A former gîte complex owner writes about the day-to-day complexities and realities of running a holiday rental business in France…
Twelve years ago, my husband and I bought an abandoned nightclub in the heart of the French countryside. For our initial trials and tribulations, see parts one and two of this series of articles. To see if you have the right temperament for gîte ownership, read on…
Airing, wearing & tearing
Once you’ve set up your gîtes, you have to ensure that they don’t become scruffy. This means checking that they’re well-aired during the winter and that you replace equipment and furniture when necessary.
Our strategy was to thoroughly clean the gîtes at the end of the season so that they were perfect over winter. That way, as the beginning of the following season approached, there was less to do when opening up for business again.
Also, one of the major reasons we sold up was because of the increased expectations of gîte clients. When we started, people wanted their holiday to be about life in rural France. But as other gîte complexes started to offer such facilities as satellite television, video players, DVD players and internet access, we knew we’d have to upgrade sooner or later or we’d lose out to our competitors. We also suspected that once we started to offer luxurious extras, people would want yet more – and even complain about the items we didn’t provide. And what about when the equipment goes wrong and you have to pay for an engineer to travel deep into the countryside in time for the next episode of EastEnders?
My advice – if you don’t want to offer holidays with the most sophisticated equipment going, warn your clients in advance. And if you’re so remote (as we were) that you can’t get Radio 4 or a mobile telephone signal, be prepared for complaints. (Actually you could receive Radio 4 in the InterMarché car park, but that involved a 10-minute drive there and a 10-minute drive back – and all for a 10-minute episode of The Archers!)
Your clients have paid good money to stay in your gîtes, so they feel they should be able to do what they like on their holiday. That’s all very well if they’re quiet, considerate and well behaved, but what happens if they’re not? And when it’s your possessions, your property and your pool that they’re misusing, you can spend the whole holiday season being a policeman – and that’s a real bore.
We found we could modify clients’ behaviour quite successfully by appearing on our balcony and glaring at those sweet children poking large objects into the pool skimmers, or those 20-year-olds trying to sneak beer bottles down to the poolside – but at the back of our minds there was always the worry that one day we might actually have to go down and say something.
My advice – if you find the idea of having to confront clients about breaking ‘the rules’ too stressful, think again about whether the gîte business is for you.
If your gîtes are in the middle of the countryside, your clients will have very little to do other than sit in the sun or go for a swim. The biggest excitement of their day might be staring at you cleaning the pool, mowing the lawn or doing a spot of weeding, so bear in mind that your every move will be watched and analysed. Given half a chance, clients will also relish the chance to approach you to offer you some constructive criticism, too.
My advice – if you can’t face clients telling you how to run your business, a gîte complex is definitely not for you.
Planning to have a baby when you run a gîte complex is a serious business. Our obstetrician gave us a window of five months in which we could conceive because he said that giving birth during the season would be out of the question. This way, although you end up doing quite physical hard work when you’re pregnant during the summer, at least you don’t have to leave your partner to run the business single-handed. The biggest problem we had during the season was fitting in several breast-feeds on changeover day, which was not easy!
When our first baby arrived, clients couldn’t stop saying how lucky our children were to be growing up in such a beautiful, rural environment. But when the first medical emergency happens in the middle of the night (an inguinal hernia at eight weeks old) and you have to wait two hours for the night doctor to visit, then drive for an hour to get to the main hospital, you begin to wonder if you should be nearer civilisation. Luckily for us, this emergency happened in February, but it started us thinking about how we’d deal with such a situation during the season.
And don’t forget all that extra driving you’re going to have to do to get children to school, bring them home for lunch if there’s no cantine, take them back to school for the afternoon and then pick them up at the end of the day. If you’ve come to France to spend as little time as possible in the car, you will be sorely disappointed because children living in the countryside need to be transported. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a school bus, you still have to think about after-school activities, summer holiday activities and visiting friends.
My advice – if you’re planning to have children and run a gîte complex, think carefully about your childcare in advance. Our puéricultrice (health visitor) solved most of our childcare problems for us with her own teenage daughters, but most local people rely on willing grandparents to provide a crèche service and do the school run later on – ex-pats often don’t have that luxury.
Emma now designs websites for people who own gîtes, chambres d’hôtes and hotels in France.