Hospitality hasn’t changed for as long as we care to think

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Hospitality hasn’t changed for as long as you care to think

I was out to see a new potential holiday let in North Herefordshire a few of days ago.

The owners were very pleasant and lived in what looked like an idyll. Sadly, the let was very 1980s with clashing colours, deeply sculpted wooden kitchen cupboards, dated taps, door furniture and that reddish wood finish on the doors and elsewhere. The furniture was rather cast off / hand me down. However, they listened and, unlike in many places, although there was some hurt on hearing what I tried to say in a gentle oblique but clear manner, (the description is as awkward as I felt), they appeared to be the sort of owners we can do really good business with.

forgetmenot16We hope, in due course, to be able to have a successful long term relationship with them. However, we did receive some first class news about a couple of our existing owners and their holiday lets recently. They understand hospitality.

Most of the fundamentals do not change from decade to decade or, even, from century to century. As my memory has changed and my ability to concentrate, I have at a late stage, ‘discovered’ many of the classic authors which normally open up to teenagers. The latest book I am ploughing through is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. This sort of thing was a closed book to me for fifty years and more but, last weekend, I sat down and started reading:

“It was the best of times and it was the worst of times….” The sentence seemed to go on for ever, in a pleasingly landscape way, devoid of the sparse short attention span punctuation common to the modern style. Today’s approach seems a series of snap shots desperately trying to turn into a film if you move them quickly enough where this style is more languid, as if a series of (rather dark, being Dickens) landscapes or paintings merging, one into the other.

From Ch 4. The Preparation:

After a vivid description of travelling in a coach to Dover the next morning, Mr Lorry of Tellisons Bank enters the coffee room of the hotel at Dover. The description could be today as much as well over 200 years ago:

‘The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the gentleman in brown. His breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as he sat, with its light shining on him, waiting for the meal, he sat so still, that he might have been sitting for his portrait.‘

Link to the entire text

The moment I read these lines, memories of a thousand business trips returned. But, more importantly, it reminded me that the fundamental of all good hospitality have not changed that much for as long as you may wish to think. The slog of the coach up Shooters Hill, the filthy weather and the rest were all thrown into the present day; experience can give that extra ability to squeeze more from what is written. The benefit of others experience can make any business, holiday letting or whatever, that much more likely to succeed and to be an enjoyable one on the way.

Two very recent bits of feedback from pleased guests were received by our sister business on 16 September say it all:

I thought this cottage (Forget me Not) was wonderful. I’ve stayed in many holiday cottages including Landmarks and this was Forget me not

It was stylishly furbished, equipment was top of the range (though I found this challenging as I’m a Luddite)and every last detail had been thought of and every situation provided for. Nothing was tatty or second rate or skimped. It is maintained and cleaned to an excellent standard. It is looked after lovingly.It was wonderful to have one’s dog feel welcomed and not just tolerated, with the dog treats, toys, pooh bags, emergency dog food, dishes etc.

I should have loved to have seen old photos of the cottage and its conversion. I’m sure many people are interested in this. There was a wealth of information for walkers, cyclists and other tourists and it is perfectly positioned to access all the interesting market towns and iconic walking areas..

Quite simply the best holiday cottage I’ve ever stayed in.

Just the best cottage (Honeysuckle) we have ever stayed at in 25 years. Everything was excellent. The decor, fittings and views were the best. Cannot really say any more than this.07

The owners have mastered the art of hospitality and, aside from healthy profits for our business, receiving these we consider is everything that good holiday letting is all about. They understand and feel for hospitality and know the fundamentals as well as really care that they provide a good service and that guests have a good time. The fictional hotel Mr Lorry stayed in at Dover brought back so many memories; but it appears these two owners could have taught that establishment a thing or two.

The trick is, of course, to take any information, guidance, advice, from blogs, and forums etc: and reduce the need for first hand experience to an absolute minimum; as with science and philosophy, ‘we are as dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants’. There is no total substitute for experience but learning things the easy way should be the aim, so you can get on and do other things in the meantime.

How I wish I had appreciated this better when giving up trying to read Dickens, all those years ago.

Fun parking the car: surprises for holiday home owners

Running a holiday let can bring in some odd surprises:

Nearly a decade ago, we left London in our battered Peugeot followed by two small lorries and a van stuffed full of our possessions. Where we lived at the end of The Roman Road in the East End was changing fast from a settled population, to mirror what so much of the rest of the area has long experienced, to a place of many different cultures and transient inhabitants.


The old rules of settling matters had turned from being opaque to newcomers but ones that you gradually learnt and were able to use into a myriad of different ways and understandings of how to run things smoothly. It was all getting a little complicated and in our road where we once knew how to, say, stop a teenager from throwing pebbles at windows, by having a quiet word in the pub; this simple but highly effective method, often, no longer worked. One of the strange aspects of living in what others saw as a ‘tough area’ was that, once you were established and knew the ropes, most of the ‘toughness’ seemed to fall away.

Impressionist pictures of bars are sometimes criticised as being a romanticised and unrealistic depiction of what were a radically tough and quite dangerous places. Even, today, you can visit one or two pubs in the West End and feel, as an outsider, that they are not very welcoming. However, once you are known and you know, those around you transform. The picture showed not the grimaces or actual looks, but the gentleness many felt for each other from such intimacy. It is easy to read a place quite incorrectly until you understand. There are three aspects any onlooker can have: not understanding; understanding but still outside; and, within. So looking at a place can have these differing complexions.DSCF1670

However, London was changing as it always does and it no longer suited us so we moved to a very different World in provincial England. There was much to learn in our new home; one of the most astonishing and small differences was over something quite extraordinary for city dwellers. If you found a parking space in London, close to your house, you would be very pleased. Some people spend large sums for parking permits but these by no means guarantee that any spaces will be available. In many London streets can be seen cars parked that could buy a house in the provinces. But in the provinces, well, in our part of the countryside, although parking on the street outside is free and always available, off-road parking is considered one of the most, if not the most, important extra any house can possess.

Where we were delighted to be able to park within a couple of minutes walk or less of the house, some locals appeared to consider the situation with something akin to horror. This small difference in attitude was telling and reminded us that London is a very different place. More importantly, we realised that parking is a very important thing to consider if you are thinking of buying a holiday let, let alone a normal house.

If you are running one and there is no off-road parking, it is a good idea to provide excellent information about all the local parking available. One owner has even taken a picture of the parking charges posted up on the ticket machine. Surprisingly, providing a garage with a holiday let, which is a rare extra, does attract more bookings. Perhaps these bookings do not come from Londoners, but many others from the rest of the country appreciate this unlikely extra. Many owners use a garage to store things or provide space for maintenance / cleaning equipment and other extras to run a holiday let… this convenience can cost them two or more bookings a year.DSCF0293

It may sound strange, but it is easy to overlook the importance many attach to looking after their cars and keeping them out of the weather. Other useful extras are enclosed gardens. These are useful for owners who habitually let their dogs out into the garden in the evening whilst they remain indoors. There are many different styles that owners employ with their pets and it can be a mistake to assume that they will manage things as you might. Country Holiday Lets learnt this a couple of years back when an owner assumed ‘pet friendly’ meant that a fully enclosed garden was provided. To ensure any such misunderstanding could not happen again, a separate page was created to provide a clear explanation of what ‘pet friendly’ meant.

Running holiday lets can be quite surprising. I suppose, the trick is to find out as much as possible about the surprises before you start out. The problem is that, however much research and preparation you do, you cannot be totally prepared. Perhaps this is part of the challenge of running a holiday let business. As newcomers to a rural town, we were quite shocked by the attitude towards parking; where we were grateful to be able to park our car near to our home, others saw it as a major problem and one that should not be tolerated. You should always be ready for similar surprises if you decide running a holiday cottage is something for you.

You can be certain that life will never be dull.