There’s a new threat on the horizon for owners of B&Bs, Guesthouses and other independent accommodation providers. The UK’s main budget hotel chains – Premier Inn and Travelodge – are planning to move aggressively into developing much smaller properties (20 – 40 rooms) in unusual locations such as pubs, defunct cinemas, office buildings, snooker halls, retail outlets, business parks and even derelict buildings. The impetus for Travelodge’s concept – dubbed “Metro” – comes from its purchase last year of 52 Innkeeper’s Lodges. The aim is to open 100 “Metro” hotels by 2020 and Travelodge’s Chief Executive has said that, “there’s an opportunity for us to put a Travelodge at every Tube station.” Meanwhile, Premier Inn is heading down an equivalent path, opening hotels of about 40 rooms in similarly non-traditional sites.
Scary stuff? Only if you believe that travellers are unable to distinguish between the antiseptic environment of a Travelodge/Premier Inn – where room design and layout are identical across the entire chain – and the friendly atmosphere and personalised service of a B&B or Guesthouse. After all, would you want to stay in a property that’s part of an office building or an old snooker hall when you could stay in someone’s home? Would you want to step out the following morning into a pedestrianised shopping precinct when you could be in a pleasant area of a city where people actually choose to live? Premier Inn has admitted that its new, small properties won’t even have restaurants. Surely the choice between a home-cooked meal – prepared using fresh local produce, perhaps from the property’s own garden – and a supermarket sandwich smuggled into your room isn’t hard to make?
Some might argue that business travellers will be more likely to book one of these new-style Travelodges or Premier Inns in the interests of convenience and efficiency. But an increasing number of B&B owners report that business travellers stay with them precisely because of the contrast they offer from the impersonal world of the office. True, a budget hotel in a business park might be situated closer to where a business guest is actually working, but would you want to stay in such a soulless environment after a hard day? Most people value the separation of home and office in their day-to-day lives; why would they feel differently when they’re on the road?
People relate to people; they appreciate the personal touch; they appreciate a friendly environment. As long as their rates remain competitive, owners of B&Bs and Guesthouses can easily see off this incursion into their field by the large chains.