It led me to reflect on my own experience of staying in hotels and guest houses around Britain over the years. The general standard has certainly greatly improved, and the horrors of Fawlty Towers are now a thing of the past. A factor in this has been the abandonment of evening meals by most mid-range establishments, given the growth in the choice and quality of restaurants. That was a prime opportunity for getting things wrong. Chain hotels such as Premier Inn and Travelodge have also had a huge impact, by providing a consistent standard, that may never rise above the good side of adequate, but virtually never plumbs the depths.
However, an independent guest house is still better if you can find a good one – in particular I remember staying in Perth in 2010 at the Dunallan Guest House which was impossible to fault in any way. You will also tend to get a far better cooked breakfast in an independent. But it can be difficult to sort the sheep out from the goats, whereas with a Premier Inn you know what you are going to get. I can also tell some horror stories about B&Bs, such as when you realise that, despite it looking good on paper, you’re the only guest and the owner is a bit of a nutter.
In the past, you would look in the AA handbook or some other guide, or get a printed brochure from the local council, and look through the list of establishments to find some that met your requirements and were within your price range. Then you would ring a few up to see if any had rooms available. Now it’s all done on the Internet, which has many advantages, but can mean that independent places struggle for attention. Maybe they need to look at better self-promotion strategies.
These are a few suggestions I would make to hotel and guest house operators based on my experience, some minor niggles, some important. I’m sure Martin Taylor will have some thoughts on this, as he has far more extensive experience of British guest accommodation than I do.
- Provide a hook to hang coats and jackets either on the back of the door or – if that is felt to conceal the fire escape instructions – close by.
- Make sure the shower works, and it’s obvious how it does work. In the last (generally very good) hotel I stayed in, the knob selecting the flow between the taps and shower came off in my hand. In another, I got into the shower and then realised I had no idea how the controls worked. And why is it still beyond the wit of man to design a shower where temperature and flow can be controlled independently?
- Rooms in modern blocks without air conditioning often lack natural ventilation and can get uncomfortably stuffy even when the weather isn’t particularly hot.
- TV remotes – they’re not all of a standard pattern, and the functions are often far from obvious. I’ve had to call reception for an explanation more than once.
- Storage space – many hotel rooms have woefully little room to store clothes and other items. If you’re staying for several days you’re really not going to want to keep all your stuff in your suitcase.
- Efficient wi-fi is now a general expectation, so make sure it reaches all rooms and is free, fast and reliable. For a long time, Premier Inn held out against free wi-fi, until it became the overwhelming cause of customer complaints. Yes, I have defended traditional pubs that don’t provide wi-fi, but it’s not acceptable in a guest house or hotel, particularly one targeted at business customers.
- Premier Inn self-service breakfasts are generally OK, with the exception of the ridiculously slow and unpredictable manual toasters. That lets down the whole experience, and can be embarrassing if, like me, you’re a lover of burnt toast.
- Provide Marmite along with the jams at breakfast. Fortunately more places now seem to do this.
- Bacon needs a bit of cooking. It isn’t acceptable to serve it up virtually raw.
- Unless you’re in a city centre, most guests will be arriving by car and expecting onsite parking. Don’t be coy about what you can offer – it’s better to be honest rather than leaving people uncertain. If you’re in a dense urban location it may be reasonable to charge extra for parking, but if you’re on an out-of-town retail park it’s just taking the piss. Travelodge, I’m looking at you.
- Unless you’re operating at the very bottom end of the market, nobody’s interested any more in rooms without a private shower (at least) and WC. If you’re an independent guest house and still offer them, either get them converted or take them out of use. This should be taken as read.
No, it is not illegal to smoke in hotel bedrooms, so please stop pretending it is. Obviously “my gaff, my rules” applies, but you do have to question whether it amounts to discrimination when all the large chains choose to impose a blanket policy. If you’re concerned, you could try looking at http://smokinghotel.co.uk/