There was a real sense of coming of age at the Scottish Agritourism Conference held in Perth on 10 November 2021.  The conference heralded the launch the following day of the Scottish Agritourism strategy for growth, prefaced by Mairi Gougeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, signalling that Scottish Agritourism as a sector is making its voice heard in the corridors of power and policy making.

The strategy is launched at a pivotal time, as Brexit, COVID-19, disrupted supply chains and an emerging new agricultural policy create opportunities for the sector and underscore its importance to the survival and growth of many farms and estates in Scotland.

So what is 'agritourism'?  When the word started to appear in Scotland a few years back it was one of those terms where; we kind of knew what it meant, but were not quite sure.  However, it was clear from the conference and the strategy that it is a sector of its own that is developing a very distinct shape and form, and has set out its vision for where it wants to go.

Definitions are important in terms of describing ambition and the essence of what the sector is about. The strategy paper gives a Scottish definition for agritourism as “a tourism or leisure activity on a working farm, croft or estate which produces food.” It goes on to note that when referring to “farm” this includes crofts and estates.  It is this connection to active farm businesses that is seen as critical to the success of the sector in terms of responding to what customers are looking for, and in preserving its uniqueness.  The conference was at pains to emphasise that this is not about diversification but sees itself as an integral part of the life blood of farm business.  It does not welcome the large corporate-style business that might cloak itself in rural colours but does not have that integral connection to a farm.  It is possible to argue around the parameters of this kind of definition, and where the line between an integral part of a farm business stops and diversification, or indeed just another type of business starts, but the thrust of where the sector sees itself is clear. 

This coming of age was further marked by the presentation of the results of the first ever VisitScotland annual growth tracker to measure KPIs in the sector.   This was designed to start to capture empirical evidence of the contribution that agritourism makes to the rural economy and also to quantify potential growth. From the responses it calculates that there are around 500 businesses active in the sector. 56 businesses were generating a turnover of £6.8 million or £120,600 per business.  Adding in farm retail at £233,000 per business adds another £62.2 million based on 267 businesses.  The stated ambition of the strategy is to have 1,000 Scottish farming and crofting enterprises offering an agritourism experience with at least 50% providing a food and drink element by 2030.  You do the maths as they say!  It is this potential that is grabbing the attention of policy makers.

As well as all the customer facing benefits of connecting people to local food and drink and on-farm experiences, critically the tracker demonstrates how it is providing employment and opportunity, and particularly for women on farms who are very often taking management and ownership of the agritourism business.  This in itself is opening up opportunities for different generations within the family and providing a variety of roles and career paths.  Very often these businesses may sit within the farming empire but may be set up in separate companies or partnerships to manage ownership, succession and risk.

What is clear is that the sector is evolving a whole raft of entrepreneurial people who are stepping up to the challenge, and they are taking themselves out of the comfort zones of the traditional farming activity.  With that come a range of new challenges, from employment to business structuring and tax, planning permissions and regulatory matters, and is something we are very much engaged with as a firm in supporting our clients.

As the conference closed and the strategy was launched, it was evident there was a real buzz in the air and that this sector is definitely carving out its distinct place in Scotland's rural sector.