Farms could cash in on post-lockdown staycation boom
- Credit: Arnolds Keys / Chaucer Barn
Norfolk farms are well-placed to take advantage of a post-lockdown staycation boom - but research is crucial if holiday diversifications are to succeed, said rural property experts.
With the prospects for overseas travel this summer still uncertain, 2021 looks set to be a bumper year for the domestic tourism industry, with Norfolk a prime location.
Tom Corfield, partner at Norfolk-based agency Arnolds Keys - Irelands Agricultural, said declining subsidy support made this the ideal time for farmers to reflect on the variety of assets they have, and assess how hard they are working in terms of their financial return.
“Diversification is not a new word, and many farms have already ventured into the tourism sector, with holiday lets, camping, glamping and small craft units, to name just a few examples,” he said.
“Relaxed planning measures were introduced in 2020 and extended for 2021, making such diversification schemes easier – for example the extension from 28 days a year to 56 days a year for using land as a campsite without planning permission.
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“Due to the pandemic, many people will decide to holiday in the UK this year, and Norfolk will be a prime location for many of those holidaymakers. There is a shortage of supply of suitable accommodation in particular, with many holiday lets already fully booked right across the spring, summer and autumn.
"So the demand is certainly there for farmers looking to create new holiday accommodation.”
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However, Mr Corfield said careful planning would be needed to make a success of what would be an entirely new type of business for many farmers. Important factors to consider include finance, skills, and the need to develop a unique selling proposition within a crowded marketplace.
Louise Hillman, manager of Keys Holiday Cottages, the holiday lettings division of Arnolds Keys, added: “People are attracted to staying on a real farm, and you can emphasise that through linking the accommodation to the farm itself, perhaps by offering a welcome pack with some of the farm’s produce,” she said.
“Holiday accommodation on a farm is different to most people’s daily life experience, which will have an appeal.
"But just because people might be attracted to a rural location, doesn’t mean they want their accommodation to be rustic. Holidaymakers expect modern conveniences such as decent wifi and smart TV, and they want kitchens and bathrooms to be to a high standard.”
CASE STUDY: CHAUCER BARN
Having created the successful wedding venue Chaucer Barn at Gresham, between Cromer and Holt, James Mermagen added five eco-lodges in 2019, with the aim of boosting the wedding offering.
But in the following two years, strong demand for self-catering accommodation in Norfolk has seen non wedding-related bookings soar as well.
With the aid of a grant from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Mr Mermagen built the new high-specification four-berth lodges, complete with handmade furniture and wood burning stoves, in woodland a short walk from the barn.
“During the pandemic last summer the lodges kept us afloat, and this year they are once again chock-a-block, both with wedding bookings and from those who simply want to spend their holiday in Norfolk," said Mr Mermagen, who markets the accommodation mostly through Airbnb.
He said planning and finance are two main areas which others considering such a move should think carefully about.
"If you are doing something which needs planning permission, expect it to take a long time,” he said. “And the finance side also took lots of time and effort. Obtaining the finance to make such an investment needs a carefully thought-through business plan."