Before running Adcote House – a four-star guest house in Llandudno, North Wales, I spent some 30 years running international tour operators, holiday businesses and large scale accommodation providers, as well as involvement in tourist boards and professional bodies. I guess I could best sum things up as after having spent 30 years telling people how to do it, I thought I should put theory into practice!
Where previous experience helped is, firstly, in recognising that guests (they are never “punters” or “consumers”) always come first, and one should always go the extra distance to ensure they have a great experience. This means ensuring every aspect of their stay is as good as it can be, and that one goes out the way to make their stay memorable – whether that is personal information about local tourist attractions or the best place to park in a busy destination, or helping someone retrieve a lost mobile phone or returning an item left behind after a stay. Guests are the best marketing tool an accommodation provider has…and, of course, they also pay all the bills!
The second thing is having the discipline and desire to fully understand every aspect of the business. When we were looking to purchase an accommodation business, I was staggered at how few owners knew the performance of their business..whether that’s occupancy levels or the cost of breakfast…as well as wider tourism trends. I find lots of people complain about travel websites because they don’t take the trouble to understand how they can make them work for their property. In today’s fast moving and switched on travel industry, sitting back and expecting business to beat a path to your door is never going to be successful.
What do you think the secret is to standing out against the competition?
There are two elements to this, but come back to something that people will have heard about, but is absolutely true – your Unique Selling Proposition. What is it that makes you different from everyone else? As I say, I believe, for running a B&B, there are two elements. Firstly, what is it about your business offering that makes it different; and secondly, what is it about you that brings a difference. In both cases you have to look at things from a guest point of view – what you think might be special isn’t always what a guest thinks is special. Guests like really quirky things that reflect the local area, or the flavour of the establishment…something that gives them a special experience, not just a stay. This can be difficult to get over in describing an establishment, so make use of photographs and reviews. These tell the story from another point of view. Another point is that people are increasingly assuming that some aspects of their stay are automatically included…they become hygiene factors – things that they expect to find, like clean rooms, fresh linen, and so forth. So, for example, having free wi-fi is increasingly expected. Things like this then stop becoming stand-out items…which is why you can never stand still. Today’s USP is tomorrow’s standard item.
What would you say is the most important thing about running a B&B?
As I have highlighted, a key thing is that you can never stand still. You have to have a handle on your business. Which rooms sell well, how far in advance do guests book and are there periods therefore that aren’t selling as well as they should? What is happening in the local area that you could use to create interest? Are there opportunities with events, or activities, or working with other tourism attractions that can fill any spaces. Business generally will not beat a path to your door…you need to be out there and make it easy for them to find you. Therefore you also have to remember that we are all part of a worldwide tourism industry, and our guests are influenced by everything they see and hear about. So keep up to date with what is happening, what are the latest trends, what are your competitors doing, what activities are the local tourist board up to? This doesn’t mean you have to use or do everything, or immediately buy the latest technology or fashion item…but seeing what is happening in the market means you can adjust and manage your business pro-actively (rather than reactively) and maximise every business opportunity. As a final point, I’d also say, put a plan together – five years at a time. This can help you think about what major works or refurbishments are needed and when (with relevant financial implications), allowing you to manage those things should a sudden problem come up (which we all know they do!). It also means you can plan your exit strategy when you come to sell the business…ensuring your business and your establishment is in good shape and presented well to prospective purchasers.
However, despite all this, I think the most important thing is by far to ensure that you have fun and enjoy your business. Where else can we meet people from all walks of life, from all over the world and enjoy their company? If it’s not being fun for you, then you need to rethink your life.
What’s the most memorable B&B moment you’ve had running your own business?
We have had a fair number of memorable moments since we unlocked the door on our first day. These have included achieving our Green Tourism and Green Key accreditations as we’ve moved the business to be more sustainable. But to date, I think it has been seeing guests come back time and time again…enjoying themselves and the wonderful locations and attractions that we have around us here in Llandudno and North Wales. We have seen the number of overseas visitors grow substantially, and it is always a pleasure to welcome them and help them get the best out of visiting this part of the world – providing those little nuggets of local information that adds that little extra to a stay. In fact we don’t have a single memorable moment – we have thousands of memorable moments that our guests have provided. And we take great joy in that…because we know we’re in the best industry, in the best part of the world, in a great business.
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