For many operators, rural tourism is an adjunct to other farm income, and is not particularly profitable. Many go into these businesses without good financial advice, and fail. In addition, many businesses are seasonal, which limits overall income. Summer, the peak season, also coincides with important farm activities such as harvesting and haymaking.
For farmers, the benefits, aside from additional income, include social contact and learning more about other cultures. Some see rural tourism as an opportunity to educate urban dwellers about a different way of life, bridging the gap between town and country.
Bringing the world closer
One organic farmer has described the benefits of hosting WWOOFers: ‘We could not afford to take our children to the world, so we could bring the world to them. We felt this would keep the children open-minded to other nationalities and they could learn ideas and attitudes of people coming from other countries.’ 1
Issues for Māori operators
A significant number of rural tourism businesses are Māori-owned and operated. Ownership is often joint, through a trust or incorporation. These businesses offer tourists unique experiences such as visits to remote areas and access to authentic cultural activities. Benefits for Māori in developing such ventures include:
- employment for young people
- training opportunities
- improvements to marae facilities and land
- promotion of culture and language.
Māori operators may find that running a tourist business can conflict with cultural beliefs. For example, they may have difficulties with selling hospitality rather than giving it, or strike problems when a marae used for tourist visits is needed for a tangi (funeral) or hui (meeting). They may also need to control access to sacred battle or burial sites, or decide how much they can talk about sensitive aspects of tribal history.
Rural tourism agencies
In the late 1990s rural tourism conferences were held and there was a Rural Tourism Council, affiliated with the Tourism Industry Association. In the 2000s one of the main rural tourism organisations was the New Zealand Association of Farm and Home Hosts, founded in 1987. It is for providers of farmstay and bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and runs an annual conference. Members must meet standards set by the association.
Local tourism organisations and regional councils are involved in developing rural tourism. Problems these agencies work to overcome include:
- limited promotion for rural tourism
- poor roads and lack of public toilets
- difficulties maintaining established facilities
- government regulations that make it costly and complex to set up businesses, for instance liquor licensing and health and safety rules.