What I wish I knew: being crowned the ultimate #BookingHero

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Karen McClelland, Guest House Proprietor of Blackburn Villa B&B in the Scottish town of Ayr, was recently crowned winner of #BookingHero, a campaign to find partners who had displayed extraordinary hospitality, nominated by Booking.com customers. Karen shares her tips for success

Make a killer first impression

First impressions are always important, aren’t they? If I go somewhere and don’t receive a good welcome, it puts me off right away. So the first thing guests get from me is a smile, a handshake and an introduction. One of the things that has always been mentioned in reviews about my B&B is the warm welcome people receive, and the feeling that I go out of my way to help, that nothing is too much trouble. But you know what? If other B&Bs aren't giving this level of service, they're in the wrong business.

I’ve also tried to think of everything a guest would need – from toiletries to maps, to filter coffee in the rooms. I think my rooms are tasteful and relaxing. Guests have enjoyed my hospitality in many different ways over the years, so to be recognised as a Booking Hero is the ultimate confirmation that I am doing things right.

Don’t be afraid to take the leap

I first worked in tourism in Turkey, where my husband and I built up a 22-room hotel from a humble campsite. After returning to the UK, I ended up in Ayr, the town where my parents had retired. When they became old and infirm we decided to sell our two individual homes and buy one that would accommodate all of us. This worked well until they passed away and my two eldest children went off to university, leaving me and my youngest daughter in a six-bedroom house. So I decided to give running a B&B a shot.

I had of course been a frequent user of Booking.com, but only for my holidays outside the UK. I hadn't realised there was a market in the UK, and more specifically in Ayr, for B&Bs. I looked online, realised there was an opporunity and signed up.

I went live on the 25th of June 2015 – I’ll never forget it. I was out shopping with my eldest daughter and my phone just kept going ping! ping! ping! as the bookings came in. She wasn't too pleased with the interruptions and I was getting scared…

Taking feedback on board is key to building a successful business

I have had some amazing reviews from guests and even from the beginning my review score was very high. Feedback is critical to enable you to improve your business. I have made a number of changes in response to comments made by guests and always appreciate constructive criticism.

Breakfast is very important to most guests, and a home cooked breakfast with top-quality products will always be a winner. The typical full Scottish (or English and Irish) breakfast is quite different to those in other countries, so guests from outside the UK are always interested in our breakfast offering. And of course, we have Scottish smoked salmon, too.

I’ve found most nationalities are excited to try a full Scottish breakfast, with some exceptions. Italians tend to prefer their hot milk and biscuits, and yoghurt is a must for the Dutch. I am a feeder though, so nothing makes me happier than seeing plates come back clean.

In September 2017, I was invited to take part in the popular Channel 4 TV programme Four in a Bed. I won this competition, which was all about being the best value for money, so this was a huge achievement. But nothing compares with being recognised as a Booking Hero. What I like most about what I do is that every day is different.

You meet all sorts of people from all walks of life, who come from various places and stay for many different reasons. Some fabulous conversations have been had around my breakfast table. I guess I’m just a social person, and running a B&B gives you a real opportunity to meet some fascinating people.

Karen's story

Winner: On a trip abroad, he found home 

Find out more about #BookingHero

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Making a good first impression is vital. Ensure you give guests a warm welcome, from a friendly handshake to ensuring their room has everything they could need
B&B owners need to make sure guests feel welcome and relaxed in their home – and that they can ask the owner anything
Feedback is vital in growing a successful business – take constructive criticism on board and make relevant changes
Guests value breakfast, particularly if they are travelling from abroad and want to experience authentic local cuisine. Make yours stand out by using top-quality, local products