With the staycation market set to be busier than ever this summer, Farmers Weekly asks two leading businesses for a few tips on making the most of the enterprise.
Mandy and Edward Lindley run West Hale Gate Glamping, which offers stays in three shepherd’s huts on the farm at Burton Fleming in East Yorkshire.
1. Look before you leap
Make sure you first check out what’s already available. Don’t just look online or from afar – actually stay in a few places.
The market has changed massively compared with a few years ago, and there is lots of competition. Becoming familiar with what’s on offer will help you find your price point.
We have aimed for the luxury market, so we know we have to stand out. Everything has to be memorable, special and immaculate.
2. Be clear about your offer
Know your vision and target market. We decided to offer tranquil, relaxing breaks – which couples often enjoy as a romantic retreat. This means we don’t allow families and pets, as visitors value the peace and quiet.
We also decided to make two nights the minimum stay. It’s sometimes tempting to flex that rule, but a one-night stay is as much work and only brings in half the revenue.
3. Will it suit you?
You have to be outgoing and sociable and wear a near-constant smile. You can’t half-commit to tourism. It’s hard work, but very satisfying.
It can provide a crucial income, too – which is especially valuable at times when farming revenues are low.
4. Aim for repeat business
We are in a remote spot on the East Yorkshire Wolds, so it’s not as if there is lots of passing trade, but the internet allows us potential access to a vast customer base.
Securing a first booking can take a lot of work – repeat business is relatively straightforward in comparison, so incentivise people to come back. We have a loyalty card system. Some visitors come here six or seven times a year.
5. Leverage your farming status
Visitors really appreciate the setting. Some have never seen a dark sky or the stars before.
They love staying on a farm and want to know more, so we’ve started a “Farmer Ed” online diary – including short videos – of what’s happening through the farming year.
6. The power of social media
If you have a clear strategy and a clear message, social media can massively amplify that.
But it’s not just case of putting a photo up and saying: “Book now” – you need to do it regularly, posting at least two or three time a week to keep your visibility up. It’s all about finding new messages and getting people to interact with you.
Jane and Andrew Cook run Pickwell Barton Farm Holidays, which gives visitors the chance to stay in two cottages on the North Devon coast between Woolacombe and Croyde.
7. Exceed expectations
Most visitors are looking for more luxury than they have at home, whether that’s the fixtures and fittings or an amazing-quality bed.
Regular guests like to see something different each year, too. They also want to be made to feel special, so if someone is booking for a birthday celebration or wedding anniversary, remember that and give them a card, flowers or a bottle of wine.
8. Share your knowledge
Tell people the best places to go walking, cycling, horse riding, kayaking or coasteering.
Your job is to help them get the most from their stay, so make sure you give them lots of information and recommendations – including the best local pubs and restaurants, of course.
9. Be authentic
It’s important to be who you are and honest about what you offer. We‘re a working farm, so rely heavily on Farm Stay UK for bookings and then we do what we say on the tin – offer luxury farm cottages.
First and foremost, we are a farm, but we want to share this beautiful spot with others. We’re always mindful of safety, but if visitors want to see the farm, we let them. One family always asks if they can help us move sheep.
10. Tell them about you
People are interested in the history of the family, as well as the farm. The Cook family have been here for 100 years and self-catering accommodation has been offered for 40 years.
We highlight this on the website; it’s important your website accurately reflects your life and personality.
We even send guests a Christmas card with a photo of the family and a little newsletter inside. Over the years, many visitors have become friends.
11. Help them relax
Outdoor space is special, particularly for anyone who doesn’t have a garden. Guests love sitting on a patio, with an undercover area for a barbecue.
Always think about that family who might have travelled a long way – they want to wind down and destress quickly. They don’t want to do battle with a complicated oven they can’t even turn on.
Not everyone does it this way, but we are all-inclusive (other than for food). Whether it’s the gas for the barbecue, towels or logs, there are no hidden charges.
This helps people budget, which is especially important at the moment, when everyone is watching the pennies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We also try to offer added value – such as free parking at the local beach.