We talk to Gite owners, Sharon & Aaron Vogel

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s feasible to start a gite business in France, you’re not alone. Many people now say that the industry is ‘saturated’ and that it is no longer a viable business proposition. We all know that you’ll never be a millionaire running this type of business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn a living from it.

I went to talk to Sharon and Aaron Vogel, owners of Gites du Marigné, to see why they started their gite business and what their impression on the industry is…

What made you decide to become Gite owners?

We left the UK as we wanted a change of lifestyle, preferably before we retired. Life in the UK was busy and stressful trying to juggle jobs, voluntary work and the usual time required for ‘living’. We considered the prospects of moving to France and running a gite business and decided to take the plunge, sell up in the UK and move here to the Vienne.

The general reaction when we tell people that we were running a gite business is to look at us sympathetically or even suggest we are mad and we’ll never earn a living from it, especially given the ‘saturation’ stories we’ve all heard about, but that hasn’t put us off trying. Yes we all know that it’s not easy being in this business but we believe that if you have the right attitude and differentiate your business, then there’s enough room for everyone in this industry.

How have you differentiated your business?

We appreciate that the gite business is mainly seasonal but we are open all year long and will take long term lets in the winter which not all similar businesses do. We’ve also had a large swimming pool installed, renovated the gites ourselves and have given them the ‘personal touch’. We want people to feel that they are home from home and can relax, unwind and enjoy their holiday and stay here.

We’ve also different as we accept and positively encourage people to bring their dogs. Most gite owners don’t want dogs in their accommodation, no matter how clean and obedient they are. We’re different. A lot of people don’t like to be parted from their beloved pets when they go away and now they don’t have to be.

Sharon is absolutely dog mad. The voluntary work she did in the UK was to work for the Kit Wilson Trust, an animal rescue centre. Yes, Sharon confesses, after 18 years working there in my spare time it was a wrench to leave but we knew it was the right move for us. I had taken on several rescue dogs during my time there and would have taken on more, but Aaron put his foot down and said no! I did everything from fundraising to cleaning out the kennels, walking, playing and generally looking after the dogs. I specialised in Obedience and Ability training, mainly with collies but also other types of dogs. I think dogs are more dependent on their owners than children are – they never grow up, fend for themselves and leave home – they are dependent on you from the day you get your dog to the day it dies. All my dogs have been an absolute joy to me, and all, except my first, have previously been rescue dogs.

Holidays for people that have support dogs are made so much more difficult because owners won’t allow pets in their holiday accommodation – but why should they miss out? Here at Gites du Marigné, we welcome all support dogs and their owners and, for example, if our guests want a swim but would normally need their dog for assistance, then we’ll be there to help and assist in any way we can – I have no problem jumping in the pool with them to ensure they are okay and having a good time.

We know that some people don’t like the idea of staying in a gite that allows dogs but after our guests have gone, each gite is thoroughly steam cleaned and made ready for the next set of guests – you would never know that any dog had stayed there! We allow dogs in our homes, so why not in a gite? However, we have a barn to renovate which will be converted into 2 gites and we will ensure that these will not be used with dog owners – thereby alleviating any concerns from non-dog owners. This means we can accommodate everyone.

Do you think people can earn a living from owning a gite business?

Yes although you have to be realistic on how many weeks you can expect to book. We decided that between 12-16 weeks was a good guide and provide enough living money which is all we’re looking for – we never expected to make lots of money from this business! However, being open all year means that we aren’t restricting ourselves to just the summer months and we had lots of enquiries in the winter for lets. This is generally the time when people come over housing hunting or maybe they’ve made the move and want temporary accommodation until their house is bought or ready to move into. Here in France, to formally rent a house you normally have to take out a three-year contract, so renting a gite is a better alternative for most people.

Aaron is a qualified carpenter so if things get tight then he can always register as an artisan, but we’d prefer to focus on our gite business. However, it’s always good to know we have a back-up plan if we need it!

For more information on Gites du Marigné go direct to their website at www.gitesdumarigne.com.

© Nikki Frankum 2006

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