Agritourism: What’s the outlook for farm-based staycations in 2022?
Staycations are predicted to remain a popular holiday choice in 2022, despite international travel becoming much easier this year as Covid-19 restrictions ease. This provides an ideal opportunity for farmers looking to cash in through agritourism.
According to research carried out by VisitBritain in March this year, 39% of UK adults (21.4 million) intend to take an overnight UK-based trip between July and September 2022, which would equate to an estimated £5.7bn in domestic visitor spending.
The UK campsite booking platform Pitchup.com says that so far this year bookings are up 40% compared with last year, after a 96% rise in 2021 on 2020 levels, pointing to another huge season for agritourism including glamping and camping. While fewer Covid restrictions mean people can travel internationally more easily, the situation in Ukraine could be fostering a general uneasiness about going abroad, Pitchup says.
Meanwhile, the cost-of-living crisis is also expected to turn many people towards camping as a budget-friendly holiday option, particularly those who bought their own tents or campervans during the pandemic.
Pitchup’s founder and managing director, Dan Yates, says: “With the cost-of-living crisis and the environmental crisis weighing heavily on people’s minds, domestic camping and glamping provides a cheaper and lower impact option.”
Permitted development reduced
Mr Yates says that over the past two years hundreds of farmers have capitalised on the demand for camping facilities by setting up pop-up campsites, but a rule change in England and Wales this year is making them look much less financially attractive.
In 2020 and 2021 permitted development rights (PDRs) were relaxed to allow tent campsites to be opened without planning permission for up to 56 days. However, this extension has now expired, meaning the PDR limit has reverted to 28 days.
Agritourism in Scotland
In Scotland, guidance has been issued which encourages local authorities not to enforce against planning breaches which are “reasonable temporary outdoor uses” until the end of September 2022. This should allow many campsites to operate all summer without a planning application.
A similar line is being taken in Northern Ireland, although it is recommended that anyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland should check first with their local planning department if they wish to site tents and/or facilities for longer than 28 days.
Pitchup is lobbying for 56 days to be reinstated across the whole of the UK this summer, as it has already seen a number of site owners in England advise that they will not be opening this year because of the 28-day limit.
“Of course, it’s up to the individual whether they feel it is viable for their business as each site requires a different amount of outlay to get up and running and each will bring in a different return,” says Mr Yates.
“The average income from a pop-up campsite on Pitchup.com last year was £13,000, but one pop-up made in excess of £126,000 – so for that site it would most definitely be worth listing again, even if only for 28 days. Most sites, however, will not be in such a popular tourist location and therefore will struggle to make back the money they spend on moveable structures such as toilets and showers in just 28 days.”
VisitBritain found that 61% of adults surveyed in March 2022 said they would take a staycation at some point before February 2023, compared with 44% planning to take an overseas trip in the same period.
This spring the most popular destinations are expected to be Scotland, and in England the South-west, North-west and Yorkshire & Humber. When it comes to day trips, from now until June, the countryside is the preferred destination type, followed by seaside towns.
VisitBritain has also been tracking international consumer sentiment towards travel, with more than a quarter of international travellers, particularly those coming from long-haul destinations, interested in village or countryside destinations on their next trip.
Outdoor nature activities including visiting parks, gardens and national parks and observing wildlife are also of high interest to international visitors.
Pitchup had 31 new pop-ups listed in 2019, when the 28-day limit was in place and before Covid. When the rights were extended to 56 days in 2020, this number leapt to 130 new pop-up sites, and in 2021 when the rights were extended further, this rose to 934 new sites.
“These figures show just how much the additional days mean to farmers and landowners – reducing the level of risk they have to face and making this diversification opportunity much more viable,” says Mr Yates.
For sites in England and Wales that want to operate for more than 28 days and take caravan and motorhome bookings, there are two options: apply for planning permission or apply to be part of an exempt organisation.
Exempt organisations allow farmers the opportunity to set up small year-round sites without needing a site licence or planning permission.
The organisation – such as the Greener Camping Club, the Freedom Camping Club, the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club (C&CC) – will typically inspect the site and make a number of checks before issuing a certificate.
However, beware of the small print: the C&CC, for example, only allows bookings for its registered sites through its own website, reducing exposure to potential customers.
Strong cottage demand
David Brown, director of booking agency Farm Stay, says demand for holiday cottages is still strong this year, although he suspects property owners may find they will not be quite as busy as they have been.
“I know for our properties we have pretty good bookings already, but equally I know not everybody has,” he says. “I do think a lot of that is the squeeze on people and the uncertainty they are facing. We might be in for more of a last-minute year [in terms of bookings].”
Some customers are likely to choose to return to their beach holidays now that overseas travel is opening up, but he believes the UK market is still likely to be stronger than pre-Covid.
“A lot of people have discovered how nice it is to holiday in the UK and to be there in an hour and a half, without having to go to a crowded airport, and have the freedom of their own transport.”
Running costs risk for agritourism venues
Mr Brown, who runs an agritourism business through four holiday lodges at Hoe Grange Farm, near Matlock in the Peak District, says a big challenge for any farmers with cottages or lodges will be rising costs.
“You take a booking now for October and we’ve no idea what we are going to be paying to heat the place because we’re not protected under the capping because we are commercial businesses,” he says.
The cost of insurance has also jumped and the temporary reduction in the VAT rate applied to leisure and hospitality businesses has also ended, along with a business rates holiday.
“The costs have gone up considerably this year. I would suggest our costs for a four-cottage setup will probably have gone up £30,000-£40,000 this year.”
However there is little scope to put up prices, as they have already risen over the past couple of years. The additional properties coming on stream in the past two years are making pricing increasingly competitive too.
“Profitability is going to be back down to pre-Covid levels, if not lower, depending on where you are,” says Mr Brown. “We’re in the Peak District so we don’t really struggle to let, but if you are in an off-the-wall area that isn’t a tourist area, then there isn’t going to be that overspill where people are desperate for a cottage anywhere.”
Mr Brown says he expects glamping to remain popular for anyone offering something with extra quality or a little out of the ordinary.
“A standard yurt, safari tent or pod – you are competing with thousands of them coming online every year. Unless you’ve got an absolutely stunning location or something that is out of the norm, you could struggle,” he says.
Top tips for successful agritourism holiday lets
A hot tub at your agritourism venue or holiday cottage will prove a huge draw for holiday makers, according to Sam Brownlow, regional sales director for Cottages.com.
The self-catering specialist has found that not only can you charge more a week for a property with a hot tub, but you also get a higher occupancy rate across the year. However, hot tubs do require maintenance, risk assessments to be carried out and a strict cleaning regime implemented to keep them safe and hygienic.
Property owners who welcome pets are also likely to attract more customers, as this can be one of the big reasons why people want to book a UK-based break.
“A property which has hard floors downstairs, a utility room and a dog wash outside will help your property stand out and get more bookings,” says Mr Brownlow.
Woodburners are a great feature if you want to attract year-round bookings, as people like the romantic idea of settling down in front of a fire. Other property features which can enhance the appeal of a let include electric vehicle charging points, superfast wi-fi and pizza ovens.
The contents of the welcome pack are often mentioned in reviews, and given that it tends to be the properties with the best reviews that perform the best financially, it can be well worth putting in effort to make your welcome pack memorable.
“Welcome packs always need to be cost effective, but particularly for someone starting from scratch it can be worth doing a bit extra for your first few customers. For example, putting a bottle of wine in the fridge and leaving a home-made cake and handwritten welcome note – as it will help you to get the positive feedback you need,” he says.
Wild camping market set to expand
Demand is growing for off-grid and wild camping sites, some with exclusive use.
While many glamping sites offer high levels of comfort and service, wild sites go back to basics, with no facilities.
Off-grid campervanning specialist Wild With Consent has 18 sites across the UK.
These permit only one campervan to stay in each location for one night, guaranteeing privacy and with 80% of the pitch fee going directly to the host.
The company says site owners can expect to earn up to £75 a night for exclusive use of its “super premium” sites, while others offer a daily income of £25 to £45.
These sites are run under permitted development rules so can be used for only 28 days a year.
Landowner benefits include a low-impact and low-maintenance diversification, requiring no infrastructure.