David Weston of the Bed & Breakfast Association 'fights the corner' for this £2 billion 'cottage industry'

Thursday, 8 December 2011

User reviews can't replace star ratings

On Tuesday night (6th December), the Tourism Society held a Debate at Westminster Central Hall chaired by Lord Thurso MP, with panellists from VisitEngland and TripAdvisor, on the motion "This house believes that the abundance of user-generated rating sites, which are more useful to both he public and the travel sector, have the potential to make grading systems obsolete". The only point made from the hall which raised applause was mine when I said that the user-review sites are not yet doing enough to ensure their content is genuine. The motion was defeated by a considerable majority.

There will be a big feature on user-review sites - and TripAdvisor in particular - in the Dec/Jan issue of Bed & Breakfast news, which should be out tomorrow afternoon (Friday 8th) on the Association's member pages, and a link will be sent to all members then.

As always, give us your views at comment@bandbassociation.org

Monday, 21 November 2011

Bye Bye to the B&B? No way!

There was a very negative article in yesterday's Independent on Sunday under the headline "Bye-Bye to the B&B". It began: "Fusty bed and breakfasts with their loud carpets and louder landlords have remained stubbornly unchanged for decades. And now they could be facing face their final chintzy curtain".

It went on to quote Alex Polizzi, Channel 5's 'Hotel Inspector', as saying "I am not at all surprised budget hotels are killing off the grotty B&B – and I am quite pleased. B&Bs got a bad name because of the standards. I get depressed at how often I have to say cleanliness is important. People are being more discerning."

The article, to be fair, did talk about the threats to us all from the "aggressive" expansion of the budget hotels, and about B&Bs moving upmarket, and quoted James Berresford, VisitEngland's chief executive, saying "Over the last decade, accommodation in England has improved in leaps and bounds." The main thrust, though, was depressingly negative.

I was upset to be misquoted in a way that meant readers might assume I was agreeing with the general tone of gloom and doom of the piece. I have asked the Editor for a "right of reply", and let's see what he says...

What I actually told the journalist, at much more length than he quotes of course, is that B&Bs ARE competing with budget hotels - we ARE fighting back, with individual decor, a friendly welcome, and a freshly cooked home made breakfast - which the budget hotels' boring, soul-less rooms, hotplates of congealing "scrambled egg" and cheap catering sausages cannot rival.

Yes it is tough out there, but the best B&Bs are the best places to stay. To (mis)quote the article, "B&B does stand for Brighter & Better service".

Monday, 14 November 2011

2012: the Minister calls...

More on the "20.12% offers" story (see below): the Tourism Minister, John Penrose, called me on 3rd November to flesh out the idea, ahead of another reference to it by Jeremy Hunt (the Secretary of State) when opening World Travel Market the following week.

I think he understands and accepts our point that we cannot (of course) cut our prices across the board - nor would we - but his officials will be giving the Association details of how B&B owners can benefit next year from a £3 million national advertising campaign pushing some form of headline offer based on "20.12%" - which could be confined to shoulder or low season, or to midweek stays, or stays of 4 nights plus, or to a third night, or whatever.

We are working with the Department to thrash out more detail, and will of course put this out to our members as soon as we have it. I hope the idea will now develop into something useful, harnessing some advertising millions for B&Bs in return for (say) "20.12% off your fourth night in low season" or some such formulation - each B&B can (we gather so far) use the headline figure in the publicity campaign however it likes within reason. There is a lot of work to do, and the devil will (as always) be in the detail - but this is where we can help the Minister's officials to make it as workable and effective as we can.

Of course, no B&B would have to get involved in the eventual promotion - but we will do our best to influence the idea in a sensible direction, then give our members the option of joining in or not.

And at the very least, we have now got the Ministers including B&Bs in the publicity campaign plan, rather than just hotels as often used to happen in the past. Our voice is starting to be heard...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

"Attack of the Trip Advisors"

Last night's Channel 4 programme "Attack of the Trip Advisors" was depressing viewing - albeit nothing new to any B&B owner. It did not touch on the fake or fraudulent reviews or the blackmail threats, only on the run of the mill unfair reviews.
The "reviewers" on the show came across as by and large, self-important inadequates, obsessives, pedants or abusive illiterates - or various mixtures thereof. No doubt there are many fair-minded, reasonable, succinct "reviewers" on TripAdvisor who don't obsess about the enormity of finding water in their kettle - but we didn't see those.
What was depressing was the unkindness and vindictiveness, the sense among "reviewers" that their only power is the power to wound or strike back. The anonymity allows them to say anything, fair or unfair, true or false, reasonable or petty - and TripAdvisor publish it worldwide, for ever.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Times article on starting a B&B today

A good double-page spread by Mark Bridge in today's Times (p70-71) on starting a B&B:

"Running a bed-and-breakfast is one of the most straightforward small business models, and can provide a rewarding and flexible lifestyle for naturally hospitable people.
The best B&Bs have weathered the downturn well, partly because cash-strapped Britons are
taking more 'staycation' holidays in the UK and looking for alternatives to hotels.

"The Bed & Breakfast Association provides information and support to B&B owners,
and it is also a good resource for would-be owners at the research stage."

Friday, 21 October 2011

On Radio 4's "PM" Programme

A good mention today on Radio 4's PM programme - following their correspondence about lobbying and lobbyists, they quoted our efforts - without any paid lobbyists - which helped get the Westminster and Scottish Governments to issue new, less onerous guidelines on the 2006 Fire Regulations for small B&Bs, saving (according to the Scottish Government's own figures) £100m in costs for B&Bs in Scotland alone. Lobbying can be done on a shoestring, and can achieve good things...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jeremy Hunt's "20.12% discount"

This Monday at the Conservative Party conference Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (and, though his department's name still leaves it out, Tourism), made an announcement.

He said he wants to "transform our domestic tourism industry by making 2012 the year to take a holiday at home with discounts at hotels and B&Bs up and down the country of 20.12%".

When we at the Bed & Breakfast Association heard this (after the speech, not before), we were - to say the least - surprised. (Apart from anything else, it seems to imply that Mr Hunt believes that B&Bs are overcharging by a fifth, and all we need to do is slash our prices.)

We have contacted Mr Hunt's department to ask about this interesting idea. I will keep you posted!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Government to actually cut red tape..?

The Government has just announced its response to the Tourism and Hospitality Red Tape Challenge.

There are some very welcome proposals including a revision of Energy Performance Certificates and (one that the B&B Association and the Tourism Alliance has been working on for some years) introducing a 'de minimus' approach for alcohol sales so that B&Bs (and for instance, hire boats and self catering properties) can provide small amounts of alcohol without the need for a full licence.

This is the first stage of the deregulation process and more will follow when the Minister’s Regulation Taskforce completes its work by the end of November - but encouraging. Let's hope this will be carried through, and followed up with more of the same. We will keep up the pressure!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Nationwide "consider B&Bs" campaign starts

A national PR campaign has just launched, aimed at helping persuade the public to "consider B&Bs" when booking accommodation. The Bed & Breakfast Association is delighted that laterooms.com, who are funding the campaign, will be investing in raising awareness of the fantastic B&Bs across Britain and what they offer, and showcasing some of the best B&Bs and their owners in a "B&B Lives" campaign. There is more on our news page.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

'Single occupancy supplements' - the arguments continue

A letter appeared in The Times a few days ago saying that 'single occupancy supplements' were an "outrageous imposition", and calling for them to be "banned".
I wrote a letter in Monday's Times (7 March) explaining how in most cases, far from a supplement, B&Bs and hotels in fact discount the room for single travellers already - the "supplement" only seems to appear if double rooms are priced "per person" and an assumption is made that anyone should pay that price, whether or not sharing.
The important thing is that the basis quoted should be clear, transparent and unambiguous.
It amazes me what strong feelings the "single supplement" arouses - in the online version of The Times letters page, there are several posts still misunderstanding my point, and accusing B&Bs of "singling people out", wanting to charge the maximum for doing the minimum, being "the Basil Fawlty Liberation Front", "sophistry", and more.
The original letter writer I had replied to, and two others, even said that they thought all prices should be on a simple "per room" basis, the same for all - so it seems that a single paying the same as a couple would pay is preferable to getting a discounted room which happens to be more than half the double price!
If anyone has any ideas how we can make people understand the simple facts and practicalities of this, please let me know.