LEETON'S John Collins has been finding new ways to turn his agricultural tourism business around amid the ongoing global pandemic, but the hardships are continuing.
Mr Collins is the director of Agricultural Tours Riverina, which has a customer base that is primarily overseas based.
In fact, Mr Collins estimates at least 85 per cent of his customers were from overseas prior to the pandemic and the subsequent travel restrictions and closed borders.
Most of these tour groups were mainly from North Asia, especially Japan and South East Asia, with a large number of groups coming from Malaysia.
There were also occasional groups from North and South America and European countries.
With those groups not expected to return for some time, Mr Collins has had to pivot his services as many others have also had to in the touring space.
"By July/August it had become clear that COVID impacts on international travel were going to be long-term and Agricultural Tours Riverina turned its attention to promoting its services to domestic tour groups," he said.
"We focused promotions primarily on Sydney and Canberra as state boundaries were the unknowns at that time. Since then Sydney too unfortunately has become problematical.
"It takes a long time to get established in a new market, especially when there are complications and distractions such as changeable travel advice and prohibitions, but some progress has been made. We have found that various ethnic communities resident in Australia have been interested in understanding our agriculture.
"We have dealt with various Asian, Israeli and Indian communities in Sydney and other parts of NSW. We have also attracted enquiries from city-dwellers who are rusted-on fans of the ABC TV program Landline, but who have never been on a farm or have never established a relationship with a primary producer."
While the company is making inroads, it is still only operating at around 10 per cent of capacity.
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It continues to promote in Sydney and Canberra and among professional societies such as teacher associations.
Promotions are expensive, but the business intends to be around when travel restrictions relax, so for now it is keeping up the effort, subsidised by income from other activities.
"We expect to continue this pattern during the bulk of 2021 at least," Mr Collins said.
"We also keep up contact with international travel agents even though we know we won't be able to do business with them for the foreseeable future. We want to be in their minds when international study groups stir again.
"In the meantime we will continue to be cautious about accepting tour groups. We don't want to be responsible for inadvertently importing the virus to rural communities that otherwise have remained thankfully free of the problem."
While many have criticised governments at state and federal level throughout the COVID crisis, Mr Collins said he was relatively pleased with the response, especially for small businesses.
"I think government responses to this point have been intelligent," he said.
"They have offered concessions as well as positive supports.
"For the most part they have refrained from the usual cheap point scoring we've come to expect from them."
The Leeton shire and wider MIA community does play a large role in what Agricultural Tours Riverina does.
"Many (farmers, growers) see accepting visitors as their opportunity to help promote their industry or region," Mr Collins said.
"We do our best to compensate them for their time and willingness to share their knowledge and expertise even though we know we often cannot compensate adequately.
"Most farmers can be very proud of the expertise, care and energy they invest in producing food and fibre and can be confident to talk about their businesses to people who make an effort to learn."