Rural Heritage Tour
Running an inclusive tour with rural communities
Before Starting: Some Guiding Tips
Rooting in rural heritage
Starting the program design with isolating rural knowledge, talents, and resources places rural communities at the center of the programming. By establishing a high level of respect for rural knowledge and know-how, programs become more locally-relevant and contextual. This not only helps communities feel more open and willing to share information, but also helps foster a strong sense of pride through valorization of their knowledge. In addition, this may reduce certain community members' propensity for "selling" and "exaggerating" their heritage. By emphasizing the great value of their traditions, we have witnessed farmers more willing to speak honestly about their traditions and lives – which acts as a mechanism for preserving and protecting rural knowledge.
By beginning program design with dialogue and collaborative cooking and farming activities, teams can build strong, trusting relationships with rural communities. Establishing trusting and respectful environments between the tour guides, community members, and customers can diffuse barriers, prejudices, and skepticism from both sides. This has allowed knowledge to be more readily shared openly, learning to be more mutual, and agreements to be created more collaboratively.
Sensitivity to women
Rural women in particular may be hesitant or unwilling to speak or engage with outsiders. It can be important to establish safe spaces with mutually-agreed upon values and respect, where women can feel comfortable and gain confidence in their work. This may involve speaking with male family members to explain the company's purpose and ask if and how some women may be able to participate in events.
Skills of facilitation and listening can be very useful for the successful implementation of inclusive agro-tourism programs. Because programs often bring together people from different backgrounds, languages, and perspectives, having skilled facilitators that can act as the go-between proves very valuable. The best facilitators interact with both the community and the customers, and thus understands the diverse perspectives and backgrounds all participants. This can help manage expectations of both community members and customers, diffuse barriers, and reduce miscommunication errors that could otherwise be hyper-inflated and cause unnecessary problems.
Running the Tour
Dialogue & exchange
Rural heritage tours begin with conversations and dialogue around local rural traditions, knowledge, and practices. With a local community, the tourism company first visits farms and households, where they explore farming practices, cook together with women, and shares stories of food and life. This leads to natural conversations about ways the communities can partner with the tour company to showcase, celebrate, and teach rural heritage to the customers.
During dialogue and exchange activities, the tour company can also work to clearly explain their values and working purpose. Sharing these values openly helps communities understand where the company is coming from, and what it aims to achieve.
Once partnerships are verbally forged with community members, discussions begin on designing the program. First, the tour guide team can work with the communities to determine the resources and knowledge they can offer. These may include locally available food from the farm, knowledge on traditional food production techniques, or handicrafts made using traditional techniques. They team should then attempt to isolate strengths – especially hidden ones that may not have been tapped – that can be used as skills in the program. Women, for example, may demonstrate to be effective teachers, facilitators, chefs, or organizers. Finally, the team may also use this time to scope locations, focusing on both natural beauty and practicalities such as space for parking, learning, and eating.
Based on these conversations, the team should then co-design lesson plans with farmers. These may range from techniques for milking a cow, to preparing traditional cheeses, to harvesting local wheat varieties. This involves working with the communities to document the practices, and then prepare a lesson plan that can best teach these practices to outside communities. Important in the design of the lessons is to ensure rural knowledge and heritage is celebrated, respected, and preserved – and not simply showcased and sold as a commodity. In practice, this means placing the rural teacher at the center of the lesson, giving them the power to design and adapt the content of the lessons, and ensuring the program directly engages and builds relationships with customers
For rural participants who are unable to read, the team can walk them through the lesson plan step-by-step. Photographs of the products, farms, and location should also be taken at this time in preparation for marketing materials.
Conversations are then held with the participating community members to determine logistical and financial agreements. This includes what activities may be hosted, how long they will take, and who will lead them. If the team decides to offer catered food, the menu can be discussed, as well as logistics for preparation and service. Establishing agreed-upon standards are important here, ensuring important requirements such as cleanliness, quality of service, and respect for local communities' property are clearly articulated from both sides.
Costing for the event is best done transparently, helping each side to see the overall financial picture. Rates for the community members are then discussed, comparing to local rates but also considering participants' financial needs, value-added, and overall experience. Dialogue is hosted on what each side sees as fair, and a negotiation process seeks to find an appropriate agreement that benefits both sides. A schedule for when payments are made is also agreed upon.
Marketing & bookings
Next, the tour company should work to isolate and market to a target audience. They first attempt to understand who is their target market for this event, such as families, schools, or tourists. Based on this market, they perform limited market research to determine what customers would pay for such an event. Marketing materials highlighting the event are created, and the event is then pitched to the target customers.
Taking bookings in advance and requesting deposits is strongly suggested. This helps ensure participation is minimally guaranteed. Once customers confirm, the team also works to prepare customer knowledge by explaining the local context, history, and values, as well as any sensitivities to be aware of based on the previous agreements made with participating communities. This helps to both manage customer expectations and establish an environment of collaborative learning and mutual respect prior to the event.
Coaching & facilitation
Once the program is set and customers guaranteed, some coaching may be useful to help prepare both sides of the team. Based on agreed-upon roles (see "agreements" above), community members may benefit from coaching and practicing to shape their roles and effectiveness of delivery. This can include working with women to polish their teaching skills, and with farmers to polish communication skills. For areas outside of the tour company's expertise, the company may bring in partner organizations that can offer volunteer services, such as professional chefs to advise in the development of catering services, or NGO's that offer advice on preparation and clean-up of the rural space where the program will be hosted.
The tour company's own team should also be well-trained in facilitation skills. Important in the practices of the facilitator is to ensure they do not dominate the conversation, but instead help to translate concepts, answer questions, and maintain focus and attention on the rural teachers.
Coordination & running the event
Logistics that may need to be considered include booking the space; ensuring all materials and equipment for activities and dining is purchased or rented; and setting up transportation routes and parking spaces (people may come themselves, or there may be a shared bus). There should be a clear system for collecting and tracking payments from customers, as well as distributing payments to participants after the event. Roles should be clearly assigned for all tasks.
During the event, it is very important to create a space for connection and collaborative learning. By allocating time for questions, dialoguing, and storytelling, relationships are cemented and diverse knowledge from all sides valorized and respected.
Sample Tools & Resources
For marketing to clients
Sample lesson plan
Lessons rooted in rural knowledge and skills