Successful pubs will be those offering accommodation writes Paul Nunny

When we set up Cask Marque we identified a need to improve cask beer quality as an essential part of retaining and attracting new drinkers to the sector. This has taken us 20 years of lobbying for investment and equipment and the training of staff. Today, 77 per cent of cask ale drinkers now recognize the Cask Marque plaque and through the CaskFinder app we have 60,000 followers per month seeking to find Cask Marque pubs.

Similarly, a few years back, we identified pub accommodation as another income stream to help in the survival of the pub. Pubs now challenge restaurants with the quality of their food offering and why shouldn’t they challenge hotels with their accommodation offer.  You can eat, drink and sleep under one roof, mix with the locals, enjoy a log fire and some great food and drink.

Our first action was to commission a 100 page report covering the industry and consumer research.  Encouragingly:

  • 48 per cent said they would prefer to stay in a pub.
  • 27 per cent said they preferred a branded hotel
  • 5 per cent a B&B

We then set up a website called Stayinapub.co.uk so that consumers could find pubs on the internet.  70 per cent of people now book accommodation online.  This website now lists 1,700 pubs.

We have created an Accommodation Forum which meets quarterly and includes trade bodies, Visit England and key retail groups and website / booking platform developers.  This group now organise annual seminars to educate the industry on best practice.

Visit England say that one of the Top Three attractions inbound tourists want to visit is a British pub.  Sadly, under accommodation, they only just had hotels and B&B’s. Now, to their credit, they have included pubs on the drop down menu and linked into the Stayinapub website. 16 per cent of all enquiries now come from abroad.

We know we are in a growth sector. We have over 5,500 pubs with rooms and 21 per cent of pubs are planning to add extra rooms and 64 per cent planning refurbishment within the next 12 months.  Companies are now showing their performance on accommodation in their annual reports to shareholders.

Some examples of this happening is Sheppard Neame saying revenues up 6.4 per cent and total bedrooms 294. Fullers now have 781 bedrooms in 32 pubs and are looking to increase rooms to 1,000 in two years. Wetherspoons now have 57 pubs with 1215 rooms from a standing start. There are now even pub groups largely dedicated to accommodation such as Upham with 15 of their 16 pubs with rooms and Oakman Inns very focused on accommodation.”

With investment comes improved standards. Gone are the days when a pub was just a bed for the night. A lot of the pubs would challenge established hotels and are very boutique in their style and offer Egyptian cotton sheets, high quality mattresses, free wifi, complimentary breakfast and great customer service as well as freshly cooked food and atmosphere to enjoy and relax.

Rural pubs have the most opportunity to develop this sector as opposed urban locations as they normally have under utilised rooms, more space to add on accommodation, can offer the whole local experience and are cosier, more homely and quieter.  These are the very pubs that are under threat in today’s market place. As well as gaining extra revenue from the bedrooms, 56 per cent of pubs with rooms say that it improves their food and beverage sales.

We have two issues that need to be addressed. How do we get people to think about staying in a pub when booking accommodation? Suggest it and they think it is a good idea as shown from our earlier research. We have hosted events for the Guild of Travel Writers and the British Guild of Beer Writers in the hope that they will mention pub accommodation in their features. We issue monthly newsletters and we have the Stay In a Pub website to link directly to the pub’s booking platform.  It will take time to plant this thought in the consumers mind.

The second area of concern is the cost to the industry of OTA’s (Online Travel Agents).  Seventy four per cent of pubs use them to sell rooms but frequently the commission charges range from 16-20 per cent. Fullers pay £2.75m in fees and Shepherd Neame £¾m to name buy a few. Also the customer is never owned by the pub as the booking information is held by the OTA. Research shows that 60 per cent of people booking via an OTA look for the pub’s website but still go back to the OTA to book! We are encouraging pub operators to offer a discount if booked direct and Stay In A Pub links straight to the pub website with no commission but just a small fee to cover the costs. Fullers are leading by example by offering a 15 per cent discount and a number of other operators are now giving a discount code when booking via Stay In A Pub.

These are early days for pub accommodation. Investment is there, the offer is right and enjoyed by the consumer and today people are looking more for the experience than a branded offer. We ask everybody to spread the word on the great accommodation offer pubs can provide and do #bookdirect.

 

Paul Nunny is a chartered accountant who set up Cask Marque in 1997 to improve beer quality standards and help reverse the decline in cask ale sales. His is a former managing director at Adnams.

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