an advantage.
Whether investment is primarily from the government or commercial sources, the rate of return from rural tourism is usually low compared to other kinds of commercial investment. This means that either credit should be supplied on favorable terms, or farmers must have strong reasons other than economic ones for investing in farm tourism. In fact, wider social contacts and making new friends, and for women, finding a new economic role, sometimes seem to be as strong a motivation as the economic return on investment.
Farmers are most likely to benefit from tourism if they can directly provide tourists with services and products, whether these are accommodation, food, local specialties or a combination of the three. If tourists in rural areas stay in large resorts built by outside capital, with little interaction with local people, eating food imported from outside areas, the benefits they bring the local economy will be minimal. While the economic impact of rural tourism is not simple to evaluate, its development is most likely to benefit farmers if it is small-scale, dispersed, and supplier oriented rather than demand oriented.
Location: Choonchun, Korea
Date: June 23-26 1998
No. Participating Countries: 8 (France, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan ROC, Thailand)
No. Papers: 13
No. Participants: 35 plus observers
Co-sponsors: National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, Korea Korean Academy of Tourism Agriculture
1. Role of agricultural cooperatives in rural tourism in Korea
- Chan-Ho Choi
2. A planning aspect and methodology for countryside tourism development
- Yorikazu Maruta
3. French rural tourism: Clientele, offer and development policy
- Loic Rousseau
4. A development model for transforming from agricultural development to agricultural recreation services: The Flying Cow Ranch in Miaoli, Taiwan
- Eric C. Wang
5. Development possibility of green tourism in Japan
- Yutaka Arahi
6. Trends in rural tourism in Thailand
- Nuchnard Rattanasuwongchai
7. A case study of local leisure agriculture planning in Taiwan
- Wen-Ching Hong
8. Rural tourism industry: Its importance and size
- Saharan Anang
9. Theoretical background and development strategies for rural tourism
- Dong-Phil Lee
10. HomoEco care valley: Developing the Philippine countryside through Rural Eco Tourism
- Fernando Obillo CariÃ±o
11. Case study on rural tourism in Indonesia
- Syukur Iwantoro
12. Development situation and policy programs for rural tourism in Korea
- Kyu-Seob Choi
13. A study on the development method of tourism agriculture in resources of rural parks
- Sun-Moo Ryu
Figure 1 Traditional Farmhouse Used for Farmstays, Japan
Figure 2 Traditional Farmhouse Used for Farmstays, Korea
Figure 3 Rural Tourism in Malaysia- Helping Bring in the Fish Catch
Figure 4 Rural Tourism in Taiwan- Visitors to a Tourist Orchard Pick Their Own Fruit