15 January 1999

Net gains for 11 Welsh tourist centres

Details of tourist facilities on 11 Welsh farms now

appear on the worldwide web. Robert Davies talked to the

chairman of the ground-breaking scheme

MEMBERS of Croeso Cader Idris offer bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation in the foothills of one of the principalitys best-known mountains. They hope that becoming the first farm tourist group to venture onto the Internet will bring many more visitors to appreciate Merionydds stunning scenery.

Chairman Deilwen Breeze is a forceful advocate of the need to provide very high-quality facilities on farms, and an uncompromising critic of the way the sector has been promoted in the past.

"I suppose we are blazing the tourism trail in mid-Wales with this new technology, but we are already reaping the benefits," says Mrs Breeze.

She also chairs the Farm Holiday Bureau in Wales, and the Farmers Union of Waless farm tourism and diversification committee. She believes tourism must be approached in a highly-professional way, and be an adjunct to efficient farming rather than an attempt to bail out failing businesses.

"The key to tourism today is quality. The publics expectations are far higher. Visitors demand better quality accommodation and, quite simply, if you do not provide it they will go elsewhere."

The location must be right, rooms must have every modern convenience, the family have to like meeting and working with people. It is also important that the farm is run properly and attractive and safe for visitors.

"In my view farm tourism has stood still for too long. We have to move with the times and be more competitive and aggressive with our marketing campaigns."

The multi-lingual pages available to potential customers using the Internet include descriptions of Wales and the area where the group operates, and the members own promotional leaflets and booking arrangements. The set up was partly financed by EU objective 5b money and group members are already getting overseas bookings as a direct result.

These are particularly welcome after a period when the Wales Tourist Boards promotional activities have come in for heavy criticism. Mrs Breeze thinks that not enough has been done to promote Wales as being different, and Welsh farm holidays as being value for money, even at times when the pound is strong.

A farmers daughter, she trained as a chef before marrying husband Ron, and she is a great believer in further education for farmers children. When the Breezes took over Gogarth Hall Farm, Pennal, in 1974 they were almost penniless so exploiting her catering skills was the obvious way of supplementing income from the developing farm business.

The couple did up the semi-derelict hall and converted farm buildings themselves, yet still managed to farm well. Their 162ha (400 acres) now carry 400 ewes and 25 cattle. Their mix of farmhouse and self-catering rooms will be able to accommodate 34 people by the end of 1999.

While tourism has served the couple well, Deilwen suspects that the immediate opportunities for other young couples to diversify into the sector are limited, especially if borrowing is required.

"We must be near saturation for the present level of demand. What we urgently need now is to develop our marketing efforts through local groups working together, and by providing Wales with a strong image that will appeal to more visitors."

She measures her and Rons success by the fact that all or part of the available accommodation is in use every day except Christmas day, and the combination of tourism and farming allows their two sons to work at home.