To B&B or not to B&B, that is the question?

kilmartin castle scotland

Can’t decide whether to operate as a B&B or an exclusive, self- catering holiday-let? Discover how Stef and Simon combined both of these to cater to a wider audience – Kilmartin Castle

It’s not every day that you fly over from Dubai for a Scottish road trip and wind up the King and Queen of your very own castle, but that’s exactly what happened to travel radio presenter, Stef Burgon and her husband, Simon Hunt.

When they stumbled across Kilmartin Castle, originally built in 1550 during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, there was no turning back.

But the castle’s heritage is not the only unique thing about this hospitality business.

“The castle has five rooms and when we run it as aB&B, we live in the biggest room that’s above the kitchen and has a separate staircase,” explained Simon, “and that becomes our sort of miniature apartment within the castle. So our maximum occupancy for the B&B is eight guests across four rooms.”

But what happens when they aren’t operating as a B&B?

Surprisingly, Stef and Simon move out, allowing their guests to enjoy all five rooms and the entire property as an exclusive rental. “It’s probably the best thing that we have ever accidentally done,” said Stef.

When operating as an exclusive holiday rental, the castle can fit ten people across all five rooms. But how do they make this mashup of B&B and exclusive holiday-let work?

“For the B&B bookings, we have a minimum stay of two nights, but we sometimes do single nights when we’ve got gaps,” explained Simon.

“But for our exclusive rentals we have a minimum stay of four nights, and that’s not really for the money, but more to make it worthwhile for us to actually go somewhere.”

Whilst the castle is booked out for an exclusive, Stef and Simon use the time to go on their own holidays and road trips.

Kilmartin Castle

“When you’re running a B&B it’s very easy to just work every single day,” said Simon, “so it’s nice to actually get some real time off where you’re completely disengaged from the business.”

Stef said: “It’s like dipping in and dipping out. It just keeps it new, fresh and exciting.

“There’s no, ‘Oh here we go again’, and I imagine it can get like that quite easily if you’re running a B&B every month of the year non-stop.”

When it comes to organising the calendar in conjunction with bookings, they said that luckily, it sorts itself out.

“We normally get exclusive inquiries at least six months, if not a year, in advance,” said Stef, “so when we get an exclusive booking, we block out the B&B for those dates, and when we get a B&B booking, we will block out the exclusive. So it’s first come, first served.”

Simon then explained that if they get two, four night exclusive bookings, with a four night gap in between, they may decide to block that gap out and force those dates to be used as an exclusive rental so that they can take nearly three weeks off.

“It’s like dipping in and dipping out. It just keeps it new, fresh and exciting.” – Stef

“Generally when we do that, it works out. It’s like getting a paid holiday!” said Simon.

Previously, when they’ve had trips booked, Simon explained they would block out the dates of their holiday and only take exclusive bookings for that period.

“We had a week-long boat trip once,” said Simon, “so we blocked it out as an exclusive and then it got booked as an exclusive.

“We also booked concert tickets once and we blocked out all of the B&B days and left it open as an exclusive booking.”

He added: “It could be a B&B all the time, or it could be an exclusive rental all the time, but people always want it for both and it’s up to us what we do.”

kilmartin castle dining room
Dining room

But if they’re away, how do they deal with changeovers?

“We’ve got local people who we really trust and they will do the changeovers for us,” said Stef, “we’ve also started letting people check themselves in to a certain degree.”

She added: “Then they can give our chef a call, who we’ve known for years and she will pop down and tell them what they need to know and show them little quirks and how to work things.

“We’ve found that people like exploring it on their own initially, so it’s the best of both worlds because they get that interaction, but when they want it.

“I think there’s nothing worse than the owner walking you round, talking to you forever when you’re just thinking ‘Please leave me alone, I’m sure I can work out where the light switch is’.”

But what about the practicalities of this arrangement? What do they do with all of their belongings?

“We’ve become pretty good at living a minimal life and we both have a summer and winter wardrobe that we get out of storage when we need it,” said Simon.

Stef added: “I actually have a go-bag now, so when I’m only at Kilmartin for a little while, I dress out of my bag. All my work wear for when I cook breakfasts and stuff is in my locked chest.”

Simon said: “We’ve got our room set up so it’s really useful with lots of hidden storage and all of our stuff gets hidden away in lockable hiding spots. The people staying there wouldn’t even know it’s there.”

kilmartin castle
Stef cooking breakfast in Kilmartin Castle kitchen

He added: “Someone asked me once if it was weird having other people sleep in our bed, but I thought, is it weird going to a hotel where other people have slept in the bed beforehand? Because it’s just the same as that.”

Stef and Simon have a team of cleaners who turn the place upside down both after every B&B and after every exclusive.

“It’s quite amazing actually,” said Stef, “because when we get home it’s like we’re checking in, because it’s all tidy and there’s new bedding and it’s actually really nice.”

Simon laughed and added: “Yeah, it’s super nice getting home from holiday and the toilet paper is folded into little triangles for you.”

“It’s nice to get some real time off where you’re completely disengaged from the business.” – Simon 

The pair stressed the fact that they are still fairly new to this and are still figuring it out, but it has been getting easier.

“Don’t go into this thinking it’s an easy way to make money,” said Stef, “if you don’t have a passion for it, it won’t work.”

Simon said: “We’re so new to this, so it’s not like we’re professionals by any stretch.”

Top Tips – Operating as a B&B and also an exclusive rental property.

  1. Be prepared to live a minimal lifestyle.
  2. Invest in a storage facility away from your property.
  3. Make the most of lockable hiding spots and storage spaces within the property itself.
  4. Invest in a good channel manager so you can stay organised and easily differentiate between shorter B&B bookings and the longer exclusive rentals.
  5. Make sure there are local people you can trust to help your guests if they need assistance and you are too far away to help.
  6. Never treat someone like they are not you. Guests don’t deserve less. If you wouldn’t like something, don’t do it for them because the odds are they won’t like it either.

Crow Leasow B&B

Another property operating in a similar way is Crow Leasow B&B. Sally and Robin’s English country home can be found in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Sally markets her B&B as something in between a B&B and an exclusive holiday rental.

She said: “We can’t change entirely because there are too many animals here to let out the whole house! We’ve just been away for three nights and had to get house sitters in because of all of our livestock.

“But we are considering letting the whole house out to guests that we know and guests that have stayed with us before.

“We recently had some guests stay with us for the second time, who brought their daughter and son-in-law, and now they want to bring the rest of the family.”

She added: “I think they will want me to cook though so I can’t do a runner! But they have hens and dogs etc. so we’d have no issue moving out for them if they decided they’d like to rent the whole house.”

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