Stephen Dobson
President, D.H. Resorts, Inc.

Agri-tourism is relatively new terminology within the business of tourism. Although many tourism businesses have been using this concept for years, it is only recently that agriculture and tourism agencies have realized the benefit and potential of combining their strengths. Agri-tourism is defined as any business conducted by a farmer for the enjoyment or education of the public, to promote the products of the farm and to generate additional farm income.

Stephen Dobson

Stephen Dobson is the co-founder and president of D.H. Resorts in Fleming County, Kentucky. Voted "Outstanding Business of the Year 2001" by the Fleming County Chamber of Commerce, D.H. Resorts has grown from a horse camp bordering Daniel Boone National Forest in 1990 to a 1200-acre resort offering a diverse range of accommodations, programs and facilities. D.H. Resorts is one of the premier Agritourism businesses in the state of Kentucky.

It includes a variety of facilities and activities that are increasingly available such as agricultural festivals and fairs, farm visits, farm tours, demonstration farms, farm stays, wineries, nurseries, guest ranches and Farmers’ Markets. Combining a region’s large tourism industry with the uniqueness of local agriculture offers a whole new set of opportunities for farmers to diversify their operations and their revenue sources as well. Agri-tourism can provide additional reasons for area visits, longer stays and more dollars are left in the communities. These visits not only benefit the local farmer, but bolster the local lodging and restaurant businesses and increase the visits to other tourist attractions as well.

The equine industry has been active in agri-tourism even before the terminology was created. Horse riding stables and lessons, guest ranches and stable tours have all been part of tourism endeavors for many years. I have owned and managed an equine agri-tourism business since 1988, D.H. Resorts.

D.H. Resorts started with 300 acres and a concept, a Western Dude Ranch in Eastern Kentucky. The first phase of the project, the Western Village, a horseman’s campground, was opened in 1990 utilizing private acreage and adjoining national forest for horse owners to ride. Over the next several years the resort grew through facilities and programs to accommodate the increasing diversity of interest from our customer base. In 1992, we began offering horse rental rides and programs for the non-horse owners. Our lodge, the Mountain Lake Manor, was purchased and opened in 1995 to accommodate another part of the vacationer base, the non-campers. By determining that most of our guests were families with children, we began offering youth horse camps in 1996 which brought an educational aspect to our programs. After seeing the success of our camps and the continued growth in the horse programs, we built a 10,000 square foot Equestrian Facility complete with an indoor riding area, 17 teaching stalls and a fully facilitated bunk house with overnight accommodations for 20. With various horse and resort activities available for our guests, as well as a diversity of lodging options, the next logical phase was food service. In 2001, our full service restaurant, the Horseshoe Café opened for resort guests and local public. Today, D.H. Resorts spans 1,200 acres of private property with 2,000 acres of leased land for riding, a private 22-acre lake, campgrounds, cabins, lodge, swimming pool, group pavilions, stables, restaurant and 28 head of horses. Our continued success in 2006, our 16th season, will rely on some fundamental principles that I have learned and try to follow while managing the business. I feel these are important mainstays for any tourism-based endeavor.

Be Honest with Yourself
If you do not like people or people on your farm, you should not start a tourism business. If your business is meant to supplement your income, than make sure you can afford the time and capital the new business will require.

Service
To most guests, service is more important than cost. Service relates to you and your employees’ interaction with the customers. A good experience for a guest may lead to one or two positive referrals, however a bad experience will lead to ten negative comments. It is important you lead by example with solid hospitality training. A solid management team and interdepartmental communication will also be important as your facility expands.

Flexibility
Create a business plan with basic concepts, structures and requirements. Incorporate new ideas and programs in existing facilities before investing in new facilities. Always be willing to change or remove products based on customer needs or business exposure. If your guests are not using a product or your costs, such as insurance, are too high, you need to change your direction.

Patience
Tourism is a slow process of developing clientele relationships and creating a good reputation in the marketplace. Developing the right programs to offer and marketing outlets to advertise in requires trial and error over time. Market research in creating a marketing plan will help save time and money by reaching your target customer base. Develop a plan that begins locally and expands to the boundaries you are comfortable with.

In conclusion, agri-tourism is a rewarding and excellent opportunity for a farmer wishing to open his farm to the public as a new source of revenue, with the understanding that it is a long-term project based on quality service and a flexible business plan.