GENEVA, N.Y. — Agritourism is all about the guests.

Paul Brock, owner of Silver Thread Vineyard and instructor in viticulture and wine technology at Finger Lakes Community College, moderated a panel on “Creating the Experience that is Comfortable for Guests and Sustainable for Your Business” at the recent Al Fresco Flx, a presentation of Lyons National Bank and featuring several representatives of the agritourism, craft beverage and restaurant industries.

Locally, “FLX” means “Finger Lakes,” an area between Rochester and Syracuse that has become renowned for its wineries since the 1970s. Balancing the guests’ experience with business sense can only help further extend the reach of the Finger Lakes’ agricultural businesses.

Panelists included Deb Carbin Fox, a tourism expert representing Northeast by Rail in Bellows Falls, Vermont and Finger Lakes Railway in Geneva; Vincent Feucht, of Cumming Nature Center in Rochester and Scrumble Wood Farm in Italy; Maureen Ballatori with 29 Design Studio Branding and Marketing in Geneva; and Brian Mastrosimone of Lincoln Hill Farm in Canandaigua. Both Feucht and Mastrosimone farm small, diverse operations.

Brock asked the panelists about what they think of when they consider the Finger Lakes region and how that could be leveraged to promote agricultural businesses in the region. Their answers ranged from artsy culture to prime agricultural land, to clean ag resources to neighborliness as to how they think of the region. Many of these traits apply across the Northeast.

Feucht said that the area needs to develop a signature cuisine with a back story that draws tourists.

“One story we do have is our climate is like Austria, which is good for Riesling,” he said about wine. “We can tie that in.”

Carbin Fox suggested that creating experiences begins long before a tourist comes to town, since many people research vacation spots online.

“They already have an expectation,” she said. “That expectation may be higher.”

Mastrosimone said that the music scene is something few outsiders know about the Finger Lakes region. His farm brings in many different musicians from the area to draw visitors and give musicians an opportunity to perform live.

He also works with other agritourism operations and other businesses in the area, believing that collaboration contributes to success.

“It’s not in the Finger Lakes, but of the Finger Lakes,” he said. “You have to play nice in the sandbox and bring in other brands.”

He could sell only his own labels in his farm store, however, selling others’ brands as well broadens his store’s reach as he has more to sell and his goods may be picked up by other stores.

Brock asked the panelists how they view the future of tourism in the Finger Lakes.

Mastrosimone said that in addition to its fame as a wine region, the Finger Lakes’ reputation for other farm-originating beverage businessess, such distilleries, cideries and breweries, will continue to grow.

“People will think of all four industries,” he said.

Carbin Fox doesn’t foresee a saturation point for the craft beverage and agritourism industry, “but it will be important to partner with other groups,” she said.

Farm cheese, for example, offer a natural accompaniment.

It’s also important to know the agritourism market.

“Keep up with who the market is,” she said, “and who’s coming to the Finger Lakes and who’s not.”

Feucht added that more cheese makers in the area would enhance its agritourism offerings as would more places of lodging.

Mastrosimone said he’s working on adding “glamping,” a portmanteau that means glamorous camping, to his operation, and Feucht presently offers limited guest accommodations for tent camping or renting a room. Considering the wide open spaces and bucolic views available on most farms, providing lodging space makes sense for some agritourism farms.

Brock added that consumer education can help guests enjoy more authentic, positively memorable experiences.

“Not all wineries grow their grapes or make their own wines,” he said as an example. “We need to do a better job on diversifying and education.”

Carbin Fox suggested creating an experience that touches all five senses makes it more memorable.

Feucht added that appealing to consumers’ values will help improve their experience.

“Real food has real value, like health and environment,” he said. “Millennials care about these things and producers need education about this.”

For their ideas on improving guest experience, producers need to work not only with businesses such as media experts, marketing professionals and business planners, but also other producers.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant is a freelance writer in central New York. Email her at deb@skilledquill.net.

Lancaster Farming