THERE is more demand for stays on farms than farmers providing accommodation, according to Farm Stay, the award-winning farmer-owned marketing consortium which promotes farm tourism and helps producers diversify.
A Farm Stay spokesperson said: “The public want these on-farm accommodation experiences but there aren’t enough providers, something we hope to change.”
Part of the remit of founder member and new director, Marion Oates of Billerwell, near Hawick, is to find more farm B&Bs, self-catering providers and campsites, encourage producers to go into the business and to join.
Ms Oates, whose B&B has four gold star, told TheSouthern she had two main aims – to raise the profile of Farm Stay with customers and to get more people involved with the not-for-profit promotional body.
Mrs Oates is one of two directors representing Farm Stay UK in Scotland.
She said: “I am keen to raise the profile of agritourism in Scotland and ensure that other farms can benefit from joining.”
Running a farm B&B as she does with her husband, Richard, the well known Limousin and Texel breeder, is not for everyone she said.
“B&B and self catering provides a regular good income for farmers and, with us, people appreciate the locally produced food and the wildlife and location. You must not underestimate the input but what you put in you get back
“I wouldn’t be wanting to encourage everyone to do it because you do have to have that commitment, but there is certainly pay-back for anybody interested.”
“In my example, we have raised our standards and it’s certainly paid back in our customer base. People are looking for high quality which they are prepared to pay for, but it has to be consistent and you have to deliver. You have to be organised – it’s like running any business, it’s certainly not an easy option, but the feedback is great and the customers become very much part of your business.”
Getting the right market is key she said, adding: “This is where Farm Stay can help because we have got such a large membership who are all very happy to help people who may not have done it before.”
Mrs Oates co-founded Farm Stay in 1983 when she ran a farmhouse B&B in Northumberland. She was the first tourism development officer in Alnwick, Northumberland, moving to a similar role in Scotland when the family moved to the Borders in 1990. She then became the former Scottish Borders Tourist Board’s development director before going on to work for Scottish Borders Council as economic development manager and then VisitScotland as a local authority business advisor.
A well-known pedigree breeder, Mr Oates farms the 350-acre Billerwell and is a member of the Scottish Sheep Strategy Group.
The Oateses started their Billerwell B&B six years ago and rejoined Farm Stay two years later.
Mrs Oates said: “I think that because we can all benefit from the focused and successful marketing campaigns, including a very effective website, which are run UK wide, we are ensuring that our properties reachthe eyes and ears of potential visitors.”
Farm Stay has about 1,000 members, 60 in Scotland.
Mrs Oates said: “I hope to raise the profile within Scotland because I think until now it’s been a little bit low and I think agritourism is in danger of being a little bit omitted. The focus can be on big cities.”
The organisation has applied for VisitScotland funding – which will be assessed at the end of this month –to raise Farm Stay’s profile during this year’s Year of Natural Scotland, put on additional promotions in the UK and overseas and develop links with food producers.
“I think we can provide a huge amount of added value to that [Year of Natural Scotland] and certainly encourage far more visitors to Scotland and particularly to Farmstay members.”