“I was by myself and said, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’”
– GWEN SIMPSON, OWNER OF INSPIRED MARKET GARDENS AT CARVEL, ALTA.
Don’t try to go it alone when marketing and promoting agri-tourism ventures.
Form cluster groups instead.
That was advice of fered by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ 2009 Direct Farm Marketing Conference keynote speaker Gwen Simpson. Simpson operates Inspi red Market Gardens, a herb, vegetable and flower farm at Carvel, Alta., west of Edmonton.
She received a Best Practices Renewal Award from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development in 2007 for her business as well as her work drawing agri-tourism ventures together for joint marketing and promotions.
Cluster groups network rural-based agri-tourism ventures together to make it “worth the drive” for their visitors, Simpson explains.
Simpson approached a nearby alpaca producer to form the cluster group they’re part of today, after Simpson began to see how expensive and difficult it would be to solitarily market her business.
“I was by myself and said, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’” she said.
There are now 13 cluster marketing groups operational across rural Alberta linking a variety of regional agri-tourism businesses together.
Cluster groups are made up of individual business owners who’ve agreed to support it, list their business on it and contribute financially to joint promotions through a dynamic website and brochures which map out where everyone’s located.
They’ve been very successful in drawing larger volumes of people to visit rural areas because they provide prospective visitors with a range of activities to choose from. Lone attractions have a harder time enticing people, said Simpson, “because they will ask, ‘What do I do now?’” after they’re done at your place.
Key to forming a cluster group is commitment from participating venues’ owners, she said. Cluster groups are formed by approaching potential partners, deciding on a format such as a map, flyer or postcard to promote with, then forming a nonprofit organization.
Forming these organizations can be extremely advantageous for securing grants for which a single business is likely to be turned down, Simpson noted.
Groups such as Edmonton’s Count ryside, a successful cluster group today made up of five counties around that city, have proved the group-marketing approach works in that regard. They received a major grant and now do attractive promotions, said Simpson.
In Manitoba an example of the cluster group approach would be the annual Pembina Valley Artists’ Studio tour, held in early fall. Last year it held its fourth annual driving tour, featuring artists opening their doors to tourists throughout the towns and regions of Altona, Gretna, Plum Coulee, Winkler and Morden, plus the villages of Horndean, Gnadenthal, Neubergthal and Thornhill.