Bed and Breakfast, the versatile choice for accommodation.

I wrote this to explain to you why today’s B&Bs should be at the top of your list when looking for accommodation, but I don’t include high end hotels in my comparisons.

We’ve all heard of the ‘Bed & Breakfast’, or ‘B&B’ as they are commonly called. Sometimes I still hear people call them ‘digs’. Whatever you like to call them, they have been around for many years. I believe the idea of opening ones’ home to travellers looking for a room for the night started in America sometime in the 18th century.

A lot has changed from those days until now and the B&B, with its’ customers past and present, have been through a lot of trauma and upheaval in that time.

Winding forward to when UK B&Bs were exceptionally busy through the 1950s to 1980s and saw masses of people trawling the streets looking for somewhere cheap to stay within a good walking distance from the things they wanted to see or do. Quality wasn’t always a priority for most people looking for a B&B and there was plenty of this form of accommodation that would cater for these visitors, packed into small rooms with facilities shared with other people in other rooms, each guest would be happy they had a room for the duration of their stay along with a limited breakfast which had to be ordered the day or night before and many included an evening meal as well. Perfect, what more could they want? People didn’t know any different. The only competition the B&Bs had with each other were differences in prices they charged which would go some way to filtering out the type of customer that would come to the door. So, the B&B, at this time, was an important form of accommodation allowing a person with limited funds who didn’t want any fuss to be able to stay. People with higher levels of income would also stay at a B&B but some would rather check into a hotel in the area instead as this was seen as a step up. Hotels had more space, the rooms were bigger with possibly an en-suite, they had members of staff to help with luggage etc and probably a large bar with an area to sit and socialise. There was also more flexibility with meal times because they were staffed through breakfast and dinner. So, you can see the appeal of staying in a hotel rather than a B&B if you could afford the higher prices. Holiday camps were also a popular choice as they allowed people to do their own thing which was appealing to families or groups as well as couples.

To confuse things with people looking for accommodation, some owners of larger B&Bs renamed their businesses, or simply added a sign to include the word ‘Hotel’ in the hope of attracting the more affluent customer. This act was eventually stopped amongst businesses that were graded by ‘Visit England’ or the ‘AA’ with a warning that they had to be graded as a hotel (accommodation types are all graded using different criteria) to be called as such but ungraded businesses could just call themselves as they saw fit. Because of the differing criteria for grading accommodation types, some hotels would ask to be graded as ‘Guest Accommodation’ or ‘Guest House’ so they could take advantage of a higher grade tricking the public into thinking they were a higher graded hotel than they actually would be if they were graded as a hotel. It all made things very confusing for a person looking for accommodation. And it still does!

Then almost suddenly, cheap package holidays abroad became popular and masses of people who had only ever holidayed in the UK took to the skies for their main holiday instead to experience the sights and sun that they had seen on the TV programmes. This caused havoc amongst all tourism businesses in the UK and over the years many businesses fell into disrepair, shut down or were sold on to developers. Not just accommodation businesses but also entertainment venues, eateries and attractions.

Having said that, there were still plenty of people who didn’t want to travel to foreign places and those that did, still had short breaks or long weekends in the UK so although there were less people overall, businesses that remained were still pretty busy but accommodations, especially B&Bs were about to undergo a transformation.

Examples of today’s B&B

The people who took advantage of the cheap package holidays returned home with different expectations than before they went, they wanted more for their money. They wanted bigger rooms, they wanted en-suites, they wanted better quality food, they wanted a better service. This is what forced the start of a transformation. In reply to these demands, holiday camps invested significantly into upgrading the remaining camps to having better caravans, improved and modern facilities, top class entertainment etc in the hope of enticing more people to return. B&Bs started knocking down the walls that divided rooms into 2 or 3 smaller rooms, added en-suites and improved their food and service offering. Hotels started updating their interiors, food and training staff to higher levels. Overall the majority of accommodation providers were upping their game.

Obviously, the transformation start didn’t happen all at the same time. Some businesses didn’t have the funds available, some upgraded bit by bit, some did major reconstructions, some made improvements on the cheap and some spent more on a better quality. Chain hotels also came into light in the mid 1980’s with a consistency amongst the chain that people ‘knew what they got’. This was perfect for the traveller who didn’t want the confusion of not knowing whether a place was a B&B, Guest House, Guest Accommodation or Hotel, and even now they are still cashing in on that and building more and more hotels.

So, lets’ wind forward to today. Holiday camps seem to be doing well and along with up to date facilities, extending the ‘season’ with value deals at less busy times of the year has probably helped them, traditional hotels and chain hotels battle away with each other trying to corner the market and B&Bs, well, what can I say about B&Bs? With hotels and holiday camps sparing little thoughts about these small places of accommodation being in any way a threat to their businesses, still thinking of them as a cheap place to stay with limited quality and an old fashioned service, they, at their peril, are finding out that they are so wrong. In fact, they have been surpassed. The hard work put in by some B&B owners has enhanced their reputation for being spotlessly clean, providing great quality rooms & a superb breakfast along with a personal, attentive service. Here are a few personal examples:

  1. I mentioned earlier a period of time that package holidays abroad started to become the main holiday for a lot of people. Well, as the children of some of the families that took advantage of these holidays age themselves, they have become curious as to why B&Bs are receiving so much excellent feedback online, and why they had never stayed in one. We have picked up on this through the increasing amount of people that book a short break with us and tell us whilst we check them in that they wanted to try the B&B experience. Many of these people have now become regular guests of ours and recommend us to others.
  2. We have an increasing amount of ex hotel (especially chain hotel) regulars, usually business people, who now choose to stay in a B&B because of the warmth and homeliness of service provided rather than a regimented welcome.
  3. There is a fast realisation that breakfast quality and choice in some B&Bs are far superior to the standard ingredients provided by other types of accommodation and are often locally sourced too which makes them feel like they’re doing their bit for the environment.
some of the local produce available for breakfast

There are more examples I could give but I think you get the picture.

I have said some B&Bs a couple of times above as we have all developed with different clientele in mind from a no fuss, just somewhere to sleep for a night guest to someone who likes the finest of things, they can all be found in a B&B. It’s just about finding the one that’s right for you.

Many people fall into the trap of thinking all B&Bs offer exactly the same as each other and simply choose which one they want to stay in based on price. If this is you, then you are going about it the wrong way. There are so many differing standards amongst what’s on offer in the B&B world and you can be sure that the very best of standards and your perfect place to stay is somewhere amongst all the B&Bs.

  • If a superb, quality breakfast is at the top of your list (I know it is on mine, especially a locally sourced breakfast), then you can find that in more B&Bs’ than any other accommodation.
  • If a homely and warm welcome is important to you then a B&B is the place to stay as the welcome is usually conducted by the owners of the place (and they are probably the people who also cook your breakfast and clean your room).
  • If you want to feel that your stay is important on a personal level to the accommodation owners then a B&B is the only choice as we, as B&B owners actually want you to stay, we want you to enjoy your stay and we would like you to return to see us again. You are a person, not just someone to help pay the bills.
  • If facilities are what you want then you can find these in both B&Bs and hotels but a B&B will generally go further with the extra touches such as a well stocked hospitality tray comprising of any tea, coffee etc you can think of as opposed to 2 teabags, 2 coffee sticks, 4 sugar sachets and the 4 milk cartons you find in a chain hotel eg.

 With the internet, the job of filtering out which B&B suits you is made easier for you than having to take pot luck as in previous years. Take a few minutes to see which one suits your needs, read the reviews then give them a call (it’s generally less expensive than booking online due to commission costs).

So, to recap. Whatever your accommodation requirement is, you can find it in a B&B. From wanting just a bed for the night, to wanting somewhere homely to stay, or somewhere to enjoy the best breakfast you’ve ever had, or somewhere extremely clean, or all of those things, they are all there to be discovered so forget about the old reputation associated with B&Bs, embrace a new era of accommodation that’s suitable for all.

An interesting statistic: As far as online review quality goes in Great Yarmouth according to a leading review platform, B&Bs have an average score of 84.6% and Hotels score an average of 74.5%.

I hope you found this interesting. Thank you for reading it.

Gary Smith.

Kilbrannan Guest House, Great Yarmouth

My other blogs:

B&B Breakfast, a reputation scrambled

Great Yarmouth, from frenzy to quality

Online accommodation reviews, the truth uncovered

Great Yarmouth Bed and Breakfast, a decade of evolution (an owners experience)

An insight into booking UK accommodation and how to save money doing it

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