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GREAT BRITAIN - 2016
The changing face of the UK hotel sector
UK hotels long suffered from the reputation of being over-priced and under-modernised when compared to hotels in other parts of Europe. Yet while hotels in some parts of the UK do remain to this day relatively expensive compared to comparable establishments in many other parts of Europe, the gap has been considerably reduced in the last decade or so, thanks to changes in the structure of the industry, and also to its internationalisation.
According to a report published by Hotels.com, the average price of a hotel room in the UK in the middle of 2009 was £83 sterling (for a double room). On the other hand, the average price paid by European visitors to the UK was a bit higher, at 112 € per night. The difference can be explained by the fact that European visitors tend to stay less in the parts of the UK, such as the north of England, where hotel rooms are cheaper. The figure of 112€ per room per night may seem high; and it is indeed higher, for instance, than the average cost of a hotel room in France for the same period, which was only 92 €uros, i.e. almost 20% cheaper.
But the picture needs to be looked at in perspective. Outside popular tourist destinations such as London, Bath and Edinburgh, which attract and cater for a large number of international visitors to the UK, hotel prices in Britain are not too different from those found in France or Germany, even if there is not so much choice in terms of bargain low-cost hotel accommmodation in the UK as in some parts of the Continent. In addition, it must be noted that the cost of a hotel room in the UK generally tends to include breakfast, often a cooked breakfast with bacon, eggs and sausage, cereals, and toast and marmelade. In other words, it is no longer accurate to suggest that prices practiced by hotels in the UK are much higher than those practiced in other parts of Europe.
Indeed from 2003 to 2009, UK hotel room prices dropped relentlessly under the combined influence of three factors: a) highly critical reports in the media and by industry watchdogs, slamming the poor quality of many UK hotels. b) a realisation by the UK travelling public that hotels tended to be cheaper and better value abroad, and c) the profound changes that have affected the UK hotel industry in the past twenty years.
It was in 1985 that the UK hotel industry really began to change; this was the year in which Rocco Forte opened the first "Travelodge", the first modern UK budget chain hotel. The Travelodge chain was an immediate hit, and within two years a second chain, Travel Inn, was getting in on the act, followed shortly after by others, including the French ultra-low cost Formule 1 chain, whose first UK hotel opened in the mid 1990s. The arrival of these chains, with their sophisticated reservation and management techniques, was like an electric shock for the until then rather complacent UK hotel industry.
Traditionally, British hotels had quoted prices per person, not per room. The new chains, well managed and more international in their approach, began publicising prices per room that were comparable to, or even cheaper than, prices per person offered in many traditional UK hotels of the same quality. The traditional hotels, virtually all of them independent, were forced to react to the new situation, lower their prices, or risk going out of business – which many of them did. The drop in hotel room prices was then surely amplified by the Internet, which from the start of the 21st century was being used more and more easily, and frequently, as a way of finding hotels.
As a result, in order to survive, Britain's independent hotels were forced to streamline, modernise, improve their quality, and offer a service that could be seen by customers as being good value for money compared to the new chain hotels. Other than in exceptional circumstances, this became the only way for independent hotels to attract, and ensure the loyalty of increasingly demanding customers.
Two other aspects of the UK hotel industry deserve mention.
Comfort factorsEngland has long been reputed for its comfortable interiors, cosy living rooms, comfortable lounges, soft furnishings and wall-to-wall carpets, and this is reflected in its hotels. With the exception of some low-cost budget hotels, hotels in the UK pay greater attention to comfort and cosiness than theirt continental counterparts. Spacious lounges with comfortable armchairs, bedrooms with deep pile carpet, tea and coffee-making equipment in the room, and other little gestures in favour of the customer. This is especially the case in "country club" style hotels, be they new-build or set up in country houses or grandiose Victorian suburban residences. Of course, there are exceptions; but generally speaking UK travellers in their own country expect to be treated to a degree of cosy comfort that they would not necessarily expect to find in other countries.
Hotel classificationFinally, there is the matter of the classification of hotels in the UK. Unlike some continental countries such as France, where the official classificatioin of hotels is essentially based on amenities, the British classification systems, which are voluntary, are largely based on a qualitative assessment of the hotels, not on the number of services provided. Naturally, quality and amenities frequently increase in tandem with each other, but it is not always the case. The system is frequently modified to take account of changing circumstances, and the UK hotel classification system seem likely, in the near future, to take into account user-assessments posted on the Internet – though this will not be a determining factor.
The UK's quality-based classification system, managed by the national tourism authority Visit Britain, has undoubtedly played a part in encouraging hotel owners, particularly the owners of independent hotels, to pay attention to quality, and thus has been instrumental in improving the overall standards of hotels in the UK. UK hotels are classified on a star scale going from one star to five stars; a similar scale, with less demanding criteria, is applied to guest houses and even bed and breakfast establishments that request classification.
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