Opening a B&B in the current economic climate is hard enough, but imagine this scenario: you’ve just moved to a new country and taken over a property, only to discover that it has accumulated a lot of less than glowing TripAdvisor reviews over the years. Somehow, you have to turn it around – and quickly.
That’s the challenge that faced Geoff and Pam Oliver when they became the new owners of the Letchworth Guest House in Weymouth on 25th March this year. They had decided to emigrate from South Africa – where Geoff was the technical director of an electronics company and Pam was an accountant – in 2010. They looked at several properties on the south coast before buying the Letchworth Guest House.
As Geoff admits, with disarming candour, “We had no experience at all as accommodation owners. We wanted to leave South Africa and come to the UK as we have relatives here, but we’re in our fifties, so we knew there was very little chance of anyone giving either of us a job. We needed somewhere to live and a means of earning our living, so we decided to run a guest house.”
Geoff and Pam lived in the Letchworth for two months before taking it over. The practical aspects of doing so – buying new beds, mattresses and linen, as well as installing WIFI – were straightforward enough. But when they looked at the property on TripAdvisor, they got a nasty shock.
“We didn’t know anything about TripAdvisor,” Geoff admits. “There were hundreds of reviews and many of them were awful, complaining mainly about standards of cleanliness.”
Regardless of whether or not this toxic legacy really was merited, Geoff and Pam were suddenly faced with the challenge of somehow erasing it.
“In the end,” says Geoff. “Our lawyers had to send TripAdvisor the land registry details to prove that the previous reviews were nothing to do with us. It was a struggle, but eventually we persuaded them.”
So the Letchworth Guest House embarked on the summer season of 2011 with no guest reviews and a TripAdvisor rating that placed in somewhere near the bottom of 131 B&Bs/Inns in Weymouth. Clearly Geoff and Pam had their work cut out. But they rose to the occasion.
“We didn’t have the luxury, as our competitors did, of restricting ourselves to minimum 3-night stays,” says Geoff. “There were times during the summer when we had single night occupancy in almost every room night after night. You can imagine what that means in terms of keeping rooms tidy and fresh. It was exhausting. But it had one great advantage. There was a big turnover of guests and lots of them put great reviews on TripAdvisor after they’d stayed with us.”
In the space of one summer, the Letchworth Guest House’s fortunes turned round in a remarkable way, thanks to Geoff and Pam’s tireless dedication. It now has 20 uniformly excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and rates an amazing 21 out of 131. Its 79 reviews on Booking.com also earn it a classification of “Superb”.
With the season in Weymouth now over, are Geoff and Pam looking forward to a well-earned rest? Not exactly.
“We’re about to start redecorating the front of the building, which we have to do every five years under the terms of the leasehold,” reports Geoff. So one thing is certain. When the 2012 summer season starts up, the Letchworth Guest House will be looking better than ever.