Connection Is Real

Connection is Real

Chickens, Horses, Cows, Guinea fowl, Sheep, vegetable gardens and finally people. Does that make River Valley a farm as well a tourist operator?

Many would say, especially in our part of the world where most land holdings are hundreds or even thousands of hectares, that the relatively small area of land, some 20 hectares in total, where we currently accommodate guests, graze livestock, or grow vegetables and trees, cannot be considered a farm. I can understand this perspective and do not doubt that if I were in a different position, I would think the same.

Increasingly, Size Does Not Matter

However, one thing I have learnt of late is that size does not necessarily matter. In fact, in New Zealand, and many other parts of the world, there are increasing numbers of people who call themselves farmers and yet do not fit the accepted box at all. Some grow specialist pesticide-free vegetables on very small areas of land. Others specialise in niche types of poultry. Others still in pastured pigs. These are processed into quality hams and bacon that you won’t find in the supermarket.

The numbers of these specialist small farmers are growing, primarily because they can provide niche products that often require more care and attention than bigger farmers can provide. Customers buy into their products both for the connection they can develop with the grower and also for the story. A true story.

Niche Operators in the Tourism Industry

The tourism industry has always had its share of small, even micro businesses, the latest iteration would be those listed on Airbnb, where people are sharing their own homes. These smaller operators and accommodation suppliers are a critical part, and I would say strength, of the New Zealand tourism industry. However, they are not always viewed as such.

The Rules

The rules, whether it be for food items for sale or local council regulations for buildings used as accommodation, have been designed with and for the dominant businesses in each industry. The bigger companies, often corporate, are the only ones that have the human and financial resources to lobby government, both local and national, to make sure the rules suit them. If those rules can on occasion be used to stifle competition or drive smaller operators out, all the better.

A case in point would be Moteliers attitude towards Airbnb. While I can understand Moteliers complaining about what they view as unfair competition from Airbnb providers, I think an important point is being missed. This point is that many travellers, just like people who buy specialty food items, don’t always want the bland offerings that tend to characterise the “commercial” options available.

Connection

In other words, many people, whether it be purchasing food, or booking accommodation, want something different. They want a connection. A connection to the person that grows their food and can tell the story of that food. A connection to the accommodation provider that has opened up part of their home.

There is no doubt that marketers everywhere recognise this desire amongst the public for connection. Hence the contrived corporate style storytelling – you will have seen it on TV – good looking passionate people in beautiful surroundings, moving music, soft lighting, can even be moving except for one thing.

That one thing is the desire for connection, and learning the background story, is the strength of smaller businesses.

It is a strength because that connection, that story, is real.

Brian Megaw

river valley lodge in 2017

Smaller operators and accommodation suppliers are a critical part, and a strength, of the New Zealand tourism industry.

buffalo, susan and julianne

Chickens, Horses, Cows, Guinea fowl, Sheep, vegetable gardens and finally people. Does that make River Valley a farm as well a tourist operator?

People desire a connection to the accommodation provider that has opened up part of their home.  Learning the background story, is the strength of smaller businesses and family run businesses like River Valley.

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