Hotel Guide chief reveals boutique secrets

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Adam Raphael, Editor of The Good Hotel Guide talks trends, tips and tackling OTAs

Adam Raphael joined The Good Hotel Guide in 2004. Previously a renowned award-winning journalist and author, Adam notched up credits for The Guardian, The Observer and Newsnight before finishing up his writing career at The Economist. He now works with a team of freelancers on editing The Good Hotel Guide, and this year celebrates a decade editing the fiercely independent tool.

How does The Good Hotel Guide work?

We call ourselves the ‘readers’ guide’. It started around 40 years ago, when people staying at hotels would write to us and tell us about what they liked; this is still the case today. We have independent inspectors who will visit hotels and review their experience. These inspectors have years of knowledge and have written for the guide for a long time, progressing through the ranks to gain inspector status. But they can only reach about 10% of the hotels we feature, so we rely heavily on readers’ own reports to compile each edition.

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We are a great deal more reliable than the likes of TripAdvisor because we know exactly who is writing for us – we track each reviewer and know their tastes and track record, where they have coming from, what types of establishments they like and therefore know they are genuine. That’s really the USP for the Guide; we are totally independent. We don’t take any payment for an entry into the print guide; hotels will get in solely on merit and none will pay us a penny. Some hotels don’t even want to be in the Guide, but if we think they are good enough then we’ll put them in there, it is completely down to the readers’ recommendation.

What, in your mind, defines a boutique hotel?

We have some very good boutique hotels in the Guide, and are just about to release a list of Top 10 Editor’s Choice hotels in a range of categories and boutiques are featured, including The Zetter Townhouse and The Old Bank in Oxford.

We very much look out for boutiques across the country and we definitely see it as a coming trend, particularly in London with the rise of the no-service, very slick, modern boutique hotels; The Nadler is a good example.

We are tracking trends in the industry all the time. All the sharp operators, such as Robin Hutson, are so attuned to this market and particularly in London; I can see it almost being used as the testing ground for these no frills, boutique hotels. Boutiques in the capital are doing extremely well at the moment, occupancy is high and rates are good.

What does The Good Hotel Guide look for in its featured hotels?

We look for smart design, really good friendly management, a great welcome; hands-on ownership is important to us as well. Hotels which have been in the same family for some time always score highly, especially those owners who are still directly involved with the running of the establishment.

We campaign on a lot of different factors of a hotel stay – we like quirky and eccentric hotels, we don’t like background music, we don’t like Radio 4 at breakfast and we are very critical of poor bedroom lighting.

We also campaign that guests should be offered the choice of a duvet or sheet. This is something important to a slightly older clientele, but particularly in the summer, guests are critical of duvets and often think it’s far too hot.

Other basic things we look for; if someone turns up at a hotel with large suitcases, there should be help offered, they shouldn’t just be left to lug their cases up the stairs; we very much like the personal touch.

We’re not keen on discretionary service charges either; we think it’s a form of emotional blackmail. It is said to be discretionary but in fact guests have to be extremely brave to say ‘I’m not paying this’ and it causes a scene. We believe that if guests want to leave a tip, then they should be free to make that choice.

We’re also not big fans of OTAs. We recognise they have a place in the industry but we prefer to encourage guests to go directly to the hotel, where they can get a better deal, rather than pay 20% or 30% of their money to an OTA.

Since you came on board at the Guide 10 years ago, how has the hotel industry changed?

I think the sector has become a lot more professionalised. There used to be lots of places which were quite amateur in the way they were run, and perhaps established themselves more as a lifestyle business. Now the market is so competitive that hotels realise they need to be much more professional in their approach.

I think the food offering has also greatly improved. Many hotels recognise that the standard of food they serve is crucial and some hotels are home to some excellent restaurants, which not only attract the hotel guest but encourage outside trade as well. I think one of my tests of a hotel is asking ‘does it have a big outside trade?’ and if it does, then it is probably doing things right.

What are your top tips for a boutique hotel hoping to be featured in the Guide?

Ultimately a hotel has to decide what it is, what it wants to do and what its audience is. If it has a style, a heart and is personally run really well, than our readers will pick it up very quickly and it will stand out.

Location is also a crucial consideration. I’ve stayed in some lovely hotels in some horrible locations, but establishments based in nice locations can often get away with quite a lot. We take all this into consideration when inspecting the hotels and are also conscious that we are looking for places that are good value for money.

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