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Setting up a B&B or gîte in France

PUBLISHED: 15:36 26 September 2012

© Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy

© Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy

© Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy

Running an accommodation business can be a good way to earn a living from your French property. Kate McNally takes you through the formalities

For many people mulling over the idea of moving to France, setting up a bed and breakfast in a beautiful farmhouse situated in a sun-soaked, picturesque village is nearly always on the list of possible activities at some stage in the planning procedure.

After all, property is cheaper in France so you can sell up in the UK, buy a bigger property and what better way to earn a simple living than opening up the extra bedrooms for passing tourist trade or converting outbuildings into attractive holiday gîtes, right? No language problems and the chance to be your own boss and to share your newfound idyllic lifestyle with grateful smiling guests.

So that’s the dream; now, what about the reality? Well, it might not always be sunny and you may have to roll up your sleeves to turn your property into attractive guest accommodation, but the good news is that running your own B&B (or chambres d’hôtes to give it the French name) can tick all the boxes, which is why it remains such a popular option for Brits moving to France.

However, it is important to be sure that it will work for you. For example, will the B&B bring in enough money to live off or will you need a second source of income – and if so, what? Are you and all the family, including any children, happy to share your home regularly with strangers? Can you speak sufficient French

to welcome the numerous indigenous guests you are likely to receive? Are you prepared for the amount of cleaning involved?

Alternatively, if you have an independent building on your property, such as a converted barn or stable, or the possibility to construct one, you may want to consider running a gîte instead. Although you must be available to welcome and help your guests, they occupy a separate space, usually cater for themselves, and in general cleaning is on a weekly, as opposed to daily, basis.

Location

The property world has long been obsessed with location, though usually with a view to reselling. When it comes to a B&B in France, the primary location factor is to be situated in a popular tourist area but ideally not somewhere already flooded with accommodation options.

You should also seek to be relatively close to the centre of a town or village, or situated along a popular tourist route. People are prepared to make a lengthier detour for a pre-booked holiday destination, such as a gîte or campsite, but they are less likely to do so for an overnight stay. Also consider whether there is sufficient parking space attached to the property or very close by to cater for all your guests.

In contrast, people are often attracted by a gîte that is in a tranquil, rural setting, away from the hubbub of everyday life. If you’re thinking of running a gîte, consider also whether you plan to install a swimming pool if there isn’t one, and check there is a suitable space to accommodate it.

Registration

It is now obligatory for all chambres d’hôtes and gîtes to be registered with the local mairie. Before doing anything, get an appointment at the mairie to request permission to run a B&B in the first place – there could be a valid reason preventing it but more importantly it’s always advisable to stay on good terms with the local mairie.

Registration is relatively simple involving a short declaration form requiring details such as number of rooms, guest capacity and opening period.

To be classed as a chambres d’hôtes, accommodation must not exceed five bedrooms catering for no more than 15 guests. Prices must be clearly indicated externally and at the reception point, you must have a proper invoicing procedure in place, and hygiene and safety regulations must be respected. Guests must have access to a toilet and bathroom, and take meals at the family table. For all the regulations, check with your local DDASS (Direction Départementale des Affaires Sanitaires et Sociale).

If you plan to offer an evening meal for guests, you should apply for table d’hôtes status. In this case, guests must eat the same meal as you and your family, and at the same table, otherwise you could find yourself classed as a restaurant, with all the extra regulation and costs that go with it. You will also need to apply for a special licence to serve alcohol with the meal.

There are no specific requirements for gîte classification, but it is a good idea to seek accreditation from the Gîtes de France federation (www.gites-de-france.com). Not only do they give you a certain quality caché through their épis standard system (similar to hotel stars) based on the environment, comfort level and services offered, they can also ensure you adhere to any legal requirements and, importantly, give you access to their promotional network.

Business or not a business?

Whether or not you must register your chambres d’hotes or gîte as a business depends on your revenues and the level of income generated by other employment.

Currently, if the B&B or gîte(s) generates annual revenues greater than €23,000 and accounts for more than 50% of your total household income, then you need to register under Location Meublée Professionnelle at your local chamber of commerce.

If revenues generated are less than €23,000 or represent less than 50% of your total income, then you are considered as Location Meublée Non-professionnelle and you are not required to register as a business.

It is important to be clear in your mind from the outset whether you see your activity as a primary or secondary source of income, because if you register as a business you are liable for taxes and the infamous French charges sociales, akin to National Insurance contributions but levied at a much higher percentage of earnings.

Either way, earnings must be declared on the annual tax return and will be subject to taxation in the usual manner.

Note also that a gîte is subject to taxes foncières paid by the property owner (similar to the former system for UK house rates), as well as taxes d’habitation if they are used as a primary or secondary home, paid by the occupier.

Standing out

There are thousands of excellent chambres d’hôtes and gîtes operating in France, so finding a way to make yours stand out from the crowd can help to lure guests to your humble abode.

For example, if you want to promote your accommodation as child friendly, you could consider additional facilities such as a trampoline and a mini playground (slide, swing, climbing frame). Or if you are situated in a designated area of natural beauty, use this as a plus by including photos and detailed hiking information to attract ramblers.

Alternatively, you may play on the tourist’s desire for the ‘local experience’ by serving quality, local produce from your little corner of France for breakfast, and evening meal if a table d’hôtes. Again, make sure you highlight this in your publicity.

Finally, if you do decide to turn the dream into reality, don’t forget to tell everyone you know and to use every possible networking opportunity when you arrive in France – there is nothing like word-of-mouth when it comes to marketing your accommodation.

Top tips to boost your business potential

• Ask at the local tourist office if there are any gaps in the market so you can offer the type of accommodation your area needs most

• Make the most of social media – Facebook and Twitter – they can help you market your business for free

• Check if your local chamber of commerce runs courses for small businesses, it’s a good way to find out more and a chance to network with other business owners in your area

• Once you’re open for business, invite the locals round for an apéritif to celebrate – there’s nothing like personal recommendations to spread the word

• Make sure your website has up-to-date information and lots of nice pictures – it’s your shop window!

LF

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