The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) recently certified eight locally-owned companies within the public agency’s Agritourism Program, whose goal is to reevaluate the role of agriculture in Puerto Rico and promote it within a framework of sustainability.
With the entry of these eight companies to the bank of agritourism companies certified by the PRTC, the program has increased to reach a total of 32 certified projects, which helps to strengthen the tourism industry and contribute to the economic development of Puerto Rico. The agritourism niche represents an additional source of income for existing agricultural activity on the island. The PRTC created an advisory committee made up of members of state and federal agencies, as well as academic institutions to develop the Agritourism Guides. The program includes two categories: basic and ecological. The guides establish general requirements for all types of projects and their criteria are based on the type of agricultural activity or business and eco-lodges.
The eight certified companies are Hacienda Chocolat in Fajardo, Hacienda Verde Tahiti in Cabo Rojo, Finca Gaia in Dorado, Martinez Dairy in Vega Baja, Te Invito a un Tour de Café in Orocovis, Hatillo Dairy and Fábrica de Quesos y Yogures De la Crema in Hatillo, El Paraíso Agrícola de Aguas Buenas, and Puerto Rico Paradise Farm in San Germán. All of these SMEs are featured on www.voyturisteando.com, a platform by the PRTC that encourages domestic tourism and exposes locals to “hidden gems.” THE WEEKLY JOURNAL spoke with two of these establishments to discuss their offer and goals, now that they are recognized by the Tourism Company.
El Paraíso Agrícola de Aguas Buenas
Managed by Omar Rivera and Heydi Sepúlveda, El Paraíso Agrícola de Aguas Buenas (El Paraíso) - located in the municipality of Aguas Buenas - has been a family-led farm for roughly 14 years. Rivera himself was born and raised on the farm, which is specialized in growing primarily guavas and pineapple.
As with many other farms islandwide, due to the onslaught caused by Hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017, all crops were lost, forcing Rivera to start anew from the ground up. Out of that time of need rose the idea to incorporate the tourism element to reap greater revenues, a process that began in 2018 with Rivera working a “regular” job during the day and laboring the field at night to be able to finance the project.
More so than obtaining the proper permits, which is a common complaint regarding the ease of doing business in Puerto Rico, Rivera said that the reason it took him years to achieve the certification was that he was working on the farm by himself initially. “I was doing the work of four to five people on my own,” he explained, a lively rooster crowing in the background as he spoke.
Now, El Paraíso offers a basic visitor’s tour, which includes a tour of the farm’s main areas. However, he will add two additional tours within “two or three months,” he said. One of these is the Guava Tour, whose intent “is to provide more thorough insight on how to grow” the fruit. The second will be a nocturnal tour, for which a camping area is under development.
THE WEEKLY JOURNAL asked Rivera to elaborate on the opportunities represented by his business certification within the Agritourism Program. “One of the things in which it will help me is to develop the educational area - receive more people, show them what it is like on the farm and, above all, to look at the view, since we have a very privileged view. I understand that it is a good promotion and a good catapult so that people know [our farm] better and get to know a little more about Aguas Buenas, since Aguas Buenas has a lot to offer,” he affirmed.
Finca Gaia is the first agritourism company from Dorado to be certified by the PRTC. One of its owners, Manuel Báez, said that the land has been in his family for decades, “but we began to grow on it some seven or eight years ago.” Their main crops, which are 100 percent organic, are fruit trees, especially exotic types, and aromatic spices, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, which they sell to local restaurants.
“Recently, in this last year, I have been trying to organize mostly educational tours on how we grow our crops,” he said. On one type of tour, visitors are shown and taught the farm’s spaces and practices and they may work on the land themselves, akin to some wine tours in Italy or France. Another is more concerned with conservation and educates guests on preserving endemic flora and fauna. In fact, last year Finca Gaia, in collaboration with Para la Naturaleza, planted 200 native trees.
Regarding future plans, Báez hopes to receive more clients, thanks to this new exposure so that he may hire and train guides to offer tours every day of the week. Currently, these are offered from Tuesdays to Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
“At the Tourism Company, and in keeping with the public policy of Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi, we remain firm in our purpose of developing and promoting a green economy. For this reason, we are very pleased to welcome these eight Puerto Rican companies that provide greater diversification to our Agritourism Certification Program. In addition, this allows us to become a facilitating agent to provide them with the best tools that can optimize their capabilities,” said Carlos Mercado Santiago, the executive director of the PRTC.
A Growing Niche Market
The continued certification of agribusinesses is backed by global trends and forecasts surrounding this industry, especially when 82 percent of people reported that they want to travel sustainably, according to a 2021 study by Virtuoso, a travel company. Likewise, 72 percent said that said tourism activities should support local communities and economies, preserve the cultural heritage of travel destinations, and protect their respective wildlife and ecosystems.
Moreover, a report by Fortune Business Insights indicates that the global agritourism market size was valued at $69.24 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $117.37 billion by 2027, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.42 percent during the forecast period. “High revenue generation associated with tourism and recreational activities is significantly driving the market. Farm-owners are getting increasingly inclined towards developing their properties into agriculture tourism destinations to achieve higher revenues,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Mercado Santiago informed that the incorporation of these small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) into this program, five new municipalities now have certified agritourism projects, these being: Cabo Rojo, Dorado, Fajardo, Orocovis and San Germán. “These broaden and maximize the diversity of Puerto Rico’s offer as a tourist destination and enable new sources of jobs and businesses that result in greater progress and economic development for the island,” the official added.
Along with the certifications, the companies also received from the PRTC an economic incentive in the amount of $3,000 each. The objective of this incentive, in accordance with the provisions of Resolution 21-016, is to expand the agritourism offers in Puerto Rico and the existing tourist offer under the agency’s Agritourism Program. In addition, this economic boost is intended to encourage the expansion of agritourism offerings and help foster job creation. The resolution establishes that the permitted uses for the use of funds are varied, among which the following stand out: uniforms for employees and related to the tourist offer; training for tours such as a certification for environmental interpreters; equipment directly related to the tours such as microphones for interpreters, baskets for collecting fruits and materials for interactive workshops. Other permitted uses also include marketing efforts; improvements to facilities of endorsed experiences; educational material about the experience; among others that are evaluated and approved by the PRTC.
On the other hand, this event to deliver the certification and the economic incentive offered members of the Agritourism Certification Program of the PRTC’s business training focused on digital marketing, branding and how to optimize the use of the tools and platforms provided by the Tourism Company. These resources were Gío Camacho, a publicist for the PRTC; Imaris Arocho, Chief Sales and Marketing officer of the PRTC, and Nildamarie Díaz, supervisor of the entity’s Sustainable Tourism Program. These workshops have the purpose of offering up-to-date digital tools and optimizing the content that they can use for the better development of their companies
Several of the newly-integrated businesses fall under the “agrifood tourism” segment, which - according to the market assessment by Fortune Business Insight - is one of the most profitable within this economic sector.
“Agrifood tourism is getting rapid recognition across several communities and is expanding at a significant pace. Agrifood tourism has a great potential to augment the earnings and profitability of agritourism farm owners, along with promoting their regional or local cuisines. In agrifood tourism, visitors are allowed to tour across rural areas and farms and taste specialty food produced or prepared by the locals of the place. Agrifood tourism promotes agritourism farms to display their history, culture and landscape through local cuisines, food and drinks, and agriculture products. Furthermore, agritourism enables producers, artisans and farmers to improve their skills and develop their brand and products among the local visitors, as well as tourists coming from overseas,” the report stated.