13 July 2001


Its proving a disastrous

season for the farm tourism

industry. Wendy Owen asked

Judith Stephenson, regional

director of Farmstay, about

how her familys businesses

is coping with the crisis

FOOT-and-mouth and poor weather have proved a killing combination for the north- easts farm tourism industry. Incomes from bed and breakfast and self-catering accommodation on farms in Northumbria and Yorks were down by about 60% this March compared with the previous year, according to Farmstay, formerly the Farm Holiday Bureau.

After last years wet summer, the regions farm holiday businesses were hoping for a good year, says Judith Stephenson, Farmstays regional director. Then F&M struck.

Its effects on farm tourism are well known to Mrs Stephenson and her husband, John. They run a long-established caravan park and four holiday cottages together with 160ha (400 acres) of arable, beef and sheep at Bradley Burn, Wolsingham, Co Durham.

Their takings have been halved during the crisis, mainly because the area attracts large numbers of walkers and most footpaths have been closed. But the Stephensons feel most sympathy for new businesses which cannot rely on old customers to help cash flow.

Since F&M has been confirmed on the two farms either side of Bradley Burn, Judith and John cannot understand why their stock have not been culled as a contiguous case. "Its a mystery to us why we havent lost all our livestock," says Mrs Stephenson.

"They have been blood-tested and found negative twice. At least it means we have not had to close our holiday business. We are under a D notice but the holiday side of the business has a separate drive away from the animals and we have continued to take visitors."

But the Stephensons question prospective guests to find out their plans. "We wouldnt take people who are travelling from farm to farm but if they are from town and expecting to visit local towns and villages I cant see a problem. Having to closely question people ringing up for accommodation does not sound hospitable but most are sympathetic."

More important

Mrs Stephenson thinks F&M makes it is more important than ever for the 1000 Farmstay members in her region of Northumbria and Cumbria to market their farm holiday businesses. But she appreciates theres little money to spend on advertising this year.

"There are some marketing grants available if the holiday business is run separately from the farm," she explains. "I have had many phone calls from members asking whether their farm accommodation is allowed to open and it seems there are no precise guidelines."

If F&M has been confirmed the business must close but if a farm is under a D restriction, the rules permit essential visitors. Mrs Stephenson advises people to keep in touch with their local tourist information centres. That allows them to answer queries from potential customers about events and attractions in the area that are open.

Targeting business people can be effective as many prefer a quiet place to work and somewhere safe to park their car.

"Try to find out what kind of holiday people are looking for and keep in touch with past guests to remind them you are still open for business," advises Mrs Stephenson.

"But the last thing we want is to disappoint people. If they come under a false impression and cant do some of the things they planned to do, they wont come again. And they may tell others."

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