In previous blogs I have spoken about guesthouses as my first choice in accommodation and it occurred to me that at no stage have I explained my reasons for this so in this blog, I will do my best to explain why it is that I think that guesthouses is the way to go when travelling in and around South Africa and with school holidays happening this might give people who hadn’t planned to go on holiday, the opportunity to think about it again.
I have come across people regularly who have visions of having to share a bathroom with the owner of the B&B or with other guests and 25 years ago this may well have been the case but the guesthouse industry in South Africa has developed over the last 20 years or so, leaving behind the situation, in most cases, I have just described. What generally used to be the case is that the kids had grown up and left home and suddenly there were a couple of spare bedrooms in the house and the decision was taken to open a B&B. Shared facilities very often with the owners and for many people this is still the idea of what a B&B is like – but is it?
Not at all. The guesthouse industry in South Africa has in most places in the country developed into a very different type of accommodation to that of 20 or more years ago.
Today, a B&B or guesthouse in the vast majority of cases, will not have any shared facilities and also most (although not all) have rooms with its own entrance, so no walking through the owner’s living area whilst the owner is eating dinner or entertaining friends. In fact in the early days, one of the things that was used to differentiate between a B&B and a guesthouse was whether the owner had separate living areas, but in almost all instances that is a thing of the past although in some more outlying areas this may not be the case.
It’s not considered rude to ask the owner to be shown the rooms and dining areas before making a final decision whether to stay there or to find another guesthouse more suited to your needs. This is a perfectly normal request but don’t feel offended if in looking at the guesthouse, that you don’t have free reign of the guesthouse as some establishments have “guests” wanting to look at rooms and removed items whilst busy looking.
So what then are the other advantages of staying in a guesthouse? Firstly and one of the most important aspects is that in the majority of cases you are dealing with the owner at beat or a trusted manager. The guesthouse is a smaller business and the owner needs to be certain that the guest gets the very best service possible and the owner is, in most cases, very visible and very often lives on the same, premises but remote from the guest areas because that business of you staying there makes the difference between the owner being able to maintain a certain standard of living or not. The advantage here is that any problems can be addressed immediately and directly to the owner.
A major consideration in these times is of course cost of accommodation and guesthouses are usually a lot less expensive than a lot of hotels. Lower overheads so lower costs so the amount they need to charge you as a guest is lower. Let’s not forget that in most cases breakfast is included and many guesthouses will, on request, provide an evening meal of a home cooked dinner.
Guesthouses are increasingly installing free wi-fi following reports that this is a major requirement of guests, whether business or leisure and this is something else the guesthouse industry has done to keep abreast of, and in many cases ahead of, the overseas establishments.
I mentioned earlier the changes we have seen from those early B&B days in South Africa to where we are today. I have had people tell me what their objections are to staying in a guesthouse and I have yet to hear a single objection that can’t be addressed to the owners and immediately rectified. Many owners are in fact able to gauge what the guest wants on arrival. Does the guest want to interact with the owners. Many foreign visitors want to know more about the country and where they can visit locally, and tend to want to talk to the owners whereas many business tourists (yes business travellers are also tourists) prefer to be left alone and most guesthouses are able to identify the difference.
I remember many years ago travelling through Scotland and I had been told to look out for a board outside the establishment reading “Commended by the Scottish Tourist Board” and it was OK to stay there. Back in the old days no similar facility was available in South Africa but as the industry moved ahead and became more and more professional, so the facilities for guesthouses to have themselves “graded” or “approved” by various organisations. This too is something that the visitor should look out for. If the establishment has had the nod of approval from one of the bigger organisations there is usually a facility for an unhappy guest to give feedback to the organisation concerned and that organisation will then address it with the establishment.
At one time there were several Associations representing the B&B and Guesthouse industry but just one left and it has the ear of government and the Minister of Tourism and that’s the National Accommodation Association and they are passionate about maintaining a high standard in the guesthouse industry.
Whilst not all guesthouses are “approved”, the industry is moving that way, but as I said, whether “approved” or “graded”, you are within your rights to be shown around and you can make your own decision. This particularly applies in your smaller towns and not as much in your cities.
Something else worth checking is the extent of the insurance the guesthouse carries. The last thing you need, is to be injured and it’s the fault of the guesthouse owner and you find they have no liability insurance.
How do you find a guesthouse in a certain area? There are many websites that list guesthouses in South Africa but the one I always use is http://www.bnbfinder.co.za which lists several thousand guesthouses all around South Africa. Having said that, the listing is not an endorsement of the establishment by bnbfinder.co.za and it’s up to you to check that it’s what you want. The biggest advantage of http://www.bnbfinder.co.za is that each and every listed establishment carries at least R30m in liability insurance.
So there you have it. My reasons for choosing a guesthouse whenever possible. Cost, direct access to the owners and very often a true “home from home” feeling and experience.
You have nothing to lose and at the end of the day, it’s your choice after seeing the establishment but remember that if they are a bad experience, they wouldn’t be full a lot of the time.
If you have a good experience at a particular guesthouse, you are very likely to return as a guest in the future, an important aspect to the owner. In my case, I always stay in the same guesthouse in various parts of the country whenever I happen to be there and only a serious problem would make me change. As a result I am welcomed back as a friend, something seldom found in a big hotel.
If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.