Expectation vs experience: The B&B story

PHOTO: The Star/ANN

Some time ago, a Star2 reader wrote in to complain that a B&B that she had stayed at overseas fell below her expectations.

The story went viral and the operator responded, saying that the guest's expectations were unrealistic, and the complaints unfounded.

This begs the question: What can travellers who stay at B&Bs expect? Are these expectations realistic, and what are their actual experiences at the B&B?

On the other hand, what do B&B operators offer, and expect of, their guests? Is there anything that can be done to narrow the gap between the expectations and actual experience?

Also, what is the difference between staying at a B&B and other establishments like a hotel or a motel?

Star2 talks to some B&B guests and operators to find out. Good, bad and ugly

Some years ago, a technical glitch caused Danielle Teoh's reservation at a hotel in Auckland, New Zealand, to be cancelled. Fortunately, she was with some friends at that time. They remained calm and decided to look for other accommodation options.

"One of my friends suggested that we check out a bed & breakfast," says Teoh. Having only stayed at hotels previously, the accounting executive was initially against the idea of staying at a B&B. But she conceded and had a fairly comfortable overnight stay before checking in to a hotel closer to the city the next day.

While some basic items such as toothbrushes weren't provided, Teoh says the homemade breakfast helped cushion her first ever stay at a B&B.

Although she cannot recall the name of the property, Teoh remembers having a fairly comfortable stay at the cosy five-bedroom house owned by an elderly couple.

Jasmine Tan, 20, who stayed at a B&B in Inverness, Scotland, with her family, didn't have such a positive experience with her host.

"We didn't have much privacy because the lady was always in the dining room, watching us. Whenever we accidentally spilled stuff, she would instantly come over to wipe it up," says Tan. However, that incident hasn't marred her perception of B&Bs.

For those who have never stayed at a B&B, it's often considered a no-frills option. The Huffington Post once reported that most people aren't quite sure what to think of B&Bs.

As someone who travels regularly for work and leisure, Baki Zainal, 34, a travel show host and radio announcer, says that staying at a B&B is something he does quite often and usually his expectations are met.

"I'd stay in a B&B to feel and get to know the soul of the place that I'm exploring, the rich colours and unspoken stories of the place. Plus, most B&Bs are bicycle-friendly, which is important to me," he adds. When asked what he expects of a B&B, he says that besides the usual facilities, free WiFi is a plus, and towels and a map would be great.

He has stayed in a few B&Bs in Malaysia and around the region and generally, his experiences have been positive. To Baki, it is the little things that make a difference, such as the ambience.

"There was one particular B&B that exceeded my expectations - the Platform Coffee & Homestay in Pekan Nenas, Johor. I stayed there during my last tour around Peninsular Malaysia on my bicycle.

However, there was one time when another B&B did not meet his expectations. "I stayed at this place in Perlis that not only claimed to be a B&B but also a boutique hotel. But the experience was bad and when we checked in, we realised that it was not even up to the standard of a motel. The toilets were in a bad condition and the mattresses sagged when you lay on them. The only thing they had going for them was the spectacular view." B&B basics

For Catherine Olsen who operates Malvern Bed & Breakfast at Mt Albert in Auckland, New Zealand, the term "budget" can be a relatively subjective one.

"I think it depends on what you are looking for in your travels. In my experience, hotels are the same no matter where in the world you travel to," she says.

However, Olsen believes that just because B&Bs are cheaper doesn't mean that guests should have low expectations.

"Guests should have, at the very least, a bedroom and bathroom with linen and towels to themselves. Generally, I would expect a sitting and dining area separate from the hosts' own spaces," she offers.

Olsen adds that there should be toiletries, tea and coffee, books, local information, free WiFi, television, wardrobe and some type of heating or cooling system.

Sue Burrell - who operates Millgate Bed & Breakfast in England, with her husband Andrew - agrees with Olsen about guests' expectations on B&Bs.

"Guests checking into a B&B should expect to be welcomed by the owners. They should expect a clean home, a comfortable bed, and a breakfast that is cooked to order with quality ingredients," says Burrell.

"I believe in today's hospitality marketplace, there is as much variation in quality, size and location, " she offers, "The difference between a hotel and a B&B is that with a B&B the owner is inviting you into their home and you are sharing their experience, culture, food and their lifestyle in a very personal way."

Burrell's B&B in North Yorkshire has been hailed as one of the best B&Bs by TripAdvisor's Travellers' Choice awards.

While she's proud of the accomplishment, Burrell says the best thing about opening her home to strangers is the unexpected bond she and her husband forge with fellow travellers.

"We enjoy receiving guests from all over the world and sharing experiences with them. We are proud of our lovely home, we have fun with visitors and we re-invest our income from the B&B to constantly improve our home for the benefit of our guests," she explains.

The couple who runs Sarang Vacation Homes in Kuala Lumpur - Michael Fong and Christina Foo - feel that travellers who stay in a B&B are looking for more than just accommodation. They are looking for the experience of getting to know the local culture and relating to the local people.

"Apart from just providing a room and food, B&B operators should do their best to be ambassadors of Kuala Lumpur. We look after our guests when they are sick. We introduce them to our family doctor, dentist or optician when they need those services. We include them in our celebrations like Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya and Christmas. They can even go with us to feed the homeless. We treat them like part of the family," explains Foo.

She adds that it's the personal touch that is important. This is what makes it different from staying in a hotel or a motel, which might be more impersonal.

But she admits that some guests have unrealistic expectations. "There were a few guests who thought that staying in a B&B is like staying in a hotel with room service. They would instruct our staff to make them coffee or tea at certain times during the day,"

They have also had their fair share of "funny" experiences. "A number of our guests did arrive without any local currency and they had maxed out the ATM so we had to loan them money for their stay in KL. Thankfully, so far, they have all paid us back.

"As for funny requests, we have had a few guests who booked for two persons, but when they arrived, they had a group of eight, and all of them wanted to stay in one room. Now, that's not funny!" she says, with a laugh.

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