Will we ever see bed & breakfasts in the Gulf?

Hotel industry consultant Guy Wilkinson contemplates the feasibility of bringing the good old English bed and breakfast concept to the region. Will this be the next big thing for Middle Eastern hospitality?

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By  Guy Wilkinson Published  December 20, 2006

|~|0104fawl-B.jpg|~|Bed & breakfasts, such as that portrayed in the BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, are a British tradition.|~|When I go back to the UK on leave, I very often stay at a bed & breakfast. It’s actually a bit ironic, considering that I earn my living analysing the prospects of expensive luxury hotels in the Gulf. I guess it’s to avoid having what they call a busman’s holiday. But it’s not only that.

What do you get at a B&B, or what the French call a ‘gite’ or the Italians, a ‘pension’? Firstly, you can reasonably expect to get a good deal on the room rate. B&Bs effectively line the bottom of the lodging market.

They’re typically home-spun, family-run operations and by definition, you lower your expectations of professionalism when you pas through the quaint, ivy-entwined front door. But one is often happily surprised at the level of efficiency, quite apart from the warmth of the hospitality.

My wife and I stayed last week at a rather elegant B&B in a Belgravia mews, just a stone’s throw from the Lowndes Hotel run by Jumeirah, and at a fraction of the price (at least of the London hotel rates, if not Dubai’s). The lady who runs it has just one unit to rent, but that includes a bedroom, a small living room and a bathroom.

Being a painter and interior designer, the space was very nicely decorated, including a fantastic animal painting by the lady herself.

The central heating worked fine, the flat had a wireless broadband connection and after our self-service continental breakfast, we had the kitchen (with unlimited coffee) to ourselves as well. The quiet back road had a great little corner shop and no less than two village-style pubs. All this, just round the corner from Harrods!

The good thing about B&Bs from both the owner’s and the guests’ viewpoint, is that they are stripped down operations. You get a big — often fantastic — breakfast, clean sheets, hot shower and that’s about it.

Maybe some leaflets from local tourist attractions. And that means that Mrs Smith, to pick a name, can quite easily get a system going that allows her to cook breakfast, kick everyone out and make the beds by lunchtime, and still have time to play golf in the afternoon and look after her family in the evening.

What then happens, at least in the case of successful B&Bs, is that Mrs Smith can soon afford to hire Mrs Mop to help with the chores of cooking and cleaning.

My wife and I stay regularly at a B&B near Dublin in Ireland that has three guest rooms, together with a separate living room and dining room especially for the guests.

The living room has a TV and a kettle for guests to make themselves a cuppa, and if they’re well-behaved, they even get a chocolate biscuit from the patroness (together with some tasty but harmless Irish gossip).

The house is modern, but the living room is nicely fitted out with antique furniture, nice landscape paintings and fresh flowers, with windows looking out onto a beautifully kept garden.

The dining room, where breakfast is served, is a great place to watch the local children going off to school, while listening to the local radio chat show covering the burning topics of the day.

The lady of the house tailors her breakfast menu to the guest’s personal taste or requirements. I personally favour the ‘full Irish breakfast’ with porridge, yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, toast and a pot of tea!

What more could you want? We have even become friends with the owner’s family over the year. We know all about what grades their children are doing at school and the parents were a very comforting presence at my father’s funeral.

Would this sort of thing be possible in the Gulf? Perhaps it is already happening, but I think it would be difficult, for various reasons.

The most persuasive in my view is the fact that we live in a part of the world dominated by Islam, and it’s much more difficult that a Muslim family will invite you into their house if they don’t know you beforehand. This is of course especially true of local women.

Even a perfectly innocent relationship of the type I have with our landlady in Ireland would be very difficult to strike up with a local lady over here, I guess.

Another factor is the fact that B&Bs in the UK or their international equivalents, from Europe to Latin America, are typically opened by people who either need to establish a small business, or who want to earn some extra income — typically a wife augmenting her husband’s income.

Without wanting to over-simplify the situation in the Gulf, many local nationals are well enough off not to need to do this.

However, there are some interesting questions to be asked when it comes to expatriates, especially now as increasing numbers are owning their own flats or houses. I once stayed at a B&B near Heathrow, which was a fascinating window into the Caribbean culture.

So if UK-based ex-pats can do it, why not Gulf ex-pats? Wouldn’t it be nice to come to Dubai or Manama, and stay with an Indian or Filipino family, and learn about their ways and their experiences of their host cultures?

I believe that before long, this will be a reality in the Gulf.
Already, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing is known to be considering the establishment of an office to establish standards for the rental of individually-owned residential apartments to tourists.

This is not quite the B&B concept, but it will in my view inevitably lead to people wanting to let one or two rooms in their beautiful freehold townhouses or villas on an overnight basis — especially given the soaring hotel room rates — and that is indeed the B&B concept.

Guy Wilkinson is a hotel industry consultant based in Dubai. For more information,
e-mail: guy@wilkinsonline.com.||**||

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