‘Shape up’ ultimatum for B&Bs

Bob Hillery, President of Bridlington Tourism Association and owner of the Spinnaker Hotel
Bob Hillery, President of Bridlington Tourism Association and owner of the Spinnaker Hotel
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WITH their hanging baskets, brightly painted facades and homely welcome, the bed and breakfast establishments and guest houses of Bridlington are as much a part of the resort’s character as its sweeping promenade and soft, sandy beaches.

But they could be about to disappear under radical plans to refocus the town’s economy.

The Bridlington Area Action Plan has an uncompromising message for their owners – raise your game or leave the industry.

Its authors say that to capitalise on the £20m refurbishment of the historic Spa there is a pressing need to attract at least one large, “good quality”, full service hotel of at least 100 bedrooms, but warns the market is unlikely to respond without major changes.

They include “encouragement for the large stock of existing B&Bs and guest houses either to improve their performance or change their use to remove the drag effect on the prospective hotel market of the large quantity of cheap accommodation”.

It is a prospect that has understandably alarmed the army of small businesses in the sector, who are proud of what they offer and working hard to survive amid a double-dip recession and the vagaries of a British summer.

Bob Hillery, 72, is the longest-serving guest house owner in the resort and has seen many changes in his 31 years at The Spinnaker House Hotel in Pembroke Terrace, which is just a stone’s throw from the beach and offers commanding views of the deep blue sea beyond.

He is also president of the 100-member Bridlington Tourism Association, and although he would welcome the prospect of a plush new hotel in the resort, argues passionately in defence of the smaller businesses – and their clientele.

He called the plan to drive out under-performers “ridiculous”, and said: “We have some of the finest B&Bs and hotels in the country, bar none. The hospitality is second to none.

“I don’t agree with that at all. We have been a four-star hotel with Visit Britain for years but each year they change the standards and ‘we say we don’t take enough money to do the things you are asking’. The tourist board say ‘charge 50 per cent more’.

“They would look at things to improve if there was some money but how can you change use? There’s nothing else to do. It’s a bit like telling a farmer to do B&B; that’s OK but it’s not going to help him milk the cows and do his farming.

“It’s easy for people sitting in offices to pass judgment. We have done surveys over the years asking people what they want and they say we come for a clean environment, streets not full of potholes, the litter picking up. We want the basics, we don’t want anything lavish.

“I’m not sure how we could improve our performance or change use – to what?”

He added: “There’s always going to be the market for the lower end. I remember Blackpool coming out and saying they weren’t happy with the type of visitors they were getting; well, you might as well tell the people you have got they are rubbish, don’t bother coming. These are good, loyal customers and whether or not they are in the high spending bracket is irrelevant.”

Such arguments are a far cry from the resort’s heyday of the 1960s and 70s, before the advent of cheap foreign holidays, when Bridlington’s pull on families from the West Riding was such that it was affectionately known as “Leeds on Sea”.

“They are still profitable businesses but they are not as prolific as they used to be,” said Mr Hillery.

“When we first came in, on a Saturday morning from 8am they would be queuing at the door to see if we had vacancies. We’d say ‘You don’t have to wait, we’ll save you a room’, but they’d say ‘Is it all right if we wait in the lounge until we have a room’? Those days have gone.

“Foreign holidays have played their part. Almost every guest house and hotel has en-suite facilities now, that was brought about by foreign holidays. Thirty-one years ago it was a novelty to have hot and cold running water in your room.

“Also the work processes have changed. We used to have holiday weeks, we’d have Bradford holidays and a two-week influx. The West Riding factories just don’t close down any more and most have 24-hour production.”

He said a new marina, one of the most ambitious aspects of the plan, would provide a “massive boost”, but believes the town still has much going for it.

“The biggest single thing Bridlington has is the safety aspect,” he said. “And the number of pensioners who say ‘How lovely it is to have dinner and go for a walk. I wouldn’t dare do that at home but at Bridlington I feel very safe and I can walk about’.

“If people feel it’s right they will stick with it.”