Jacqui Taylor is the founder of Rural Tourism Africa, an information hub dedicated to highlighting tourism experiences on farms across Africa.
The company provides advice and guidance to its members, assisting them with marketing and promotion, and representing agritourism at governmental, tourism and organised agricultural institutions. Taylor has gone to great lengths to ensure that farmers understand the importance of agritourism in South Africa to obtain a secondary income and, likewise, that tourists understand and discover the natural environments on their doorstep.
She reflects on when she first began her career, and how much progress has been made: “We got agritourism on the map. When I first came in 2016, I was forever explaining the concept to people, but now they understand that it is about promoting agritourism to national and international tourists with the aim of benefiting the rural economy. Even with politicians it’s [now] on the map, because they realise its economic power.”
Taylor is working hard to help the industry overcome misconceptions about what agritourism means. “I always communicate that you’ve got to preserve your cultural traditions in rural areas. We’re not talking about building theme parks on farms — we’re talking about preserving the integrity of the natural environment of that community or communal life with the farmer involved. We absolutely do not want to disrupt a rural system.”
She says farm life has many perks. “Cities cannot cope with more people and it’s not necessarily better in a city. Covid-19 is a prime example of how everyone wants to come out into the fresh air to breathe, run around and source fresh, untouched food. I hope for our mental and emotional stability as a country that we can embrace more of this type of natural tourism.”
While much progress has been made in rural farming, Taylor believes there is work to be done in an industry still dominated by men. “Men, particularly certain groups of men, continue to be a challenge. I’m fortunate in that I deal with a lot of youth and women who introduce me to the right people. Even though I grew up on a farm and I speak perfect Afrikaans, I am perceived differently because of my accent. Another barrier is the reaction of some parliamentarians and politicians towards agriculture. It is a highly emotive subject in South Africa, but I believe we can deal with the agricultural component as a separate, non-political discussion.”
For those looking to enter into the rural development and agritourism space, Taylor recommends certain skills above others. “You need to have an interest in nature, farming or rural communities. You will also be relating to others on a daily basis, so your communication skills and ability to listen with empathy are critical. It helps if you understand things such as climate change and carbon footprints, the earth and where food comes from. Lastly, you need to be open-minded. It’s a very rewarding job — I love to see people’s happiness levels go up by doing very simple things.“
I hope for our mental and emotional stability as a country that we can embrace more of this type of natural tourism.