23 November 2001

TOURISM CHIEFS IN BULLISH MOOD

Farmers involved in tourism were hit a double whammy this

year but Farm Stay UK chief executive Nigel Embrey is full

of confidence as members of the farm tourism group heard

at their annual conference. Tessa Gates reports

Farm tourism came to a virtual standstill earlier this year when foot-and-mouth hit the countryside. Tourism group Farm Stay UK (formerly Farm Holiday Bureau) felt the backlash as membership fell from the previous years record high of 1200 to just below 1000 when some members could not afford to renew their subs or perhaps could not see the point in such a year.

However, it was a buoyant Nigel Embrey who addressed the annual conference last weekend. He was fresh from receiving the Tourism Society Award 2001 on behalf of the group, which is given to individuals or organisations who have made an exceptional contribution to the development of tourism in the UK.

Survival of the group and publication of its full colour free brochure Stay on a Farm 2002, both of which were under pressure in April, have not only been secured by some judicious fund seeking from Rural Development Authorities, the brochure print run has been increased to 155,000. The British Tourist Authority is so impressed with the brochure it has taken 55,000 copies at its own expense for overseas distribution. And, as tourism picked up in late summer, so did membership inquiries.

"Members wanting to rejoin were too late to be in our brochure but for a special fee of £100 they could be added to our website if they committed to sign up for 2002," Mr Embrey told Farmlife prior to the conference. "The average fee is £280 and for this they feature on the website, in the guide and get newletters. It is tremendous value compared to other advertising."

In his keynote speech Mr Embrey said that superficially, in recent years the tourist industry had fared better than agriculture. "However, what is not commonly appreciated is the fact the UKs share of the overall tourism market has been in gradual decline for the last decade – a decline that recent months have turned into an avalanche. The only real growth sector up until Sep 11, has been that of outbound Brits spending more and more of their time and money overseas."

Fuel tax, and VAT at the second highest rate in Europe, make our own remote locations increasingly more expensive and inaccessible. "As if this wasnt enough, in England the national tourist board has now been denied the right to provide a marketing focus for our product!"

The repercussions of the tragedy on Sep 11 will undeniably affect farm tourism. "The domestic market provides our bread and butter in normal times, being worth £20b in total to the industry. However, last year Brits going abroad spent £46b. We do not need to fight hard to use the current lack of confidence in flying to regain a large share of this outgoing business. As to long haul incoming visitors, they will most certainly feel safer in the countryside than in the cities," he said.