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. 

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