The agritourism boom

By Cecilia Calatrava

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Developing small-scale, green and inclusive tourism in Montenegro

In our evermore stressed-out, screen-dependent lives, a holiday that takes us away from the crowds and endless scrolling sounds increasingly appealing to some travellers.

In countries like Montenegro, more and more tourists have decided to venture inland and swap the comfort of seaside hotel beds for old wooden huts, also known as “katuns”, used in the past by nomadic herders.

But what makes agritourism so attractive for both travellers and locals?

The coming-of-age of agritourism

The growth of agritourism has developed over the past two decades, as tourists are shifting their priorities on how to spend time and money. This type of tourism aims to be small-scale with a low environmental impact and involves educating visitors in some way.

Think of farm stays and countryside experiences such as working the land, cookery classes or herding livestock. In the same way that green fashion has become very popular, agritourism is now becoming one of the travel industry’s most colourful and fastest-growing sectors, particularly in areas of wild beauty such as Montenegro.

“People love Montenegro and want to connect with the people and landscape more profoundly than simply as passing tourists,” explains Sabina Ramovic, owner of RAMS, a family-owned travel agency in northern Montenegro’s Bijelo Polje.

Sabina established the company with her husband back in 2005. At the time, they simply connected tourists with their family, friends and neighbours.

“When you live in a katun, your whole life is dedicated to cattle-raising and cheese-making. When staying in our villages, tourists can discover the lifestyle, traditions and culture of our people. They become fully immersed in the experience.”


Slow food, quick growth

Sabina understood that exploring local culture through food was one of the most effective ways to get to know a new place. That is why in 2016 she decided to bring the “Slow Food” community to Montenegro.

“Slow Food International is a grassroots organisation based in Italy, founded by a group of activists in the 1980s with the initial aim to defend regional traditions, good food and a slow pace of life. The main goal nowadays is to link the pleasure of food with support for the community and environment,” she explains.

“We organise different activities to help small-scale producers attract tourists and promote their products. Today, we have a network of 40 households all over Montenegro as part of our offer,” Sabina adds.

With the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)’s help and donor support from Western Balkans Enterprise Development & Innovation Facility (WB EDIF), funded by the EU, RAMS has now built an online presence too. Via their website, tourists can book their stay online, making it easier for farmers to prepare and tailor the consumer’s experience. With a growing social media presence, tourists can now get a taste of what to expect.

Given the growing success, Sabina’s son – who is only 27 – has picked up the family business. Part of his vision is to make the company more diverse. RAMS now employs four people, two of whom have disabilities.

“Our mission is to be open to everybody, because a disability should not close the door to workers and everybody has the potential to do different jobs,” Sabina explains.


A different type of “all inclusive”

But this type of tourism doesn’t just attract curious city travellers; it also provides tremendous benefits to the agriculture sector and rural communities.

This is particularly important in regions like northern Montenegro, where opportunities for young people are scarce and the heavy reliance on agriculture can make a bad blueberry harvest in the Prokletije region – said to be the largest natural plantation of blueberries in the world –  enough to put the livelihoods of smallholder farmers at risk.

One example is Adrovic Alimr from Petnjica. He is one of the 5,000 northern Montenegrin farmers that still make the traditional dried beef Crnogorska Goveđa pršuta – a specialty which has long been a part of the country’s culinary repertoire.

In a joint project with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and with donor support from Luxembourg to upgrade food safety and quality standards in Montenegro’s meat sector, the EBRD helped this special meat gain geographical indication (GI) status, an origin-based label that can give high-quality food products more cachet. To consumers, a GI label indicates an origin-linked product of quality, authenticity and tradition. The label can also increase a product’s sale price by 20 to 50 per cent, according to a FAO-EBRD study.

“Receiving the GI certification makes a massive difference as it gives us new opportunities and opens us up to new markets and businesses,” Adrovic says.

 

Tourism for inclusive growth

The combination of tourism and agriculture can diversify commercial activities and solve problems of market shortages in agriculture, create jobs in rural areas and increase the value of agricultural production for farmers through various commercial activities.

Increasing the involvement of local communities, especially the poor, in the tourism value chain can boost the local economy and reduce poverty, and help build a sustainable and inclusive industry in countries like Montenegro.

The international community is now recognising the importance of ensuring that nobody is left behind as the world begins to open up after the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme of this year’s United Nations World Tourism Day is Tourism for Inclusive Growth. This gives an extraordinary opportunity to look beyond tourism statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person.

Time to swap the “all-inclusive” resort for an “all-inclusive” society?

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