Thursday, 23 April 2020

How Some of Our Colleagues Are Managing in the Lockdown

I emailed various friends of ours who run businesses and asked how they were coping in the lockdown. Were they winners or losers? What had changed in their typical day? Here is what they said:

Laetitia Rey, Independent Guide (specialising in wine tourism)
As a freelancer she was already set up and at ease with communications software and working remotely. But at this time of year she would normally be out with clients rather than working at the computer. Her first cancellations came in two weeks before the lockdown started. A couple of days after the US restricted travel from Europe all of her April and May bookings had cancelled. Very quickly she realised she needed to keep in touch with her network of travel agents so that they didn't forget her. She observes that travellers are choosing to cancel, not postpone. They may come later, but not this year. She is filling her time by emailing, video conference calling, working on new themed tours and learning new subjects that are not work related, but she's got time to do it now. The problem is that all of this is unpaid, and we've just come through the winter low season, so some extra revenue would have been welcome.

Laetitia pouring wine in a tasting for our clients.
Laetitia Rey, freelance wine guide.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

She is aware of the government aid on offer, but is one of the unfortunate people who falls through the cracks. Her business was only a year old in 2019, so her figures are not that great. This year she earned double what she did last March, and so is not eligible for the government aid for March. Like us, she wishes one could claim based on lost earnings (€7000 so far for her) rather than the difference between this year and last years figures. Like us, she hopes that the aid funds will be available at least until the end of the year, as tourism will take at least that long to recover. She is pragmatic about the situation though, acknowledging that it will be impossible to create criteria for an aid package such that no one falls through the cracks.

Christophe Davault, wine producer, Domaine de la Chaise
In terms of vineyard schedule, he is working as normal. He has to if he wants to produce good wine. The only thing that has changed is that he respecting the public health rules, not making any unnecessary trips and maintaining social distance.

 Christophe, right, consulting with his oenologist.
Christophe Davault, right, winemaker, consulting with his oenologist.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Commercially, March was normal. He sent a lot of wine for export like a good normal month. He is now worried about payment for these sales, normally on terms of 90 days. He fears an economic crisis in some countries and difficult regulations. All the restaurants he used to work with are of course closed and it's going to be very hard for them. The month of April seems to be starting to see a drop in sales, with so far very few orders. He will know more at the end of the month.

Nicole Crawford, gardener
Nicole has school aged children, so one of the main changes for her was that the children were at home. But she generally works at empty properties anyway, so her work continued more or less as normal, albeit with extra paperwork.

 Nicole, right, and her husband Alex working on the hedge round our potager.
Alex and Nicole Crawford, gardeners, working on a client's property.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Normally by now she would be handing over gardens to second homeowners who arrive for the summer, so she is actually busier than normal. But because none of the owners are here it means she can schedule work more efficiently. It's a bit tricky judging just how much work to do, without knowing when owners will return to take over. The gardens don't need to be presented at their peak, but they do need to be maintained and need regular work. Not all gardens are set up for the owners to be absent in the summer and if it is dry there is a dilemma about whether to water them or not in the owners absence. She is conscious of needing to manage owners expectations on the one hand, and of the value of her regularly visiting the property to give the impression of occupancy on the other.

Les Jardins Vergers de la Petite Rabaudière
Nothing has really changed for this organic market garden -- only the need to set up barriers in the shop and for customers to respect the social distancing rules. Everyone needs to be a bit more patient while waiting to be served. Despite the fact that only about 60% of customers properly respect the social distancing rules (but half the people who get too close are wearing masks, so it could be worse) they have no complaints about the levels of sales. They are selling lots of other organic products, mostly local, as well as their own vegetables, and have become a real little grocery shop.

Sylvain Bardin, centre, conducts a guided tour of his organic market garden.
Sylvain Bardin conducting a guided visit to his organic market garden.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Alexandra Boyd-Mercier, La Maison Jules, a luxury B&B in Tours
She has had no clients since 14 March, and there will be none in April and probably none in May. Bookings are reduced for June, July and August. She only has one third of normal revenue booked until August. She is doing nothing to try to secure bookings for the next three months as most of her clients are foreign tourists. She has emailed a few former clients that she stays in touch with. She is taking the time off to spend more time with the kids and home schooling two teenagers is time consuming!

The view from the front of Alexandra's B&B.
View of the Cathedral from rue Jules Simon, Tours.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Jean-Luc Bilien, Fromagerie Moreau, goats cheese producer
Jean-Luc observes that it's hard for everyone. His sales are slow, with Rungis, the big important Paris fresh market being 90% down on normal.  Fortunately the forty-two specialist cheese shops in Paris that he supplies are selling a bit. He has a lot of milk and a lot of cheeses in stock! He knows he has to find other sales channels.

 Jean-Luc shows off his special creamy Christmas cheese.
Jean-Luc Bilien, goats cheese producer. Loir et Cher. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

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melinda said...

We can certainly identify. We have an airbnb/vrbo garage apt that we only have open May-October (pipes would freeze plus no one wants to come to the lake in winter) we've been running it for a few years and really count on the income to pay our property taxes (which keep going up as people buy older lake cottages and replace them with mcmansions) Many guests come to stay while dropping kids at nearby camps....not sure any of them can open this summer.

chm said...

This Covid-19 pandemic makes life miserable for so many people worldwide when they don't die of it. The economic consequences will be enormous leading to a global recession not yet seen. Lean years ahead, I guess.

Susan said...

Yes. We will be lucky to survive economically.

Susan said...

Everybody here in the hospitality and tourism sector is facing writing off this year entirely and being dependent on welfare.

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