Vol. 23, No. 3, Aug. 7, 2002
Rising interest in farm-related leisure activities benefiting Illinois
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Move over corn and
beans, cattle and hogs. Make way for reindeer herds and Christmas trees, trail
rides and trout ponds, produce stands and pumpkin patches, corn mazes and petting
zoos … and tourists – sometimes by the busload.
Agritourism is rapidly taking hold in the heartland, according to Bruce Wicks, a professor of leisure studies and director of the Office of Recreation and Tourism Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Wicks said there are many ways to define agritourism, "but I define it rather broadly as an overlap between the agriculture and tourism industries." And that overlap makes economic sense, Wicks said, especially in a state such as Illinois, which counts agriculture and tourism among its top income-generating industries.
With support from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, Central Illinois Tourism Development Office, Illinois Department of Agriculture and University of Illinois Extension, Wicks has played a leading role in developing tools and strategies for establishing linkages between Illinois farmers and producers and the state’s tourism industry. One of those tools, a searchable, Web-based database, includes dozens of agritourism destinations throughout the state. They range from orchards and farmers’ markets to wineries and hunting clubs.
"The general public has found it and is beginning to use it," said Wicks, who noted that users can search the database by county or by key word. So, for instance, tourists can locate all of the corn mazes or wineries listed throughout the state’s 102 counties. The Web site also has great promotional advantages for registered businesses, he added, "because it’s dynamic." Unlike printed promotional materials that become rapidly dated, the Web-based listings can be updated at any time.
The Web site includes map links to destinations, an essential feature, Wicks said, since many of the businesses are in remote regions of the state. Another key component is a link to the local convention and visitors bureau. That’s an important connection, he said, because people often are interested in visiting an agricultural-based business, then combining the visit with an overnight – or longer – stay in a nearby community. And that benefits other businesses, such as shops, restaurants and hotels.
"We’re promoting tourism here," Wicks said. "We can’t be everything to everyone, but we can put them in touch with people who can help."
In addition to the Web site, Wicks said he travels throughout the state, making presentations to various groups about the economic-development benefits of agritourism. "We’re also producing a video to circulate to extension and tourism offices around the state." Also, a grant from the Illinois Department of Agriculture will fund the establishment of the Agriculture and Tourism Alliance. The group’s goals include assisting farm-based businesses with networking and lobbying efforts.
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