CHOICE magazine, July 2002

ON HIS fact-finding trip to the Lake District in February this year, Prince Charles didn’t choose to stay in a grand hotel, but opted instead for the more homely comforts of a local bed & breakfast. His choice put the royal seal of approval on what many of us have known for a long time – a well-run B&B is hard to beat for value and comfort.

But some of the best B&Bs don’t advertise, there’s no vacancy card in the window and they don’t even appear in general guidebooks. Welcome to the global world of private hosts.

Private hosts – or ‘posh B&Bs’ as they have been nicknamed – are people with a spare room in their property who enjoy having paying guests and register with an agency, which handles all the enquiries.

Staying with a Host can be an ideal way to save money while having the benefit of inside knowledge of the area. Hosts charge much less than hotels – typically at least 50 per cent less – their properties are well situated, bedrooms are mostly en-suite and guests are given keys to come and go as they please.

“People become Hosts from every walk of life, from couples and single people to those working full time and retired people,” says Maggie Dobson, who founded At Home in London in 1986 and became Chairman of the BBHA (Bed & Breakfast Home Stay Association) last year.

BBHA is an association of seven privately owned London agencies which is committed to a set of standards. Its members annually match around 100,000 guests with hosts.

“All Hosts need is the right standard of comfortable, not luxurious, accommodation and to be the type of person who throws open their front door rather than opens it a few inches and peeps through the crack,” Maggie adds.

“For some the incentive is primarily financial, for others it is to do with pursuing an interest, but there is obviously a lot of work involved.”

Currently Maggie is expanding her London base and looking to sign up Hosts on a regional basis who live in, or close to, major tourist cities such as York and Bath.

“B&B started shedding its poor man’s image in the late Eighties and then, with Lloyd’s (the insurance market) issuing its Names with huge bills in the early Nineties, a whole new generation of Hosts came into being,” says Maggie.

“Many of them had bedrooms with private bathrooms and were at ease with people. It helped transform the London tourist accommodation market. That and the soaring price of city hotels.”

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