Running gites in France

Glynis Shaw reassures a reader who fears running g�tes in France might not be an option in future...

Question: My husband and I would like to generate some extra income in France by converting our outbuilding into g�te accommodation that we can then let out. We are concerned however about just how much competition there seems to be out there so if we do go ahead, how can we stand out from the crowd and ensure that we get a steady flow of clients? I am worried that we will do all the work and then not get any paying guests; is the g�te market a saturated market?

Answer: In my view, the short answer to this question is no. The market for selfcatering holidays in France is not saturated – but to succeed in the present climate, owners need to be astute and proactive and to expand their ideas of where the potential market lies.

The concern behind this question is easy to understand. In the last few years, many people have been so drawn by the charms of France that they have either bought a second home across the Channel or moved there permanently. Some have embarked on holiday lets for pin money but, increasingly, the g�te business is just that – a true business venture that is taken seriously by its proprietors.

Fortunately, the same charm and accessibility continues to lure holiday-makers to France – and they need not only come from Britain. With the internet firmly established as the primary marketing tool for self-catering holidays, there is more potential to attract tourists from other countries, including France itself. A new French language version of our website has been welcomed by property owners because they recognise that French people prefer to holiday in their own country and are not affected by exchange rates. This makes them a very worthwhile market to target.

France’s excellent road and rail network, the spread of low cost flights, the current euro–dollar exchange rate – all make France potentially appealing to markets both inside and outside the Eurozone. But the appeal is more than practical. In an age of greater environmental awareness and increasing globalisation, property owners can see it as an opportunity to be in traditional rural landscapes where visitors are able to feel a sense of community, immerse themselves in the culture and get involved in a wide range of activities, festivals and events. Self-catering, with its sense of freedom and budget flexibility, remains as popular as ever, whether at a simple g�te or in a luxury villa.

Holiday experience

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However, it is essential in the present climate for property owners to take a good hard look at their prices, level of service and what their accommodation offers, both as a place to stay and as a total holiday experience. You need to be aware that people have greater choice and to identify what makes you different – what, in marketing terms, is your unique selling point. This might range from fresh food from your garden, a particularly stylish d�cor and good on-site games and facilities, to accessibility to landmark attractions or availability of activities, classes, therapies and tours. If you don’t have a speciality, then find or create one – and really make the most of it by selling all its virtues.

Take care of the basics too, by appraising the way in which you present your property and its advantages. Describe it well, use excellent quality photographs – and perhaps video – to lure the holiday-maker in. And always monitor enquiries by phone, email or SMS to avoid missing out, as holiday-makers expect a response within 24 hours.

This is definitely a time for proactive marketing. A useful tool for g�te owners – and a smart response to the current demand for excellent value – is the promotion or special offer. Most listings sites have a separate section to highlight offers as well as flagging them up on your property advertisement, so it’s a great way to get noticed.

I’m seeing online discounts and incentives for 2009 that are more prolific and inventive than ever before. Many owners are setting prices in sterling, which gives UK customers certainty and peace of mind, and are holding 2008 prices. Others are offering a fixed exchange rate – a typical level is 1.20 or 1.30 – which gives the same advantage. Discounts are between 10 per cent and 25 per cent, either in return for early booking, during low-season months or across the board. Incentives include airport pick-up, free facilities such as bike hire and flexible booking dates.

Finally, from nearly 14 years of experience, I believe that the g�te has always been a constantly changing commodity. Properties change hands, new ideas are introduced, fresh opportunities arise and both owners and holiday-makers will continue to shift their priorities in response. It might just pay to keep your finger on the pulse.