By Adam Raphael
The Guide gets its fair share of praise and brickbats. Please see ABOUT US page for herograms. We don’t list complaints; perhaps just as well. But recently, I received a query from a reader who was puzzled by the Guide’s GIFT VOUCHER scheme. ‘Giving a free copy of the Guide is no small matter and as no commission is charged to the hotel or the user, so how is it viable? he asked.’ I replied saying that the scheme could not be described as commercial but said that it was in line with the Guide’s ethos. Pious pie in the sky?
The truth is that we are less interested in quick profits than in building a trusted brand. The voucher scheme directs business towards our selected hotels and as a result they are more inclined to support the Guide. Or so we hope. Hotels do not pay for an entry in the print edition. That is decided solely on merit with the help of reader reviews backed where necessary by independent inspection. If a hotel wants to be on the Guide’s website, it pays a fee ranging from £100-£900 depending on its number of rooms. Two thirds of our selected hotels do so but only those hotels that have a free entry in the print edition are eligible to be on the website. We have two other sources of revenue, sales of the print edition and hotels advertising special offers on the Guide’s website. That in summary is how the Guide works financially.
Producing the Guide is complicated. Our year has just begun with the sending out of questionnaires to nearly 900 hotels which the Guide’s editorial team are considering as possible entries for the next edition to be published in October. The questionnaire data is collated with readers and inspectors’ reports as the basis of next year’s Guide. ‘Word of mouth in print’ is a good way of describing how the Guide works. Readers play a crucial role by reporting on existing entries as well as recommending new discoveries. Unlike most travel review websites, which are open to abuse from unscrupulous hoteliers and guests with a grudge, reader reports are scrutinised and graded.
When we receive a review of a hotel or B&B, the author’s name, address, and other details are recorded. A new reader writing to the Guide for the first time about a single hotel or B&B is listed as N1. If they continue to write to us and appear to be roughly on the Guide’s wavelength, they will be upgraded to an R for regular. Finally, a few are promoted to T for ‘trusted’ which is shorthand for the Guide’s confidence in their opinions. It is from the ranks of the trusted that we recruit our inspectors whose overnight stays, always at the Guide’s expense and always anonymous, help settle disagreements. The reports of inspectors and readers are stored in a database and cross-checked. The process is expensive and time-consuming but it is very difficult for anyone to manipulate. In a TripAdvisor dominated world of dubious reviews and user-generated noise, we believe that we have something valuable to offer—unvarnished advice by a team of expert travel writers.
The Guide’s fast-growing internet search traffic, up by more than 100% over the past year, reflects the fact that many travellers are looking for reliable information. And because the Guide is trusted, we are asked to write articles about our chosen hotels for major publications such as the Daily Mail, Country Life, and the Sun and on websites including USA Today, Visit Cornwall, and the Liverpool Echo. A selection of the nearly 200 articles we have published over the past 18 months can be seen by clicking here.
Another new development this year is our partnership with American Express®. This is an exciting initiative for us and our selected hotels, because it opens up a new audience, much bigger than the Guide could reach on its own. Some of our selected hotels are currently taking part as a trial in an Amex Offers programme which offers a discount of 10% to card members who stay at participating hotels. Roughly half of our selected hotels already accept Amex cards. I believe that more will do so in the future because it is in their interest to attract well-heeled guests. The killer statistic is that Amex card members spend on average up to two and half times more than other UK card holders. For its part, American Express is committed to working with the Guide because it wants to support small, independent hotels, which is also one of our key aims.
To conclude, we are determined to find new ways to grow our audience, there are millions out there who would benefit by looking at the Guide. So please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have ideas how to do this. Please also send reports on your hotel stays. An email, however brief, is always welcome. Reader reviews are the life blood of the Guide.