We have asked a few Vendéen small business owners to discuss their plans for the future whilst coping through enforced quarantine. In a first installment, allow us to introduce you to Renée, René, Jacky, Emma & Mariecke, a Dutch family who own L'Etournerie Gites and Camping where tranquility, good food, and flowers are central to Dutch-French hospitality in the Vendée!
In 15 years, you develop habits. Or maybe a rhythm. At the beginning of the year, you start looking at everything that needs to be done before you can announce that you are ‘open for business’ once again. You tick off all those things and then you put up the sign “OUVERT”. Only this year, a pandemic with the inevitable French government’s announcement of a complete lockdown starting March 17th, threw a spanner in the works.
At the beginning, everything was so focused on China that no one in Europe was really worried. Of course, it also became a race to see which European country would catch it first. And still no one seemed all that worried. Then, from one day to the next, everything changed.
Suddenly we were faced with the uncertainty of not having guests for a while. Still, you stick to your habits and your rhythm and prepare for a season that might begin as planned… Or might start later than planned. Or might not begin at all?
Here, at Camping – Gites L’Etournerie, we mowed the lawn, painted the accueil, and put the finishing touches on the toilet building’s renovations. As we were doing those things, it became obvious that this lockdown was going to take a while and that the season would be completely different. But we needed to keep busy.
As most in the tourism sector will know, social media is more and more important. So, it is important to remain active there. With a new editor for our Facebook page, we have been posting pictures and videos regularly. To remind people that, ‘hello, L’Etournerie is still here, and a wonderful place to stay’. Of course, with movement restricted to 1 km from home there are only so many places you can photograph and film.
And still you need to keep busy. We created a new website (www.onlyadultsholidays.com) directed at the British market, in the hopes of attracting new guests who prefer quiet vacations without children. Attracting them not simply to L’Etournerie but to similar businesses around Europe, because ...
... in these strange times, should we not apply the Musketeers’ motto
“One for all, all for one”?
In the tourism sector, it is important to keep innovating, to adapt to your market, expand your market. For L’Etournerie, this innovation has come in the form of turning Maison Violette (our coziest gite) and Chalet Lavande (our wooden retreat) into B&Bs. Different clients want different things, and it’s no secret that B&Bs hold charming memories in the mind of travelers.
We have thought long and hard about how to make our holiday accommodations safe for our guests and ourselves. Our gites are fully self-contained, but with the camping site, living in a “1½ meter society” means that we must make some minor adjustments and set some rules for everyone, so that we will all stay safe. Fortunately, we have a lot of space.
We have also introduced another new feature. In the Netherlands, restaurants and other F&B companies are struggling in this time of crisis. They came up with the idea of a voucher, an idea which we have adopted. These are uncertain times for everyone, but if people want to come, why not give them the option of booking without a fixed date? Guests can buy a voucher, helping us now, and can decide when they want to spend their holiday with us any time before 2025.
All in all, it is important that even when COVID-19 tries to throw you off balance, you do everything you can to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground. Mow the grass as if guests were arriving tomorrow. Test those new recipes and perfect them. Think about your product and how you can adapt it to the changing market. Remain active on social media and keep reminding people of that little slice of worry-free heaven that you have hidden away in the Vendée.
Remember: after rain comes sunshine!
Camping – Gites L’Etournerie IS OPEN TO GUESTS ORIGINATING IN A 100KM RADIUS AROUND THE PROPERTY, OR 100+KM FOR WORK OR HEALTH REASONS WITH PROPER DOCUMENTS AND PERMISSIONS. is located in 85320 Château Guibert and features breakfast, swimming pool, wide open spaces in the Vendée countryside with excellent opportunities for fishing (with permit), cycling and hiking, and offers tranquil vacations for adults 18+. Easy access to Atlantic coast beaches and le Marais-Poitevin. L'Etournerie gites are open in winter. French-Dutch-German-English spoken. Pets are allowed (leash).[Admin note: Emma Schouten is the author of Hellhound, a supernatural novel for young adults]
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