Appealing and Authentic features of Agritourism Landscapes in North Carolina

Agritourism, Appealing and Authentic?

Shahab Nazariadli, founder of VQMethod, is a PhD graduate from North Carolina State University in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. He worked at People-First Tourism research lab, the first NC State’s tech-based social venture from 2014 to 2018, founded by Dr. Duarte Morais. Nazariadli’s research interests hover around tourism microentrepreneurship, agritourism, and participatory and visual research methods, which essentially means that he worked among small to mid-size farms with a range of experienced farmers and their guests (pick-your-own farms, corn mazes, farmers’ markets, seasonal farms, etc.).

Among his several empowering researches, this excerpt disentangles how rural agritourism is perceived appealing and/or authentic by urban North Carolinian visitors. We often find the compare and contrast fascinating as we explore a destination that is so different from the one in which we live. We may see the surface or know of the general functions of a farm but experiencing a true visit on a workday can alter impressions.

Understanding visitors’ preferences is of vital importance for agritourism entrepreneurs (small business serving to tourists seeking agriculture-related experiences) to better formulate and adjust marketing strategies. They are promised that their farmland’s unadulterated landscapes are appealing to visitors, implying that the infusion of authentic qualities on their tourism services/products, positively influences tourists’ purchase behaviour and stimulates visits.

Virtual Visits
Shahab innovatively brought the laboratory and virtual reality equipment to the North Hills Farmers Market to immerse 31 participants as potential agritourism destination visitors into several 360-degree agricultural environments. He sought how appeal and authenticity of agricultural landscapes of North Carolina are perceived by participants. Received great deal of attention and engagement, participants of different ages wore a helmet equipped with a built-in screen and observed the 360-degree agricultural environments as feeling themselves there. They were asked to look around the projected agricultural landscapes by spinning their head and with an Xbox controller click on objects (e.g., tractor, livestock) or segments of the agricultural landscapes (e.g., meadow, pond) that they find appealing and authentic.

What Did They Think?
The findings showed that the productive features (e.g., cultivation and beekeeping) and riparian features (lake and trees) of agritourism destinations were similarly perceived authentic and appealing for potential urban tourists. This means that these features, if appropriately advertised and highlighted by tourism marketers, will generate visits to the agritourism destinations. Moreover, agritourism entrepreneurs can customize agritourism experiences surrounding those features of agricultural landscapes, knowing that they look authentic and appealing to potential visitors. Important to note here is that they are encouraged to work on their marketing with their local Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Nonetheless, unnatural and man-made features such as barns, roads, and agricultural tools and machinery were perceived authentic but not appealing. This means though keeping these features in advertisement would be acceptable, with less emphasis placed as they do not offer the appeal to potential visitors.

The findings of this study are expected to inform both agritourism marketers and agritourism entrepreneurs to be cognizant of potential visitors’ expectations and perception, and develop sustainable and well-informed tourism policies in the region.

The heatmap pictures demonstrate the density of clicks on the agricultural settings. For more information please contact Shahab at snazari@ncsu.edu.

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