There are estimated to be upwards of half a million gite and chambre d’hôte businesses in France and counting, with more and more popping up every day. It is incredibly easy to see the attraction of working from home and being your own boss in a beautiful country. So, it is still a realistic dream? Making such a life-changing decision does deserve some serious thought. If you are considering running a gite business in France, this beginner’s guide, written from an on-site gite owner’s perspective, might be just what you need to galvanise your thinking.
Here are six straightforward tips to consider:
1. Do Your Homework: Is Running a Gite for You?
Dreaming and doing are two quite different things. Many of the television programmes show the ups and downs of running a hospitality business in France. Take some time to really imagine yourself (and possibly your family members) in that role. It is more involved than some first impressions may portray. Working alongside your spouse and spending more time together may seem like ‘the dream’ but if you and your partner have both been used to 9 to 5 working, suddenly being thrust together 24/7 may take some adjustment too!
A gite is a self-catering property that is furnished and fully equipped, usually being rented out by the week. For an owner who lives on-site, it is reasonable to assume you do need to like people and to be fairly sociable with good communication skills. Or at least somebody in your team does! That ‘front of house’ role is key to making guests feel welcome, so that they recommend you to others and rebook for next year!
Knowledge of DIY and property maintenance, marketing and accounting are helpful too. Be prepared to be called upon at any time – especially if you intend to live on-site. From power cuts to salad spinner malfunctions – you can suddenly find yourself being a “Jack-of-all-Trades”. Organisation is important and a good grasp of the French language will make your life so much easier too.
If the hospitality industry is new to you, ask yourself, do you have those transferrable skills that you think you might need? Or might you consider paying someone to manage your property on your behalf?
Visas are required in order to be in France for longer than 3 months and to run a gite business. If you are wanting to establish your own business from scratch, you will need a business plan. Buying an already established business may be the easier option for some with a ready-made customer base just waiting for you to make your own mark.
Visit our Moving to France zone to learn more about the required visas and residency applications. Visit our Running a Business Zone to learn more about setting up your business, managing your finances, and taxes.
2. Choose the Location of Your Gite Wisely
It could be argued that many French people love to holiday in the mountains or by the coast. Therefore, think carefully about your location and your target market. Once you have narrowed down your search to the region you prefer, consider what the local towns and villages have to offer and what is typical of that region to attract your guests. Generally, people love to have at least some restaurants, bakeries, leisure facilities and local attractions – often within walking or cycling distance.
Do not rule out the rural idyll but do consider your unique selling point (USP) to attract your ideal guest and to stand out from the crowd. If you wish to diversify, make sure all the required paperwork and insurances are in place.
Accessibility is, of course, important with suitable road, rail and airport links. Give some thought as to where your potential customers may be coming from and how easily they can reach you. Remember, flights and services can be seasonal or even be cancelled.
If you are considering accepting year-round guests to boost your earnings, are you ideally situated? Being near to local commerce which regularly attracts workers needing accommodation is a boon to some businesses in the off-peak season. It might be worth noting, that as a rule of thumb, the price per week in high season is a good gauge as to what you may be able to charge per month in the lower season so do make sure the numbers stack up.
3. Research the Competition: How Will Your Gite Business Stand Out?
Some owners talk about the “saturation” of the gite and chambre d’hôte market, and there is no denying that competition is stiff. However, if you do your research and attract your customers, it is still possible to make a good living from a gite business. It is relatively easy to find out how many gites exist within a 20km radius of your ideal property with a simple internet search. This should give you a reasonable indication of the level of existing provision. Have a look at local booking calendars where possible and try to establish an average nightly or weekly charge along with availability in your defined area. Then, you have a realistic idea as to your own potential pricing and the revenue you might expect from one, two or even three gites or more.
Staying in one of these properties is a sure-fire way to glean ideas for your own business. Seize the opportunity to ask those owners about their experiences and do visit in different seasons. This will give a broader picture of year-round trade if this is one of your considerations. It is also advisable to see how your area may differ in winter from the height of the summer season for you and your family.
The local Tourist Information Office should be happy to speak to you too and will certainly know the market in their own area.
4. Create a Solid Business Plan for Your Gite
If you are looking for your gite to top up a stable income, your requirements may be quite different from those looking to earn a living from their gite business.
Depending on your location and individual circumstances, the peak tourist season (where you can command a premium rate for your accommodation) can actually be quite short – 8 to 12 weeks of the year or less. It may be wise to try to work out roughly how much profit you could anticipate after deducting any costs. (Remember to factor in running expenses and allow for any repairs and general upkeep). Does this guesstimate match your needs and your aspirations?
If you are buying an existing business, ask to look at the accounts for the last three years. The figures will speak for themselves. You may well be able to add value if you are able to invest but do consider how long it may take to recoup that investment.
Invest wisely. If you are thinking about converting existing buildings into gites, do your homework. Take a local, registered builder (ask the Mairie for a recommendation) with you and ask for a quotation. If you feel you are able to do much of the work yourself, research the price of materials. Prices can differ considerably from what you may be used to in your home country.
Establishing a business from scratch takes time. You will need the means with which to support yourself during this set-up period which may be three years or so. It could also be advisable to factor in an “unforeseen expenses” fund in addition to your day-to-day finances. Traditional properties need upkeep.
5. Cater for Your Target Market
Couples, families, pet-friendly, retired people, local workers – the list goes on. Decide ideally, who you wish to welcome to your business, the likelihood of this being a success and how to plan for their needs. For example, families may have quite different needs from couples wanting a romantic getaway. Attention to detail will set you apart from the crowd.
In all cases, being ‘Green’ is a draw for the eco-conscious traveller and may just be the ideal that clinches a booking for your property. Not only are ‘eco’ credentials great for your pocket; it is great for our planet too. In some localities, financial support may be available subject to a project meeting given criteria. It is worth investigating.
6. Market Your Gite Online
Social media is the way of the world and needs to be a pivotal part of your marketing strategy. There are plenty of companies willing to take social media marketing off your shoulders for a fee. However, it is relatively easy to pick up the basics and there is so much information readily available if you are willing to look. Driving traffic to your website via social media platforms increases your likelihood of direct bookings with no commission for your guests to pay to those larger online travel agents.
If you do intend to use the bigger, well-known companies to market your properties, it really is worth researching the amount of commission each company charges. This can vary wildly from zero to a fairly hefty 20% or more. By increasing your prices accordingly, you will not miss out on your precious profit margin.
You see, it is wholly possible to be your own boss and to work from home, running gites in beautiful France. Thousands do it every day. Plenty of owners do simply ‘pick it up’ as they go along but that strategy arguably carries greater risk. One of the biggest assets to your new business is you. Use your skills, plan for your future success and above all, enjoy your new chapter!
By Carol Paylor
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