From opening to "Best B&B in the World"
with a little help from the
World publicity, and booked up for a year in four days
- B&B Association Member Sue Burrell
of Millgate B&B, Masham, North Yorkshire tells her story
"I would recommend the Bed & Breakfast Association to anyone as one of the most cost effective tools for an accommodation provider"
Andrew and I had worked in the hospitality and catering industry, but we did not have experience of the accommodation sector. When we decided to turn our lovely home into a B&B, our local Business Link recommended contacting the Bed & Breakfast Association. I looked over their website, joined the Association and ordered their marvellous publication "How to start and run a Bed & Breakfast".
The subtitle 'All you need to know to make money from your dream property' is true, and I re-read sections from time to time to refresh my memory. This book really set the standard for our business, and Louise and David Weston deserve the highest praise. I do not believe we would have been as successful in business without their guidance - thank you!
Millgate B&B opened its doors for the first time in Spring 2012. Soon we were awarded an EnjoyEngland Breakfast Award. Thanks to the Bed & Breakfast Association we were able to go from a steady trickle of guests to a flood of bookings, as we joined a national newspaper promotion organised by the Association.
The campaign guaranteed national advertising in return for a heavily discounted rate for readers. We joined, and were lucky to have Millgate featured as the main picture on all the advertising. We took over £2,500 in advance bookings in just 14 days. The rate was very low and we just covered costs - but we gained loads of really useful feedback from the guests and they also gave us reviews on TripAdvisor, rating us 100% Excellent.
This encouraged new visitors to book at the full room rate. We soon found ourselves with 85% occupancy in our first six months! TripAdvisor has been the best way of encouraging guests to book, and we built up a strong base of repeat bookings.
In February 2013 after 10 months in business, we were voted 23rd best B&B in Europe and 15th in the UK in TripAdvisor's Awards. In 2014 we reached the World "top ten".
Sometime in January 2015 I answered the telephone to James Kay from TripAdvisor, who said "Remember me from last year? You won an award as one of the Top 10 B&B's in the world. Well, this year we have a special award for you".
I thought he was talking about my scones. You see, every new guest arriving at our B&B is greeted with freshly baked scones in their room - and most of our reviews on TripAdvisor since we had started just two years 10 months previously had mentioned our scones.
I waited. "You have been voted TripAdvisor's number 1 B&B in the world" he said. "But you cannot tell anyone". "Can I tell my husband?" I whimpered. "I think you probably will have to tell your husband" said James. I could tell he was smiling as he said that, and I began to cry.
The next few days were just a blur. James telephoning to book in journalists from the national press. BBC Radio and TV, ITV, local press reporters, Press Association photographers and cameramen were all booked - in total secrecy - to be ready for the day the news was to be announced to the world at the end of January 2015.
We had to stand in the little lane outside our home shaking bottles of sparkling wine (not champagne!) whilst photographers said "Just one more" for hour upon hour. Tourists passing in the street were curious and I am sure that our neighbours must thought we were lottery winners as we stood together for the TV cameraman.
We stood in the cold for over six hours and learnt that once a bottle of fizz has been shaken, there is about half a bottle left. We drank the best part of half of the four bottles used, as we had had neither food nor drink, and at 6pm when the last photographer had left I told Andrew that I was not able to cook dinner and that we should eat out. I was by this stage twinkling after drinking on an empty stomach.
One crown gained - another lost
When we arrived at The Bruce Arms in Masham it was Steak Night. Two steaks with all the trimmings and a bottle of wine for a bargain price. After weaving our way home, Andrew opened another bottle and I was just about to take a slurp when I missed my mouth and hit my front teeth with the glass and knocked off a porcelain crown which hit the terracotta tiles in the kitchen and shattered like a Ming vase. "Oh Crikey, we have got Telly again tomorrow" were my last words that night.
Four bookings a minute
The following morning the news of our award was announced to the world at 05.00 hours UK time. The first booking came in at 05.09, and after Chris Evans began telling everyone to book Millgate B&B the bookings were coming in at the rate of four a minute. We had BBC Radio York broadcasting live from 6 am from our home.
I was on the telephone doing radio interviews about our award from as far away as Cambodia. We had to unplug our telephone as it was ringing constantly and I couldn't take the bookings fast enough. We relied on Freetobook for over a month to take the bookings for us as we had 1,427 email enquiries on the first day alone. We were booked up for almost the full year in just four days in January.
I was still worrying about filming for TV (This Morning) later in the day without being able to smile because of my missing tooth, when I received a text from my dentist asking for a shout out on Radio for the surgery. I said “OK, as long as you do a temporary crown for me by 12 o’clock today”. And so it was that I grinned like a Cheshire cat for the cameras later that day!
I wish the winners for 2016/2017 (an Italian B&B, Casa Portagioia) all the very best and hope that they have an on-line booking system like ours to take the strain. Booking.com bookers reported taking days to try to make a booking as hundreds were searching for any odd vacancies. Some guests even wrote letters, as they were not able to contact us any other way.
With hindsight, I wish we had booked some days off for ourselves as we only had seven days off until the following October.
240 million audience? No, thanks!
CNN wanted to come over in March to make a film about us. We only had one day off in March, and the next break was two days off in May. They said they had a global audience of 240 million and that the film would be shown in eight regions over a period of a year. I turned down their kind offer (much to the consternation of TripAdvisor, who wanted the extra publicity for their awards).
As I said to Andrew at the time, we would never have been able to have our telephone plugged in as there were so many time zones, calls would have been coming in 24 hours a day. Although on the upside, I am able to say I turned down CNN, which sounds very flash!
I would recommend the Bed & Breakfast Association to anyone as one of the most cost effective tools for an accommodation provider. We continue to find useful contacts and read about Industry trends so that we can stay one step ahead. We are very happy in our new business venture - but we couldn't have done so well without a little help from our friends.
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The article above appears in the March 2013 issue of Bed & Breakfast News, the Association's member magazine.
Millgate's website is at millgate-masham.co.uk
How to Start and Run a Bed and Breakfast
"If you're thinking of buying a B&B or you've just started in one..buy it.
Solid advice, well written, good, up to date info especially on marketing"
The Times Online, Book Review
This book is written by Bed & Breakfast Association Chief Executive David Weston and his wife Louise, and is based on their own experiences starting and running their 4-star B&B in Dorset, and on David's 20 years' experience in travel and tourism.
To go to the authors' website, click here.