Scotland’s burgeoning agritourism sector is set to benefit from a boost in overseas visitors.

VisitScotland has revealed that the number of farms working with international tour operators and travel agents has almost tripled in the past 12 months thanks to growing interest in the sector from visitors across the world.

It means there are now 41 agritourism businesses showcasing their offerings through travel trade - an increase from 15 travel trade ready businesses in 2022. 

The figure surpasses the national target of 40 by 2030 set in Scottish Agrotourism's 2030 Strategy for Sustainable Growth. 

Agritourism in Scotland is defined as tourism or leisure on a working farm or croft that produces food or offers holiday experiences.

READ MORE: 'A trend to jump on': Surge in interest in Scotland as solo travel destination

In recent years, particularly during the pandemic, agritourism has become a growing travel trend with visitors seeking out authentic rural experiences that connect them to the countryside and Scotland’s natural larder.

Popular experiences include farm stays, farm tours, field to fork experiences, sheepdog demonstrations and feeding Highland Cows as well as food and drink activities which support a growing trend towards buying locally and reducing food miles. 

A survey of Scottish agritourism businesses found that as well as the opportunity for strong economic growth, the industry played an important role in sustaining and creating rural jobs, supporting vital family employment and providing equal and inclusive roles for men and woman across various ages and skill levels.

Findings from the Scottish Agritourism tracker suggest that if the sector’s strategy targets, which were announced in 2021, are achieved the combined value of agritourism and farm retail in 2030 would be around a quarter of a billion pounds (£250m) and support almost 10,000 full time jobs.

Recent figures show that last year there were 3.2million visits to Scotland from overseas tourists, compared to 3.46 million visits over the same period in 2019. 

The Herald: Kitchen Coos and Ewes in Wigtownshire, Dumfries & GallowayKitchen Coos and Ewes in Wigtownshire, Dumfries & Galloway (Image: Kitchen Coos and Ewes.)

Rona Wallace, VisitScotland Senior Intermediary Marketing Manager, said: “Tour operators and travel advisors play a crucial role in providing visitors with the information they need to choose a destination and plan their trip.

"With so many international visitors seeking authentic experiences that help them live like a local, it is no surprise that agritourism is attracting such attention.

"We’ve been working closely with businesses to help them tailor their offering to the travel trade market; making sure they have experiences that can be booked time and time again, thinking of their marketing and helping make sure they are part of the touring options and itineraries many agents and operators are looking for when promoting trips to Scotland. 

“Helping businesses be ‘travel trade ready’ not only helps individuals but will grow the wider agritourism sector, in turn supporting rural and local tourism by creating jobs and sustaining farming communities.”

Caroline Millar, Sector Lead for Scottish Agritourism said: “It is fantastic to see so many farmers and crofters keen to engage with the travel trade and welcome international visitors to experience Scottish farms.

READ MORE: How Highland Cows are helping to boost Scottish tourism

“There is a much more heightened awareness about the opportunities that working with the travel trade presents for our sector and we are seeing increased interest and demand from both travel agents and international visitors who wish to enjoy food and drink on farm and who wish to meet and spend time with farming hosts. Many who can provide a very authentic and memorable holiday experience.

“We will continue to work closely with other partners as part of the National Agritourism Strategy focus to ensure even more farms and crofts are travel trade ready by the end of 2024. To already have met our first target in the strategy is a great boost to our sector.”

Lindsay Robertson runs Long Islands Retreats on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Along with her partner DJ, the couple have been sharing their crofting experiences with visitors since 2020.

Lindsay said: “During COVID-19, we noticed lots of interest from international audiences on our social media posts, with many saying they would love to visit the Outer Hebrides in the future. Fortunately, these virtual exchanges seem to have turned into reality and we’ve seen a big increase in actual bookings this year.

"Since working more closely with tour operators, we have had many enquiries and bookings through travel trade companies. These bookings are great for us as they are usually made about a year in advance, giving us guaranteed bookings at an early stage and many are high end bookings that we tailor a bespoke tour for.

The Herald: Old Leckie Farm near Stirling offers farm toursOld Leckie Farm near Stirling offers farm tours (Image: Go Rural / Craig Stephen)

"We are continually developing new travel trade connections and this is working really well for the business

“On the islands in particular, crofting is such an intrinsic part of our heritage and culture that people want to find out more about it. There is a real desire for visitors to immerse themselves in the local way of life and the croft tour allows them to do just that. There is also a greater interest in provenance of food so visitors are really interested in not only finding out about how we work the land and our livestock but also purchasing our croft produce.

“Our international visitors really enjoy the personal aspect of our tours too, in that they get to spend time with a crofter who is born and bred on the island. DJ's knowledge and passion about our islands and the heritage and culture mean they get an insight into the islands and crofting that wouldn't be possible otherwise. They love getting off the beaten track and being able to immerse themselves in the crofting way of life, seeing our livestock; the Highland cattle and Shetland ponies are firm favourites along with getting up close to view wildlife in their natural environment; stags, white tailed eagles and wader birds that they might otherwise miss themselves.”