After 25 years in the business Jean and Eric Woodward closed down 3-bedroom B&B Malvern House in Seaford on the Sussex coast at the end of last year.
Their B&B business was precipitated when Jean was made redundant in the mid-1990s. Their children had left home, and she and Eric used the spare rooms to provide occasional student accommodation.
The couple had always thought about doing B&B, Jean says, and they achieved it with the help of the local tourist board. “They talked us through it all and got us started. We registered, and we were awarded three stars.”
Just as they embarked on running the B&B, Jean was offered a new job. Poised to decline it because it would mean she would be unable to cook the guests’ breakfast, her self-employed husband Eric stepped in.
“I said, ‘But you can’t boil water!’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Well I’ll learn.’
“And he jolly well did!”
Alarmingly, soon after they first started, they were robbed by a guest posing as a Christian missionary.
“We learned a lesson: that every room had to have a key,” says Jean.
For most of their time running the B&B, the couple had no problems filling their rooms largely through word of mouth. In today’s online booking environment, it would be a very different story, she says. “If we were still running the B&B, we wouldn’t be getting any business.”
For most of their time running the B&B the couple charged the same room rates throughout the year. “People said we should charge more in peak season. I argued that people were staying in the same bed and getting the same breakfast all year round, that it was our choice.”
Eventually they succumbed and put up their high season rates in the last few years. “It took me a long time to get around to doing that,” Jean admits.
There has been a sea change in the bookings landscape since the couple opened Malvern House. Today it is dominated by the ubiquitous OTAs.
“Years ago, the local tourist office used to send us guests, and bookings were done by paperwork,” says Jean. “We never did branch out into any of the other electronic booking facilities, and Airbnb scared the life out of us.”
Malvern House simply never found the need to sign up to an OTA, she says. “We were never tempted, to be honest. We had enough of what we were doing – it was the business we wanted.”
However, the online booking market affected their business in the last 18 months. “We saw a noticeable fall in bookings,” she says. “Airbnb and booking.com were both affecting us, but we weren’t fussed by that point because we were trying to slow down anyway,” she says.
Meanwhile the number of B&Bs in the seaside town has fallen from 25 to just half a dozen, she says.
After one or two false starts the couple formally put the property on the market and sold it at the end of last year, finally completing on 8 January this year.
“It was a very sad day. I do miss the house and doing the job, but we discovered our energy levels are not what they were 25 years ago – strangely!”