The future of the Irish B&B

Statistics just released reveal that stays in B&Bs are down sharply. Not long ago this was a booming sector of the accommodation market in Ireland, so what went wrong?

There are excellent B&Bs in Ireland, but the truth is they are outnumbered by the legions of average, poor and plain awful places. The problem is that until you stay in one is no way of telling which type it is.

The Failte Approved sign indicates that basic requirements have been met:  it means they are clean, well enough equipped and met the approval criteria. But how much you enjoy your stay is not really about the number of bathrooms or the size of the beds. These sort of things tell you nothing at all about the quality of the experience you will have.

Too often a B&B stay is like this:

You enter a hallway full of brochures and other tourism paraphernalia, are welcomed and shown your adequate but unexciting and often quite small room, are given a key and told when and where breakfast is served. Then you are pretty much on your own, free to come and go with nobody paying much attention to you.

You are not however encouraged to ‘hang around the house’ – in fact guests who do are often made to feel uncomfortable. There will be a bit of perfunctory chat while breakfast is served, in a characterless ‘guests only’ room, then you pay and go on your way.

Next please.

There was a time when you really were treated as a family guest, or at least something close, now that is just a nice idea but a rare experience. Many B&Bs are purpose built, the family may not live in the part the guests sleep in and even if they do you will have nothing to do with them and may not even see them.

Two people sharing a room in a B&B will now regularly be asked to pay from €70 per night up €120 to  in popular locations. With a little digging around you can get a hotel room in a decent hotel for that or a little more. In a hotel you have access to a bar and a restaurant, there will be someone to carry your bags to your room and staff available all day.

There will most likely be a night porter to let you in and get you a drink if you return late and you’ll have a place to hang around if the day is really wet. There may even be a pool or some other leisure facilities.

That’s a lot of added value for relatively little more money.

Those B&B owners who recognise this and offer a quality service, with true hospitality, a genuine welcome, a ‘home away from home’ atmosphere and overall an experience that their guests really enjoy are doing just fine and will continue to do so – word of mouth alone will see to it that such gems are valued.

Many of the others, if they don’t see the writing on the wall, are doomed.

Published: January 5, 2009 | Updated: January 5, 2009

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  • kevin lanigan says:

    Hi, spent a month in Ireland just roaming town to town. Had to laugh at the tourist brochures at the door. I recommend taking a long term view of it all and make your own “experience”. Consider the B&B your safe house with a good local guide to get you fed, good drink, good music, old castles etc. if you choose.
    The serendipity of it  all is where the real fun is!
    Key note about Ireland, never sit at a table in a pub if you want to meet people, the action is always at the bar… “so your from the states?”…

  • Lorie says:

    I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. My first experience with B&Bs was a couple of years ago and I chose that route reluctantly, only because it meant I could spend an extra week in Ireland. I stayed in 17 different B&Bs and can honestly say that I’d be happy to return each one of them. But one of the things I liked best was that there was a degree of being removed, somewhat impersonal — I didn’t WANT to be like a guest in their home, with all the responsibilities that go with that. I wanted the freedom of being able to go to my room rather than feeling forced to make small talk with people who I’d never see again. In all but one case, my hosts were lovely, friendly people who made it clear that they’d be glad to be helpful — people with whom I enjoyed chatting — but not with the expectation that we’d become each other’s new best friends!

  • Karon says:

    On my last trip to Ireland, I was very suprised to see that a lovely hotel in Ardara cost less than some of the B&B’s I had seen online! I had a great room, with all the amenities as well as a full breakfast for 55 euro.
    I, too, have always stayed at BandB’s to avoid the “indifference” of a hotel.  But several of the B&B’s I stayed at my last trip (10/09), fall into the descriptions of some of those in the article. A B&B will still be my main choice – I would only recommend to someone looking is to plan through the internet.  There’s plenty to look at online a head of time to avoid somthing that’s unsatisfactory.

  • Sharon says:

    I live in the USA and have spent the last ten years traveling and always make it a point to stay at B&B’s – the last two times in Ireland, I just had the best time, but the place went out of business – dismal economic times!

    I love this little article because it clearly states some of the ‘difficulties’ with staying at a B&B vs. a hotel.

    The welcome, to me is the most important thing. Right away I know whether or not I spend one night or three at the place (I rarely reserve a B&B – just go with the flow – that way, I can get ‘out’ of a nasty situation, and quickly.

    I stay at a B&B because I want to ‘know’ the people of the land I visit. There is no sense in spending a small fortune just sleeping in a place. I can do that in a hotel and, as you say, get some nice amenities for my dollar. I do NOT want to cook though. I would love to sit and watch – but that rarely happens. However, I love it when the host at least spends a few moments at the meal with me.

    I always ask what my host would suggest as a place to eat, what local pub has music to my tastes, and what is ‘the’ best ‘tourist’ attraction in the vicinity.

    I am blessed in that I have many friends here in the states who have relatives with B&B’s in Ireland – so I never have to worry about a ‘nasty’ experience.

    Thanks for the neat article.

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