Tips for diversifying your ranch with nature tourism

News Roundup from the October 26, 2015 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Many cattle ranches in Canada are located in beautiful natural surroundings. In Alberta and British Columbia many abut on the sublime Rocky Mountains and have their land criss-crossed by streams and forests, dotted with scenic ponds and other attractive features. This beauty isn’t just one of the perks of the ranching life — it can also be an economic asset that a savvy rancher can turn into a valuable side business through nature (or “eco-”) tourism.

According to the Canadian Tourism Co­mmission an estimated 4.4 million Canadians are Soft Outdoor Adventure Enthusiasts — that is, they enjoy outdoor activities oriented around hiking and backpacking, mountain biking, wildlife and bird viewing, canoeing and kayaking, and fishing. Given Canada’s aging population, it’s also a demographic likely to grow as more Canadians find themselves too old for more strenuous activities like rock climbing, skiing, and white-water rafting. Canadian ranchlands are ideal places for the activities these tourists enjoy.

Nature tourism could be a good opportunity for making extra money from your land and creating a more regular cash flow between cattle sales. It’s not for everyone, though; any business diversification needs to be entered into carefully and after asking some important questions. To help you out we’ve put together four tips for deciding whether nature tourism is right for you.

1. Decide whether you are a people person

The most fundamental question you must answer before you consider diversifying into nature tourism is whether or not you are a “people person.” This isn’t just making sure you’re not an antisocial grouch or a loner but asking yourself honestly whether you would enjoy meeting lots of new people and sharing your enthusiasm for your land and the natural world with them. You may have a big family and a wide circle of friends but dealing with strangers constantly throughout your open months can be wearing on even very gregarious people.

2. Catalogue your natural assets

Ask yourself what features make your ranch unique. It might be a spectacular view of a local mountain or a stream full of trout that any fisherman would love. It may be fields full of wildflowers or populations of wild game that city dwellers rarely see like elk or bighorn sheep. Consider that you may be a bit jaded to the natural beauty of your land; after all, you see it every day of your life. Ask visitors, both family and professionals like vets, what they like about your land and what they think are noteworthy features that other people would enjoy seeing.

3. Consider your resources

When considering diversifying into natural tourism you need to be realistic about your management abilities and whether the new venture can integrate into your existing business. You’ll need to consider things like how much of the year you’ll allow access to your ranch, and whether that could interfere with your breeding or calving seasons. In addition you’ll want to think about what to charge for admission and how many people would have to attend in a year to make it viable. Consider not just your own time but the time of family members and employees who work on the ranch as well.

You’ll also need to know about and comply with all the health and safety restrictions for your province. This means making sure that trails are properly marked and can be safely traversed, and that you have first aid and other safety equipment on site to deal with any emergencies. If someone has a heart attack on your land and calls for help you want to make sure that search and rescue personnel don’t have to search every acre but can know in what areas the afflicted person will be.

4. Consider partnering with another business

By now you’re probably starting to realize that diversifying into nature tourism requires a lot of different skills and capabilities, and can occupy a lot of time. While you may still like the idea you may not be willing or prepared to handle every aspect of the business yourself. In that case you may want to consider partnering with a nature tourism company, one that offers package tours to outdoor enthusiasts. They can handle marketing as well as leading tours of your land to see its natural beauty in exchange for a cut of the admission fees. Internet searches will enable you to find companies specializing in nature tourism. Get in touch with them and invite them to check out your property to see if they’d be interested in a partnership.

Nature tourism is not a cure-all that will “save the ranch” but instead should be looked at as a means to diversify your income and provide ready cash during lean times. However, if you’re proud of your land, like meeting people, and love the idea of sharing the beauties of nature with tourists then it just may be a venture you’ll want to undertake.

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