The danger of unreasonably poor feedback on your business weighs on the shoulders of just about every holiday property owner in the UK. After you have thrown yourself and your savings into delivering a well-presented, comfortable and satisfying stay for your guests, the last thing you care to see once they have left is a poor online review from guests.
But dramatically poor reviews do appear, with uncharacteristically bad guest feedback standing out on often popular hospitality websites. The occasional one-star review rating has for example even been compared to a drive-by shooting. And you can only sympathise.
The danger often arises from a failure of the offering to meet certain guest expectations, however unrealistic or skewed those may be.
Take a range of guests expecting luxury and put them in a sumptuous bed & breakfast environment and few should complain. Glamping on the other hand is very much a matter of taste. Glampers love the outdoor feel with the added luxury of sleeping closer to nature but in high standard accommodation which often fails to strike a chord with luxury B&B fans. And vice versa.
Such is the issue that has been met with in the past by the producers of Channel Four’s Four in a Bed show, a long-standing, popular success in hospitality broadcasting in the UK.
The producers have often faced a quandary when holiday homeowners with quite different propositions compete, each showing off their premises for a night. One of them for example may offer the height of luxury but ask for a supplement to pay for their amazing locally sourced breakfast, while another may offer something more down-to-earth.
With the show now in its 17th season, the show has long cracked this issue, with each contest comparing four sets of comparable types of accommodation.
For example, in one week-long contest last month, the show featured four owners whose properties were all outdoor lodges or glamping facilities. But glamping, it has to be said, is not for everyone. This is sometimes seen from the occasional guest on Four in a Bed who are yet to have arrived at the property they are to judge and who worriedly exclaims, “OMG It’s not camping, is it?” Or words to such an effect.
Such guests’ concerns are often then allayed once they hit the sack and enjoy a satisfying night’s sleep. But if you are not fan of camping then, despite the luxury presentation of outdoor accommodation, your hackles may be raised.
Last month viewers were treated to a contest between two inns – The Lazy Pug https://beerandcoffee.co/, and The Lime Tree https://www.thelimetreeinn.com/, and two glamping venues – White Mark Glamping https://www.whitemarkglamping.com/ and The Pretty Thing Glamping https://theprettything.co.uk.
One of two campsites in Watlington, Oxfordshire, White Mark Glamping has a reputable TripAdvisor score rating of 4.5 and the site has an array of nearby restaurants form which guests can choose to dine out.
The Lime Tree Inn has a TripAdvisor rank of 5.0, has an AA Breakfast Award and an AA Rosette award for culinary excellence.
TripAdvisor 4.5-rated glamping, camping and caravan park The Pretty Thing in Clacton on Sea in Essex is pet-friendly with a children’s playground and a picnic area for guests.
Meanwhile one of four Warwickshire properties that make up the Beer & Coffee portfolio, the Lazy Pug is Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, also has a 4.5-star TripAdvisor rating and serves gastro-burgers and pizzas.
The reaction to one of the participants, the co-owner of Lime Tree Inn, competing with another inn and two glamping sites, illustrates the value of the show to competitors. The Lime Tree Inn came third in this contest, but the owners are more than happy with the result.
Rob Mitchell runs The Lime Tree Inn with his wife Heloisa, who wanted to create a modern day local that would build on a sense of tradition and community – a home from home for each and every one of their guests.
Inspired by the rolling rural landscape around them, the couple have ensured that the menu at The Lime Tree Inn is locally sourced, the ales handpicked and the welcomes plentiful and natural. And for those who want to spend a little more time at the Lime Tree, it has seven thoughtfully and individually designed rooms upstairs.
Rob describes participating in the Four in a Bed competition as a great experience. “We really, really enjoyed it. It was good, fun, meeting nice people. It was all good.”
Even though the five-star inn did not win the competition, Rob says, “We got some great feedback from it. We only came third on payment day, but we were we were comfortable with that. Obviously we’d have liked to come first. But we understand that the other competitors just came over as better overall.”
He says his inn received a tremendous reaction regardless of its place in the final, with winners decided on each occasion **. “We have had a massive influx of business from it, and we’re very grateful for that. We never went into it with a mindset that we had to win the competition. We just wanted to showcase our business as best as we could and to present ourselves as best as we could. And I think that came across quite well,” he says.
When they took the call from the show’s producers inviting them to take part on the show the inn had only been open a couple of months. “It was really great advertising for us at that point,” says Rob. “They called us during the second lockdown and said they were looking to do something.”
Responding to the call out of the blue, Rob says he explained that they’d only opened the business just after the first lockdown. “We’re pretty new,” I admitted. But they still went on to participate. They are so new that even now they keep adding new features to the business, he says. “Even from the stuff that was shown on TV to an event with no updates in the beds a bit more. We’ve added more bits here and there and reinvesting in that as a programme as an experience. It was great fun.”
Rob himself has always been in the hospitality industry, he says. “I grew up in a hotel in Scotland. My father had got into catering and I decided I wanted to join up in the catering business at the age of 14.”
He left school at 15, went to catering college and worked full-time in the kitchen. “I was doing part time work for my family. And then from that I was awarded a college student of the year, and on the back of that, I received offers to address the three places that I could go work because of that, and one of which was Whiskey Castle, a private member’s club up in Scotland.” This was the venue where Madonna as well as a few other famous people got married, he adds.
“I decided to go there, and that proved to be a good little kickstart to my career. Then I went on to working for Michelin star chef in Glasgow, before moving to London to work with Michelin star chefs down there. So that built up my career very early. Aged 21 I was working for a Michelin star venue before I decided to go off travelling abroad.”
After offering private cooking for a few years, he returned to London, where he worked for a Michelin star restaurant. But the travel bug won him over and he then went away travelling again, which is when he met his wife. “We came back to the UK – after a lot more travelling,” he says.
And he found himself setting up pub companies on behalf of other businesses, which is when he asked himself why he was doing this for other people when he could be doing it for himself.
“At this point we started looking for businesses. My family is based up north, I’ve got a sister in Edinburgh and a sister in Harrogate, while my father’s over the Lake District. So, everyone was up this way. The reason we moved down south was because my mother was there and she was ill at the time. And then she sadly passed away.”
Soon after, as the attraction of opening a business grew, Rob and Heloisa looked at all the downsides of doing so, chief among them being that to set up a new hospitality business is very expensive.
The appeal of moving north again grew, firstly with having family up there and secondly, as Rob points out, because it was somewhat cheaper to run a business there than in London.
He adds, “My father had a pub, which is about 12 miles away from where I’m standing now, and he had a few connections. So, when I told him that we were looking to start a business and that we could possibly come up North, he was quite excited at the thought of us moving up close to home, and he put the feelers out.”
In due course Rob and Heloise came across this particular place, which they found through a connection through a brewery that Rob’s father knew. He says, “We made contact with the guy who was building the pumps, and he said he had nobody to run it, building a large pump with seven bedrooms above it. we were invited along to look at it at a stage when only its foundations and metal structure were in place,” he says. But straight away they both said they wanted to take it on.
“From there on, we were working with him on the build,” says Rob. “And we chose every single brick – everything was chosen. Everything. Special and personal places.”
The rest is history. Soon after the work was completed and he took over came the Four in a Bed show. “We got a big influx in bookings for rooms. By this I mean right up until next September, all simply off the back of appearing on this show. Even on the day that we first went on TV we had more than 10,000 visits to our website. And then through the week we had 20,000 more than we would usually have. There was a there was a vast amount of attention!”
He acknowledges that luck had a large part to play in their good fortune. “We’re very fortunate, I mean, with the timing and the way everything is at the moment. We’ve had a bit of a battle for the past few years because of everything that the economy was all sorts of things. So, we have been very lucky to get the influx of business in the circumstances,” he reflects.
Competition on Four in a Bed competitions is fierce, with each venue striving to come out as the winner, but the general goodwill along with the automatic nationwide publicity that comes from luxury venues having their business offerings broadcast across the nation makes appearance on the show a great opportunity – as well as great viewing.
Participants in this Four In a Bed Feature: