As hotels are just beginning to attract new bookings again, venue owners have been raising their concern over the dominance of the large booking agencies such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.
Some of you may have seen the feature about this on BBC South East News where both Paul King of Saltcote Place and Judith Blincow of the Mermaid Inn gave their views and, with the difficulties currently faced by the hospitality sector, King says their hope is to educate visitors that booking direct will always have a better end result.
Paul King says: “Booking sites are a vital tool for many venues, but their dominance is anti-competitive. All we ask for is a level playing field. Every venue is happy to pay online travel agents for bringing in additional revenue, but what you don’t want to do is to compete with your partner.”
Venues are not allowed to offer lower prices than on their websites, but the booking companies can undercut their prices by a small amount to secure a booking. Judith Blincow says: “The online sites are very useful in helping people to find us, but that comes with huge costs.”
She said : “These sites are often buying listings in a hotel’s name so people putting in ‘Mermaid Inn’ to look for us will go to the booking site which they might mistakenly think is the actual Mermaid Inn”.
The Mermaid has seen a remarkable surge in returning residents and guests. The phones have been in constant use. The summer is starting to resemble previous times.
The return to providing hospitality is not without its challenges. All staff have been given training on the regulations to meet Covid-19 guidelines. PPE is worn by the staff who are in contact with customers. The Mermaid Covid-19 protocol is displayed on the website, and all residents prior to check in, receive a “stay safe” letter.
The Mermaid now has an entrance for residents use only, an entrance for diners only, and the exit from the building is onto Mermaid Street.
The Giants Fireplace Bar and patio area have been extended to allow the one metre plus guidance, and a continental style table service is now in place. No more bar service and this does mean a relaxed environment in which to enjoy food and drink.
Feedback from guests so far as been extremely positive but there may well be further challenges to be faced, and three months of trading has been lost so the Mermaid needs to remain adaptable and positive. But the historic Mermaid, with cellars dating from 1156 and most of the building dating from 1420, has experienced plagues before, and survived and thrived.
Getting the best deal
But, returning to the present day, with commission often up to 25%, customers are very unlikely to get a better deal from a price comparison site than by going directly to the hotel. and Paul from Saltcote points out that Visit England with their TXGB (Tax Exchange GB) brand has aligned with the online travel agencies and takes a 2% booking fee, thus adding further to the cost of a short stay.
And hotels and accommodation providers are already facing additional costs in following Covid-19 guidelines and are having to adapt and find new ways of working.
Paul runs Saltcote Weddings which their website states offer ‘ideal facilities for weddings, anniversaries and those significant celebrations in life’ and changes have had to be made, and they are in the process of adding a marquee in the grounds which will offer ventilated space and be the perfect size for small groups and bubbles.
And at the time of speaking they had already had four wedding enquiries, and their first B&B guests after the Covid-19 lockdown started were just arriving. The B&B offering at Saltcote Place is for adults looking for plenty of space and calm to relax – and is a “no children” venue.
Use it or lose it
Paul has been campaigning for some time for VAT rates to be cut on leisure and tourism and is very pleased that the Chancellor has just announced that the rate would be reduced from 20% to 5%. Chancellor Rishi Sunak made the following point: “We need to give these businesses the confidence to know that if they open up – invest in making their premises safe, and protect jobs – demand will be there, and be there quickly.”
Paul hopes that more can be done to encourage customers, visiting friends or relatives to book direct with venues and to use all the facilities that Rye has to offer. He said: “Cocooned consumers have been ordering online during the pandemic, using Amazon and eBay, but if this continues it will do great damage to the High Street. We need to get people to come back to the High Streets for retail and hospitality.”
“Restaurants are having to pay enormous business rates, based on turnover, but their turnover is right down at the moment so we need locals and visitors to support them.”
Paul, who runs HOTCATS (Hotel and Caterers Association), believes that as Rye has always depended on visitor footfall, it follows that it’s in the best interest of the hospitality and retail sectors to be entwined.
He says “We have been without a chamber of commerce for some time so there is no clear focus on cohesive outbound marketing and branding for the town. I hope we can use this opportunity for the town hall, retail sector and the new Heritage Centre when it opens, to work together and benefit each other.”
Paul runs the The Rye Guide booklet, under the management of Rye Bay Marketing Ltd, which is distributed in and around the town. It is now in its 10th year and it is packed full of things to see and do as well as places to eat and drink.
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Image Credits: Paul King , Mermaid Inn , Nick Forman .