Business recovery stories: Bridleways B&B and holiday home

Bridleways, Nottinghamshire, offers both bed & breakfast and self-catering accommodation. The current management team took over the business in 2017 and their proactive approach has helped the business discover new markets and thrive during the pandemic.

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Their initiatives included:

1. Understanding the risks. The first thing that the team did to respond to COVID-19 was conduct a detailed risk assessment.  This looked at each operational area of the business and the existing processes that were in place.  Areas of high risk were identified and procedures adapted to ensure staff and visitors could be kept safe.

‘We quickly recognised we needed to provide reassurance to customers. On our social media we focused on posting information about how we were COVIDSecure, and we put the We’re Good to Go and AA Confident badges on our website the moment we were awarded them’.

2. Adapting the service style. The risk assessment indicated that the restaurant would need to close as it wasn’t possible to accommodate social distancing.  A ‘Grab’n’Go’ option was quickly introduced for breakfasts and a microwave installed in the breakfast room for guest use.  Fridges were put into rooms to enable guests to bring their own food and takeaway menus were made available.  Extra services, such as doing the shopping or providing the occasional meal to long term guests, provided further customer care.

‘How we treat people and look after them is critical. Little touches make all the difference. If someone’s coming back late we close the curtains, put a night light on and a bottle of cold water in the fridge. People really appreciate them, leave great reviews, and they’re worth real cash in future’.

3. Rebuilding consumer confidence. An extensive social media campaign and revisions to the website made it clear to potential customers that the business was COVIDSecure.  This maintained awareness with their customer base and led to direct bookings through social media channels.  Being an early adopter of the VisitEngland ‘We’re Good to Go’ and AA ‘COVID Confident’ guidance provided visibility online; visuals of masks, hand sanitisers and signage throughout the property reassured customers that COVID-19 processes were being followed.  In-bedroom folders provided more information to guests about the measures that were being taken.

4. Growing existing markets. In the first lockdown one long stay guest was legally allowed to stay as they’d been displaced from their home, and had been booked in by their insurance company’s accommodation agent. This was the seed for an idea to inform the agency – and other insurance booking agencies - that Bridleways remained open for similar bookings. Similarly, some business customers needed to stay away from home and by actively engaging with their employers valuable long stay business was secured. Bookings from these segments was critical to the business’s survival.

5. Widening reach for online bookings.  Before the pandemic, Bridleways B&B accommodation could already be booked online, direct via their website and through several online travel agencies (OTAs). To help replace business lost during the first lockdown, they signed up to additional booking channels, including TXGB. Once out of lockdown this led to direct benefits, including increased bookings and an improved Google ranking. Indirectly their increased visibility online generated additional bookings for the self-catering offer when people called directly after seeing the B&B rooms on the OTA sites.

‘Customer behaviours are changing with more people preferring online to engage with your business and book. You’ll fall behind if you don’t keep up with that change. If you don’t have the technical knowledge, ask a friend and your local Destination Management Organisation, and if you can afford it pay for support. It’s been essential to our survival’.

6. Getting professional help. Acknowledging they had a knowledge and skills gap, the team sourced outside professional help with social media and web development which expanded their social media footprint, improved dwell time on the website and increased the volume of reviews.  The OTAs’ free ‘handholding’ through the process of integrating with Bridleways’ own booking management system was also invaluable. Booking volumes increased – in fact the value of increased bookings has more than paid for the cost of the specialist advice.

How other B&Bs have adapted: Carlton Lodge

The owners of Carlton Lodge, Hemsley, had the added challenge of being completely new to their business, having bought and moved into the B&B two days into the first lockdown. Despite the uncertainties that followed having to cancel all the bookings for the immediate future, Lisa and Harry decided to use the opportunity to remodel the business to make it more ‘outdoor friendly’ by putting in a new drying room, boot racks, and outside sink for washing muddy boots, tyres and paws. 

They worked with the North York Moors National Park Authority to become officially Walking Friendly, following this with a grant application to become Nature, Cycling and Dark Skies Friendly.  Using Strava, they also created a ‘menu’ of walking, running and cycling routes that they could share with their guests once they were able to open. They also started Dark Skies Trail Runs for beginners, which Lisa led for local people, with an emphasis on boosting self-esteem, raising confidence and addressing mental health challenges.