Cortijo Los Lobos in Villanueva del Trabuco, Málaga is one of the many human stories behind this ongoing crisis. We spoke to June and Clive, the owners of the business and here’s their story.
This year has been extremely hard for many businesses here in Spain, especially the tourism sector. We’ve really felt for holiday property owners, bars, restaurants and others who are almost exclusively dependent on tourism for their livelihood. They have lost almost six months of the usual income levels now. This of course impacts on their businesses and staff. Many have closed their doors for the final time, while others are waiting for the time when they too have to make that tough decision.
We’ve steered clear (mostly) since spring not to just spread doom and gloom and/or misinformation. Rather, we have tried to encourage people to follow official Covid-19 information and notifications.
Cortijo Los Lobos
Last week we stumbled on a Crowdfunder for one of our clients, Cortijo Los Lobos in Villanueva del Trabuco, Málaga. We decided to look deeper, seeing this as just one of the many human stories behind this ongoing crisis. Clive and June offer riding holidays and holiday accommodation and, like so many others, have been struggling in recent months.
Cortijo los Lobos has have 13 horses including rescues, six of which are enjoying their retirement days. They also have four rescue cats, two rescue dogs as well as a cute rescue sheep Minty. There are also hens and a cockerel who free range the garden.
Feed alone costs over 5000€ a year and then you have vets bills. Fortunately the animals are healthy so they don’t need the vet often. However, they do need things like teeth filing, worming etc. The average vet and horse care bills add another 2000€ a year.
A conversation with June followed and here’s their story in her own words.
When the lock down first happened we were terrified. We had people due to arrive in a matter of days and we had no idea what was happening.
It has been a learning curve as our usual cancellation policies were put into question. We had no idea where we stood. On the one hand it was not our fault that people were cancelling at very sort notice; but it was not their fault either. An exchange of holiday dates instead of a refund is not a free option, though people seem to think it is.
This has prolonged our financial problems, with several bookings now held over for next year.
A surreal feeling
It was a surreal feeling. We were worried sick but knew there was also the strange feeling as there was nothing we could do to change things. For instance, when Brexit worries affected bookings, with people scared to book flights as if planes were going to fall out of the sky on the leaving date, I was constantly working. I was networking on social media, looking for ways to drum up business. This was exhausting and frustrating. But with the lock down it was almost liberating, knowing there was nothing I could do to change things. I had to just try not to worry and think of ways to survive.
On the up?
From January this year we were finally feeling that things were on the up. The Brexit worries seemed to be in the past. People had got over the initial panic and we had an almost full calendar of bookings, particularly for the summer. For the first time since the recession of 2008 we felt almost comfortable financially.
When the borders re-opened we were very happy and looked forward to welcoming guests again. A big percentage of our guests for this summer were repeats, so it was lovely to talk to them about their arrival, often with rescheduled flights due to cancellations.
There was a lot of juggling to do but it was all working out and things were starting to seem much more positive. Meanwhile, we were starting to get lots of last minute enquiries from Spain and other European countries. Unfortunately we couldn’t accommodate them due to the bookings we already had from the UK. We couldn’t risk possibly double booking, but at the same time, we had no idea if the original bookings would stand.
A difficult situation for Cortijo los Lobos
This of course meant that when the 14 day quarantine rule came in suddenly, leaving our UK guests unable to come, we were in a very difficult situation. They wanted refunds naturally, but we had already lost the chance to re-book their dates with Spanish guests. It was a total nightmare.
Our holiday business is our only income, so how were we supposed to manage without it? Our overheads even without the horses, with such a big property, pool, Jacuzzi, four different apartments and two guest rooms in the house are huge. The bills come in with or without guests.
It’s only us
It is just Clive and I running the business, and it’s a huge amount of work as we don’t employ cleaners or any help at all. We prefer to be in control and nor can we afford to employ and help.
We have built the entire business ourselves, building and renovating the barns for the guest accommodation. We built the pool, did all the landscaping, walls and gardens and planted over 200 trees. There was just the original farmhouse and a field with a chick pea crop when we moved in 20 years ago. We do all the painting and decorating ourselves too . The work is never ending.
Our financial position is dire. We had very little behind us as the horses always take up any spare money but as I said earlier, we had at least started to feel a little bit more comfortable by February this year. All our bills were paid and we had a small amount of cash in the bank.
Getting the loan
As soon as the lock-down happened, we asked the bank for a loan. We thought we should do it while we were still financially viable to qualify for one. We have been living off the loan since then but of course we have the monthly repayments so it is only a short term fix.
Our dear bank told us that we didn’t qualify for the Eco loan from the government, and gave us a normal bank loan with high interest. But, we have since been told by our accountant that we should have qualified for the COVID loan. We are not too happy about that!
We put off starting a fund raiser for a couple of months but did notice that all the horse businesses around us were doing one. We finally gave in, though it really didn’t feel good asking for money. So we offer other options as well as pure donations.
People can sponsor a horse or pledge a deposit from only £25 for a future holiday. The dates can be confirmed once we are back to normal.
They can also purchase a sea glass necklace (Clive has been making them for a few years to sell to guests when they are here) and we also had four of Clive’s beautiful Damascus steel knives which are now all sold. He doesn’t have any more steel unfortunately so can’t make any more.
Clive has been a toolmaker since the age of 16 and had his own business in the UK until we left 20 years ago. He loves messing about with metal and has his own lathe too. Unfortunately, we can’t buy the Damascus steel to make more in Spain and his supplier has now gone out of business!
Keeping busy at Cortijo los Lobos
We have filled our time during the lock down very well, surprisingly, and feel that the time has gone really quickly. Concentrating on maintenance and painting in the early months, we’ve been getting everything looking perfect, ready for the guests we hoped would come.
It all seems such a waste now when everything looks so beautiful but we have had very few guests to enjoy it.
I also started a lock-down blog which has proved very popular and I am hoping will generate bookings once we are back to normal. We have had lots of interest and people saying they will definitely come when they can, which is good.
I also decided to carry the blog on when the lock down ended, calling it ‘new normal’, due to popular demand. I do feel under pressure now to produce a short blog and photos each day, it seems I have dug myself into a bit of a hole with it. But people have asked me to keep going so I will and I think it is good for me, as it makes me notice the little things each day and the photo diary is great to look back on. It is a warts and all account so I talk about the highs and lows of the day.
No Time For a Siesta
I wrote a book in 2012 called No Time for a Siesta, It was written to raise money for the rescue horses and did well for a while though I have not been good at promoting it since. People have said I should write a sequel so I am now planning to use my blog as a base to write a new book, as a way to bring in things that have happened since 2012 when the book was published.
Thank goodness for Facebook as I am in the process of scrolling back and noting down anything that will be of interest for the book from my past posts, it is a great memory jogger!
Sit tight and fight
At the moment all we can do is sit tight and fight, I am constantly thinking of things we can do to make money but it is not easy, especially in Spain. It’s not as if one of us can get a part time job as there is no work and to be honest the maintenance of our place and care of the horses takes all of our time.
I am just hoping that we can survive on the loan and the fundraiser and what little we can sell – and that things will pick up on the holiday front by next Spring.
In the recession of 2008 we had to resort to selling our Landrover just to buy food and pay the mortgage, so at least we haven’t done that yet, though with a bill for a new gear-box of 2300€ to pay this week, I am starting to wish we had sold it last month :). You can imagine the heart sinking moment when we heard that lovely news, just what we need!
Life could be better at the moment but we do try to stay positive, it’s all we can do.
What does the future hold?
As for the future, I really have no idea. We are rather stuck, as it is not as if we can just sell up and do something else, with thirteen horses to worry about. Even if we downsized and found somewhere small but with enough land for the horses to retire, we would then lose our income. So how would we care for the horses?! They are with us until we die, so we have the responsibility to care for them well into our old age!
Our hearts go out to Clive and June at Cortijo los Lobos, and of course to all of you reading this with similar problems. We wish you well and hope you can all weather the continuing storm!