Brochures highlight Big Island agri-tourism

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HONOLULU -- Did you know that the Big Island has seven botanical gardens, each with its own specialty?

Or that it contains 400 working ranches and is a worldwide leader in harvesting macadamia nuts and orchids?

And that more and more, farmers are sharing their knowledge of Hawaii -- the most ecologically diverse island in the chain -- directly with tourists?

This entrepreneurial tourist market with the truncated name -- agri-tourism -- is not new to the Big Island. But the community now has teamed with tourism officials to promote it in four new brochures available to visitors -- and travel agents ready to impress clients with an unusual pre-travel gift.

Flowers and Foliage is the name of the brochure with the broadest appeal. The three others are Livestock and Aquaculture, Orchard Crops and Vegetables.

"Agri-tourism is not something new [to the Big Island]," said Paula Helfrich of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, which came up with the concept for the brochures. "But it is becoming more and more popular with visitors.

"They find it tremendously meaningful to stop in during an island driving tour and visit with one of the hundreds of growers featured in our brochures," she said.

"To be able to see firsthand where the beautiful tropicals actually come from -- and to meet the growers themselves -- is a new experience for visitors and their families."

The simple guides enable travelers to do it on their own.

Flowers and Foliage provides descriptive passages about anthurium, orchids, bonsai, ti bamboo, protea and ginger, among others.

Inside, a map divides the island into four sections and lists interesting sites for tourists to visit on a self-guided tour, along with brief descriptions of the sites and contact information.

In the southern part of the island, for instance, the explanation for Macadamia Meadows Farm Bed and Breakfast reads, "Mac nuts, accommodations, tours, on-site retail."

In the eastern section, Volcano Isle Tropicals is painted as a place for "flowers, coffee, tours, on-site retail."

Every part of the island is featured in the brochures, enabling visitors to plan ahead and focus on the area where they are staying.

With 58% of tourists from the mainland return visitors, "they keep branching out, looking for other aspects about Hawaii," said George Applegate, director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau.

"The more we've got to offer people, the longer they'll stay ... and the more they'll enjoy the community."

According to the development board, the brochures were designed to add a new element to what otherwise would be a standard driving tour and to encourage visitors to see parts of the Big Island they might normally miss.

And that's potentially quite a bit, because the island is 4,028 square miles -- twice the size of all the other islands combined. One million acres are devoted to agriculture.

There's another reason the Big Island wants to promote agricultural tourism.

"We want to preserve our lifestyle," said Applegate.

There is no charge for the brochures, which are available at the visitor information desk at Kona Airport and Hilo Airport or by calling the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board at (808) 966-5416. Online orders soon will be taken at the development board's Web site, located at www.hiedb.org.

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