What makes a good first impression?

What makes a good first impression? Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism - the accommodation assessment scheme for VisitEngland, takes a look. Deborah manages a field force of more than 40 accommodation assessors, who each grade around 300 properties a year, ensuring that they are safe, clean and legal.

Picking up one of our assessor handbooks, the very first section is dedicated to ‘overall standards’ assessing how B&Bs and guest houses meet their statutory obligations, keep guests safe, maintain the property, provide access and importantly, the hospitality which is extended to anyone who stays. These handbooks are the bible of our assessors, giving them objective criteria against which they can grade the property up to five star, and creating a benchmark between properties so that there is a level of consistency whether you visit a four star property in Cornwall or Durham. It is important that guests can always rely on the star ratings as a solid indication of the standards, and so the assessment criteria outline minimum entry requirements for each property, with increasing expectations in line with increasing star ratings.

The assessment system grades member properties against more than 80 criteria, across 10 different themes, creating an overall grading, as well as theme-specific marks; this means a property can gain different star ratings for different themes as well as their overall rating, so there is opportunity to excel regardless of individual limitations. For example, in some cases, structural limitations prevent accommodation providers from meeting certain criteria; if a B&B operates from a Grade 2 listed building, it may be impossible to provide an en-suite bathroom, even if they can provide private facilities – the difference between a one star and three stars grading for bathrooms.

Back to making an excellent first impression and there are several key areas on which B&B owners need to focus. The first is of course compliance with legislation, including everything from public liability insurance through to local planning regulations. We also assess businesses on pricing and payment policies, cancellation policies and the like, ensuring that businesses meet all legal obligations. This is one of the few assessment themes that has no differentiation between one and five stars, as either a business is compliant, or it isn’t. Failure to meet these basic requirements means failure to get a successful star rating.

From here, first impressions start to come into play and individual policies and practices have more bearing on the overall star rating. Our assessors are looking at the presentation of the property; are the gardens neat and tidy, are the paths and steps clear, is the exterior décor in good condition, even whether the property is welcoming. They will check the equivalent on the inside of the property and will pay close attention to the cleanliness and the consistency throughout; from the bathrooms, shower curtains and hall areas, to the bedding, linen, towels and crockery. It will all be inspected and it will all be graded.

One key area where B&Bs often fail, is with legislative compliance, which our inspectors check at the end of the visit. Although the majority of B&Bs are usually covered and meet all the legislative requirements, sadly many do not have these aspects prominently displayed, or easily accessible for an inspection. Failure to produce the documentation, even if they are 100% compliant, will result in a failed grading and an advisory warning. We always suggest keeping all this documentation together in one place and for owners to familiarise themselves with what they are expected to display, making these clearly visible to guests. In fact, we are currently working on a partnership with a major hospitality processes brand, to provide members with a simple, easy and effective method of recording this information and automating many of the processes and reporting.

B&Bs can excel during the standards inspection too, going the extra mile to accommodate guests and improve their business. We regularly grade properties on their accessibility, including evacuation strategies for people with disabilities, as well as staff handover for guests with special requirements, and sustainability is another area where owners can and do go the extra mile. Opting for low-impact or eco- cleaning products, advising guests of the local public transport network and even installing solar panels can be assessed as part of the ‘extra-mile’ grading, which push properties into a comfortable lead on their score.

The assessment service has two very clear objectives; the first is to impartially and clearly grade properties on their amenities and provisions, providing owners with relevant, objective information on their current performance and areas for improvement. The second is an active benchmarking initiative, providing a clearly assessed standard across properties which otherwise cannot be compared, and providing potential guests with impartial, accountable information on a property, that ensures they are safe, clean and legal, in an industry which currently lacks regulation. This is particularly important with the rise in ‘home stay’ environments, which lack many of the expected health and safety benefits, such as fire doors and escape routes – an inevitable disaster.

This article is from: www.hotelowner.co.uk


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