Monday, June 30, 2014

Connecting MONTANA and the WORLD

Connecting MONTANA and the WORLD

When the folks at WorldMontana® say “multi-regional”, they really mean it!

Montana Bunkhouses had the pleasure of hosting 17 international leaders from 15 countries on June 15, 2014.  The delegates were guests of the US Department of State’s Leadership Program.  The focus was to highlight the link between tourism and economic development.  The delegates were interested in learning more about trends in tourism and specifically geotourism with its emphasis on history, heritage, and traditions.   
Multi-regional participants were from:   Bangladesh, Barbados, Comoros, Egypt, Estonia, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Philippines, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.
The participants enjoyed lunch and a discussion lead by Karen Searle.  Karen talked about emerging trends of tourism and ways the Montana Bunkhouse model could be used in other countries.  For example, the geotourist comes to vibrant and charming towns that serve as gateways to natural wonders.  They want to share local customs and breathtaking experiences by day, and relaxing hospitality by night.   The conversations centered around, “What would it take?” for you to be discovered by the visitors who are defined as geotourists, and “What would it look like?” if you were successful. 
The business that offers the most value to the customer is the one that will succeed.  The Montana Bunkhouse agri-tourism model appealed to the imagination of the delegates who were encouraged to take these same ideas back home.    Extend the invitation, tell your story in an authentic manner, dig a little deeper and allow the guest to be part of the story.   Prepare, plan, and then step back and let it happen!    Let guests discover your country as never before!
Mike Leffingwell owner of the G Bar M Ranch took the members on a ranch tour and told stories about the challenges and rewards of the families who are living and ranching in “the last best place”. (The G Bar M Ranch is a member of the Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations cooperative hosting guests for hands-on ranch vacations.)  The delegates were amazed at the natural beauty and authenticity of the cattle ranching world.  Rather than simply hearing about our brand of working ranch vacations, they wanted to skip the rest of the Leadership Program, remain at the ranch and learn to be a cowboy!

WorldMontana® is an affiliate of the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) based in Washington, D.C.  They arrange meetings between international visitors and their professional counterparts to discuss common interests and to share ideas.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Putting a face on agriculture


Today I was the featured speaker on a teleconference for the Alaska Geotourism Group.  This is a group of 50 or so individuals who represent different Alaskan gateway communities that are eager to get on board with a geotourism campaign.

They said they were looking for what they called “geotourism pathfinders”—Individuals dedicated to harnessing the economic and cultural power of tourism to sustain and improve their communities.  They were interested in learning more about my work in “heritage tourism” and the Montana Bunkhouse cooperative business model. 

When Jonathan Tourtellot coined the term Geotourism, he was putting a name on a movement in tourism defined as:

  • 'Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place: the environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and well-being of its residents. It's about building a relationship with the place you are visiting - with the local culture, with the natural environment and with the people who live there.'
  • The Geotourist is someone who wants to experience a sense of place.  While tourism on a massive scale threatens what's special in the world.  Geotourism is a new movement that enables travelers to improve the places they visit.’

While speaking to the group I highlighted the strengths of the Montana Bunkhouse model for heritage and agri-tourism:

  • Working cooperatively Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations have a much better reach in the marketplace than would an individual ranch.  Our diversity becomes a real strength offering more choice.
  • This model allows for one person to promptly handle inquiries and bookings. 
  •  Education is the cornerstone of Montana Bunkhouse.  Guests affirm these profound experiences change their orientation to their world. 
  •  And so…. while agri-tourism is not a “silver bullet” guaranteed to keep ranching families going broke, it may generate enough money to enable a son or daughter to come back to the ranch and that may make just enough difference.
I explained that any successful endeavor needs a champion.
  •  One who will doggedly move forward through thick and thin with a determination to turn ideas into action.   Someone with passion for the idea and too stubborn to give up even if/when the fledgling enterprise does not turn a profit for the first several years.  
  •  Someone working from the ground up. It is that part about “harnessing the dragon” (the spirit of the people,) and focusing the energy of the ranchers. 
  •  At the end of the day, it is not cutting edge technology that makes the difference.  People want to talk to a real live person.  That human connection is what makes it work.  Building a relationship with the guests, answering questions, making recommendations, providing a service.
Now a dozen years down the road, what have I learned?   

We are bound together by shared stories, history, and heritage as well as the traditions of our ranching way of life.  It defines us.  It is our strength.  As generational ranch families, we are striving to preserve the integrity of the family ranch.  We are good stewards of the land.   We are working to pass it on to the next generation.   We are teaching people about struggles and our viewpoint by sharing with guests the thing most precious to us…..our way of life.  

Putting a face on agriculture.