Agritourism – The Next Big Colorado Attraction?

Dude ranches, vineyards and hay rides may be just the tip of the iceberg in Colorado as the state ramps up to increase tourism through promoting farms, ranches and other agricultural attractions as destinations.

The Colorado Tourism Office and Department of Agriculture released an Agritourism Strategic Plan on April 25 during the Second Annual Southweat Tourism Summit.

“Colorado has offered travelers agritourism opportunities for years, but more recently offerings like farmers markets and winery tours have become more firmly established,” said Judy Walden with Walden Mills Group. “These new agritourism products are commanding a healthy price, and are a good fit with what cultural heritage travelers demand – authenticity and quality.”

The three-year action plan capitalizes on a perceived increase in interest from visitors looking for local foods and drinks during their travels to create an authentic experience.

In a state where microbreweries, wine making and local foods are plentiful, this goal should be fairly easy to achieve with coordination between the public and private sector.

Agritourism attractions such as dude ranches have a long history in the West. However many farms have begun new programs offering farm dinners and ranch stays to augment and diversify their income.

“Agritourism is the next frontier for Colorado agriculture, and the diversity of activities we see rising in all corners of this state is really exciting,” said Dan Hobbs of Hobbs Family Farm. “Agritourism is becoming a very important tool for rural economic development. Farm and ranch families will discover new opportunities to become profitable and develop important new allies.”

Agritourism has expanded to many food-production markets in Colorado, including diverse businesses as Honeyville, which offers factory tours of a honey production facility near Durango, to well known staples like Celestial Seasonings, the tea company that has produced tea and offered free factory tours near Boulder since 1969.

According to the new Agritoursim Strategic Plan for the Colorado Tourism Office, Rural economic development will stimulate new agritourism experiences for visitors and support clusters of local businesses working together to develop and promote agritourism.

“We are excited about partnering with the Department of Agriculture and are proud of the progress we’ve made together for the Agritourism Program,” said Laura Grey, Heritage and Agritourism Program Manager for the Colorado Tourism Office. “We look forward to continuing to make huge strides for Colorado’s agritourism industry.”

By Sean McCoy