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Akbar Pourfaraj, Maryam Naghavi,
Volume 11, Issue 42 (1-2023)

Agritourism, regarded as a sustainable development strategy for rural communities, is a tool for economic diversification and conserving land resources, agricultural landscapes and cultural assets. The rural areas of Mazandaran Province are a significant agricultural hub of the country due to their abundant capabilities such as soil fertility, vast plains, good climate and sufficient water resources. This province is also known as one of the most visited tourist destinations with mass tourism form in the country. These capabilities are compatible with developing niche tourism, such as agritourism. Therefore, it is necessary for the tourism governance of Mazandaran to combine the activities of the two sectors of agriculture and tourism to encourage and promote agritourism to preserve the region's agricultural lands and agricultural heritage and traditions in order to prevent unsustainable development. However, success in agritourism requires attention to the issue of planning and demand management to attract interested tourists and also understanding why and how the behavioral processes pattern and their travel decisions. Therefore, this study aims to understand the factors affecting the behavioral intentions of tourists towards agritourism in rural areas of Mazandaran Province. In order to understand and explain the decision-making process, the Planned Behavior model was used to examine the attitudes of tourists towards agricultural activities, their subjective norms and perceived behavioral control as determinants of tourists' behavioral intentions. This model provides suitable conditions for obtaining the necessary information and awareness about tourists' specific behaviors and inclinations towards agritourism.

This descriptive and quantitative study is based on Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modeling. The study's statistical population is the tourist who has experience travelling to rural areas of Mazandaran. The number of statistical samples was estimated at 220 people. Data were collected through a web-based questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of two parts: demographic and specialized questions. Specialized questions included two items for measuring behavioral intention variable (BI), two items for attitude towards agritourism (ATT), three items for subjective norms (SN), three items for perceived behavioral control variable (PBC) and one item for past experience (PE). The validity of the questionnaire was confirmed using content, construct, convergent, divergent and diagnostic validity. Also, its reliability was confirmed by composite reliability and pre-test of 30 questionnaires based on Cronbach's alpha test. Data classification and analysis were performed through SPSS25 and SmartPLS3.3.3.

Discussion and conclusion
Finally, the results showed that the factors of attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control had affected the behavioral intentions of tourists to visit agricultural farms and rural areas in Mazandaran Province. It was also found that tourists with a positive belief and attitude towards agritourism activities are more inclined to visit agricultural and rural environments. Compared to other factors determining behavioral intentions, subjective norms have the greatest impact on the intention to the agricultural and rural environment. In other words, the intention to visit increases when people (such as family, relatives, friends or colleagues) and influential persons in virtual spaces recommend travelling to agricultural destinations in rural areas of Mazandaran Province. According to Hofstede's cultural dimensions (national culture), Iran is ranked as one of the collectivist countries and cultures (41), and therefore the people of our society are more affected by social norms. Furthermore, this study found that perceived behavioral control has a positive effect on the behavioral intentions of tourists to visit the agricultural environment of rural areas in Mazandaran Province. Tourists believe that their confidence in their ability to make such trips, as well as enough money and time for vacations, influences their behavioral intentions to visit the agricultural and rural areas of this destination. Although past experience is effective in the relationship between attitude and behavioral intentions, the past experience of tourists had a moderate effect. In this province, because most of the lands are engaged in agricultural activities, little attention has been paid to agritourism activities. In other words, agritourism is a new sector in this traditional destination. Therefore, the previous experiences of tourists do not include in-depth and participatory experiences in agritourism activities and include items such as entertainment and shopping. It should be noted that tourists in this study had a strong tendency to participate in recreational and entertainment activities and did not want to participate in agritourism activities because most of the tourists in this destination are leisure tourists and are not specialized tourists agritourism. Therefore, creating a brand and a new image of rural areas of Mazandaran as an agritourism destination is recommended.


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