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Farming Matters: Caroline Millar - 'Holidays on a farm have never been as popular'

When we were in lockdown, one of the key challenges for our agritourism business and for others was not knowing how long the lockdown would last.

For some in the sector it is still going on. Taking in the wide range of tourism and leisure activities you can undertake on a farm, agritourism is a diverse sector, and each different venture has been allowed to open up at different times.

 

All have to operate within strict government guidelines, new risk assessments, additional clean protocols and training for staff. While we adapt to these new ways of working with additional costs associated, being open with rules is a lot better than being closed.

 

Self-catering in Scotland opened on July 3. For us, our July to November period is almost fully booked. This is fantastic to be so busy, but like others in the sector, most of these people have moved forward from March to July so most of the bookings are displacements rather than new bookings.

 

However, it is great to be open again and see money coming into your bank account each day, rather than either no new sales, or worse, refunds.

 

Glamping, camping and self-catering on farms have never been so popular. Farms were indeed built for social isolation, at last demand for this form of agritourism is outstripping supply.

 

Other parts of the sector are open but are much more of a limited capacity. Scotland’s farm tour sector was looking forward to its busiest year to date.

 

Many thousands of tickets were sold for an hour or two hours with a farming family and for some, a food experience to follow. While farm tours are back and up and running they are having to comply with a two metre social distancing rule, even although when you are inside a pub the distance is one metre.

 

With capacity only for one family at a time, they won’t be financially viable at normal larger group rates, so pricing here is critical. No large coach parties will be possible for this year.

 

Cafes and restaurants on farms are open again but many choosing to operate a takeaway service or eat outside service instead of indoors.

 

Some in this part of the sector switched to home delivery during lockdown to maintain customer relationships and keep income coming in.

 

Outdoor service will work well on dry sunny days but not great for visitor numbers in the rain. At least we are in the middle of summer and not in the depths of winter.

 

Many farm cafes on the edge of walking trails or near a beach are inundated with visitors so traffic management and ensuring car parks are being used for paying visitors is another area to deal with.


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Impact

 

It is essential the people filling your car parks are putting money in your till.

 

Adventure sports and activities on farms are also open again, and are reporting having high demand, but with more restricted capacity numbers.

 

It is the agritourism diversification’s whose business relies on weddings, events or those offering farmhouse bed and breakfast which are still closed, and which are having the longest impact of lockdown.

 

Wedding and events venues are losing thousands of pounds each week.

 

Although smaller events outside with up to 20 people can take place, that is not going to replicate the revenue from a venue hosting up to two hundred and fifty people, five days out of seven.

 

One of the key issues is that if you tell the self-catering sector they have two weeks’ notice to re-open, family groups can react quite quickly to that, particularly over the summer period.

 

If you tell a wedding venue, they can open in two weeks, where are the engaged couples that are going to quickly book a wedding?

 

Most families plan a wedding for months if not years. An opening date, even if months off, is essential to allow businesses to plan and bookings to be made.

 

Overall, agritourism is in high demand and our sector hope this higher demand will continue well into 2021 and will help to convert a new type of visitor who hasn’t tried a farm experience or farm food before.

 

The ability to meet that demand at the moment due to the limited capacity levels within government guidelines will impact on income levels.

 

But for those with the ability to service this increased demand for buying local food, visiting and staying in spacious farms built for social isolation, there is the potential to recover from the four months of closure if not in the short-term but certainly in the medium term.

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