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“The Curse of the OTAs”

I’ve sat on this blog post for some time but I now feel that it’s time to publish … the message is simple …. please, please, please book direct! Not just for my sake but for any B&B (or hotels, cottages etc) that you’re thinking of visiting. Why? Let me list some really good reasons:

What are OTAs?

OTAs (online travel agents) have been around for a while now. I’ll not give any of them the additional publicity of naming them but they’re the ones that have the flash adverts on the TV, always advertise that they have the best rates and list all different types of accommodation providers on their swanky websites.

I only advertise with one of them so can only base my comments/prices/experiences in this blog from that. Others may be better or worse and my comments only refer to “B&Bs” although hotels, cottages, etc also advertise on their websites.

What do OTAs do?

For the B&B owner: For a fee, you can advertise your B&B business on their website.

For the public: they promise the best prices, everything in one place, free booking, free cancellation, etc. etc. etc. Slick apps allow customers to book on the go and have complete control of their bookings.

That’s great isn’t it?

For the customer, yes (up to a point), for the B&B industry, no!

So what are the problems?

  • Commission: 
    • They charge B&B owners a standard 15% commission … although they will accept up to 50% commission if you want to be at the top of the searches on their website!!
    • That’s good … 85% of a booking is better than 100% of nothing!
    • I don’t mind paying 15% on the bookings that I receive … although for many years, the industry standard commission was 10% from other websites … other websites that no longer exist because the OTAs have basically put them out of business.
    • Don’t forget that it’s 15% of the ENTIRE booking so if you book a room for £75 and wonder if it’s worth £75 don’t forget that the B&B owner actually only receives £63.75 and if you book for four nights at £75 per night, the owner pays commission on all four nights which is £45 of your money and the owner’s profit straight to the OTA!!
    • I, like many, have had to increase my standard rate to compensate for this loss of revenue.
    • End result: you are paying more by booking through an OTA, the B&B owner is receiving less for their hard work, the OTAs are raking it in!
  • Free cancellation:
    • They say that ‘nothing in life is free’ … for the customer, in this case, that’s perhaps not entirely correct, but the cancellations are financially crippling B&B owners.
    • Let’s just say that you book a single night in mid July … three days before you are due to stay, you decide to cancel because your husband gets a puppy (I’m ripping that off from one of the OTAs own TV advertisements!!) If you had a “free cancellation” policy then you’re fine! The B&B owner of the other hand is not. In three days they are unlikely to fill the bed space resulting in a loss of revenue. It may also be that because you’ve had the bed booked, someone else couldn’t book so the owner may have missed out on a more lucrative booking. We accept that is going to happen but when the one-nighter cancels is disheartening. Why should the B&B owner be out of pocked because you decide to cancel at short notice? I was also speaking to a B&B owner just last week who has a week-long booking for July. The booker said she’s only booked a week because she wants to be ‘flexible’ … read into that what you will but I know for a fact that the booker will cancel some/most of the days staying just one or two nights depending upon how her travel plans progress leaving the B&B owner with a room that they’ll struggle to fill at very short notice.
    • I, like many now, have changed my cancellation policy. I’ve just changed it to a strict 14 day policy (although I’m thinking of changing it again to a 30 day policy… the OTA I’m with won’t let me do anything in between or actually even a non-refundable deposit). If people don’t pay 14 days before arrival then I’m thinking of cancelling their reservations. That at least, will give me 14 days to try to fill the vacancy.
    • If you’re not the sort of person who cancels on a whim then you may be wondering why this is an issue: approx. 40% of all OTA bookings that I’ve received this year have cancelled and the situation is getting worse. In all of the years that I’ve been doing B&B only about 1 or sometimes 2 bookings made direct through my website are cancelled per year!!
    • Also consider the fact that processing bookings takes time … and processing cancellations also takes time … doing it so many times is really annoying. What was even more annoying last week was altering an exiting booking from two nights to three nights … then for the booker to cancel the booking entirely two days later!!
    • Result: I haven’t yet come to a conclusion who is most disadvantaged by this situation yet although the customer is fine just now. However, given the general feeling among B&B owner friends that I’ve been chatting to, customers are soon going to find it harder and harder to find accommodation that will not take non-refundable deposits to cut down on cancellations.
  • Booking deposits and cancellation fees:
    • The OTA that I’m with very kindly offer to take deposits for me if I’d like them to but I can’t have the money until the 15th of the following month! So if you book on the 1st July I’ll get my payment on the 15th of August!
    • The OTAs also don’t seem to always check credit cards either … a fellow B&B owner had a cancellation for a week-long booking last summer only a few days before the customer was due to arrive. As it was within the cancellation period, they used the credit card details to claim the money due only to find that the card was declined so got nothing.
    • I’m thankful that my own booking system super checks all cards.
    • When I first joined up with my OTA and a guest cancelled within the cancellation period, they would phone me up asking me if I would allow the guest to cancel free of charge. Now, the customer just clicks a button and I have to deal with it all.
    • Result: again a mixed conclusion although as I never used to take deposits and accepted payment when staying I’d say that the customer is going to be disadvantaged in the long run.
  • Lowest prices:
    • You know those TV adverts that bemoan the fact that there are so many prices out there for the same hotel room? Have you ever wondered why there are so many prices? If everyone booked direct, there would be only one price (I’m stretching the truth here to make a point) however, because different companies charged different commission rates, hotels etc added the commission to the basic room rate so that they weren’t out of pocket. This resulted in different rates for rooms depending upon where they were advertised. On the whole, the B&B/hotel owner therefore received the same amount of money for the room regardless of where it was booked.
    • The OTAs caught on to this and now, when you sign up to advertise on their website, they insist that they always have the lowest (or the same rate) as anywhere else. This means that I can’t advertise lower rates on my own website although I do always ensure that I have “Owner’s Special Deals” which are acceptable.
    • Result: the customer will always find the best price on OTAs because all the prices are the same … but they’re the same higher price because of the commission. Tip: book direct and ask for a discount!
  • Google rankings:
    • Five or six years ago all of my bookings came via my own website or one of a handful of other websites that I chose to advertise on most of which no longer exist. Today, only about 20% of my business is made up of direct bookings and return guests.
    • Today, if you search for “Balkissock Lodge B&B” on Google you’d be hard pushed to find it on the first page. The OTAs use my commission money (that you pay) to grease the metaphorical hand of Google so that they always appear at the top of all of the searches meaning that even if you’re specifically looking for me, you will find that the top listings will all be OTAs!
    • In addition, that annoying review website (the one in green that everyone uses) seems to have done a deal with one of the OTAs so that the review website no longer has a link on their website to my website and they no longer list my price from Freetobook but instead only the OTAs prices automatically show meaning that even when you find me on their site and are interested, you’re still directed, not to me, but to one of the OTAs to check prices and make a booking!!!!!! I can get an account with them and add links to availability/prices from my own booking system but I would either have to ‘pay per click’ which can be costly with little generated revenue or I pay 12-15% commission so I’d be no better off really!

I hate to moan too much as it seems like I’ve nothing positive to say about the situation but I will say that I’m really, really worried about the future of B&Bs. We’re too small to fight the OTAs and because the vast majority of the public use them, we would be out of business if we weren’t advertising with them. They’re so large and the public rely on them so much they can basically dictate the future of our business and from what I’ve so far seen, none of it is good news for B&B owners.

So my plea to you is this … if you’re booking abroad and don’t speak the language then for goodness sakes keep using the OTAs … in those circumstances, I would too. But if you’re thinking of a break in your own country, think of the small business owners up and down the land that would really appreciate it if you give them a call (or email) … like me, they’ll probably offer you an “owner’s special offer’ if you do! Result: win win!!

So please, if you’d like to book, please click on the link and check availability and book direct, thank you!!

Cordelia

PS I’ve deliberately not included photos as I don’t really want to give the OTAs even more publicity!

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I first applied for the information for the Healthy Eating Award over a year ago. When it arrived, I was pleased to find that I met all of the criteria other than blogging about my healthy food…hundreds of mouthwatering pictures don’t cut the mustard apparently 🤣

healthy breakfast clean eating
You’ll find a selection of fruit, fruit juice and natural (fat free) yoghurt on the side table. Full fat options are also available.

cooked breakfast
All meat is either grilled or oven baked and you have the option of fried, poached or scrambled egg.

If you advise me when you book, I can cater for vegetarian, vegan and most specific dietary restrictions.

Depending upon season and/or local availability I also offer asparagus and avocado with eggs.

home baked bread

My Homemade bread recipe is made without salt but does still contain a good spoon full of Demerara sugar (seen above with vegan banana buns).

home made preserves

Homemade preserves and lemon curd may be full of sugar but they don’t contain all the preservatives and E numbers that you’ll find in shop bought varieties.

Please let me know what healthy options you like too.

Cordelia

Check availability and book online here

RECIPES:

Home made bread recipe

Lemon curd recipe

Vegan banana cake recipe

Tomato chutney recipe

Blueberry pancake recipe

Three fruit marmalade recipe

Easy cupcake recipe

Empire biscuit recipe

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If you’ve visited or know us, you’ll know that I love animals.

We have one super gorgeous Collie and two rescue kitties that are almost 10 months old now living here with us in addition to the visiting birds, squirrels, rabbits and a very cheeky stoat that are gradually moving away which has something to do with the kitties rather than by preference I suspect!!

Starsky and Hutch

We are a “dog friendly” B&B but thought that I’d write a short blog about how that works in practice so that dog owners and non-dog owners can see the situation from a B&B perspective.

What do we offer for dogs and their humans?

  • Towels for drying off muddy feet and wet fur
  • Bedding: fleecy blanket and old quilts
  • I have a small/medium sized plastic dog bed if you wish to use it too … adult Collie dogs are too big for it!

Collie

  • Bottles of water to take out on day trips
  • Poo bags
  • Bowls for water or food
  • Carpet shampoo for cleaning up accidents
  • Treats
  • Hugs

We have a guest lounge and you’re welcome to take your dog in there with you.

The bedrooms and lounge are located on the ground floor literally feet away from the car park.

Maisy the Border Collie

You’ll find that there are loads of dog friendly beaches, attractions and places to eat in the area too. Why not take some photos and tag us into them. Maisy got herself onto the Visit Scotland blog!

visit scotland blog

What do we expect from doggie owners and their dogs?

I try not to call them rules … but … if you’re bringing a dog (or dogs) please bear the following in mind:

  • Do not allow your dogs onto the beds or furniture. The obvious reason is for the dirt. All of the bedding is currently white, 100% cotton which people like. Despite the manufacturers’ claims, dirty marks don’t always wash out satisfactorily even with additional treatment which adds to my workload and is not pleasant for future guests to see. Also, hairs do migrate through fabric and can get into the quilt itself which could cause discomfort to future guests.
  • Dogs must be, under control and well-behaved at all times. As you know, for one reason or another, not everyone likes dogs or any other animals and some people are frightened or allergic to dogs, their hair or skin. Even those who, like myself, love dogs, don’t really want other people’s dogs jumping up at them whilst they are eating or having to brush dog hairs off their clothes just as they’re heading out the door to a wedding at Glenapp Castle for instance.
  • Dogs must be kept on a lead or fully under control outside. We are located on a working farm. There are animals in the field with lambs in the spring and early summer. Please remember that farmers have the right to shoot dogs who are seen worrying and/or attacking the sheep. Please also remember that we have two kitties who know no fear of dogs and who will be seen wandering around in their own garden. You’re welcome to take the dogs into the garden but please keep them on a lead if they chase cats, thank you.

Starsky

  • Do not leave dogs in bedrooms when you go out for the day. Also, if you are the only guests in, or the other guests don’t mind, please feel free to take them into the lounge during breakfast or in the evening. If you suspect that your dog may jump on the bed or chew when you are out of the room, please lock them in the car during breakfast. Please note that the cars are parked only feet away from the rooms.
  • Please ensure dogs are free of mites, tics, fleas, etc. before bringing them to stay. We’ve been very fortunate to never have fleas here at the Lodge and I hope that this continues. I’ve once stayed at a place that had fleas (in fairness it was probably bed mites) and I counted 200 (I kid you not) bites the following day. Apart from the obvious discomfort for future guests and the risk of passing the fleas etc on to our own pets, we do not want to be dealing with bad reviews from bitten guests!
  • Please dry dogs off before they enter the bedrooms and lounge. A good shake outside and a good dry off inside the entrance would be greatly appreciated so that dirt and water do not drip onto carpets. Please remember that no matter how many times you wash your dog (our Maisy prefers a daily bubble bath!!) they do always smell to other people, especially to those who do not have animals. I provide plenty doggie towels.
  • Clean up after your dog. There are poo bags available and if they have an accident in the room please clean it up using the carpet cleaner available and let me know as soon as possible so that I can give the carpet a second thorough cleaning before the next guests arrive. I can provide plastic trays to put dog bowls onto to prevent water and food splashing onto the carpets too.
  • All damage must be paid for.

I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to any dog owners and I’d like to hope that you’re all reading this saying to yourself ‘yes, I do that’ or ‘that’s sensible’ and that you can see that I’m trying to ensure that all guests are able to enjoy their visit.

bluebell woods

I only charge a small fee per dog, per visit: details on Tariff page. This is to cover the additional cleaning that is required to eradicate stray hairs and I often also need to wash the carpets to remove lingering smells for the comfort of future guests.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I should add any additional information to the above bullet points.

Cordelia (c) 2017

all rights reserved

Check the tariff page for prices, deals and to book online 

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I don’t often have a rant … and rarely about guests … but this weekend has tested me to my limits.

 

I’ve had many guests over the years who are smokers including members of my own family. They smoke outside, sometimes in the garden but usually out in the car park and to be fair, I can’t speak for the guests, but my own family even go outside to smoke in their own homes!

Smoking B&B guests are warmly welcomed.  I even provide a bucket of water or sand to put out cigarette ends and there’s a huge brolly at the door in case it’s raining … but I will not tolerate smoking in the bedrooms. Apart from it being against the law [Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005], the room smells of smoke for weeks and weeks and weeks afterwards because no matter how many times the room is cleaned, the smell, to a non-smoker, lingers.

Not only is it embarrassing to smokers who chose to both flout the law and disregard the “no smoking” signs in my home to be told to leave immediately but I also know that future guests in the room can, despite my apologies, vent their disgust at the smell on review pages which can be extremely damaging to business and reputation.

So please, if you smoke, you’ll be made extremely welcome but please adhere to the “no smoking” anywhere in the building policy, thank you.

I’m off now to wash the ceiling and walls in the bathroom that was smoked in, in an attempt to clear the smell … despite the fact that I’m banned from standing on ladders and chairs due to sciatica!

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge B&B 2017 (c)

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I’ve just discovered that I can randomise the photos at the top of my blog!!

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What do you think of the selection and would you like to suggest any changes?

Cordelia

Balkissock Lodge B&B 2017 (c)

All rights reserved

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Book before the end of April and take advantage of my three nights for the price of two this summer. 


Yes, you did read that right! I’d rather fill the bookings diary with happy customers booking direct rather than them paying full price via the OTAs. 

Book direct from the link on the Tariff page and enter the promo code: easter17. I can’t set it up to deduct automatically but I will deduct the cost of the free night before you pay your bill. 


You could be enjoying a cheap short break this summer with a great selection and choice for breakfast. 


I use local produce when available. 


Don’t forget to order your evening meals too if you’d like to eat in.  The Visit Scotland hotel inspector said that she thoroughly enjoyed her salmon platter last week!


Cordelia

Balkissock Lodge B&B

Chair: Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association

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I was expecting guests today one of which is vegan. I always bake bread for guests for their breakfast and try to make home-made cake or biscuits for when they arrive but although I’ve made countless vegetarian dishes, vegan cake was a completely new experience for me.

Vegan banana cake
I researched a few recipes and decided to base my recipe on this one that I found on the internet.

Vegan Banana Cake Recipe:

Makes 8-10 small buns or 6-8 large muffins

Ingredients:

  • 150g  Self Raising (SR) Flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) of baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25g) of salt*
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5g) cinnamon
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of light olive oil
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of vanilla essence**

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (350F) and place paper cases into bun/muffin tins.
  2. In one bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together.
  3. In a second bowl, mash the banana using a knife then mix in the sugar and oil. Add the water and vanilla essence and mix well.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients (mine resembled a stiff rather than runny mixture).
  5. Divide the mixture into paper cases.
  6. Place the bun/muffin tins into the pre-heated oven and bake for approx 20-25 mins (small buns) or 35-40 mins (muffins).
  7. Remove from oven when cooked and allow to cool on a wire rack.

 

* I’m using Himalayan pink salt now and loving it!

** I make my own vanilla essence so used more but added less water.

 

They went awfully quickly!

I’ll add photos next time I make some … which won’t be very long!!

Let me know how you get on if you try out the recipe.

Cordelia (C) 2017

To view current offers and to book on-line, click here.

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