The right people to the right farm : how can ICT help the development of farm holidays?

The DANTE partnership met on 3-5 July in Jeddinger, Lower-Saxony, in the framework of a workshop organised jointly by InKnowCom, a Dutch foundation dedicated to innovation and development of SMEs, and Bauernhofferien, the working society grouping 400 holiday farms of Lower Saxony, both partners in DANTE. The aim of the workshop was to present the diversity and nature of the tourism offer in farms of Lower Saxony, to present the internet portal that has been launched in 2011 to market and manage this offer and to reflect on future business development concepts to increase the attractiveness of rural tourism. Partners came from Crete, Poland, Slovenia, France, Italy and Spain to participate.

Holiday farms offer a very diverse set of services

The first day was the occasion to discover the variety of activities and services offered by the farms in Lower Saxony. The 5 visited farms varied greatly in size, in number of accommodation beds, in activity specialisation and in the extent to which they still practice agriculture. Touristic specialisations shown included a « farm café » offering, on the side of accommodation, a very nice area to have coffee and home-made traditional cakes, a well-decorated big reception room and a « wedding room » where guests can officially get married. Another one proposed horse-riding. Another one is specialised in welcoming kids.

How are ICT used at present at why are they useful?

Hosts use the internet facilities provided by the association to a different extent. The use of internet is perceived as time-consuming by some of the hosts while others think it is time-saving. But all hosts think it is the future way to attract guests, especially in periods of lower occupancy. On-line booking is progressing when it is used and bringing new organisational changes and new challenges.

Interrogated on the differences between hotels and holiday farms, one of the hosts replied that the big difference is that, in hotels, all rooms are somehow similar and customers know what to expect. Whereas you will not find two farms with the same rooms and activities ! Guests have different visions also of what it might be like to stay on a farm, different expectations.

ICT tools certainly have a potential when it comes to match this dispersed tourism offer with the varying expectations of tourists.

The portal Landsichten, which has been developed by the Federal association for farm holidays tries to address that challenge.

The portal is organised according to a double entrance : regional on one hand, thematic on the other hand. Then the portal offers in front office a promotion portal and well refined search engine and in the back office, business management tools for the hosts. The website is constructed around a single database. Then each Lander farm tourism association has the possibility to configure a home page matching their own identity (pictures, colors). The search engine allows tourists to look for accommodation either by area or according to what they want to do. The research carried out by Landsichten showed that the majority of people (60%) look primarily for certain types of things to do (mountain, sea, nature…) and only 40% search for a given area. This justifies for the interest of a common national portal for German farmers, not even mentioning the economies of scale in website development and maintenance.

In the back office, hosts (farmers) can benefit from two levels of tools to manage their tourism business. The minimum includes the insertion of their offers in the database and the synchronisation of this data on other tourism portals, the calendar management as well as the possibility to choose on-line booking, for some or part of their accommodation and for some or part of the year. The more elaborated management tools include client relation management tools, possibility to follow the guests, to write newsletters to them and also possibility to configure their own home page.

Imagining a future for rural tourism

With all this information in mind, the partnership was invited by InKnowCom, on the second day, to engage in a creative process to imagine new business concepts for further developments. The group came up with many ideas of future applications that would help better connecting tourism small businesses with one another (farmers in this case), guests with one another (sharing their experiences) and guests with tourism businesses ! Objectives are to develop applications that will enable these small businesses to pool their offer together, to organise it better in space (local diversified offer of activities) and time (seasonal offer – activites throughout the year), to ease the circulation of guests from one farm to another, to facilitate combined booking, to offer itineraries and holiday packages or tours.

The partnership started also to reflect on the financing of potential applications and whether or not it would make sense to have applications developed in open source, so that publicly funded development could be used more widely. This point will be discussed further at a later stage.

The partnership will meet two more times in September 25-26 in Massif Central (Clermont-Ferrand) and in Spain (7-8 November) to add more interesting practices to their pool of ideas. Then a synthesis exercise will start, leading to the development of implementation plans and pilot actions until the end of the project (December 2014).

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