Feeling Reflective – Wednesday 16th March

I am into the second week of being at home and feeling better as each day passes. I started training this morning to get myself back into being mobile but before doing so, a girlfriend came over yesterday morning and went and got me a pair of Asics Trainers to help my balance from Sweaty Betty in the Northcote Road.  They are the most expensive pair of trainers I’ve ever bought, but they are very comfortable and I feel confident in them.  I also took my first steps without crutches or a Zimmer today so am feeling quite elated, still a long way to go but it’s a start.  To make up for my lack of mobility I have been reading for several hours a day – newspapers, magazines and books on hospitality. 

Having started my B&B nearly 23 years ago, when I was purely renting rooms to language students and men and women working in London during the week – I realise now how lucky I was that I had a steady stream of work.  I didn’t have to compete with Travel Lodges or Premier Inns at every tube station, I was one of the few places in the suburbs that someone could get an affordable and clean place to stay.  I did however move with the times and kept ahead of how I saw the market changing.  I was fortunate enough to invest in my home and become a boutique B&B in 2009, with each guest room having its own ensuite or private bathroom.

With the rise of the huge OTA platforms more recently I have seen the market completely flooded with rooms, all of varying standards and prices, which has turned the industry that I am passionate about, into turmoil.  Especially this year.  It has been financially the worst three months in 23 years.  Our boutique B&B at Parklands is a gem of a place, but I can’t compete with the advance booking prices of Travelodge or Premier Inn, nor can I compete with a room on Airbnb for £20.00.  They have their place, of course, but I don’t feel either offers true hospitality in abundance.

I have worked in hospitality all my life.  I have crafted my skills over two decades, I have mentored many hosts in their homes and am now in a situation where I’m wondering how we will survive.  I’m thankful for my regulars, who account for at least 30% of my turnover.  With the industry in this state of flux, it has never been so important that each and every guest who walks through my door is touched by the personal service that we provide at Parklands.  This level of service and professionalism will no doubt be the way I survive this tsunami that has the industry, and I know many others like myself who have been running successful B&B’s for a decade or longer, are finding themselves in the same position.

So where is the industry going? Looking ahead over the short term, I feel that self-catering is king.  I have never seen so many apartments where you can just rent for one night, instead of a week or month, in such central locations.  These are obviously ideal for families or the business traveller that wants to attend meetings and go back to a space and work where everything is to hand.  I visited several of these places a few years back with Chris and was most impressed.  They had been offices converted into studios and apartments, and they were of a five star standard.  I can’t really blame a defection to self-catering, as tastes change and industries evolve. 

I do feel that the words B&B have been stolen by the hotel industry and we need to reinvent the B&B guest house and truly set ourselves apart from the cheap hotels and OTA platforms.  I believe that professional, experienced hosts like myself provide an essential part of the market, and it is the face to face interaction that sets us apart.  We get to know our guests, we provide a warm welcome, a friendly environment, a comfortable, clean and relaxing place to lay your head, and a delicious and plentiful breakfast the next morning.  This is what I call hospitableness.