Rural tourism association seeks members

Agri-tourism is growing in Manitoba and a new organization hopes it can grow with it.

At just over a dozen members, the Manitoba Rural Tourism Association sees an opportunity to tap into the hundreds of farm hosts now taking part in events like Open Farm Day and the annual Direct Farm Marketing conference, said the new group’s president Jim Irwin.

The MRTA emerged just over a year ago after the former Manitoba Country Vacations Association changed its name.

Ventures offering farm vacations have become much broader than simply offering accommodations, said Irwin who co-owns Riding Mountain Guest Ranch near the park.

“And what we’d like to do is grow the industry,” Irwin said in an interview at last week’s Direct Farm Marketing conference.

One of the key benefits of having an organization to represent agri-tourism is the co-operative marketing and advertising a larger group can potentially do, he said.

As its membership expands, the MRTA hopes to create a comprehensive online directory of members’ tourism products and services and the directly to consumer on-farm goods members have to offer.

“We’d like to have a totally comprehensive listing of all the existing products in rural Manitoba and theme it around shopping locally, travelling locally and rural Manitoba welcomes you,” he said.

A broader-based membership can also advocate more effectively for the needs of agri-tourism operators, Irwin said.

A huge need is for group insurance for these kinds of ventures, he said. Lack of cost-effective insurance is prohibitive for startups and a primary operating cost that severely cuts into margins, Irwin said.

“It totally inhibits the development of small and supplementary-type income businesses,” he said. “Or you’re working for the insurance company.”

The former country vacation group successfully advocated for members on taxation and licensing requirements of agri-tourism sites. As a broader-based group they want to continue that advocacy work, Irwin said.

Irwin said the growth of agri-tourism has great potential for spurring more rural economic development through small-scale business development.

For more information about MRTA membership call (204) 848-7354.

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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