Country holidays have become the fastest-growing business in rural areas

Jolanta Paškevičienė

“Today, rural tourism is the leading business in the countryside,” says Regina Sirusienė, president of the Rural Tourism Association. This can be seen from the statistics: over one year the number of households involved in it has tripled.

Three years ago, 24,000 people spent their holidays on a farm. In 2001, it was 67,000. Last year the number increased to 110,000. This means that rural residents have found a new source of income, and that those who live in the cities can afford such holidays.

The people who start this type of business are usually families living in the countryside, and all members of the family are involved. They are versatile people who very often do not have spare money to invest. Therefore, they try to do their best to improve their buildings and the surroundings themselves. They build extra wings with their
own hands, and find new ways to serve their customers.

The luckiest are those who live near lakes, rivers or forests. Spectacular natural surroundings attract many holidaymakers. Those who live in areas without these attractions are less fortunate. They need either a rich imagination or lots of money.

The most popular arrangement is when local residents rent out their house during the warm season, and move to less comfortable quarters. This way, they are always there to serve their customers, by offering them various services. The income helps them to survive during the quiet season, or to purchase new equipment.

Sometimes city residents decide to go into the country holiday business too. They take the matter more seriously: they invest more money in the comfort and luxury of their accommodation, and charge higher prices. This explains why there is such a big difference in prices for accommodation, ranging from 10 to 220 litas per night.

THE INSPIRATION

“I remember well how five or six years ago nobody believed that rural tourism would ever be a serious business,” says Regina Sirusienė. “Neither ordinary people, nor the bureaucrats with whom everything rests.”

She was one of the first to get a permit to go into the business, and started receiving foreigners at her house in Kuršėnai in the Šiauliai district.

The Rural Tourism Association was founded on her initiative in 1997. Starting with three members, a year later it had 17.

In order to gain experience, Sirusienė, who has a degree in psychology, visited many European countries and studied in the USA. Now she has an MA in tourism management and administration.

She currently heads the association, which has 1,000 members. Her son has taken over their well-organised and profitable business.

“So far we are not on the same level as urbanised European countries, and we cannot apply the same business laws. Many villagers started up in the business by using urban comforts and entertainments to attract visitors.
“People still have a soft spot for the countryside. I think that, with time, more traditional farmsteads will appear.”

STORKS ON THE ROOF

Lithuanians, who traditionally used to take their holidays by the Baltic Sea, recently started to change their habits.
Some five years ago, the decision to take two holidays would have raised eyebrows. Now it is becoming more and more common. Today even those in the middle income bracket can afford to take winter holidays in countries with warmer climates such as Turkey, Crete, Bulgaria or Croatia.

Holidays at home have also undergone fundamental changes. People who used to spend their vacations boating, cycling or driving, sleeping in tents and cooking over a campfire, are increasingly choosing to stay on a farmstead.

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