The UK’s hotels industry is worth more than £17bn a year so the consumerwatchfoundation.com decided to see if holidaymakers on a budget in the UK are getting a fair deal compared to the rest of Europe.
Budget hotels are ‘sold’ to business travellers, holidaymakers and the like as a clean and comfortable with top-class mattresses, normally next to a pub or fast-food outlet where you can eat relatively cheaply.
Among the main players in the value-for-money end of the market are Holiday Inn Express, Marston’s, Ibis and plenty of privately owned B&B establishments.
Some have enlisted celebrities to endorse the quality of their beds and the quietness of their rooms, like Premier Inns whose benefits were regularly extolled on TV by Brummy comedian Lenny Henry.
But these small to medium-sized hotels offer very limited on-site amenities, no services… “no frills” accommodation is actually a good description.
However, are they always cheap as well sometimes a bit tacky?
Well, that’s what CWF editor Leigh G Banks and chief researcher Andrea Martin-Banks went to check out. They spent more than a month travelling in their old American black sedan for almost three thousands miles across Europe and five countries to find out.
Their conclusions are quite shocking.
The couple’s odd odyssey began at the Spread Eagle in historic Gailey, on the outskirts of Stafford and Wolverhampton in the UK.
The Spread Eagle describes itself as one of the best family pubs in Stafford and its tripadvisor ratings vary from 147 excellent to 77 terrible. Gailey itself is a small village at the junction of the A5 and A449 roads
It was in existence in 1086 when the Domesday Book was compiled but today it is ravaged by thousands of HGVs thundering through it.
On arrival the Marston’s hostelry looks large and cheery, inside it’s clean and friendly and the beer is good – unless you like Marston’s which kept running out during our week there. This was a bit of a surprise as the Spread Eagle pub is part of the historic brewery chain and surely, should be a showcase for its own brilliant beer.
But because of the weather we spent most of our time in the large beer garden, or patio area.
And that’s where it all became a bit sad.
This is no English country garden by the side of the famous Roman military highway of Watling Street, no it’s more of a unkempt playground by the side of a massive car park.
The problem was – and probably still is – that business is so brisk, particularly in all-pervading summer that food and drink are being served at almost conveyor belt efficiency and speed.
However, it is very rare for member of staff to bother to go and clear the outdoor tables, many of which can be over-run by ants. And when they do, they often leave wind-blown serviettes and condiment packets abandoned in the abundant shrubbery. They certainly have no intention of tidying up chairs which have been moved all over the patio area.
It just looks a mess and undermines any good work carried out by the chefs and serving staff.
Okay, it’s a budget hotel – 50 to 75 a night – with an average meal costing £40 for two and beer at around £3 a pint … but watch out for those who want a non alcoholic drink like lime and soda – the soda is free but Andrea was charged 1.50 for the dash of lime!
We had an extended stay at the Spread Eagle, mainly because our car was broken down and we had to wait for a part to be shipped … we had computers, recording equipment and cameras with us, yet for the week we were there at least one of the security doors in the hotel area was broken.
Marstons did not get back to us.
Britain is famous for its eccentrics. And we met one recently… and the way this hotel has been treated surely can be described as madness.
… Mr John Dixon Hart, of the Minster Garth guest house is not mad but it is fair to say he is eccentric. His hotel – or the Beverley guest house as it appears sometimes to be known – stands in the beautiful East Riding market town of Beverley.
The reason I feel confident to describe Mr Hart as eccentric is because that is the word his wife, Andrea, used about him when she phoned me up way back after we had visited the establishment.
So, this is the story – in words and pictures – of how we got our money back off Mr Hart after refusing to stay in his guest house, despite it overlooking the medieval Beverley Minister and its tousled grounds.
This tale actually happened at the beginning of our trip but in deference to Andrea we put off publishing the story because, she told us they were working hard on improving things at the B&B.
Then, as promised, we phoned and asked how the improvements were going.
Mr Hart ordered his wife to hang up on us.
The problem we’d had in the first place was what we saw as the shock-value of the room he tried to rent us AND the strange letter-box chat we had when we dared to complain.
Room No 5 at the Minster Garth was very bad on the day we washed up on his doorstep …
dirt had been allowed to gather in the caste iron Victorian fireplace hidden behind a vase of old, untidy and dusty silk flowers, the pillows were stained, there were spots of something on the sheet, a piece of glass on a bedside table was broken and wind howled through the closed sash window.
Outside, buckets of cigarette ends and empty takeaway trays littered the garden – and the plunge pool was filled, not with water. No! It was filled with what looked like rubbish.
My own wife, Andrea, had gone in to what she assumed was reception when we arrived and reported it looked as if Mr Hart had turned that part of his guest house into a bicycle repair shop.
After viewing the accommodation we tracked down Mr Hart and politely told him that we couldn’t stay in the room he had offered.
This was his response … he slammed the door in our faces!
At first he kept our money and potentially left us stranded in Beverley without a bed for the night.
Ultimately we got our money back off him.
You can read the full story here:
Mr Hart has also recently said that the Minster Garth Guest House / Beverley Guest House has absolutely nothing to do with Trip Advisor ‘nor the horrible people who generally post such rubbish and hurtful things on this trashy review site. We are the least expensive Guest House in Beverley, run by a Family Team, who strive…’
But they say their hotel has improved.
And now to the ugly!
Folkestone is a port on the English Channel, it lies in a valley between two cliffs.
And it was here, on one of the hottest days of 2018, that we washed up at the Premier Inn off Cherry Garden Avenue …
Folkestone? Cherry Garden Avenue? A cheap but cheerful Premier Inn? What more could a couple in an ailing Chrysler 300c Bentley edition want?
Well, thereby hangs a tale.
To the right of us was the iconic white horse on Cheriton Hill and to the left less than ten minutes away the tunnel of dreams, the one that allows you to take you car under the sea to a far-off land.
Sadly, the romance of a gateway to anybody’s holiday across the ocean fell apart on the doorstep of the Premier Inn that day.
It’s stands on the edge of an industrial estate, but so do many hotels and that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s what’s in the hotel that matters, not what surrounds it.
Well, in this case Premier failed on both counts.
The road off Cherry Garden Avenue to the hotel itself was ripped to shreds, gouged and potted almost like the face of the moon but to make it all so much worse, to the right was an abandoned Burger King restaurant with a smashed sign outside and over-flowing dustbins behind it and to the side.
The national fast food chain had left Folkestone only a short time before we arrived but it looked like everything had fallen apart without them. The pot-holed road was strewn with rubbish and the kerbs round the hotel itself were almost ankle-deep in grit and dust.
It is sheik and sometimes charming to be able to describe a hotel or a guest house as having faded elegance. But that would be misleading, this Premier Inn – at the Gateway to Europe, one that should be their flagship – was just faded.
It was clean, it was tidy but it was faded, like an old newspaper which had been left out in the sun.
And there was no air-conditioning!
Now to be fair, the hotel did point this out on its website. But as one tripadvisor reviewer put it: “No air con is a major disadvantage and due to being on ground floor with kids we didn’t want to leave window open for security reasons and although a pedestal fan was provided the room was unbearably hot and made for a poor night’s sleep.
Other than that we had a fairly good meal in the attached restaurant and breakfast was the usual good Premier Inn standard with plenty of choice and decent service…”
Reviews are generally good for this hostelry in but it begs the question why did Premier Inn think it could charge us more than £80 for a night in a sweat-box at the end of a ruined road by the side of an abandoned Burger King surrounded by over-flowing industrial dustbins?
Oh, and breakfast was more than twenty quid extra…
A spokesperson for the hotels group said their customers seemed happy with the Inn and cited internet reviews.
It is only fair to say that this is a small section of hotel life in Britain and reviews only three examples out of the 45,000 estimated to exist across the UK – and from experience, many are very good. But too many seem to only care about your money and not your experience of staying there.
It is a fact that a record numbers of visitors arrived in Britain last year, enticed by the weak pound.
Visits to the UK from the rest of the EU hit a record 25.6million last year. So, let’s treat them right.
Here’s how they treat us:
Beer’s to the sublime and the sublimely ridiculous
And so we set off under the sea with our black limo encased in the silver cylinder of La Shuttle and thirty five sweaty minutes later we surfaced in Calais…
How good it felt to realise we’d left the chaos and disorder of Brexit back there over our shoulders and crossed the border into our new world without the arrogance, hindrance or accusatory questions shown at our own airports and ports.
It has to be said that La Shuttle might be hot and claustrophobic but it is efficient and does what it says on the tin, so to speak!
We had two thousand miles to go and four countries to cross – and we’d booked into budget hotels all along the way…
First stop was a little town called Troisdorf on the outskirts of Cologne. It’s a mish-mash of a place, clean and bright, almost surreal in its cleanliness and the way everybody trundles around on sit-up-and-beg bikes.
We entered the postcode for the Holiday Inn Troisdorf into the satnav and set off weaving in and out of cyclists until we reached of all places the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) where space chasers training while living with their families.
It was a lovely place and it would have nice to stay there. But the booted and battoned guards politely pointed us in the right direction and we set off without the satnav this time. I hope the EAC satellites work better when they are floating about in space.
And there it was! Our budget hotel for the night – smack in the heart of an industrial estate. The exterior was undergoing a major overhaul too and was surrounded by scaffolding.
But once inside, it was just what you wanted, smart, slick and with staff who were interested in you. And the room was immaculate.
For £97 including parking and breakfast it was perfect – and it was right across the road from one of the best steak houses we’d visited in years.
The next morning we ate boiled eggs, salami, cheese and toast and slurped on numerous cups of almost hallucinogenic coffee, packed our bags into the boot of the car and set off again down the E42. The car was running like a dream and held its own against Mercs, BMWs and anything that looked like it could suck you up its air-conditioning and spit you out of its exhaust pipe.
Just under five hours later we hit Nuremberg where we’d booked another Holiday Inn Express, this time in a little town called Schwabach, in fact so small less than 40,000 people live there.
It is famous for making gold foil and has been for 500 years. Nuremberg is of course also famous for the Nazi war crime trials.
The Holiday Inn Express there was also in a commercial part of town but once again was excellent. Nothing negative to report then!
It actually cost £87 with parking and breakfast so was well worth the money.
Two up for Holiday Inns then!
Austria was once a major power in Central Europe but then the First World War gave it a bit of a kicking and it sort of went in to neutral. And it has remained in that gear ever since which has helped it become the home to a large number of international organisations, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Opec, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
But it has also given it time to savour the music in the mountains, litres of amber beer and lederhosen.
I like Austria!
This time we stayed at the remarkable Ungardische krone, Bruckneudorf Austria, a coaching inn and sometime post office with a in a taxidermy -ridden atrium, a terrace, a traditional bar with a fireplace. And for about £70 a night you get breakfast and free parking.
And so to our final destination on this trip – the tiny city of Poprad in the heart of the little big country of Slovakia.
Both of us love Slovakia and decided a few months ago to make our home there for a while. It’s a friendly nation with a heart as big as the head of the UK.
It was part of Czechoslovakia until the “velvet divorce” in January 1993.
At first Slovakia struggled to prove itself as an independent democracy, but now it has become one of Europe’s biggest success stories.
But it has managed to retain its dignity, its own ways and its history and traditions. None more so than in Spiska Sabota, an ancient suburb of Poprad, where the amazing Pension Restaurant Sabato stands in its own ancient grounds.
I Spišská Sobota has an elegant square surrounded by houses with shingled roofs. At its heart is the Roman-Catholic church of St George built before 1273.
The Sabato is a beautiful place to stay with its sprawling garden and its eccentric rooms,some jam-packed with antiques and memorabilia. The restaurant has two chefs and serves traditional dishes of all kinds.
And guess what it is perfect for travellers on a budget … a room with parking and breakfast can be as little as £65 a night.