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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 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). If people don’t pay 14 days before arrival then I’m going to be 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 September!
    • The OTAs also don’t seem to 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) has 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 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 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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Guests often ask what there is to do in our local tiny village …

Ardstinchar Castle and War Memorial:

The castle is a ruin and is crumbling so please don’t be tempted to go for a closer look. It greets you on the hill as you approach Ballantrae from the south on the A77.  Turn right just after the bridge and park to get a better view.F

Ardstinchar Castle

The war memorial lies on a steep slope that is not accessible if you use a  wheelchair or have a pushchair.

Old Stinchar Bridge:

The castle dates from 1450 and the stone from the ruined castle was used to build the old bridge which is no longer safe to us but makes for great photo opportunities.

Old Stinchar Bridge

River Stinchar Path:

River Stinchar

The path follows the edge of the river for a few miles although I’ve personally only walked the first mile. There are places to sit and have a picnic although there are no seats. Please be careful … when I took these photos today the river level was very low and it will rise significantly after a storm/heavy rain.

 

The river contains salmon and trout and we’ve had quite a few fishermen staying with us over the past few years. You’ll need to buy a permit to fish so please do ask when you book and I’ll give you details of who to speak to about that.

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the river path today. We met the staff and the pupils of the local Nursery class who were exploring the fauna and flora around the river 

The bluebells were out in full bloom too.

Ballantrae Beach:

Despite the sun, we had the whole beach to ourselves today!

 

It’s a strange beach … some days we have sand … others we have pebbles … and other days we have a mile of kelp!!

kelp on the beach

Ayrshire Coastal Path:

The Ayrshire Coastal Path starts at Genapp Kirk about 10 miles south of Ballantrae. The route take brings you to the south end of the village and over the Stinchar via the A77 then turns left towards the shore.

Ballantrae Harbour

Follow the shore towards the harbour and then out of the village to the north.

 You can buy copies of the Ayrshire Coadtal Path guidebook at the garden centre and I have copies for guests to use if they’re staying over.

Ayrshire Coastal Path Official Guide

Garden Centre and Cafe:

The garden centre itself is very easy to find. It’s on the A77 at the north end of the village. We eat there regularly and Maisy always has a peanut ball which she thoroughly recommends to everyone! It has a small children’s play area and some days in the summer they have a narrow gauge railway and train which chugs around the field. There is access to the Ayrshire Coastal Path direct from this field near where the Ballantrae Festival of Food and Drink is held in June.

Ballantrae Food Festival

Although dogs cannot go into the cafe itself, they are dog friendly and there are bowls of water for the dogs.

You can order tea/coffee, light snacks, soup or full meals and it’s all very reasonably priced. There is also a freezer in the garden centre where you can get a range of ice cream lollies.

Old Cemetery and Kennedy Memorial:

Clan Kennedy are associated with Carrick and most especially with Culzean Castle which is about 30 miles north of Ballantrae. A walk around the old cemetery on a beautiful sunny day like today was an absolute pleasure and it was lovely to see how well-kept the area is. 


There is another graveyard to the south of Ballantrae and others at Colmonell and Glenapp for anyone tracing ancestors.


I even spotted the graves of former Balkissock residents. Major Onslow’s name also appears on the War Memorial.

Ballantrae Public Gardens:

They’re probably the smallest public gardens anywhere in Scotland but they’re very well kept!

 

On a practical note, Ballantrae also has a garage where you can get fuel 24 hours a day (via a card machine), a small Scotmid supermarket that the lorry drivers use so it has, hot pies, cakes and a coffee machine and also a cash machine if you need it. For residents, it also boasts a bowling green and tennis courts … not bad for a small village!!

We also have a wonderful thrift shop BRICC. The charity itself looks after elderly and infirm in the community and is a fabulous treasure trove of the unusual.

I bought my piano there!

BRICC hosue

So why not visit Ballantrae rather than just driving through it!

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge B&B

2017 All rights reserved.

Check availability and book online here

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The first in this summer’s “suggested day trips”

Belfast, Northern Ireland (part 1)

Ferry tickets vary in prices throughout the year and in general, it’s cheaper to book in advance. TIP: I booked on St Patrick’s Day and got my ticket for £5 pp. Look out for special deals in newspapers too. They will email you reservation details and a booking number. There is no need to print this off as long as you can quote the number when you check in but beware that phone signals at both ferry ports seemed intermittent and emails are generally stored in the cloud! You may also be asked for ID so take a passport or your photo driving licence.

Stena Line operate six sailings per day to Belfast on the Superfast VII and the Superfast VIII. The sailings that I use are either the 7.30am or the 10.30am sailing. As a foot passenger you need to be at the terminal a minimum of 30 minutes prior to sailing which means leaving Balkissock by either 6.30am or 9.30am respectively.

An 8am breakfast will give you plenty of time to make the later sailing but, not surprisingly, I’m not up to cook breakfast at 5am for the earlier sailing. If pre-arranged, I will provide a lighter breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast, tea or coffee at 6am or email me for a bespoke package.

The sailings are approx. 2hrs 15 mins and there’s lots to do on-board to keep you occupied including a small cinema which normally screens a children’s film, a shop, games machines, several eating outlets, outdoor area (for smokers) and loads of sofas and comfy chairs to sit and chill and relax.

Jump on a bus at Belfast port and for £2.00pp you’ll be in the city centre in approx. 15 mins. TIP: don’t forget to ask the driver where to catch the bus to return to the port later in the day! You can also get a return ticket at a slightly reduced price.

What can I do in Belfast?

Tip: if it’s your first visit I’d suggest visiting the Visit Northern Ireland Tourist Office opposite the City Hall just around the corner from the bus drop-off point. It’s a treasure trove of leaflets and souvenirs.

A guided tour of Belfast on the open top bus:

There are two different tour operators and my daughter, her partner and myself used the “City Sightseeing Hop On – Hop Off” bus. The cost was £12.50 (adult), £10.50 (concession), £6.00 (child) £31.00 (family: 2 adults & up to 3 children).

The lady doing the commentary was very witty and it was an enjoyable 90 minute bus ride. You can jump off at any of the stops to look around or visit the attractions and then catch a later bus to continue the tour.

Belfast

Stops on the tour included the Titanic Exhibition and the Parliament buildings (TIP: be careful of timings if getting off at the Parliament buildings as busses are not allowed into the grounds after 3.30pm). 

Titanic Exhibition Belfast

The tour included information about the troubled recent history of Northern Ireland, of division and renewal and the bus drove past the Peace Wall and through the areas of the city that saw the worst of the Troubles.

Belfast mural

 

Belfast City Hall:

Free entry.

View the beautiful stained glass windows depicting events in Belfast’s history and it’s links around the world.

Stained glass window

Guided tours are available although we couldn’t get booked on to one the day we visited.

Belfast City Hall

TIP: If you’re going to do a blog … get a much better photo of the outside of the building!!

Belfast City Hall

The return journey:

I generally get either the 3.30pm or the 7.30pm ferry to return to Cairnryan. The latter arrives at 9.45pm and taking into account disembarking and driving, I’m back home about 10.30pm.

Please note that there is a very long walk from check-in, along the gangways and onto the ferry. I would imagine that Stenaline have someone to assist you if you’re infirm or use a wheelchair but I didn’t think to check.

Cars can be left in the Stena Line car park at a cost of £5.00 per day. TIP: pay for your parking on-board on the return journey to save you waiting in queues at the terminal.

I’m planning on visiting Belfast again later in August with my grandson and we’ll take the other bus tour which will take us to Belfast Zoo and we’re planning on visiting the Titanic Exhibition too.

My husband is heading there with friends in September and I suspect that Game of Thrones will be on the agenda!

So … watch out for Belfast the sequel!!

All prices were correct April 2017.

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge B&B (c)

All rights reserved.

Check prices and book online here

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I’ve been a committee member of the Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association for some time now and I was delighted to hear that our AGM this year was to be at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ayr.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Our Chair Person has stepped down from the role and I was thrilled and delighted to be nominated and accepted as the new Chair Person for the group.

Ayrshire B&B Association

We are a group of 50 B&Bs located across Ayrshire and Arran that work collaboratively to promote the area. If you’re visiting, why not take a look at our website here and if you own a B&B in the area and would like to join please contact me for details. We enjoy our meetings at a variety of attractions throughout the region and we have always been highly appreciative of the hospitality shown to us. We recently had a wonderful afternoon tea at Glenapp Castle and are looking forward to what 2017 can bring!

 

Ayrshire B&B at Glenapp Castle

Guest speakers at our AGM included Craig Stewart owner of Freetobook, the online booking system that I, and many in the B&B industry use. His input regarding finance was generally agreed to be invaluable.

AB&BA also produce a Restaurant brochure that lists a variety of places to dine throughout the region. Addition to the brochure is limited and all eateries are personally recommended by AB&BA members and their guests.

Why not make your next holiday destination the South West of Scotland?

Cordelia

To check availability, view special offers and to book online, click here.

2017 (c)

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I’m on the committee of the Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association and arranged for our members to meet at Glenapp Castle near Ballantrae for our meeting. 

The staff were brilliant and the chef very kindly made us a variety of biscuits and the best lemon and poppyseed cake I’ve ever tasted. 


The view from the dining room isn’t too shabby either!


The outdoor Victorian tea room was closed for the winter but we enjoyed our walk around the grounds. 

We’ve had several guests staying with us this year who have been to Glenapp Castle for afternoon tea or evening meals and I’m happy to phone ahead and book you in if you would like me to.

Thank you Glenapp for hosting our meeting from us all…


.


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Cordelia 2016 (c)

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“Breakfast was stunning” Eva-Marie, Sweden, July 2016

blueberry pancakes

 

I’ve had quite a few compliments on breakfast recently but this glowing report from Eva was really humbling. Not only was her English impeccable but she even posted photos of her breakfast on Instagram.

Scottish smoked salmon for B&B breakfast

For those of you who have not yet poked around on the other pages of this blog, you may not have seen the wonderful variety of breakfast options offered here at Balkissock Lodge.

Ayrshire B&B breakfast

 

 

When I opened the B&B, I envisioned endless “Full Scottish” orders but have increasingly found that guests welcome something different from the traditional so along with local sausage, bacon and eggs you will find a variety of items such as:

 

  • Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled free-range eggs on toasted homemade bread
  • Creamy garlic mushrooms and oven baked vine tomatoes on toasted homemade bread
  • Asparagus (when in season) and poached free-range eggs on toasted homemade bread
  • Blueberry pancakes served with Greek style yoghurt, honey and fresh fruit
  • Banana pancakes served with Maple syrup and fresh fruit
  • Continental style platter with croissants, ham, cheese and homemade bread

Creamy garlic mushrooms on toasted ciabatta with grilled cherry tomatoes.

 

Continental breakfast

 

Blueberry Pancakes with Greek yoghurt and local Kirkbride honey for B&B breakfast

Don’t forget to finish off your breakfast with toasted home baked bread, filter coffee or a choice of several teas and home made preserves.

Home-baked bread for toasting with Taylors of Harrogate Lazy Sunday filter coffee.

I’ll have to add a photo of the wide choice of tea tomorrow!!

Taylors Filter Coffee

I also keep a range of gluten free products in stock. Just let me know of any intolerances and allergies when you book and I’ll do my best to cater for your needs so that you have a choice of meals for breakfast.

gluten free

Last weekend I had a couple staying who were both vegetarian and one was also gluten free. He had a choice of four different cooked breakfasts and chose grilled asparagus with poached egg on toasted gluten free bread.

 

I’ve recently updated the menu and produced a new menu for tea and coffee … what do you think of the design?

Ayrshire B&B breakfast

 

Ayrshire B&B

So … what’s your favourite breakfast?

Click here to check B&B availability, tariff, special offers and to book online.

 

Cordelia @ Balkissock Lodge B&B

© 2016 All rights reserved

 

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I’ve been doing some gardening today. The lawns are cut and the flower beds nearest to the guest areas are weeded.


There’s quite a lot of colour in the pots:


But there’s an awful lot of pink in the garden just now:



Why not come and take a look for yourself…

Check B&B prices, special offers and for information about Promocodes.

Cordelia 2016 (c)

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