How to implement heritage knowledge in a countryside tourism experience
Dr. Agnė Vaitkuvienė is the President of the Lithuanian Countryside Tourism Association, the owner and manager of the homestead “Provansalis”, and a lecturer at Vilnius University. She has been teaching at Vilnius University since 2006, in the courses – Interpretation and Communication of Cultural Heritage, Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Lithuania and Cultural Heritage and Tourism. She therefore combines “the best of two worlds”: practical experience as a small rural tourism entrepreneur, and at the same time a profound understanding and vision about the importance of training and skills development in this sector.
Research on rural heritage led her to her entrepreneurial vocation
What have been the highlights of your career?
The biggest achievement in my career was defending my dissertation, as research and writing took 7 years. My research at university is more about heritage perception. How people perceive and value heritage both in their living environment and when traveling. I am mainly interested in rural heritage, its interpretation and possibilities of adaptation to tourism. As a main result of this dissertation many doors have been opened and accelerated my career.
In my life, all the achievements are the result of long work, we built a rural tourism homestead and farm for 10 years before it finally started to make a profit. Then, I became a president of the Countryside Tourism Association naturally, once I have accumulated a lot of experience comes the desire to share it and help people.
Where would do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I would still like to continue my current work. But after another 10 maybe I would already start thinking about rest, optimizing activities, spending more time writing and traveling.
Growth, learning process and experience
What was the hardest obstacle you had to overcome?
At the beginning of my career, I reacted very sensitively to the problems that arose, it took me a long time to learn to separate work and personal life, to plan time effectively, to give up meaningless activities.
How did the obstacles you faced help you grow?
I learned to take something valuable out of every problem or crisis – a changed attitude, new acquaintances, lessons learned, changed views of priorities.
How do you approach challenges?
When you see every crisis as a challenge, then there are no more crises in your life. There is simply work to be done as best you can in the current circumstances.
Simple tips for rural tourism micro-entrepreneurs
Do you have any tips for people trying to start out in the industry?
I have always taken the position that it is necessary to keep business costs to a minimum, not to hire a lot of people, not to try to create mass tourism. If the business environment changes, it would be a collapse. And this tactic saved my homestead Provansalis, which dealt only with group accommodation and events, during the current pandemic, When the tourism business stopped, we directly closed the house. In such a preserved state we will spend peacefully until next summer when the situation may improve.
More questions on Dr. Vaitkuvienė’s experience
Is it common in Lithuania to find agro-tourism centers specialized in organic farming?
Yes, farmers working with tourism tend to farm organically. Because they believe in what they are doing and can confidently tell people about it, invite them to visit. And because organic farming is not intensive, activities are often fragmented, such a farm is engaged in both crop production, animal husbandry and rural tourism.
Why does your rural tourism company specialize in, for example, cultivation of medicinal plants, or horse tourism?
Our farm breeds horses and organic feed for horses, both grain and herbaceous. We also have a thorn (rosa rugosa) plantation, several small gardens, we plan to plant a vineyard in the spring. As the climate warms, more and more farmers in Lithuania are starting to grow grapes. We chose horses because of their beauty, opportunities to adapt to rural tourism. In addition, there are deep horse breeding traditions in this part of Lithuania, there are at least 10 horse stables within a 20 km radius, so it is easy to organize and participate in competitions, there is no need to drive far.
How do you organize your equestrian tourism activities, events and celebrations?
Activities in the rural tourism homestead usually take place on weekends. Therefore, the work during the week is dedicated to the Lithuanian Rural Tourism Association and the university, and the weekends are the time of farming and working in the rural tourism homestead. My job is mainly planning, document management, working with clients.
Do you work with other partner companies, even if you have main control of the activity?
We work with partners. Horse training and lessons for children are provided by the trainers of the partner riding club, and food supply for the residents of the rural tourism homestead and catering for parties are even provided by several partner restaurants.
Does your specialization in organic farming, events and equestrian tourism respond to a growing demand for these services in your country? Or is it also the result of personal concerns?
Organic farming is about personal beliefs. I want to live in clean environments, use the lands handed over to me sustainably and pass them on to my children. In order for an organic farm to be competitive, it must include more activities, which has led to the creation of a stud farm and rural tourism. And the need for rural tourism was dictated by the location of the homestead – we are close to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (17 km) so we can attract Vilnius residents who want to organize events in the countryside.
Are you particularly fond of horses, or is there any family tradition of farming on the countryside?
I was born and raised in the city, I didn’t even have grandparents in the village, where I would go to spend the summer as it was popular in Lithuania at that time, but I was attracted to nature, I don’t like the city, the hustle and bustle, the constant running. My first specialty is rural archaeology (I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology) and is also related to the desire to work in rural areas. And when Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviets, when people could reclaim their grandparents ‘lands, my parents reclaimed their grandparents’ lands, bought some relatives who did not want to farm the lands, and began to farm a little. Then they invited me to join. My husband and I settled in the village and started building a farm. At first we raised sheep, later horses, we started a rural tourism business.
Do you think that in the immediate future, due to the consequences of the pandemic, the type of client you work with will experience a significant evolution?
It is obvious that the pandemic will change the habits of travelers, so we have already started to prepare families for a quiet holiday, we are adapting 1 cottage for that. We will also have to focus more on providing accommodation than on events. Being close to the city has its advantages, we plan to offer a daytime recreation service for people who want to spend the day in nature, stay quiet in the countryside, get acquainted with horses, farm, and return to the city in the evening.
If you found this blog interesting you may also enjoy ‘BBC Interview with Cardiff Met on Sustainable Tourism in Wales‘, ‘Interview with Sophie van den Top – sustainability among Tour Operators and Travel Agents‘ and ‘Interview with Anna van Nunen, founder of Innofest‘.