Training program gives agritourism an online presence

2013-03-02T08:00:00Z Training program gives agritourism an online presenceBy JESSICA HOLDMAN | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. - An online presence can help farmers and ranchers interested in agritourism to build their business and a newly launched training program can help.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service partnered to design the training materials. The training covers different aspects of businesses’ online presence including Facebook, Twitter, videos and pictures, search engine optimization and guest testimonials.

“It’s fully designed as an educational effort,” said Glenn Muske, NDSU Extension’s rural and agribusiness enterprise development specialist. “This is for operators to expand their knowledge base.”

Agritourism is any agriculture-based operation that brings visitors to a farm or ranch such as you-pick fruit farms, farm stands, farm vacations, tours, on-farm classes, fairs, festivals, pumpkin patches or Christmas tree farms.

Dean Ihla of the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s tourism division said there are 25 registered agritourism operators in the state. There are about another 55 people considering agritourism or offering agritourism services but not promoting them. The agritourism program within the tourism division got started in 2010.

Jeremy Doan is the owner of Rolling Plains Adventures in Sterling, which offers hunting trips and hands-on ranching experiences. He is featured in the training for his business’ website. He taught himself about website design and search engine optimization and said having this training program as a resource would have been beneficial.

“You can have a very good website, but if people are not finding it, it’s worthless,” he said.

Muske said a lot of people want to “get to know” their farmers and a lot of that today happens online. The training is meant to help farmers in agritourism engage potential customers through their websites.

The websites should give visitors a feel for what the farm or ranch they wish to visit is like, Muske said. He said agritourism is an experience economy, like Disneyland. Agritourism operators have to convince travelers they would enjoy coming to their farm or ranch rather than going somewhere else.

Muske said for a lot of agritourism businesses, like dude ranches and hunting lodges, most of the clientele comes from outside the state. Without a website, it’s harder for entities to reach that customer base.

Doan said 95 percent of his clients are from out of state and 100 percent of new clients have found him on the Internet.

“It (a website) is key to our successful business,” he said.

The tourism division already offers some marketing help to operators but Muske said he hopes the NDSU Extension training program will add to those efforts. Ihla said many of the registered operators already have some form of online presence but the training could make it better.

“It’s just a really good ‘how to’ resource when it comes to starting and growing an agritourism business,” he said.

The training is free and available online at http://go.unl.edu/agritourism. Users also can sign up for a weekly newsletter to help them keep up with changes in online marketing trends at http://paper.li/UNLeShip/1319999929.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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