Summer’s round the corner and if you haven’t made your holiday plans yet, it’s time you did! Whether you’re planning a walking holiday in the Chilterns or a quiet time with a stack of books at Frinton on Sea, think BnB.
The Bed and Breakfast phenomenon is a singularly British one, though it’s available today in many countries around the world. According to the 2015 Traveller’s Choice Awards, four of the top ten BnBs in the world are British.
Where It All Began
History has it that the earliest British BnB was created as a low-cost accommodation for traveling Roman officials who toured their territories and were looking for some local flavor so that they could familiarize themselves with the Ancient Britons! That sounds like a plot for an Asterix comic but the BnB soon evolved into a tradition that allowed middle-class travelers to enjoy a holiday without having to spend a packet on fancy hotel rooms.
Today, BnB is a ₤2 million home-based industry, with nearly 25,000 units offering services all over the UK and so far, travelers have clocked in nearly 50 million nights at BnBs.
What’s Their Appeal?
BnB is really for the leisure traveler and tailored to the holiday-maker life-style. The early ones were run by stony-faced grim landladies who showed you the door the moment you downed your breakfast. But today BnBs have transformed themselves into luxe guest-houses, complete with lacy bed-linen, fragrant towels, flowers in vases, chocolates on the bedside table and spic and span loos to gladden the most OCD of hearts! This is your chance to spend the night at a picture-postcard British country house, with gracious hosts who provide the weary traveler with every convenience he/she wants.
An interesting aspect of BnBs is that they thrive on returnee guests. There are legends of people returning to the same one for more than a quarter of a century, booking themselves in year after year. For business travelers, it’s a change from the standard, anonymous hotel room. Lots of BnBs are located close to cultural hot-spots like Stratford-upon-Avon, seasonal attractions like the Goodwood races or events, festivals etc.
Classic English breakfasts, charming views from the lace-curtained windows, bird-song to greet you and friendly hosts to cater to your needs – that’s a hard combination to beat! Visit England statistics for 2016 have already shown a rise of 2% in BnB occupancy.
To put it in a nutshell, the best kind of BnB offers:
- Personalized service
- Unique add-ons, like a glass of wine, free wi-fi, help with local tourist attractions, dinner reservations etc
- Short break and weekend getaway focus
- Attractive location and house
- Clean and wholesome living spaces
- Home-like atmosphere
- Family-owned and run
- Often in heritage properties
- Fresh, home-cooked meals
- Privacy combined with community experience
- Opportunity to soak in the local atmosphere
- Chance to get to know local people, culture, customs and make friends
The typical BnB guest is educated, middle-class to high income professional, middle-aged, usually a couple and they rely on peer reviews to find a good place. Since it’s an old tradition in the UK, most people are very comfortable in this setting.
For BnB owners, this is the best business to be in during the recession. By 2017, Barclays predicts that people will be spending upwards of ₤17 million on accommodation and home-owners with room to spare would certainly be sitting pretty during hard times.
What You Can Expect
If you’re a first-timer, you may want to look at your expectations of the BnB experience. Is the BnB right for you? Not all of us enjoy personalized services, nor can we relax in a home where we don’t know the hosts well enough. But if you:
- Appreciate an intimate and cozy feel
- Love individualized décor in the bedrooms, quirky touches etc
- Enjoy meeting fellow-travelers over breakfast
- Prefer quiet rural or semi-urban settings
- Are comfortable with the transparent pricing
then this is a great option. But on the other hand, if you’re a business traveler or you:
- Want the amenities that big hotels offer – gyms, spas, pools, room-service
- Prefer privacy, anonymity and security
- Aren’t comfortable or interested in communicating with strangers
- Hate the idea of sharing baths or having guests in adjoining rooms
- Are on a tight budget
- Prefer flexible check-out times
- Want smoking facilities (most BnBs are non-smoking)
- Need the flexibility of last-minute cancellation
then perhaps BnB is not your cup of tea.
How to Find the Perfect BnB Deal
According to VisitBritain the official British tourist website, such is the appeal of BnB that today nearly 41% of the available accommodation in the country is in this sector. This coupled with the trend of taking more frequent, shorter breaks by a new generation of well-traveled, more aware and demanding travelers makes it easy to understand why this is such a booming business today.
However, not all BnBs are created equal! Many an unwary traveler has been lured by glossy stock photos, slick websites, flowery testimonials and clever advertising into picking a BnB that turns your dream holiday into a nightmare trip.
Finding a good deal takes time, effort, lots of reading between the lines, research and patience. And a touch of investigative skills!
So, here are some handy hints to keep in mind while you look for a great BnB deal:
- Location, location! If you’re planning to hike or walk, go sightseeing, sailing, lounge on the beach, take art classes or whatever, pick a BnB that’s close to your destination. That way you save on transportation combined with a comfortable and convenient stay too. Locate your BnB on Google Maps and get the exact configuration so that you can plan the rest of your holiday around this.
- Personal recommendations are your best bet to snapping up a good deal. Good reviews from trusted friends, co-workers or family members who have had a good experience would help you make a better decision.
- Don’t be taken in by dream-deals – amazingly cheap rates, the best of facilities, discounts etc that seem too good to be true are probably just that. Paying cash is risky, so ensure that you are comfortable with their mode of payment, security and confidentiality.
- Know Thyself! Decide what you’re willing to give up and what you’re absolutely not ready to compromise on. If you’re grumpy in the mornings and not a social bird who likes to make polite conversation, this is a no-no. Do you crave valet parking, cocktail lounges and laundry-service? Then this isn’t for you. But if you love a home-away-from-home ambiance, traditional warmth and hospitality, local cuisine and flavors, go for it. Remember the BnB is not a hotel, it’s someone’s home and you’re a guest.
- If you like a little privacy, select a place that has cottages or a separate entrance, with meals served in a separate area. Otherwise, BnB places usually dedicate one or two bedrooms in the house to guests, and meals are shared around the family dining table. Ask about private or shared baths – this could change your rate-plan quite a bit. Bathroom configuration is also important – do they have tubs, showers, etc which are clean and hygienic?
- Security is important. Do they have locks on the doors, a place to store your valuables, extra cash, passports etc if you’re carrying them? Would they give you a key so that you’re free to come and go as you like?
- Read the fine print. Cleaning fees, security deposits etc could be the extras that you may miss in the initial thrill of bagging a good deal. Keep your budget firmly in mind while looking for a BnB. Many BnBs have a minimum two-night policy, especially on weekends. Some places offer special mid-week or off-season rates.
- Another thing that you could look for is BnBs who advertise “no-frills” services. This could mean lesser amenities like no toiletries, fresh towels, bathrobes, hair-dryers, daily turndown services or sprucing up of the rooms. If you’re OK with this, carry your own stuff and save quite a packet that way.
- Check with reputed BnB directories and guides which give you information, reviews and prices. Browse through their website in detail and make a note of the kind of guests they cater to. Would you fit into that profile?
- Call before you book. That way you get more information about the breakfast served, and you can share any dietary concerns or restrictions you have. If you’re planning a long day out, a hearty breakfast can keep you going for most of the day, and you can make do with fruit, soft-drinks, sandwiches or snacks till the evening meal, which means big savings. Ask about the breakfast routine, timings and typical food choices. Some places serve made-to-order, while others have buffets or family-style, breakfast-in-bed or Continental options.
- Don’t shy away from asking lots of questions. Who, Where, What, Why, When and How are your best friends when you’re planning a holiday, so get them to work for you!
- Check about parking facilities. You could save money if they offer free parking and snacks. Most BnB hosts offer fresh home-made cake, cookies, or a wine-hour with hors d’oeuvres in the evenings, free use of their DVD movie or music collection for guests to enjoy.
- Some BnBs offer discounts, room upgrades, disabled access, garden access, dinner available, holiday freebies or free tickets to local events, shows and entertainment spots.
- Look for reviews on-line. The ‘Net is a mine of information and you’re sure to find something about your BnB that could be helpful in making a decision either way.
- Ask about pets. If you’re a pet-lover and want your little doggy, kitty or pet parrot along, you’re happy if they’re welcome too. However, if you’re a pet-hater and the BnB allows pets, there goes your lovely vacation!
Tips for First-timers
Most of us are familiar with the do’s and don’ts at hotels, but a BnB is quite different and it’s meant to be! If this is your first BnB, you’re in for a unique, fun, affordable and authentic experience. As a guest, there are some things that you could do to make the stay memorable, comfortable and enjoyable.
- When calling ahead to book, try not to call during breakfast time. This is probably the busiest time for your hosts.
- Treat your room, the property, artifacts and accessories carefully as you would in your own home.
- Respect the home-owners’ privacy. It’s a private home so follow the rules you have in your own home. Knock before you enter, keep your things tidy.
- They’re not servants – they’re providing a service that you pay for. Many are retired professionals, who are in this business for the sheer love of it.
- Reserve early.
- Remember you’re a guest and it’s only polite to be friendly, make conversation and enjoy the interaction.
- If you’re celebrating a special event, let your hosts know. They could provide something special to add to the sparkle!
- When you have children or seniors with you, make sure that their needs are conveyed to your hosts.
- Lots of BnB hosts are happy to pack picnic sandwiches or snacks for a little extra, if you make advance requests.
- If you damage something, or spill liquids on carpets, sheets, etc let your host know immediately so that they can take care of it.
- Keep conversation topics neutral – which means don’t discuss politics, religion or sex round the family dining table!
- Many BnB hosts are highly-educated, cultured, professionals who have interests and hobbies of their own – that means conversations can be all the more interesting and wide-ranging.
- Tipping is not generally required. If you’d like to tip house-keepers or cleaning staff, get your host’s permission first. Keep the cash in an envelope and label it clearly.
Now that you have the lowdown on BnBs, all you need to do is pack your bags and get set for an exciting, comfortable, pleasant and satisfying mini-break! And if you found it delightful, make sure you come back for more!