Why are farm tours becoming more popular in Ireland?
Farm Tours Ireland was set up in 2012 by long established Louth-based agricultural advisors, Gerry Giggins and his son Aonghus. Here, Aonghus gives some background to the story of operating in what is a niche but burgeoning marketplace.
What is your target market?
We concentrate on incoming visitor trips to Ireland which generally makes up ninety-nine per cent of our business. Internationally, Ireland is known as the Food Island and our initial focus has been on the technical agricultural-tour sector, hosting international farm discussion groups, producer groups, veterinarian groups and university groups that wish to visit Ireland.
What has been a key factor in helping you grow?
Getting the word out to potential clients and creating awareness that our company exists has been key to both our commercial success and our on-going growth.
We operate in a specialist sector with farmers travelling to Ireland from a range of continents and countries from across the globe. We have a limited marketing budget and tend to use the strategy of social media and word of mouth to get the message out there.
In September, we were lucky to be selected to be the Louth Local Enterprise Office representative in the L.E.O. Village at the Ploughing Championships which proved very successful in helping promote our brand within Ireland.
How many work in the company?
There are three of us altogether – myself, my father Gerry and last year we were joined in the company by my sister Siobhan. Siobhan had been working in tax consultation in Dublin and since she returned home to join us – she has been a great addition to the family business.
What’s unique about your company?
We feel we are offering a different type of tour compared to what visitors may experience with the bigger tour operators. It’s quite a unique offering, visiting a real-life working farm, talking to the farmer and engaging with local communities to experience the real Ireland.
Is it difficult to get host farms?
We are always looking for new farms throughout the country to add to our database of host farms. At the Ploughing, we were really delighted by the number of farmers who called into us offering to act as host farms. We were also delighted by the positive feedback that existing host farms gave us.
A lot of farms enjoy welcoming a group from a different part of the world onto their farm. It’s a break from the routine of everyday farm life and it creates great excitement within the host farm.
Who do you admire in business and why?
We were huge admirers of Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder of Alltech, who have been great partners since we established the business. He always had such a huge passion for agriculture, innovation and Ireland and his recent sad passing has been a huge blow to the industry.
What’s the reaction from visiting international farmers?
They are somewhat envious of the Irish pasture-based system of farming and amazed by the level of technicality that is involved in the system.
They are also very impressed by the work carried out by the Irish Government, the Semi-State bodies such as Teagasc, Bord Bia, and Ornua and how closely they work hand-in-hand with the farmer and the industry to develop international markets for Irish produce – which is something that does not really exist in their home countries.
What’s next for Farm Tours Ireland?
Now that my sister Siobhan has joined the company, we continue to look to grow the business while at the same time maintaining that personal family touch which undoubtedly continues to play an important part in our on-going success.
We are just beginning to look more and more at the non-agricultural tourist or non-technical tourist, perhaps from a city background, with a general interest in Ireland, encompassing farming, food and our countryside.
Interview by Brendan Byrne.