The Rise Of UK Hotel Chains

Millions of British people will have experienced bed and breakfast accommodation at some point in their lives and most will know that the stereotypical days of strict landladies, nylon sheets and clunky plumbing are over. Thankfully, the dated establishments and mediocre service of the good old 'B&B' have been refurbished with a more attractive, competitive approach.

Bed & Breakfasts and guest houses originally proliferated in places where the working classes took their holidays, largely British seaside resorts, although they also became firm favourites with business travellers, and many are still going strong. However, changes in the hotel market over recent years have sounded what many see as the death knell for countless Bed & Breakfast establishments throughout the country.

Although Britain's B&B's continually strive to offer value for money, they are rarely able to compete with the relative newcomers to the market - the UK hotel chains. With the advent of these chains came the beginning of a new era. Holiday-makers and business travellers alike were suddenly offered fresh choices. En suite became the affordable norm, rather than a facility only for those with bigger budgets, pushing the shared bathrooms of many a Bed & Breakfast into the shade.

In a bid to win over former guests of B&Bs whilst also tempting those accustomed to staying in more up-market hotels, the UK hotel chains began a huge campaign to cut prices whilst still delivering high levels of service. Two chains in particular, currently accounting for around 60% of the budget hotel market between them, are engaged in fierce competition to be the market leader. In 2008 one of these chains opened, on average, a new hotel every nine days, bringing its total to over 350, whilst its rival trumped it, claiming more than 530, including several in high-profile locations.

Price is the key factor in the budget hotel chain market. Whilst the Bed & Breakfast can offer a warm welcome, local knowledge and a double room for around 50 GB pounds per night, it has struggled in the price war of recent years, unable to compete on a regular basis with the UK hotel chains' special offers and advance booking tariffs. Their growing corporate power means that, although average room prices match those of Bed & Breakfasts, the budget hotels are able to cut prices for advance bookings by around 50% and guests able to book well in advance can often enjoy even greater savings.

Those travelling in small groups, especially with children, can take advantage of the family rooms often available in custom-built budget hotels. Again, the Bed & Breakfast has struggled to compete, as many B&Bs are traditional houses, where space for extra beds in a room is generally not an option. Budget hotels often incorporate sofa beds and are paid for by room, allowing a family to stay for the same price as a couple.

Furthermore, in 2007 revised regulations were introduced, demanding stringent new standards. Many B&Bs could no longer advertise in their local accommodation publications if they were unable to meet these.

For many guests, in particular the business traveller, swift check-in and check-out are important. With UK hotel chains, securing special offer rates by paying online in advance makes for a speedy check-in, plus no need to check-out. Taking this concept a stage further, one chain has already introduced self-check-in at five of its hotels across the UK. However, guests opting for Bed & Breakfast establishments need to read the small-print about checking in and out.

As B&Bs are often run alongside the owners' domestic arrangements, many are unable to allow check-in before late afternoon and then require check-out mid-morning. Again, because of their corporate domestic teams, the UK hotel chains are able to offer a broader timescale and guests are generally welcomed early/mid afternoon and not required to check out until midday.

There can be no doubt that the arrival of budget hotels has dealt a hefty blow to the Bed & Breakfast trade. In spite of the current economic climate, one particular budget chain is continuing to push forward with its development programme, opening a further 36 hotels this year alone.

With new hotels arriving in such firm favourites as Blackpool, Scarborough and Bournemouth, the humble seaside Bed & Breakfast is finding it even harder to compete. Yet the British B&B will always have it followers, resisting the temptation of the budget hotel in favour of the Full English and chatty check-out, happy to ignore any strange noises from the taps!

Written by Glynis Charlton for Cheap Hotel Chains


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