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Illinois tourism office touts value-added opportunities
By DEBORAH BEHRENDS
Illinois Correspondent

SYCAMORE, Ill. — Agritourism? Agritainment? Whatever it is called, people from all areas of the farm community are looking for ways to add value, to increase their income stream without leaving the farm.

The Northern Illinois Tourism Development Office and the Agriculture and Tourism Partners of Illinois collaborated recently to provide area producers with keys to success in agritourism.

Bonnie Heimbach, director of the Northern Illinois Tourism Development Office in Belvidere, welcomed the 25 participants to the DeKalb County Center for Agriculture in Sycamore with the tidbit that just under $56 million are spent annually on tourism in DeKalb County alone.

With that information, Ross Ament of Ament Associates Inc. of Aurora, Ill., said agritourism is the merging of two of Illinois’ largest industries. The big question is why would you want to invite strangers to your farm or home? Not only can farmers create alternative revenue streams, but also they will provide an experience that tourists can get nowhere else.

“A tourism truism is that if you keep them overnight, so they’ll linger longer, they spend more,” Ament said.

The target market for agritourism should be residents of cities and suburbs. He listed several keys to providing that experience.

First, the farmer must add value for the visitor by appealing to all his senses ... even with the fresh country aromas farm folks take for granted. Second, visitors should be educated with tours, displays, demonstrations, hands-on experiences.

The third key is the fun quotient. It’s up to the farmer to create excitement, use humor and think outside the box. And fourth, the operator is in the business of customer relations. It’s necessary to build a relationship with visitors so they tell their friends about the great experience they had. If they had a bad experience, they’ll tell anyone who will listen.

Ament also provided an agritourism success quotient assessment. The second presenter of the day was attorney Rich Schell, who grew up on a farm in Polo, Ill. With a very dry sense of humor, Schell discussed 10 points to consider before beginning an agritourism operation.

Although he provided more detail, the 10 points included:

•Zoning

•Employment compliance

•Insurance

•Intellectual property

•Premises liability

•Petting zoos

•Field sanitation

•Signage

•Pet management plan

•Ongoing risk evaluation and planning

Schell said anyone interested in agritourism needs to think of their operation as a mini amusement park. He also said tourists are people who “come, stay a while, pay and go away. If they don’t go away, it’s called development.”

The third presenter was Amy Trimble of Trimble Consulting and Promotion in Oregon, Ill. Trimble discussed offering your home as a bed and breakfast.

She discussed the pros - extra income, meeting interesting people, having a home-based business, taking advantage of unused space and providing a community service - and the cons - becoming an entertainer, giving up some privacy and the necessity to clean, clean, clean, clean, cook and clean some more.

Trimble touched on some of the practical aspects to consider, writing a business plan and promoting the business. She also shared some horror stories about bed and breakfasts she and her husband have visited.

The final presenter was Wendy Tritt of Trittenhouse Design in Sycamore, Ill. She discussed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Web Design with a variety of examples.

Basic design principles to consider include alignment, proximity, repetition, contrast, layout and graphics. Use of color is important as well as it can enhance the page or detract from the message presented.

Common mistakes to avoid include not changing the color of links visited, having too much text, violating design conventions, hidden or no contact information and lack of testing. It’s possible a website looks great on one operating system or one browser but doesn’t work with another.

For details on agritourism, Heimbach recommended contacting the local tourism development office or chamber of commerce.

She can be reached in Belvidere at 815-547-3740 or visit www.visitnorthernillinois.com

3/29/2006