Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Today, Balkissock Lodge B&B was awarded a Certification Mark from the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere “in recognition of high quality standards in delivering environmental and sustainable development benefits to the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere

DSC_0743

The award ceremony was held at Culzean Castle and speakers included Dr Beth Taylor (Chair, UK National Commission for UNESCO), John Thomson and Ed Forrest both of the GSA Biosphere and the awards were presented by Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop who fondly remembers childhood holidays in Ballantrae and splashing about in the river Stinchar.

DSC_3514

Two other micro businesses were also awarded a certification mark today: Adventure Centre for Education (ACE) based in Girvan and Salad Brew based in Borgue in Dumfries and Galloway.

DSC_3564

After speaking to Dr Taylor, I understand that this accolade makes Balkissock Lodge not only the only B&B with a biosphere certification mark in Scotland but possibly in the whole world!

Cordelia Galley 2018 (c)

If you wish to check availability and book securely online direct with the owners please click here.

If you wish to find out more about Balkissock Lodge B&B please click here.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

It’s a false assumption by some guests that B&B owners just rent out a room and that all money made is ‘profit’ therefore when looking for somewhere to stay, anything over £25 pppn is viewed as expensive … I mean, just how expensive are those sausages?!!

Sadly, this is fuelled by some new online travel booking sites that offer rooms in peoples’ homes at very low costs. But when you run a B&B as a bonafide business there are a number of additional expenses that some owners that advertise on such websites don’t have. Indirect costs such as holding food hygiene certificate, indemnity/business insurance, accountancy fees, credit card facility payments, advertising fees, laundry fees,  etc. can easily add up to £3000-£4000 per year and that’s before you add direct costs such as food and commission.

I’ve invested over £4000 in the past three years improving the environment and facilities here at Balkissock Lodge including redecoration, new larger TVs in both bedrooms, new single mattresses, all new bedding, new carpets, new soft furnishings and new ensuites (to be fitted some time this year) but have only raised prices approx. 10% in 10 years!

I aim to provide guests with a very warm welcome with home baked biscuits and cakes, good quality food from independent, local and regional producers, home baked bread, home made preserves, etc. all of which cost far more than supermarket equivalents and take more time to source, make and prepare.

Having made gains into improving the efficiency of the business last year (pre-ordering breakfast to avoid waste, for example) and having thoroughly analysed last year’s tax return I only have two choices: to remove many of the extras that make staying at Balkissock Lodge B&B so special for many people or raise prices to reflect the quality of service and facilities and to sustain on-going maintenance/improvements.

About half of my guests stay for just one night before or after getting the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast/Larne. My B&B owner friends will agree with me when I say that one-nighters are the least financially viable which is why many B&Bs have a minimum two night policy. Sadly, a huge proportion of my guests say “I wish we’d booked for longer” (or words to that effect) so perhaps I should have a minimum two-night policy too!

I have therefore decided that I must raise prices to make profit on the one-night bookings but with substantial savings of up to 20% off for those guests who choose to stay longer.

This does not affect any existing bookings.

Cordelia 2018

If you’d like to check availability for accommodation and book securely online at the best prices available please click here.

Read Full Post »

Balkissock Lodge B&B is currently going through the verification process to become the very first B&B with accredited status in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere.

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere has been recognised internationally as a world class environment for people and nature.

The UNESCO Biosphere designation is recognition of the fantastic array of landscapes wildlife, cultural heritage and learning opportunities that SW Scotland offers for communities, businesses and visitors to experience and celebrate in a sustainable way.

From the wilderness of the open hills to the Dark Skies of the Galloway Forest or windswept coastline, the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere has many places to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Biospheres [sic] geography of remote open moorland, serene lochs, quiet ancient oak woodlands, waterfalls and deep gorges and picturesque villages all contribute to its peaceful character, providing opportunities for contemplation and awe.

GSA Biosphere literature

There’s more detailed information on their website.

Balkissock Lodge B&B has been a proud supporter of the Biosphere charter for some time now and we are thrilled and delighted to be considered for certification.

Cordelia @BalkissockLodge

If you’d like to visit us why not find out more by clicking here or to book your 2018 holiday book online here.

Read Full Post »

“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!

Read Full Post »

… or 

DO NOT book a visit at Balkissock Lodge if you want to leave the door open when you go to the toilet!!

 

Intrigued? Read on…

 

I’ve been asked only once why I don’t display my Visit Scotland rating but the answer intrigued the enquirer to a degree that I thought it worthy of a blog post

 

For those who are not aware, it would cost me £173.28 per year every year (2015 figure) to be part of the Quality Assurance Scheme:

Annual Fee (1 to 3 bedrooms)                        £122.00 + VAT

Additional fee per bedroom                           £11.20 + VAT

Source: http://www.visitscotland.org/pdf/QualityAssurance%202015Fees.pdf

 

To be part of the Scheme, you apply, pay your money and then an inspector visits, inspects, reveals their identity and awards you the grading.

Border Collie in the garden

 

With me so far? OK! This is where is gets interesting…

My business is B&B … BED and BREAKFAST … so you’d expect the majority of the grading criteria to be based upon the quality of the bed and breakfast … yes? OK, so the manner that you greet guests is important, and the information that you provide can make their stay more enjoyable and it’s nice to have a tidy driveway or garden but did you know that of the 42 criteria that a B&B is judged against, only TWO relate to the breakfast. That’s 27 lines of a 9 page document. There is more column space dedicated to the state of my gutters than to what I’m providing for breakfast!

Check it out for yourself: Visit Scotland Grading Criteria for B&Bs

 

How did the inspector rate Balkissock Lodge B&B based on a stay in my popular Arran Room:

IMG_9818

IMG_9492

IMG_9218

  • Cleanliness: 100% (5*)
  • Hospitality and Friendliness: 100% (5*)
  • Service and Efficiency: 100% (5*)
  • Exterior, Maintenance and Car Park: 60%
  • Bedrooms (Arran room): 62%
  • Bathroom (Arran room): 60%
  • All Public areas Quality and Maintenance: 72% (4*)
  • Dining Room: 60% (Inspector not sure it would hold four guests comfortably …. even though it does)
  • Breakfast Choice and Range: 80% (4*) and awarded a Visit Scotland “Taste our Best” Award

 

Not too shabby don’t you think?

The criteria are grouped into five sections and you have to have at least the same grading in all areas but because the Arran room and its ensuite score only 62% … Balkissock Lodge is only rated:

 

I know … Shock! Horror!

Interesting that guests staying in the Arran room this summer have left seven of the 10 5* reviews on Trip Advisor and four of these couples have commented that I’m not charging enough for the room!

“The [Arran] room was comfortable, spotless with all amenities.” TA review

“…the [Arran] room was spacious and comfortable…” TA review
So what were the inspector’s comments about what I could do to get a further 8 marks in that one section in order to get a 4* grading:

  • Put more pictures on the walls in the lounge and the corridors: there is a huge, expensive, signed print on one wall in the lounge plus two free-standing photos which apparently isn’t enough and I have no pictures (in frames) in the narrow corridor for safety reasons. There are a total of seven pictures in the two bedrooms.
  • Put a light inside the wardrobe because it’s dark in there: hands up everyone who has a light inside their wardrobe? Nope? Didn’t think so!
  • Put the coffee table and tray inside the large wardrobe because the door hits it when you open it: only if you open it over 110º, ie open it further that the other door which only opens to 90º before it hits the wall which apparently is OK though!
  • Buy matching furniture: the other bedroom was fine apparently until I pointed out that the furniture didn’t match in there so what was the difference? A bit of backtracking from the inspector at this point.
  • Provide more sockets as there weren’t enough sockets to plug the hairdryer in: there were three available but the computer, tablet and TV were plugged into them and I have NEVER in five years of B&Bing had anyone pull out the bed to use the socket behind it!!!
  • Change to motion activated lighting: apparently the 11W lamp that I leave on in the corridor all night (the bulb is still cold enough to touch in the morning by the way!) uses more energy than producing these battery operated expensive devices.
  • Put pebbles from the beach and a candle in the fireplace to brighten up the black hole
  • Get rid of the lounge facility (i.e. the sofas, bookcases etc) so that the breakfast room is larger and can comfortably seat four (despite the fact that it already does!)
  • Put a folding garden chair in the room as it takes up less space and there must be a chair in there to get four stars despite it being next door to the lounge!

Table set at Balkissock B&B

… and you’re going to love this one …

Change the door on the bathroom so that it slides into the wall cavity like the 5* new-build holiday cottages in the village so that you don’t have to close the bathroom door to get passed it to get to the toilet!

Oh and apparently there were too many towels and too many mirrors in the room!

Interestingly if you live in the town and only have one hanging basket, the same grading system is used to assess it as was used to assess my almost one acre of not weed-free garden and if you live in the town and have no parking at all then that doesn’t get marked (nor does it lose you marks) but because I have ample free parking it’s marked down because it’s not kept in a pristine condition!!

Also, I provide a huge selection of quality teas and coffee and the inspector even commented that it was the only place that they’d been offered their favourite Chai Tea. It’s all from Taylors of Harrogate, Clipper, Twinings or a similar quality renowned company but the examiner went to their car to bring me a sample of a tea that they thought I should be serving because it’s promoted as “Scottish Breakfast Tea”.  I checked the company’s website.  It’s imported and packaged in Scotland…nothing special!

Twinings, Clipper and Taylors of Harrogate Tea for B&B guests

So to sum up …

Basically, if you’re OK with too many mirrors and towels and a huge range of quality teas and coffees from the UK but not necessarily packaged in Scotland, it you don’t mind looking at facebook/twitter/Pinterest/Instagram and the website for your ‘fix’ of additional photos, aren’t bothered about neon lights in your wardrobe, can sensibly open a door without hitting a table, don’t mind if the bedside table and the table that the tea tray sit on don’t match, don’t mind unplugging one of your chargers when you want to dry your hair and normally close the bathroom door to when you go for a pee then Balkissock Lodge is perfect for you!!

Afternoon tea on the lawn

Alternatively, I could spend all day doing the gardening so that the garden, driveway and car park are pristine and not cook home baked biscuits for the guests and not make evening meals and home made preserves, and not bake any bread …..!

home baked wholemeal bread

To top it all, because I would not let VS add the 3* rating to their website as I believe that it would put people off visiting, they would not display my lovely “Taste our Best” Award … now that’s just spiteful!

Visit Scotland Taste our Best Award for the B&B, Ayrshire

I spoke to 24 accommodation providers, most in Scotland and some in England, and asked them about their respective grading systems. All but five had abandoned the rating systems because they felt that it did not properly reflect the needs of the modern visitor and they did not see that paying a yearly fee was a good investment for their business.  Of the five still with the grading systems, four didn’t like them but thought it brought additional business and only one was happy with their grading!

“A lot of us in England have left the star rating scheme and seem no ill effect but then visit England website never sent us any business so we weren’t relying on that” private conversation with someone who ran a 5* Gold B&B.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that I’ll not be renewing my grading next year … or ever!!

As an aside: I do also wonder about the business acumen of an inspector that refers to the money paid for the night’s B&B as “pure profit” just because it was paid in cash.  I’m guessing that I don’t need to pay for the water purity tests, the business insurance, advertising, maintenance, the food, electricity, laundry etc. etc. etc. out of this money then?

 

Visit Scotland have not yet responded to either my letter of complaint or to the comments that I added to their on-line questionnaire despite asking if I wanted someone to contact me so I’m unable to give you information from there as yet.

Bitter? Yes, actually I am a little. I know that overall Balkissock Lodge B&B scored 172/200 points which put it firmly in the 4* bracket and that there will be businesses out there that have been awarded a 4* grading with far fewer points which seems dreadfully unfair.

I know from guests comments, from online reviews and from kind comments on Trip Advisor that my guests value the warmth and hospitality and great food and I that no one has ever complained that the Arran room is too small.

Now, I do feel better getting that lot off my chest ;0)

Ayrshire B&B

Thank you for reading,

Copyright © 2016 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Balkissock Lodge

 

Well if that hasn’t put you off …

Check availability and book direct with the owner here!!!

Read Full Post »

There’s so much in the news regarding milk prices and I hope that the peaceful protests in Kilmarnock, Ayr and other towns and cities produce positive dialogue between the farmers and the supermarkets.

IMG_9958

IMG_0148

 

Here at Balkissock Lodge, I’m committed to serving local, regional and Scottish produce wherever possible witch is why the vast majority of milk, cream and other dairy produce bought is either Rowan Glen (Newton Stewart) or Graham’s (Stirling).

 

thumb_IMG_3627_1024

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Balkissock Lodge

Stay at Balkissock Lodge B&B and help support local farming

Read Full Post »

Our small village hosted quite a big event today as part of Visit Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink.

My other half, Howard, had been previously asked to take some publicity photos, one of which was used on the front of the leaflets:

11229826_705406486248170_2055501196868900196_n

 

Local firms selling included Petrie Fine Foods, Dunlop Dairies, The Hidden Garden, Galloway Chillies, Dalduff Farm Shop, Marrbury Smokehouse, J Pieroni & Sons, Lottie’s Kitchen, Barwheys Dairy and much, much more..

 

The music was supplied by a great local band called Pulse…a great mixture of blues and jazz for today’s event.

 

A great day and one I hope that is repeated over the coming years going from strength to strength.

The Festival attracts 3-4000 visitors so remember to book your accommodation early

Copyright © 2015 by Cordelia

All rights reserved

Balkissock Lodge

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: