VILLAGE pubs, family run B&Bs, and local visitor attractions are the reliable pitstops on any tour of rural Britain. However, the welcome and warmth of such independent and unique businesses is under threat from the lingering effects of the cost-of-living crisis, Brexit, and pandemic lockdowns. But as British staycations figures boom, local group tours have been shown to provide a valuable boost to small, independent businesses and the communities they support.
Statistics from the Federation of Small Businesses show that 2022 saw 82,000 small operations close their doors for good, while The British Chambers of Commerce reports that UK hospitality firms are the businesses most likely to see a diminished turnover during these difficult times. These figures are troubling not only due to hole they leave on a tourist’s itinerary, but because small businesses account for three-fifths of private sector employment, and local pubs and restaurants often act as core infrastructure for rural communities.
One of the last remaining hopes for local hospitality businesses is the high demand for small group regional tours around the UK. A leading provider of such tours is Rabbie’s, the Scottish founded operator which leads tours in every region of the UK and celebrates 30 years of operation this year. Rabbie’s customers poured over £16 million into rural accommodation alone in 2019. And in the same year, Rabbie’s tours facilitated the booking of over 98,000 overnight stays. These figures are set to increase as Rabbie’s has seen a 24% increase in bookings this year when compared to last. Rabbie’s estimates the economic contribution of its tours support over 210 full time jobs across the UK.
Small coach tours are uniquely positioned to support rural communities. Rabbie’s uses mini-coaches not only for the comfort of guests, but also so that the tours can visit villages and destinations off-of-the-beaten-track – destinations larger coaches simply cannot reach. This provides a unique and genuine touring experience while supporting the economy of small communities by spreading the tourist pound beyond the popular landmarks.
Accommodation businesses benefitting from mini-coach touring include Garden Park Guest House in Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland. About their ongoing relationship with Rabbie’s, owners Daniel and Sarah say “Rabbie’s offered a jump start for us starting our business, and is still very valuable as they account for over just under 20% of all bookings”. The Garden Park Guest house is visited on Rabbie’s popular three-day Speyside Whisky Trail, which departs from Edinburgh and visits independent whisky distillers, Lindores Abbey, Cardhu, and Dalwhinnie. Prices for this tour start at £185 per person.
In the Lake District, Sue and Mick’s Eden Green Guesthouse, is visited on Rabbie’s numerous Lake District tours, including the three-Day Lake District Explorer, prices for which start at £165 per person. Discussing the value a local business has on couch tour, they said “Rabbie’s understands the individuality of local businesses and the benefit of using them to enhance a guests’ experience”.
Beyond custom brought to accommodation providers, Rabbie’s tour leaders, known as ‘driver-guides’ enjoy recommending local and independent tourist attractions, allowing guests to choose what suits them. One example of such attraction is family run Staffa Trips, which operates boat journeys between the iconic Isle of Staffa and the peaceful Isle of Iona. Staffa Trips owner Sara said: “Rabbie’s custom is integral to our business in our rural location.” The boat trips are experienced by guests on Rabbie’s Magical Mull, Isle of Iona & West Highlands tour, an island hopping four-day journey, for which prices start at £229 per person.
This year sees Rabbie’s celebrating its 30th anniversary, having grown from a ‘1-man, 1-van’ business to a touring operation offering tours across the UK and Europe. In April 2023, Rabbie’s expanded touring options, adding new tours exploring South Wales, the West Country, and Northern Ireland from Bristol and Belfast. To mark its anniversary Rabbie’s is amplifying 30 of its strongest independent partners, promoting their businesses on social media and celebrating the contribution of small regional coach tours across the UK.
For more information about Rabbie’s and to book, visit www.rabbies.com.