We spoke to James from Manor Farm B&B in Wiltshire who was the ultimate winner of The Outstanding Host at the recent eviivo awards to see how they felt about winning and to pick up some helpful tips.
Did you enjoy the awards night?
It was absolutely fantastic and it was a delight to be there. Everybody running a bed and breakfast or a small accommodation place spends an awful lot of time in the evenings doing exactly that, welcoming guests and being a host, so we very rarely get out, and to go to an amazing event at the Café du Paris, was just amazing. We never get to do that, so it was fantastic.
How does it feel to win the outstanding host award?
It’s amazing, it’s such an honour. Everybody, it’s not just us, everybody in this business just works so hard, tries really hard and tries to give the guest a good experience. When you put your heart into it, it’s like somebody has given us official recognition that we’re doing a good job and people are happy. It was wonderful to be a finalist, we were so delighted and actually winning was wonderful – it was just the icing on the cake. And we’ve been on the radio three times now, BBC Wiltshire followed us from when we became finalists to winners.
What do you think winning awards like this does to help?
It’s really good for you as proprietors, it really boosts your energy and enthusiasm. It gives you something really positive to talk about and to set you apart. The fact that we are award winners now, gives us something to make a press release about, we’ve been on the radio, we’ve been in the local newspapers several times and we’ve even been mentioned in The Sun newspaper – that’s all very good for a business.
Can you tell us more about your property?
My wife’s family have farmed here since 1885. We are the 6th generation to live and work here. My wife’s mum opened the B&B about 25 years ago, in a low key way, they had a room spare and someone saw the sign that she had put on the side of the road; and she offered them a room for the night. When we had the opportunity to move in to the farmhouse, we started to do the B&B seriously, really to supplement the farm income – which anyone in farming would know is pretty meagre at the moment. So we seriously upgraded everything and got an online presence and started working with eviivo. We’ve only got 3 rooms, but it’s lovely old farmhouse with beams and full of character. It’s also a family home, that’s been a family home for generations. So there’s very much a feel that you’re staying in somebody’s home. A lot of people say it’s like a home from home.
What do you do to make sure that you stand out?
We do a lot of promotion online, with the online travel agents and so on, I think the single biggest thing is the initial photograph that people see of the property. I know at eviivo you keep saying that your photos are really important but it’s that first photo. As people are scrolling down looking through, all they get is a name, a place and a photo. If that photo doesn’t jump out at you, you’re gone, they will just scroll past. We are very lucky that we have a pretty and attractive farmhouse and not everyone is able to provide that. You may need to be creative, if your property doesn’t stand out. That initial photo is just really important.
How do you go the extra mile for your guests?
That’s an interesting question. We don’t do anything in particular like putting chocolates on the bed for everybody or anything like that. But what we do do is give of ourselves. We’ve got quite traditional values, we’re genuine and honest, down to earth and we try very hard to (well it’s very easy actually) to make a connection with our guests, and to chat with them. If people are chatty and friendly we will welcome them with friendliness and honesty into our home, kind of as a friends. We’ve just had some fabulous guests it has been like a party. It hasn’t felt as if they are paying guests, and when they leave there is this awkward ‘oh now we have to pay you.’ It almost feels uncomfortable. I prefer it when people pay online, so that you can just wish them well on their journey and not recognise that they are paying guests.
Do you have any funny guest stories you can share with us?
Oh goodness me, we have a lot of funny guest moments. Some I couldn’t repeat to you. One day I was out racking the gravel and I was expecting some Australian guests. Their names stuck in my mind because it was Bruce and Shelia. So I was outside and a car pulled up in the middle of the afternoon and the guy wound down the window and he shouted good day mate in an Australian accent. So I thought ah Australian guests, and said you must be Bruce and he said ‘yeah I’m Bruce.’ So he introduced me to his wife Sheila and I thought fantastic our guests have arrived. I welcomed them and took their bags, and we were walking up to the room and then he said something that made me think that perhaps he hadn’t made a prior booking. It transpired that he had driven along the road, seen our sign and called in. It wasn’t actually the Bruce and Shelia that we were expecting. We very nearly had the wrong people checking in. So we had to find them somewhere else to stay because we were full.
To read more customer stories click here.