These blogs are created from my experiences as an accommodation owner in Great Yarmouth
Author: Gary Smith
I have been giving my time as an accommodation provider for many years. During this time I have accumulated many experiences and gained much knowledge of how things work and intend to share them (when I get the time) with you through my blogs.
I hope you find them useful and interesting.
Thank you, Gary Smith
Trafalgar Road, Great Yarmouth is a lovely road linking King Street and St. George’s park to the seafront with grand Victorian houses to one side, a green area, former Art College along with flats on the opposite side. To walk along this road is a pleasure as the destinations at each end are worthy of the effort. The well-maintained houses and the green area add to the relaxing element of the journey you make from one end to the other.
Let us take a walk along Trafalgar Road from the seafront and get to know a little about the residents of those houses today in 2021 and then, out of curiosity, take a return walk from a different era.
Numbers 29 & 30 on the left comprise of flats and a chip shop called ‘Lion & Herring’, opposite those is a green, the other side of which is Trafalgar Square, (a small row of houses and a vacant Chinese restaurant). Walking past the chip shop I cross the road to join the row of grand houses I mentioned earlier. I turn to the right to join the first house in the row, number 28. I will start my walk from this house and work my way to the left, up to St. George’s park.
Number 28 is occupied by private owners as is number 27, the occupations of those I do not know. Following on from this I come to number 26, which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Willows Guest House’, then on to numbers 25 & 24 which are as one and forms part of a chain of accommodations in the OYO group, the house is called ‘The Fjaerland’. Next to ‘The Fjaerland’ is number 23 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘The Courtyard Guest House’. Numbers 22, 21 & 20 are private apartments that are situated on the bend as Trafalgar Road dog legs to the right. Back on the straight after the bend in the road, I come to number 19 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘The Warren’, then on to number 18 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Twin Palms Guest House’. Number 17 is next and is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Sandcastles Guest House’, next door to this is number 16 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Copperfields’ and next to that is number 15 which has just changed hands and is being converted from a B&B called ‘Trafalgar Lodge’ into holiday apartments. The next house, number 14, is on the corner of Trafalgar Road and Russell Road and is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Kilbrannan Guest House’.
Crossing Russell Road, I continue along Trafalgar Road to number 13 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Beacharbour’, next to this is number 12 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘The Marina Guest House’. Then I come to number 11 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘Tudor House’. Numbers 10 & 9 are as one and is being operated by a couple as a Guest House called ‘The Shrewsbury Guest House’. Next door we have number 8 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘The Marlborough Guest House’ and then number 7 which is being operated as a B&B called ‘Rembrandt Guest House’. Next one up is number 6 which is being operated by a couple as a B&B called ‘The Merivon Guest House’.
Number 5 to 1 are all privately owned houses, some of which show evidence of once being B&Bs.
I arrive at the end of the row of houses, and facing the beautiful St. George’s park, I consider how many of the houses I have just walked by form part of Great Yarmouth’s visitor accommodation. Starting from number 28 which as I have mentioned was the start of the row and finishing with number 1 there are 18 houses of the 28 in the row that are some form of visitor accommodation, that is 64%.
(You will notice I have not included the names of the occupants nor the occupations of the privately owned houses in this year).
Then I thought to myself, I wonder what the houses used to be. I know they are Victorian built houses and must have seen a few changes of ownerships. With this in mind, and with the help of the UK 1881 census, a little cross checking with the 1871 & 1891 census I wind back 140 years and walk again along Trafalgar Road, starting at number 1.
I will do this in list form.
Number 1: Widowed wife of a wine & spirit merchant, 2 daughters, 2 servants
Number 2: Widowed wife of a merchant, 1 son, 1 servant
Number 3: Timber merchant, wife, son, 2 daughters, 2 servants
Number 22: Lodging house run by a couple, 1 son, 1 niece, 1 servant
Number 23: Lodging House with 1 widowed keeper, 1 daughter, 1 son, 1 visitor, 1 servant
Number 24: Railway Guard, Guards wife, 1 visitor, 1 servant
Number 25: Lodging House with 1 widowed keeper, 3 daughters. (this house must have been split as it has another head as follows: Captain of Royal Surgeons, officers’ wife, 3 officers’ daughters, 1 officers’ son, 2 servants
Number 26: Lodging House with 1 widowed keeper, 1 servant
Number 27: Lodging House with 1 widowed keeper, 1 daughter, 1 son, 1 servant
Number 28: Housekeeper, 2 nieces, 1 nephew. (this house was also split as it has another head as follows: Carpenter and his wife).
Note: In 1881, many of these houses were owned by other people and were rented by its occupants. You will notice I have not included the names of the occupants for this year either but could have easily done so. If anyone would like to know any further details about the occupants of Trafalgar Road, Great Yarmouth in 1881 please just ask.
I find it interesting to see the variety of different occupations and how the households were occupied along the road in 1881 and the fact that most of the houses are now owned by its occupants.
I hope you enjoyed my stroll along the houses of Trafalgar Road.
Through these surreal times with the current pandemic and the measures I have made to help, I feel obliged to give acknowledgement to Asda.
Running and owning a B&B has been our life for the last 12 years and we love it. To run a business like that successfully, requires customers, especially returning customers who alleviate the levy on commission costs. Our business has indeed, so far, been very successful, won many awards and is a credit to the B&B inventory that belongs to the Great Yarmouth and Norfolk tourism offering.
Every year we have so many satisfied customers who pre book a room for later in the year or for the following year and deposits are gratefully received through the winter which help boost our ‘out of season’ income. That also gives us a core of people who we genuinely look forward to seeing again. From April until October we need to earn enough income to survive financially from November until April alongside the deposits we get. It all works perfectly well.
Then, in March 2020, came covid 19!!
With the onset of the virus and the measures put in place to help prevent the spread of the disease our customers disappeared which obviously resulted in zero income. We have 50% of the pre booked customers who were due to stay in March, April & May allowing us to retain their deposits for a future stay and the other 50% wanting refunds which, with no income proves difficult without defaulting elsewhere. A government grant has been received, thanks to the local authority working efficiently with the government, which will pay our bills for roughly 3 months, our insurance company refuse to help with business interruption, and it seems our bank, who we have never asked for help from before, has some small print that allows them to also refuse help with a commercial mortgage holiday. (We could be allowed to take out a further loan and add to our payments which really defeats the object of lowering our payments for a bit). We are also trying to obtain universal credit, but this is proving to be a very lengthy procedure which we have never had cause to think about before.
So, we sit and think, what can we do to pay our bills going forward? In 3 months, the government grant will be gone! there’s potential for the situation to continue for longer than 3 months and the bank nor insurance won’t help.
I heard from a friend that Asda was looking for help with shelf replenishment, order picking and delivering groceries through the pandemic. I spent 20 years in warehouse and distribution before buying our B&B and decided I would take advantage of the phone number that was passed on by my friend. As a result, I was offered a driving job on a rolling contract, until restrictions are lifted, and things start to get back to normal. Thank you Asda for the glimmer of light that leads to the knowledge that some help to pay some bills can be earned.
Procedure for an Asda delivery driver
Allocated a shift (any 7 or 8 hours between 7am to 11pm) by a department manager, we arrive on the loading bays in plenty of time, pick up our paperwork which highlights our pre-determined route with all customers names, addresses and special instructions such as self isolation requirements, which door to use, landmarks to look out for etc. The load/s we are allocated are order picked into bags within totes (a plastic basket that holds 3 bags) beforehand and assembled together with a sticker on the front which indicates the contents of that tote. The load’s tote labels are then scanned off to confirm everything is there (other than items not in stock), then it’s ready for the driver to load onto the 3.5 tonne van. After loading, the van is usually full to the top with groceries including the ambient (room temperature), chilled in the fridge section of the van and frozen in the freezer section for each customer.
Before the van is allowed on the road, a vehicle safety and security check is required to be completed by the driver. A handheld device called a ‘microlise’ is used for this. The van should also be equipped with surgical gloves, a hand sanitiser and a sack barrow for wheeling the totes to the customers door. The ‘microlise’, once logged onto, also contains all the information for that delivery round including the special instructions, and a very useful satnav which usually directs the driver to each customers address in order of time slots. So, with all checks made, the van loaded up and a ‘microlise’ logged onto, the driver is ready for the off. On arrival at the customers address, the driver will indicate on the ‘microlise’ that he or she has arrived which then shows how many of each type of tote is for that customer. Each tote label is scanned to reconfirm everything is there, and the groceries are wheeled to the customers door. If a customer is in isolation, the bags are taken out of the totes and left on the doorstep with the door being knocked or doorbell rang and the driver stepping well back. (we have to assess whether the customer is old enough to accept the delivery). If the customer isn’t in isolation then the groceries are wheeled up to the door, the door knocked or doorbell rang and the customer is asked where they would like their shopping. Sometimes the customer likes to take their own bags out of the totes, and some prefer the bags to be put just inside the doorway or porch etc. We are not allowed to enter the customers address.
Once that customer has received their groceries the ‘microlise’ is ready for the next one. The driver touches the customers’ name on the screen, any special instructions for that customer appear, followed by the satnav and off we go again.
On the road
From our base in Great Yarmouth, the deliveries cover not just Great Yarmouth and surrounding areas, but also further afield such as Cromer, Sheringham, King’s Lynn, Aylsham, Holt etc along with the many small and tiny countryside villages which you would think were only accessible by tractor. Some roads, being narrow can be very tight spaced with vehicles parked on both sides and to drive a 3.5 tonne van amongst them requires some patience, especially when another driver is driving towards us and we realise we have to reverse the van between the parked vehicles again once the customer has received their shopping. There is currently less traffic driving about as a rule and the main roads are easier to drive on but once we get on the back country lanes which is very often, a whole new world is opened up as the cyclists, joggers and dog walkers are all out in force, usually in the middle of the lane which slow everything down. Some seem to begrudge moving aside to allow us through until they are ready which is a little selfish I must say. Addresses can be a problem as some of them have long drives where we can’t see any numbers and some addresses don’t have numbers, they have names instead which can be very difficult to spot from the road, especially in the dark. We often have to climb out of the van, torch in hand looking for the address before we can unload their groceries.
There is a kind of comradery amongst all supermarket delivery drivers across all the supermarkets as each time we pass each other a hand is raised in acknowledgment of each other, as if to say, we’re all in it together which is nice, and also members of the public often wave at us whilst walking or give us a flash (with their headlights) as we drive past which is heart-warming and makes us feel we are doing something really good to help the country survive this situation.
I have a whole new perception of supermarkets now as I’ve always supported smaller, local businesses to provide the breakfasts for our B&B and we still hope to continue with this when things get back to normal, but the new perception I have is a realisation that Asda staff from high levels of management, to lower levels of management, to delivery drivers, to click ‘n’ collect staff, to till staff, to shelf replenishers, to pickers, to warehouse staff, to cleaners, and any other staff I’ve missed, all work hard and operate with just one focus (other than a wage) in mind, the customer. Each person who works in Asda, and probably the same in any supermarket, has no qualms about putting themselves at risk and turning up to work every day to make sure the public has everything they need.
Previously overlooked, the supermarket worker deserves everyone’s respect and admiration for carrying on, for without them, this situation would be far worse. A thank you would go a long way so here’s one from me:
THANK YOU ASDA AND ALL OTHER SUPERMARKET STAFF, YOU’RE DOING AN AMAZING JOB.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
People often say to us ‘you must have seen some sights’, ‘you must have come across some strange things’
Well, they are right. We have and I’m going to tell you about some of them through this blog with the intention of hopefully making you smile.
Firstly, I need to explain how we work so that you can understand why we come across these scenarios. Over the years we have owned our B&B we have come across lots more scenarios than I have quoted but these sum most of them up. I also haven’t included some of the more personal issues that we encounter as it’s not my wish to cause embarrassment should anyone recognise themselves within the words:
How we work (briefly)
When a customer arrives, one of us takes their luggage to their room whilst the other one of us sits down in our guest lounge with them and goes through all the things they need to know. (what’s happening, breakfast procedures, personal information etc) we also explain our procedures for cleaning all the rooms every day. When this check in procedure is finished, the new arrivals are shown their table for breakfast and are then shown to their room with further information about the layout and facilities within. Doing our check ins this way not only enables us to get to know each other, it also ensures we’ve covered everything such as food allergies or guidance about the area etc. The customers are also informed of our personal telephone numbers as well as the landline should they wish to contact us for anything during their stay such as emergencies or if something has broken etc. They also know that if we are in the house then we are at their service for anything they need.
Armed with all this information, you would think that there wouldn’t be any issues, would you? Well, not necessarily. I have categorised the scenarios for you:
Let’s take the time that we had a couple arrive for a couple of days with a load of camera gear including tripod. They told us they were here to do some wildlife photography on the beach early in the morning, except they didn’t get up for breakfast and didn’t even go out until 3pm (without their camera equipment). We entered the room as per our cleaning procedures to find a video camera on the tripod facing the bed. Must have been a wild night! Next day they were a little sheepish.
Then there’s the time we had a young couple in for a few nights. They seemed nice enough. The girl loved to show off her cleavage and the lad didn’t speak much. They spent a lot of time in their room apparently playing board games. When we cleaned the room after they went to get some food, whilst polishing the full length mirror which at the time was attached to the inside of the wardrobe door, we saw why they enjoyed time in their room! Lined up was every uniform you could possibly think of, including wigs, cuffs, a whip etc.
What about the situation where we entered a room to clean it and a video recorder was set up and recording in the room’s lounge area watching our every move! There was also a sticker placed on the TV which said ‘smile’
Not forgetting the time we found sarcastic notes (things like ‘have you checked the bin’, have you looked under the bed’ etc) placed around the room, in the bin, on the bed, stuck to the tv (and more) referring to an obvious dislike to their room being cleaned every day. Then there’s been several times when a person or persons stay for longer periods of time and set up a makeshift washing line in the shower from corner to corner. Cleaning a shower around someone’s bloomers can be tricky, and enlightening!
We walked into a room which was set up with a double bed and a single bed which we use as a family room. When we opened the door, we saw that the single bed had been pushed to the left side of the room and the double bed had been pushed to the right side of the room. We asked if they had a problem, but the family just preferred to sleep on the floor in sleeping bags.
Can’t exactly explain this one but we a couple stay for the night aged late 40s/ early 50s. The man purported to be a photographer and the lady did look model like. When we went in to clean the room the following morning, almost every surface was covered in coffee, both wet and dry. Even the carpet. We can only assume they had had a photo shoot including coffee!
Emergency call outs
One night, on a rare occasion, we decided to go out for a meal to celebrate something. Halfway through the meal we received a call from a guest who was calling in a panic from their room. The guest said he couldn’t get channel 3 on the tv. Some emergency! We told them to hang in there, we would be back shortly. After arriving back, I rushed up to the room to find them watching channel 3. They were pressing the wrong button on the remote control.
Talking of TVs, I was sitting in the lounge one evening catching up with some emails when an elderly male guest came down the stairs and into the lounge. It was roughly 9pm and he was dressed in pyjamas. He said that they couldn’t get the TV to work and could I have a look at it. Without hesitation I followed him to the room to find his wife sitting upright in bed fully exposed. I don’t know what the intentions were, but I left the room after pressing the TV’s on button and can’t think of fried eggs in the same way again!
It was morning, just before breakfast time when an elderly female guest called us from her room in a state of panic about something that was broken. She asked if Julie would come up as it was a personal matter. Julie entered the room to find the lady had caught her bra strap up with her dress and couldn’t release them and her male friend (who was sitting in a chair with just his pants on) couldn’t help either. It ended up with Julie basically redressing the lady and abruptly leaving the room.
Another celebratory meal out, we had just ordered the starters when we received a call from the house reporting water coming from the ceiling and dripping onto our new hallway carpet. Abandoning my imminent meal, I ran back to the house, up to the room above the water drips to find a guest had been running water in the sink with the plug in and forgot. I dealt with the sink, assessed the situation, put measures in place, luckily no damage done. I returned to the restaurant to find they had held back the meal until I was ready. Maybe we could relax now.
Alady shouted down to us from the first floor. She said she was freezing cold and could we put the heating on for them (it was 28 degrees outside). Julie went up to see if everything was ok to find the lady was standing on the landing with just her underwear on! She told Julie she was playing strip poker with her husband in bed and wanted it a little warmer.
We were on the seafront with some other guests watching the fireworks on a Wednesday evening when we received a call from several other guests in a panic because they were locked out of the house and couldn’t get in. It was lightly raining. Luckily the fireworks had finished, and we almost ran home to see what the problem was. When we arrived, there was a line of guests from the door to outside our gate, trying to get into the house. Nobody had thought to use our 2nd door. I entered the house through this door and let everybody in. The problem was down to other guests deadlocking the door when they returned earlier that evening.
A guest came down the stairs to us one evening, kettle in hand and asked us for another kettle as that one didn’t work. We could see they were thinking, why don’t you check these things? I went back to their room with him to find they hadn’t plugged the kettle in!
We heard a lady shout down from the first floor. She had locked herself out of her room and needed to get back in. Julie went up to see what the problem was to find the lady dressed in a hat, fully clothed on top but only wearing knickers below. Julie duly let the lady into her room. Why was she on the landing dressed like that??
The fire alarm sounded early one morning. As a result, guests were starting to evacuate wearing only pyjamas, dressing gowns etc. The alarm indicated to us where the alarm was triggered and upon investigation, it turned out a guest in the offending room stood under the sensor and created a cloud of mist whilst covering himself in deodorant.
Post stay discoveries
The most popular item left in the room when a guest departs is undoubtably a mobile phone charger, but it doesn’t end there. There are many more other items we find along with evidence of some strange behaviour.
Take the time we found a battery operated, hand-held pleasure device just sitting in a bedside drawer ready for action!
Or talking about batteries, whilst checking our equipment was in working order for the next guests, the remote control for a DVD player didn’t work. I checked the batteries to discover they had been swapped with dead batteries of a different make!
Clothing is a common sight to find left behind, with underwear usually found amongst the bed covers as we strip the bed! You would think they’d notice wouldn’t you.
We once found a fishing net standing up against a wall in a room! Luckily the owner rebooked with us to retrieve his only fishing net.
As a guest was leaving us, I noticed she had a bottle of wine sticking out of her bag. I thought nothing of it as we chatted to her before she departed. It was only later that day when another guest asked for a glass of wine, I realised that the earlier, departing guest had swapped her empty bottle for a full bottle from the wine rack in the lounge. Cheeky!!
So, you see we come across all sorts of things throughout our day and although not necessarily funny at the time, we look back at some of these things and just have to smile. I hope this blog has made you smile too.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was inspired to write this in response to the reputation
that seaside bed & Breakfasts acquired with regards to the breakfasts that were
on offer in previous years, what you could expect these days, and the
preconceptions that still exist amongst those that remember or have been told
about the breakfasts of old. Obviously, I can only talk about the breakfasts we
offer in our own Guest House/Bed and Breakfast through this article and the
typical breakfasts I’ve written about below are 3 actual mornings in July this
have on the whole, vastly improved over time in terms of quality and choice
with some offering a buffet style breakfast, some ask you to pre-order the day
or night before but we, and many others prefer to allow you to order your
breakfast at breakfast time and we then cook it freshly for you. Each breakfast
is bespoke to each person with our guests being encouraged to create their own
breakfast from any available ingredients.
I hope you find this an interesting article and will see
that B&Bs can offer far more in the way of breakfast these days than you
ever imagined or can be found in most hotels. The ingredients we use can be
expensive, but you know what, they encourage people to return without booking
online. That way we don’t have to pay commissions and that helps pay the extra
cost for a quality breakfast.
Where do we get our ingredients from?
We obtain as many of the ingredients we use for breakfast
from local producers and suppliers as we can and I spoke about how the
ingredients can be more expensive for us, but it has benefits too which I’ve
touched on above and in addition, sourcing our ingredients this way not only
supports the local economy, we also know, by having a good relationship with the
producer and supplier, where the product has come from, what’s in it, how it’s
made and the welfare of the animal or plants along with being able to ensure
the quality of what we are buying. The preserves & sauces we use to
accompany the breakfasts are also produced locally from mostly home- grown
fruits etc. We occasionally have a requirement when a guest arrives late and
declares an allergy or a particular liking to something (we always ask about
allergies etc when we check people in), to bolster our breakfasts with a trip
to the supermarket. As well as sourcing our ingredients from local producers
and suppliers, we also make our own items such as the Hash Browns, which are
more like potato rostis , containing potato, onion, egg & seasoning which
are part cooked and refrigerated until required, our Muesli contains 22 natural
ingredients which are combined to be beneficial to your body, our fruit
compotes are made with fruit, a touch of fruit juice and natural unrefined
brown cane sugar which is reduced then refrigerated until required, we make
some of our bread which is bolstered by a bakery during the busier times of
year and is sliced by us which makes for chunky toast or bread for a sandwich
What ingredients do we use for our
Free Range Eggs (poached, fried, scrambled, boiled or as
part of a Frittata), premium smoked and plain Bacon, 80% Pork Sausage, Vine
ripened Tomatoes, tinned, chopped Tomatoes, flat Mushrooms, Heinz Baked Beans,
Hash Brown, Black Pudding, smoked Salmon, smoked Haddock, Kippers, smoked
Mackerel, Ham, Cheese, brown & white bread, Croissants, Wraps, Muffins,
Muesli, Fruit Compote. We also have the ingredients to make pancakes when asked
First of all I’ll tell you about the setup of our kitchen.
It has 3 surfaces to do any prep work, 8 rings, 2 grills, 2 ovens, an egg
steamer, 2 kettles, a water boiler, 2 four slice toasters, dedicated pans for
different ingredients/ cooking methods, a plate warmer and a commercial
extractor fan. This setup makes it easier for us to cope with the variety of breakfast
orders we have on the go at the same time although it can be manic when
everyone arrives for breakfast at once. It’s also worth mentioning a few of the
terms used in this article: *FULL ENGLISH: Wherever you stay could offer
various versions of a full English but
ours comprises of an 80% Pork Sausage grilled, Premium Bacon both smoked and
plain grilled, a fresh Free Range Egg either poached, fried or scrambled, flat
Mushroom grilled, 2 halves of a vine-ripened Tomato grilled (or tinned if
preferred), Heinz Baked Beans and a homemade Hash Brown fried. Black Pudding is
also offered as an addition. *KILBRANNAN SPECIAL: This is unique to us and is a
popular choice of starter or main breakfast. It is made up when ordered and
comprises our homemade Muesli, fat free natural Yoghurt and our homemade fruit
compote put together in a tall sundae glass. *FRITTATA: Similar to an omelette
but you can cook any ingredients you’d like first then add the beaten eggs, top
with cheese if you want, then finish cooking under the grill. Some guests refer
to this as a ‘posh omelette’. If time allows, I like to take the pan from the
grill and straight into the dining room where I slide it onto the guest’s
plate. Can’t get fresher than that! *PLOUGHMAN’S: Similar to a continental and
named after a survey amongst guests. It comprises English cheeses, hams, warm
croissants and our homemade fruit compote all presented on a board.
We don’t take any orders until guests are seated and have
helped themselves to our array of cereals, homemade muesli, dried or fresh
fruit, yogurts and fresh (not concentrated) fruit juices. The tea & coffee
orders are taken first with 60% of couples wanting a pot of each we can get
through quite a lot a water. Fresh, loose leaf tea and fresh ground coffee are
the default hot drinks but occasionally we are asked for instant coffee, hot
chocolate and milkshakes which are fine, or hot water for one of our fruit teas
which are situated in the dining room. After the drinks orders are taken and
delivered, we then ask each table what they would like for breakfast.
Breakfast job roles
We don’t have staff to help and so split the various things
to do between Julie and myself as follows:
Julie: *fill and switch on water boiler *switch plate warmer
on *set the tables up with milk, spreads, sugar etc *put juices and yoghurts
onto cold tray in the dining room *Take all hot drinks and food orders *Fill
tea and coffee pots *slice bread ready for sandwiches, soldiers and toasting
*Slice Muffins ready for toasting *do the toasting *Assemble the ‘Ploughmans’
*Despatch all hot drinks and cooked food *portion out the smoked Salmon ready
for an order *grate any cheese *satisfaction checks amongst the guests *clear
Gary: * Get kitchen ‘breakfast ready’ *control the incoming
food orders *cook all food in some sort of order *record temperatures *dish out
the completed breakfasts ready for despatch *wash up *clean all appliances,
work tops, walls and floor. (the Kilbrannan specials we make up between us)
3 typical breakfasts in July
(stay with it, it’s
It’s 10 minutes before breakfast time starts and both grills
(1 for meat, 1 for veg) are fired up to enable them to reach the optimum
temperature. The assortment of pans are put to hand and the main ingredients
are close by. The work surfaces are clear of obstructions, the 2 kettles are
switched on and the water boiler is at the ready. (This procedure is repeated
daily). By the time I’ve got all this organised, Julie enters the kitchen with
the first hot drinks order: 1 pot of tea and 1 pot of coffee. With the pots
filled and despatched, I await the first breakfast order which arrives a minute
or so later along with the next hot drinks order.
1 full English with black pudding, poached Egg & tinned
tomato & 1 smoked Salmon with scrambled Eggs on toasted muffins. A fairly
easy one to start with. The full English ingredients are cooked in order of
cooking times with the all important temperature probe used on the Sausage and
Julie prepares the muffins ready for the Eggs and salmon and the requested
toast which we cut from a fresh loaf of bread. Whilst all of that is cooking to
perfection the second order arrives: 1 Bacon, Mushroom and Cheese Frittata
& 1 Kilbrannan Special followed by a full English with no Black Pudding, no
Tomato with Fried Egg. The Kilbrannan Special is made up and despatched whilst
keeping an eye on the first order’s cooking. The pan used for the Frittata is
sprayed with low calorie oil, the grills are loaded with the next full English
ingredients in order, then the bacon and Mushroom are cooking in the Frittata
pan. The third order arrives just as the first order is being dished up: 1
Smoked Haddock with poached Eggs & 1 Bacon and poached Eggs on toast. The
first order is despatched along with the toast and with the beaten Eggs added
to the Frittata, sprinkled with Cheese and placed under the grill, the second
order has 2 minutes to go. The pan used for poaching the Haddock is prepared
and after adding the haddock its allowed to simmer away gently with butter. The
bacon is placed under the grill and the poached Egg pan is still on the heat
from the first and second orders. The second order is despatched along with the
toast. Julie returns with more hot drinks orders and the fourth and fifth food orders:
1 Beans on toast & 1 Bacon sandwich then 1 Sausage, Hash Brown, Fried Egg,
Mushroom & 1 Hash Brown, Beans, Mushroom, Tomato & Quorn Sausage (this
sausage is cooked separately). The third order is despatched along with the
toast. Julie returns to prepare the bread for the sandwich and the toast for
the beans whilst the other ingredients are cooking. The fourth order is quickly
despatched along with further toast and upon return, the fifth order is being
dished up and is then swiftly despatch along with the toast. Julie remains in
the dining room chatting and clearing any empty plates etc after the last order
has been taken out and I like to go into the dining room to say good morning.
First order arrives: 1 Kilbrannan special followed by
scrambled Egg and Bacon on toast & 1 fried egg, Bacon and Beans. The
special is made up and despatched whilst the bacon is placed under the grill.
Eggs and Beans are being cooked when order number two arrives: 1 full English,
grilled Tomatoes, 2 fried Eggs and black pudding & 1 Ploughmans. The
Ingredients are placed under the grills and whilst Julie is putting together
the Ploughmans, the first order is being dished up and is despatched. Order
number three arrives at Julie’s return: 1 toasted muffin topped with Mushroom,
poached Egg and sprinkled with cheese & 1 Bacon, fried Egg and tinned
Tomatoes with a slice of bread and butter. Order number two is dished up and
despatched whilst the third orders ingredients are cooking. After a few
minutes, order number four arrives just as I’ve dished up the third order: 1
full English, poached Egg, black pudding, no Tomatoes & 1 boiled Eggs with
soldiers. The third order is despatched, and the next lot of ingredients goes
on. It’s 10 minutes before the fifth order arrives which is plenty of time to
get everything done on order number four which is promptly despatched: 1 medium
porridge followed by Bacon, scrambled Eggs and Beans & 1 toast (many people
ask for just toast for breakfast so they can try some of the great preserves we
have without being too full).Porridge done (simply Oats, Milk, pan, Spurtle)
and the Bacon is under the grill whilst the toast is being sorted. Bacon,Eggs
and Beans done and despatched, time to say hello.
First order arrives: 1 pancakes & 1 scrambled Egg on
toast & 1 bacon and poached Egg on toasted muffins & 1 smoked Salmon
with scrambled Eggs on toasted muffins. The Bacon goes under the grill whilst
the bread and muffins are toasting, and the pancake mixture is made. Order
number two arrives as the order number one’s eggs are cooking, and the pancakes
are almost ready: 1 full English with gluten free sausage (cooked separately)
and fried Egg & 1 black pudding and scrambled Egg on toast. The first order
is dished up and despatched. The second order’s ingredients are on when Julie
arrives with order number three: 1 Eggy bread & 1 Poached Egg on toast. The
mixture to soak the Eggy bread in is prepared and the bread is soaking away
nicely. The poached Egg pan is still on the heat and the toast is being
prepared. Order number two is complete, dished up and despatched and with the
Eggy bread ready to cook, it’s only a couple of minutes away from being ready
for despatch. Order number four arrives: 1 Kipper with the head on (we always
ask whether you want the head removing) & 1 smoked Bacon, fried Egg,
Mushroom and tinned Tomatoes. Order number three is despatched and the Kipper
is poaching whilst the other items are cooking away. Order number five arrives:
1 Kilbrannan special & 1 Bacon, Mushroom and cheese Frittata. Order number
four is complete, dished up and despatched, the special is made up and
despatched and the Frittata is ready for me to deliver and say hello to
everyone. Another breakfast done!
Each food order I receive in the morning is split down to
ingredient level and entered onto a spreadsheet so we can monitor which are the
most popular items and which items are less popular. These are the results of
the last 3,000 breakfasts we’ve cooked for our guests:
81% of breakfasts include egg, of which 35% are poached, 31%
are fried, 24% are scrambled, 6% make up some kind of Frittata and 4% are
boiled (or rather steamed)
58% of breakfasts include bacon, 46% include sausage, 41%
include baked beans, 38% include mushrooms, 37% include tomato, 36% include
hash brown, 15% include black pudding.
14% of guests have a Kilbrannan special.
11% of breakfasts include fish, of which 45% are smoked
Salmon, 39% are smoked Haddock, 10% are Kippers, 6% are smoked Mackerel.
13% of guests have something on toast, 7% have something on
toasted muffins, 4% just have toast, 3% have some sort of sandwich, 1% have a
tortilla wrap filled with anything they want.
3% of guests have a Ploughman’s, 2% have porridge, 3% have
pancakes and 6% have cheese (usually on toast, in a Frittata, in scrambled egg
or just sprinkled on top)
We also have special requests such as Eggy bread, vegetable breakfast kebabs, breakfast pizza and breakfast in a giant Yorkshire pudding!
Thank you for reading, it was a pleasure to write about how our breakfast keeps us busy and I hope you can see that B&B standards in this area have improved enormously.
Kilbrannan Guest House, Great Yarmouth. (July 2019)
I was inspired to
write this article in response to the following phrases, which are the
first things that certain people say when they happen to see, or do something
they don’t enjoy about Great Yarmouth, and the probable reason why they feel
** “Great Yarmouth isn’t what it used to be”. ** “Great Yarmouth is no longer great”. ** “There
just isn’t the atmosphere in Great Yarmouth any longer”. **There’s nothing to
do. **Great Yarmouth has gone downhill
These are some of the things I hear on a regular basis, not
just in person, but also see on various social media sites, so just where is
this coming from? I can’t talk about the current residents of Great Yarmouth,
nor can I talk about housing, benefits or landlords, but I can talk about
tourism which is what I see or hear these statements referring to:
Part one: Frenzy
So, as I was born in the 1960s, lets’ start there. Thousands of people would flock to Great Yarmouth via public transport (unless they had the luxury of owning their own vehicle), during their annual paid holiday times and each area of the UK had differing holiday times to other areas. Combined, these differing holiday times would create what’s called a season within which everybody who was coming to stay, or visit would come during this season, and this would probably be the only visit that year. (Outside of this season would see Great Yarmouth had very little entertainment to see other than the arcades, and of course, the beach).All accommodation businesses, attractions and eateries would be open and ready for passing visitors, the waterways and boating lake were both popular, as were the beach, market, the Hippodrome Circus and Gorleston Pavilion. A choice of more theatres would have big names appearing on stage during that season which was a big draw for the frenzy of people buzzing around. You could bump into Mike & Bernie Winters on Britannia Pier, or Morcambe & Wise on Wellington Pier, or spot Freddie and the Dreamers wandering up Regent Road, or you could stop and say hello to Peter Noone near the ABC Theatre, a whole host of stars of the time to tell your friends about the time you met them or saw them. This all created a fantastic atmosphere throughout the town with many an awesome tale to be told. Every eatery would be packed out through the day & night and boards were displayed outside to advertise their menus which mostly seemed standardised to anything with chips, a roast dinner of some sort, or an all- day breakfast, and they wanted it on the plate before they had a chance to sit down but that’s what people knew and all they expected back then. B&B accommodation was mostly basic and offered a full English breakfast or a variation of it along with a choice of concentrated fruit juice OR cereals, all of which had to be pre ordered. Small rooms which were a division of a once larger room and shared facilities, limited health & safety, and some allowed groups of people to ‘bunk up’ together in a crowded room, sleeping on the floor or in an empty bath. People didn’t mind, at least they had somewhere to stay the night. This also added to the excitement of having masses of people buzzing around the town & seafront. The quality of where they stayed or what they ate wasn’t a priority. John Sullivan summed it up in one of his classic sitcoms, in which groups of people walked up and down streets of a seaside town looking for somewhere to stay on a bank holiday, volunteering to sleep in the airing cupboard or on the landing because they had no vacancies. I remember booking into a place on Sandown Road for a couple of nights and when going to use the facilities, the toilet hadn’t been flushed or cleaned. Oh dear! Another recollection is my parents staying in a place called ‘Elstow’ which was above one of the seafront restaurants. The walls moved when you touched them, and the roof was leaking the overnight rain in. My parents slept in their rain macs. Shocking! People weren’t all that bothered about issues like these, they were just thankful they had somewhere to sleep, in fact they would often laugh and joke about things that weren’t right such as leaking roofs, inedible food, noisy neighbours, fierce land ladies etc. (Nowadays these places would be crucified by online reviews)
Part two: Drastic.
By the mid 1970s things started to change. More and more
people owned cars which led to a greater freedom of where they could travel,
often opting for a camping holiday or to stay somewhere on the outskirts, but
the biggest change, thanks to Thomas Cook, came the rise in popularity of package
holidays abroad. This led to many, many people deserting their traditional UK
seaside resorts, including Great Yarmouth. These package holidays were advertised on tv
programmes such as ‘wish you were here’ and enticed the viewer with promises of
sunshine, cheap drinks and great food. For £50 you could have these things,
spend a week in Majorca in hotels with balconies and en-suites to the rooms. A
totally new, luxurious holiday. In fact, by 1979, Britons spent more money on
overseas holidays than on holidays in the UK. The holiday camps here started to
compete with the package holidays by offering more in the way of onsite
facilities and entertainment to try and win people back. Obviously, with so
many people now travelling abroad, and having the freedom to travel where they
wanted by car, the demand for the traditional seaside holiday was drastically
reduced and during the 1980’s many of the theatres in Great Yarmouth that once
starred the much loved big names had closed their doors with some of the
buildings being used for other things or just left to decline. The once popular
waterways and boating lake were also showing signs of decline as less people
would walk through or use the boats. The boats were eventually taken away. The
beach wasn’t so busy, and the market & town also saw a sharp decline in
custom. This led to more people shying away from a holiday in Great Yarmouth. The
UK was also going through a nationwide recession at the time which didn’t help.
Accommodation in Great Yarmouth was also going through
turmoil through this time as new fire regulations with certain types of alarms
were required along with regular servicing and tests, health and safety laws no
longer allowed certain practices, licenses for this, licenses for that, food
hygiene requirements became stricter and inspections more regular. It goes on.
All these things cost a lot of money. Some businesses who were already
struggling to keep things afloat now the visitors had dropped were close to
being pushed over the edge.
Having said that, on one side of the coin, people who had
been on a package holiday would still return to Great Yarmouth for a break from
time to time, or for day trips but having experienced the luxuries of the
overseas hotels, their expectations had gone up. No longer satisfied with
shared facilities, they wanted somewhere NICE to stay rather than just
somewhere to stay. Somewhere better than they remembered. On the other side of
the coin, there were the people who always remained loyal to Great Yarmouth,
never wanted to take part in the package holiday revolution and therefore
hadn’t experienced the luxuries that others had. They wanted the comfort of
what they always had which created a dilemma: Do accommodation owners spend
money to update the rooms to include en-suites which would require larger rooms,
resulting in dividing walls that split rooms in half having to come down
therefore giving less rooms but of a better standard to sell, and room prices
to rise which could deter these loyal guests, or do accommodations just stay as
they are which could deter the guest with higher expectations? The truth is,
both these options were taken up by the remainder of Great Yarmouth B&Bs so
there was accommodation to suit everyone, there was just the unknown for the
person looking to book a room. Back then, most people would knock on doors to
ask for availability and some would ask to be shown the room before they decided
to book it. If they stayed and didn’t enjoy it, they just wouldn’t return and
if they did enjoy it, they would return and recommend. Sadly, as a result, many
accommodations also closed their doors for the last time, especially the
smaller B&B, selling to whoever wanted to take on the challenge on
reconstructing all the rooms to make way for en-suites, or to develop the
building into another type of accommodation (flats, apartments, hostels etc). This
led to a loss of many bed spaces for visitors to Great Yarmouth.
Part three: Lost sheep
I’ve called this part ‘Lost sheep’ because Great Yarmouth is
currently going through a transition period which includes a mix of visitors
a.) Those who remember and enjoyed Great Yarmouth in the 1960s/1970s and b.)
those who haven’t experienced the euphoria of that time but instead enjoy Great
Yarmouth as it is now.
The phrases I started this article with obviously
come from people in category a. who see noticeably less people walking around
than there used to be, possibly none of the big names or shows on the theatres that
they remember from that period, once popular buildings in decline, and just not
the atmosphere they remember. I’ll start part three with this category.
Many visitors in this category still return to Great
Yarmouth from time to time and, if they were old enough to see a big name show
in the 1960’s, are possibly now retired or getting towards it. Some still stay
for a week or 2, and numbers of late seem to be picking up again. Trouble is,
many of the people who return after a while come to reminisce and walk up and
down the seafront looking for a spark of what they remember only to return to
their accommodation soon after with one or more of the phrases. It’s part of the accommodation’s role to
recommend other areas to visit as well as the seafront but often we are met
with blank faces. I have personally talked about museums etc to guests from
this category who didn’t know Great Yarmouth even had a museum. They didn’t
even know Great Yarmouth had a river, nor were interested! So, you see, it’s
these visitors that the phrasescome from and this part I’ve called
‘Lost Sheep’ because of the way they don’t seem to know what to do with
themselves when there isn’t a big name in town. They often don’t want to hear
about other things to do in the area or other places to see, they want to spend
the day enjoying the seafront, do some shopping then see a show just like they
used to do, and no other theatre in their mind will be as good as the ones they
used to visit. There are also people in the category who have always stayed in
Great Yarmouth for the annual holiday since being a child themselves and
introduce their families, who then introduce their own families and so on, so
we sometimes see 3 or 4 generations of family members staying at the same time
making the most of the seafront and beach. This is interesting to see because
the older family members remember 1960’s Great Yarmouth, and the younger members
know the current Great Yarmouth which creates a situation where every member of
the family enjoys their time at the seaside with no time for the elders to
Now I’ll move on to the people in category b:
The people in this category who visit and stay in Great
Yarmouth have probably never experienced the excitement of seeing big names
walking the streets, or them posing on the piers, and many wonder why there are
so many empty iconic looking buildings which appear to be a ‘museum of an era
gone by’, but undeterred by this, they are determined to enjoy the precious
time they have away from the everyday routine back home. These people are more
receptive to recommendations of what there is to do in the area, alternative
theatres, entertainment, places to go, and are not held back by memories of
what used to be. Also, they have never known a time when holidays from work were
restricted to certain weeks (unless they have children), so visit (sometimes
according to weather) at any time of year. They arrive with an already planned
break in mind, what they want to do, want to see, where to go including places
or attractions outside of Great Yarmouth etc, possibly influenced by social
media and internet or want to return to carry on their previous agenda.
We also see an increasing number of people in this category
who have never visited Great Yarmouth before, who, with some guidance on the
abundance of things to see and do, return 2, 3 or 4 times a year.
Part four: Dilemma
Because of this transition, Great Yarmouth is right now, facing
a dilemma, a sort of ‘catch 22’:
attractions, eateries and accommodations remain faithful to the seasons
where visitors only came during set times of the year, and as a result, they
only open at these times. The problem is, people now have flexibility in when
they can take a break from work, or, if they are retired, will very often visit
at any time throughout the year. They arrive to find a limited selection on
offer in Great Yarmouth itself which may possibly deter further visits.
On the flip side of this, some attractions and
eateries see less footfall and consider that it’s not worth opening. This goes
a long way towards deterring people to return out of season. (Obviously,
some of the attractions such as the Pleasure Beach and Joyland are very much
determined by weather conditions). ‘By reacting to less footfall today, they
are creating less footfall tomorrow’
If people visited and found an
abundance of things to do and places to eat all year round, they are more
likely to return at that time of year and tell others too. Something has to give:
Either things stay as they are with less choice out of season which
could deter all year visitors, or more eateries and attractions open for longer,
and at times between festivals, which will eventually attract more and more
people to visit all through the year. This is the dilemma.
Part five: What today’s visitors
Many people that stay in Great
Yarmouth today, don’t do so with the intention of spending all their time here.
They actually ‘visit Norfolk and use Great Yarmouth as their base’. Maybe this
is the way forward. The fact that most people nowadays have their own transport
and the public transport is greatly improved, access to fantastic attractions
and places to see around the surrounding areas are very easily accessible to
all from Great Yarmouth, and using Great Yarmouth as their base is a great idea
as we are spoilt for choice with amazing restaurants of different cuisines from
at least 10 parts of the world which don’t all come with chips, the Hippodrome
now has five spectacular shows per year as opposed to one, St. George’s Theatre
has shows or events on throughout the year, Britannia Theatre still has some of
today’s big names appearing through the season, Gorleston Pavilion has
shows on throughout the year, the freshly refurbished waterways & boating
lake look fantastic, we are host to some awe inspiring festivals at varying
times of the year such as the Out There Festival, the Maritime Festival, the
Wheels Festival, the Arts Festival, we also have the Festival of Bowls,
Festival of Racing, Greyhound Derby, spectacular Stock Car shows, Gorleston
Cliff Top Festival, Beer Festivals, Scarecrow Festival, our rich history is
showcased through guided heritage walks, and heritage open days which allow
free access to museums and other historical sites, Sealife Centre, fantastic
beach plus lots more. Accommodation in Great Yarmouth is vastly improved with
modern facilities, attentive service, clean rooms and great quality, freshly
cooked breakfasts. Approachable owners always at hand to offer advice &
guidance to suit your every desire. A massive step up from earlier times.
The county of Norfolk has a vast
array of attractions and places to see that are all very easy to get to when
using Great Yarmouth as a base. The roads are very easy to navigate, and the
public transport has access to most areas. You can find fantastic zoos,
splendid gardens, steam trains & railways, the awesome Norfolk Broads,
stately homes, animal sanctuaries, museums, wineries & distillery, superb
villages with traditional shops, other quaint seaside towns, the city of
Norwich which is Norfolk’s capital plus an abundance of other things I could
list. I know some of you will say these things have always been there, and you
would be right, but people staying in Great Yarmouth 50+ years ago wouldn’t
have even considered them because of transport problems possibly not having
their own vehicle or public transport was restricted or their agenda just didn’t
To sum up
So, in answer to the phrases I started this article
with, you are partly correct. Great Yarmouth indeed isn’t what it used to be,
in fact, it’s far better in terms of being able to fill your days with the
delights of not only Great Yarmouth, but of all the surrounding areas too. You
now have better transport. You now have an amazing choice of places to eat some
fabulous food and you now have somewhere to stay that meets or goes beyond your
expectations. All in all, Great Yarmouth has so much to offer and more will be
discovered by visitors if they stop thinking about the ‘good old days’ as they
sit there in a comfortable chair in a clean, well facilitated hotel/ Guest
House or B&B En-Suite room after eating a delicious, freshly cooked meal in
a friendly, well run eatery after a thoroughly enjoyable day, I doubt they
would really like things the way they were. What do you think?
Agreed, there needs to be something done with the empty
buildings that are on the tourist routes but on the whole you can’t help but
love Great Yarmouth and surrounding areas for everything they offer all
visitors. You never know, with the rise of these ‘business machines’ in the
form of chain hotels, the bed spaces in Great Yarmouth may increase to previous
levels which in turn may see more people stay and the likes of Ant & Dec
getting ready to rumble in the market place, Romesh Rangnathan telling jokes in
the Tombstone Brewery & Saloon Bar or Ellie Goulding chatting to the public
outside St. George’s Theatre.
Online accommodation reviews: The truth uncovered.
A question I posed in my last article (Great Yarmouth, a
decade of evolution) regarding reviews was ‘are any of them beneficial to
anyone’. My reply suggested that because of online reviews the overall
standards in Great Yarmouth were taken to a new height and this is true but
it’s not as clear cut as that.
Most of us like to read reviews about an accommodation we
plan to stay in and quite a few of us use the reviews to decide on where to
stay but not everybody knows how it all works or what pitfalls they could fall
into. In this article I plan to explain where the reviews that you see come
from, the implications of using them to decide where to stay and the impact a
review has on the accommodation. Any reference to review content is a factual
account of some of the reviews received by Great Yarmouth accommodations.
Part one, where do the
reviews come from?
As an accommodation owner, it’s fantastic to receive an
excellent online review as it reflects the great lengths’ we go to ensure everyone
has as good a stay as possible. There are several ways in which a review can be
written about accommodation and each way has more than one online site to do it
on, so how does it all work? I will narrow it down and talk about some of the
more prominent sites: 1. Booking.com (online booking site), 2. Tripadvisor
(dedicated review site) and 3. Trivago (Third party reviews). These 3 sites display
reviews, and I’ve broken them up into different categories as they work
differently to each other. Each of the categories, as well as the site referred
to contain several other sites which work along the same lines but with different
Online booking site reviews (Booking.com
When a booking is made online, the online site will send the
booker an email after their stay asking them to give unvetted feedback about
their experience of the accommodation during their stay. The booker doesn’t
have to do this, but the booking site will keep resending the request until
either the booker gives up and leaves feedback or a certain amount of time
elapses then the requests do eventually stop. The requests are asked in words and
the answers are translated by the site into numbered scores for example on this
site you are asked to mark 6 individual areas (Staff, Comfort, Facilities,
Location, Cleanliness & Value for Money) of the stay as bad, average, good
or excellent. These are scored as 2.5, 5.0, 7.5 or 10. After you have judged
each of the areas and the site translates the answers into numbered scores, the
average of the numbered scores becomes the ‘review score’. So, if you thought 3
of the areas of your stay were excellent, 2 of the areas were good and one area
was average, this would give a review score of 8.3. Extra judgements can be made
to other areas of the stay but aren’t contributed to the accommodation’s displayed
review scores. You are then given the opportunity to write your comments to
accompany the review. (As I said earlier, the other booking sites vary slightly
in the wordings but they all pretty much follow the same path). These review
scores are combined with all the other review scores an accommodation has on
that booking site and that, when divided by the amount of reviews, gives an overall
average review score which is the score that is displayed against an
accommodation’s listing, so if an accommodation has 10 reviews for example, 3
of which have an review score of 8.3, 4 have an review score of 9.2, 1 has an review
score of 9.6 and the other 2 have an review score of 10, then the displayed overall
average review score would be 9.1. After (usually) 2 years the oldest
review is wiped off so you will only see the review scores for the last 2 years.
With this system of reviews, a person looking at an accommodation can see the
review scores for each of the 6 areas judged and any comments that are made by
the reviewer. The accommodation owner, manager or representative is usually
given the option to respond to these reviews, but these responses are subject to
approval by the site before being displayed.
Dedicated review sites (Tripadvisor eg.)
I am calling these sites such as Trip Advisor dedicated review
sites as they allow anybody who has registered with the site to write a review
about anywhere without having had stayed there. (There are some of these sites
that have also taken on the role of a booking site, but you don’t have to use
this facility to leave a review and as it’s not connected to reviews I won’t
talk about how this works in this article).
Sounds dangerous I know but there are measures in place to
deal with fraudulent reviewers!
Whilst reviewing an accommodation through these sites you are asked to provide a rating (usually from 1 to 5) for your overall stay. You are then asked to leave your comments about your experience during your stay. This rating goes towards the accommodation’s ranking on the site and all reviews, no matter how old they are, remain visible for anyone to read. The ranking on the site is biased towards those who pay to enhance their listing but otherwise is worked out using an algorithm which is based on quality, quantity, consistency & recency. Older reviews don’t carry as much weight as newer reviews, higher scoring reviews rank higher than lower scoring reviews, more reviews count more than less reviews and consistency is what binds it all together. So, you can see as far as ranking on the site (how close to the top of the site’s listing an accommodation appears) is concerned, it will constantly change.
Example 1: If an accommodation (accommodation 1) is at the top of the ranking list and is
receiving one 5 star review every week and the accommodation in position 2 (accommodation 2) receives two 5 star
reviews every week then the ranking positions will swap because although both
are receiving 5 star reviews, accommodation
2 is receiving more.
Example 2: If accommodation
1 and accommodation 2 both have
100 reviews, all the same age and all 5 star rated and the next day they both
receive another review but accommodation
1 receives a 4 star review and accommodation
2 receives a 5 star review then the positions will swap because a 4 star
review is worth less than a 5 star review in the algorithm.
Example 3: You may observe 2 accommodations that both have
the same number of equally rated reviews but one of them is near the top of the
ranking list and the other may be 20 positions below. This will be because the
accommodation nearer to the top of the ranking list has more recent reviews
than the other one.
There are probably hundreds of examples I could give, and I
could go deeper into the details, but I think these 3 examples sum up how it
After a review has been received, the accommodation owner,
manager or representative has the opportunity to respond to the review and
although not vetted, the response has guidelines within which to adhere to
otherwise it could be removed. The accommodation also has access to tools to
obtain more reviews such as an email request form that can be sent to the
departed customer which when replied to with a review, the words: “Review
collected in partnership with this hotel” will appear under it. Anybody can
also click on the profile of the reviewer to discover any other reviews they have
done for elsewhere which can prove useful.
Third Party reviews. (Trivago eg.)
The review scores you see on these sites are an accumulation
average review scores obtained from various booking sites and so can’t
be directly added to by anyone wanting to write a review. There isn’t much more
I can tell you about reviews on these sites other than, I’ve explained how the
booking site reviews work in part 1, and I’ve said there are other booking
sites that follow the same path, now add all the overall average review scores
up across all the booking sites that are affiliated with this site, divide the
answer by the amount of reviews in total and you’ll get the overall
average review score that is displayed on this site. If you click on the
review score, the site will direct you to which other booking sites the reviews
have come from.
Now you know where the review scores come from, I’ll move
onto the implications of using reviews as your main research tool when looking
for somewhere to stay.
It’s very easy for anyone with access to the internet to
research the area they want to visit, and for where they want to stay. Many
people are swayed by what they see in accommodation reviews but what isn’t
always taken into account, are some vital things which are taken from my
experience and knowledge:
full picture: Not everyone who has stayed in a particular accommodation
writes feedback via an online review, so the full picture isn’t available.
reviews: Many people are guilty of looking
at reviews and their scores rather than reading them possibly resulting in their
expectations not being met. (eg: a browser might see an accommodation with the
best review scores across all platforms and assume it will have all facilities
that could possibly be required by them only to arrive to find the accommodation
doesn’t have a swimming pool or jacuzzi eg.)
judge: People read about amazing breakfasts only to find at breakfast their
favourite sausages aren’t the norm.
for a reason: Some people are attracted to reviews that state how clean the
accommodation is but are then bemused as to why their room is cleaned when they
for different types of accommodation: A big misunderstanding is after
reading some great reviews about the fantastic service received, some readers occasionally
assume the accommodation is a big hotel with all facilities including a car
park, reception or massage parlour but on arrival realise a different story.
and personal Bed & Breakfast service: If there are reviews that talk
about how welcoming and lovely the hosts or owners are, be prepared for them to
be nice to you, to say good morning, good night and ask whether you’ve had a
good day. There are some people who don’t like this level of attention.
research: If reviewers talk about the location being very close to the
attractions, don’t assume they would be the attractions you would want to see.
accommodation’s replies to determine this: There can be reviews written for
accommodations by representatives of other accommodations which won’t always reflect
the true story. And I don’t just mean on dedicated review sites!
there are ‘paid for’ reviews. Believe or not, there are people who charge for
writing a series of positive ‘dedicated site’ reviews for any accommodation
that wants to pay to climb up the ranking positions. This is illegal and action
is taken by the sites to stop it happening, but it exists.
I’ve talked about where the online reviews that you see come
from and I’ve covered most of the areas why you shouldn’t use reviews as your
main source of research when looking for somewhere to stay, so now I’ll move
onto the impact that reviews can have on the accommodation.
As previously stated, over the years reviews have pushed up
the standards of accommodation by highlighting areas that could be improved on
such as cleanliness, food, facilities, service etc and this is all fantastic
for the reputation of the accommodation business but sadly there are some
people that write reviews but don’t follow the rules of fairness. This is not
so beneficial, for instance,
negative reviewers: Lots of people only like to write a ‘dedicated review’
if they have something negative to say. They might have stayed in the same
accommodation numerous times before and obviously enjoyed it or else they
wouldn’t have returned but on this one occasion there was something they didn’t
like so a decision is made to write a negative review with no thought of ever
writing a positive review on any of the previous times.
negative review for the accommodation could be a positive review for you: I’ve
seen several reviews for hotels that state the accommodation is full of older
people, there is no karaoke or party dances and just a piano bar in the corner.
These reviews were scored terribly, and the hotel would have suffered in the
ranking, but the areas stated as terrible could be exactly what you look for.
(This can be connected to part two, b)
the power: Occasionally people will use the power of writing reviews as a
weapon against the accommodation by arriving and almost immediately indicating
they will be writing a review.
can’t control the weather: If the weather isn’t perfect for some reviewers
then the review platform can be used against the accommodation by scoring everything
low. There isn’t anywhere they can review the weather, so it gets taken out on
the accommodation which reflects negatively against the hard work that goes
into helping make their stay as good as possible. This will lower the
accommodation’s ranking for no fault of their own.
Predetermined expectations: When people
arrive with predetermined expectations that don‘t match the reality because
they perhaps haven’t read the reviews properly (Part two, section b) or
possibly haven’t read the accommodation policies then they are likely to write
or score negative results in a review which in turn will lower the
accommodation’s ranking. Again, through no fault of their own.
Accommodation standards have
definitely been driven to higher levels as a result of reviews but whilst
accommodation owners (or most of them) have been keeping up with the changing
requirements of their customers, there are some customers that still want to
retain the standards that they enjoyed in past times. For instance, I’ve seen other
accommodation’s reviews that are marked down in all areas just because the default
coffee on offer in the morning was fresh, ground coffee rather than the instant
they wanted. Another review marked down all areas because the sausages were
butcher’s sausages rather than a well known Irish brand. Another review stated
the owners of the accommodation were “over the top” because they cleaned their
room every day and scored all areas low in the review. I could go into loads of
examples here, but I think you see the predicament of accommodation providers.
None of these examples were ever discussed in person at the time and the issues
only came to light through an online review.
So, this leads to my sum up of
whether online reviews are good for the accommodation business.
The answer is yes, they are
definitely good for improving standards across the accommodation business but,
as you’ve read, there are issues with what you may read or see in an online
review in terms of accuracy, source and intent so when you’re looking for
somewhere to stay, please don’t just head for the reviews and decide to book a
room on that basis alone. Instead use the reviews alongside any other research
you might want to do and make sure you actually read the content of the reviews
to clarify if that particular accommodation is for you, and also read the reply
from the accommodation as you may can find more information and you can also
see what kind of people own or run it. Sounds obvious I know, but you’d be
surprised how many don’t.
hope you find this as interesting as I did in writing it. My next article is coming
Gary Smith, Kilbrannan Guest House, Great Yarmouth.
1: This is a personal
account of how things have evolved but offers a brief account of changes in running
a Great Yarmouth B&B over a decade from 2008 to 2018. I haven’t talked
about ‘Airbnb’ as my knowledge about this is limited
I can’t talk in depth about how things were pre 2008 as my
articles are about my experiences and knowledge, but I can happily and
comfortably talk about how running a Great Yarmouth Bed and Breakfast has
evolved over the last 10 years. I will however mention how some things have
changed through the evolution up until 10 years ago throughout this article.
Today, the Great Yarmouth ‘Bed and Breakfast’ has changed
from the days of providing evening meals, limited breakfast options, having to
go out after breakfast without being able to return until your meal is ready at
6pm and having H&C in rooms (Hot & Cold water) to only a few owners
providing evening meals, having a much larger breakfast range of a better
quality, having en-suites to most rooms and a heightened attitude towards
2: In July 2008 we bought
and took over what was already a bed and breakfast ran by an elderly gentleman
and his daughters, so the material requirements of what we needed to carry on
the business were there in place such as beds etc.
We had no staff or help and certainly no clue as to what was
in store for us other than our research so thought it safe to continue the work
of the previous owner and adapt the working day in time as we saw fit. Before
we moved in we had already been working on creating a website to try to bring
the business up to date and that was now live and available for people to look
at. (Observation was the only function of a website back then.) A folder on a
desk was being used as a calendar to show the bookings that had been taken for
that year. It showed roughly 30% of the rooms for the rest of July and August
were reserved by returning guests or people who had telephoned after obtaining
the number from the brochure. The remaining 70% were vacant at present and we
had our window signs turned to display ‘Vacancies’ in the hope of attracting
some passers by. There were no ‘out of season’ bookings logged in the folder.
As we were unpacking our things on that first day, we
pondered on how we would now fill at least some of this vacant 70% but we
didn’t have to ponder for long as an hour or so later there was a knock at the
door. It was 4 men dressed in suits looking for a room each for the night. We
gave them a price which they accepted and they immediately payed up. There we
had it, our first on speckers.
The next day, after breakfast (for which we used ingredients
we’d paid the previous owner), the men checking out and cleaning the 4 rooms we
observed our neighbours all sitting on the front of their houses talking to
passers by and deduced from this they must be touting for customers, so we did
the same. Lo and behold it worked. So that was the answer to filling our rooms
in 2008. 1.) Encourage guests to return, 2.) Be in the brochure (around half of
other accommodations didn’t use this option) & 3.) **convince passers by to
stay (**subject to you wanting them to stay). The standards that on-speckers looked for in
a place to stay varied between them with some wanting just a room for the
night, no frills, some wanted quiet and clean, some wanted a big greasy fry up
etc. Whether or not we wanted to accommodate them was a choice we made on the
doorstep and we all had different views.
This practice went on until the end of 2009 with success and
guests would go away happy most of the time. The next you would hear from some
of them was a phone call to book the following year and even Christmas cards
which was lovely.
3: Then came the internet
Booking sites did
already exist but were reasonably new. Nobody we spoke to used them, maybe some
of the bigger hotels did but certainly this was fairly new to B&Bs.
Most computer literate B&B owners started to sign up and
list themselves onto the prominent site of the time, including us. Lots of other
owners had no knowledge of using computers having come from a time when
computers weren’t available and therefore had no interest in signing up to
these sites. Instead they carried on business as usual.
Using the few photos
we had taken for our website and some policies we wanted in place we were live
online in the hope of filling our vacant rooms through the booking site without
having to rely so much on good weather to bring the passers by. The booking
site was great, almost immediately receiving bookings along with bank details,
names & addresses. We could also control our ranking position on the site
by tweaking the commission rate we had to pay for each booking, or adjusting
our prices. We suddenly had (or thought we had) total control of how busy we
were. This flexibility of control immediately created a situation which already
existed in a very similar way for years before we arrived on the scene, and
that was when each accommodation had a sign in the window with a price for a
room for the night and other accommodation owners would observe these signs and
display their own sign with a lower price on it. A kind of price war to attract
people to their door. Well, now, at this stage of the evolution and with the
flexibility of control using the online booking site, not only did a price war
continue but also a ranking war with the accommodation owner paying a little
extra in commission to rise above their competitors to appear nearer to the top
of the site’s listings and therefore be seen by more people. OK, everyone who
was using this internet booking revolution was receiving bookings and filling
rooms and you would think this was fantastic, and you’d be correct in a room
filling way, but it did have it’s drawbacks:
1.) The accommodation’s commission bills were spiralling up
in order to get more people booking with them instead of their competitors.
2.) We couldn’t physically see who
was going to arrive, so you didn’t know what to expect or whether the person
arriving would be able to climb stairs for example, or what time they will be
arriving which causes a problem if we wanted to pop out. At least in the on
speck times an accommodation owner could filter out whoever they didn’t like
the look of or who wouldn’t be suitable for the available rooms.
On speck customers would still come to the door and ask for
a room but there were noticeably less and less as time went on. More and more
people were owning computers and didn’t need to spend time walking up and down
looking for somewhere to stay.
4: 2010 saw more booking
sites becoming popular and B&Bs listed themselves on these new sites also,
with the hope of attracting even more people. It didn’t really make much
difference to occupancy levels but as the booking sites were competing with each
other, one of them might appeal to a certain type of customer where another
could appeal to someone completely different through the way they advertised
themselves. Some would give points to people who book through them which if a
booker collected enough points they would receive some kind of reward, or a
free night or something from the booking site and other sites might do
something else, so we had to keep up by being listed on as many sites as we
wanted to. All sounds confusing, I know, but as far as someone wanting to book
a room is concerned, they could just type in the area they wanted to stay in
and a whole abundance of B&Bs would appear across different booking sites along
with prices, pictures, potential rewards, some
policies, and of course *** reviews. (People booking through these sites
have absolutely no idea that the accommodation they are booking, has to pay the
booking site a commission for each room night sold, to be listed on the site).
5: *** Reviews immediately
changed the way any accommodation owner runs his/her business because now,
suddenly, people have been given the power to report back any thoughts about
their stay and are also enabled with the ability to score certain areas of the
accommodation on an ‘available for everyone to see’ platform.
(In days past, if a person enjoyed their stay, they would
return another time and tell family and friends all about it. If they didn’t
enjoy their stay they just wouldn’t return or recommend to anyone.)
These reviews weren’t just placed through the booking sites.
There were also dedicated review sites on which a random person could share
their thoughts on any place they wanted. (A lot of work has been put into this
by the review sites to put a stop to false reviews) The question is, were any
of these reviews beneficial to anyone?
In brief, the reviews along with the scores an accommodation
received were publically displayed for all to see. People could make a
judgement on where to book based on these reviews, so it was important for most
owners to want to receive a good review. A business that regularly received
negative feedback and/or low scores could see where they could improve what
they are offering and adapt to meet the needs of the customers of that time or
else they could lose business. This in general drove the customer experience to
a new level. For example, if cleanliness wasn’t a priority for the owner then
potential customers could read about It and decide they wanted somewhere
cleaner to stay so the reviews were great for highlighting what could be
improved as a business. The same goes for all aspects of accommodation such as
what kind of breakfast was on offer, what other services were provided, what
make of toilet roll was used etc.
(I have another article in process which will delve into the
benefits and pitfalls of reviews)
6: As time carried on
things stayed much the same and the internet presence grew stronger resulting
in people looking for rooms on speck almost disappearing altogether. After a
couple of uncomfortable encounters at the door we decided not to bother using
the vacancy signs in the window and so our own on speck business disappeared.
It seemed the only on speck people had some sort of issue such as being drunk,
or being thrown out of somewhere else, or was obviously high on something, or
had an attitude of some sort. Some owners still use the vacancy signs to this
day and we regularly hear of some of the horrible issues that have been
7: After a couple of years
we’d had enough of paying so much money in commission to the booking sites
(around 8% of our income) so in 2012 we hatched plans to encourage more guests
that had previously booked online to book direct and advertised through our
website the financial benefits of booking direct as we would offer a room for a
lesser price than that on the booking sites. This is difficult because most people who book
a property online think they ARE booking direct. Our endeavours in
this act saw our commission payments cut by 75% whilst retaining a similar
occupancy rate. Other B&B owners have also adopted this practice, but it
also pays to keep advertising through the booking sites to meet new customers,
especially ‘out of season’.
8: So, we’ve started in
July 2008 where we would rely on 70% on speck customers during busy periods
with the remaining 30% being made up from return guests or people that called
directly, and less busy times of the year being hit or miss depending on
weather or if there were people working in the area that needed accommodation,
to Winter 2009 where roughly 66% of B&Bs were now selling rooms through an
online booking site causing occupancy rates to rise during the less busy times
of year as well as filling rooms at busier times.
2009 to 2014 sees the dominance of internet booking sites as
more and more B&Bs (around 90%) list themselves on them which in turn
improved occupancy rates for more owners and the overall quality of customer
experience in Great Yarmouth. Our on speck customers were down to 6% through
2015 to 2018 sees the internet sites still dominant but with
many accommodation owners encouraging direct bookings resulting in less
commission being payed to the sites whilst still being listed in the hope of
encouraging new customers to stay. Our on speck customers had now disappeared.
Of course, even now, 10 years after we arrived there are
still some accommodations that refuse to use the online booking sites. They are
usually the ones that prefer traditional values, don’t want to pay commission, rely
heavily on returning guests, advertise only in the brochure and only open
through the busy times of year so don’t need to fill rooms through less busy
times of year.
I hope you found this
interesting. My next article will be coming soon.
Why is it best for me
to book a UK holiday or break directly? It’s much easier to book online!
As an accommodation
provider I am often asked why we encourage our customers to book direct. The
question derives from the ease of using online booking sites and the impression
that it must be easier all round with neither side having to do much to reserve
a room and receive reservations.
(without question) upload any photos they want to onto an online booking site
to advertise their rooms, add prices to them and create deals to entice people
to book. Simple!
Customers can browse
any accommodations online that they want to, look at the pictures, read the
reviews, look at the advertised facilities & policies and then just click
to book the one they decide on. Simple!
What can go wrong?
Nothing, in a perfect world. But this isn’t a perfect world:
How does someone browsing an online booking site
know that the pictures they see are correct and don’t belong to somewhere else
or have not been stretched or enhanced?
Even if the pictures are correct, how does
anyone know the pictures they are looking at, actually belong to the room they
would like to stay in?
Many bookers assume that a suitable room can be
allocated to them on arrival for example, easy access rooms, larger rooms,
better views etc but when booking most accommodations (unless they have other
available rooms) the room that is booked online is the actual room and the only
one that is available to them. If this booker is the last one to arrive that
day there is no possibility of the room being swapped for another! a.) This can
be a problem if a person requires a walking stick to walk and then has 2 or 3
flights of stairs to climb to get to their room. Accommodations are not obliged, nor have the capacity to indicate
through an online booking site how many stairs lead to the room. b.) You
could be looking forward to a glorious sea view but unknowingly book a room in
the basement instead. The list could go on…
Accommodation providers who advertise through online
sites are usually restricted to advertising generic policies due to having to
have worldwide uniformity which may not necessarily reflect their own policies
exactly such as children’s age limits, check in/out times, deposit details,
single sex parties etc. This can lead to situations where customers could be
turned away after a long journey and still be required to pay for the room.
The accommodations that appear at the top of the
online site’s browsing page aren’t usually the best ones. They’re generally in
that position because of other reasons I will highlight in a bit.
You can regularly see TV advertisements from
online booking sites claiming they will search for the best price by comparing
all other accommodation prices for you. You simply have to enter your dates and
the place you would like to visit, and it’ll filter the results by either their
recommendations, the price or review scores. This isn’t entirely correct
information as none of these sites actually search all accommodations! They
only search for accommodations that are affiliated with them and the searches
for **their recommendations are determined by
extra financial commitment from the accommodation provider. ***There are more online sites that are not affiliated with
the big players so don’t be misled by these claims.
If, within a review posted on a generic online review
site such as TripAdvisor, you read about a particular facility such as homemade
welcome cakes in the room, well stocked hospitality trays, top quality
toiletries etc, don’t assume they will be available to you if you have booked
through an online booking site! Some accommodation providers will provide these
things and some will remove them or replace them with lower quality versions.
I can tell you about these very common issues through my own experience
over the years as an accommodation provider and through my knowledge of some
other people’s experiences in the same profession. There are many more issues I
could cover. (maybe in my next article)
So, this doesn’t
explain why I encourage our customers to book directly so here goes:
When we tell our
customers who ask us this question, they are generally shocked to hear that
when we receive a booking online we are subject to paying the online agent a
fee (often called commission or compensation). This fee is usually a minimum of
15% of the room price. This may be higher for some if they have opted to financially
enhance their ranking on the online sites to be more visible than their
competitors. It is for this reason that accommodations appear in the order they
do when you are looking for somewhere to stay (**their
recommendations). Customers don’t even imagine that there would be a fee
to pay and think that the money they have paid is for the accommodation provider
alone. ***There are some other online sites that
work differently which I’ll talk about later.
When a person books directly they have the
opportunity to talk about any requirements they have regarding mobility or
diets etc, or ask any questions they are unsure about regarding what’s on
offer, such as which room would be best suited for what they want, or about
what’s happening when they want to visit. A whole host of things they can get
off their chest.
Not only does this benefit the person who is
booking a room, it benefits the accommodation owner as they also know what to
expect, how to address the customer, what facilities to have in place, what
sort of vehicle we can look out for at time the customer intends to arrive so
that parking up is a smooth procedure, we can obtain any particular ingredients
beforehand in case you arrive during the evening and it’s too late to buy them
before breakfast. Again, a whole host of things that can be done to enhance a
If a customer books directly, accommodations
obviously then don’t have the minimum 15% fee to pay. This can be used in any
way the accommodation provider wishes such as: A lower room price could be
offered by splitting the otherwise 15% fee between the provider and the
customer, or more can be spent on better quality items such as locally sourced
breakfast ingredients, luxurious toiletries etc, or more facilities can be
added to rooms such as the homemade welcome cakes in the room or all of these
things and more.
The internet is a
fantastic platform to advertise and attract new customers and most accommodation
owners still encourage potential new customers to browse the online sites to
narrow down where they want to stay but rather than pressing that button, they
look for the phone number or email address instead and contact directly for all
the reasons mentioned above.
*** I mentioned some online sites work differently
to the main sites you would come across whilst browsing Google, Yahoo or
whichever browser you use, and these are usually the online sites that are
affiliated with the local tourist authority. They work independently to the
usual big budget sites and are equally as easy to use, if not better as because
of their affiliation with the tourist authorities they also contain information
as to what’s happening in the area. The way the online booking works on these
The accommodation providers that advertise on these sites have paid an annual one off fee to be able to use the site to advertise. This fee also enables the accommodation provider to appear in the holiday guide (formerly called a ‘brochure’) and the availability of rooms is accessible to the tourist authority office to see should anyone call them to ask who has rooms available. (Believe it or not, some people don’t like to use the internet.) There is no other fee for the accommodation provider to pay should someone book a room through this site.
This is why many websites use a link to these sites for people to book online. We use: http://www.guestlink.co.uk to which a link is available on our website.
to this, if an accommodation is annually assessed by ‘Visit England’ or the
‘AA’, depending on the grade, there is a requirement to have a booking facility
on their websites as part of the grading scheme but if the accommodation
provider doesn’t participate in this particular scheme then they would have to
use one of the big budget online sites instead so you may indeed, whilst
looking at a particular accommodation’s website, click on the ‘book now’ button
and find yourself redirected to a big budget online booking site which although
does the job, will cost the accommodation provider more in fees which again
could lead to the issues mentioned in section 1.
got all this information off of my chest, I have to say I have nothing against
any of the online booking sites as they all do a fantastic job in advertising,
generating business and usually making life easier for all those who use them,
but all of this convenience also comes at a premium to all that use them.
you want to be sure about exactly what you are booking in terms of UK
accommodations, you don’t want any nasty surprises when you arrive and also
want the true best price then 1.)
browse online 2.) locate the contact details of the accommodation you like,
then 3.) take the extra couple of minutes to contact them directly.
hope you have found this useful. I have more articles to come.