By Julian Demetriadi, Director of CommunicationsPoint
As a hotel and catering graduate of the mid-1970s, it has taken me 40 years to fulfil my dream of becoming a hotelier, even if it is only as an Airbnb operator, and I love it.
Yes, I know AirBnB is often portrayed as the hotelier’s growing enemy, but it is undoubtedly a major boon to consumer choice when searching for quality, ‘value for money’ accommodation. Though the excellent range of budget hotels do a great job in this respect, Airbnb adds an extra dimension – the fascination of staying in other people’s homes, having breakfast in their dining-room and meeting new people. This becomes even more fun when the host’s house is quirky, such as the converted ice cream factory in the centre of York where my wife Catherine and I enjoyed a very memorable stay in 2013.
The popularity of TV property programmes like ‘Escape to the Country’ and ‘Grand Designs’ is testament to the nation’s interest and ‘nosiness’ in this respect. Our unusual 19th century Scottish property appears to fit this bill admirably.
In September 2016, we were lured up from Salisbury by the purchase of the house of our dreams – The Drill Hall in Whithorn, set amidst the glorious coastal scenery of the Machars Region of Galloway, with views over to the Isle of Man. The granite walled Drill Hall, with its arched windows, is a former Cameronian church turned World War II ‘Dad’s Army’ drill hall, turned community storeroom. In 2005, it was lovingly transformed into the stunning home that we are now delighted to share with our Airbnb guests (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/16186915 ).
Our spacious and peaceful ground-floor guest room was perfect, with its en-suite bathroom, to double as an Airbnb room for periods when we don’t have friends and family staying. We have equipped it with a king-size bed, incorporating a memory foam mattress; a TV operated through an Amazon Fire remote control; a writing desk; two guest bathroom robes; plenty of wardrobe and cubbyhole space; lots of local pamphlets, maps and reading material; and a Tassimo coffee/tea maker. It is relatively private and conveniently located next to the front- door so has easy access to and from the building. Judging by our Airbnb guests to date, it has proved a big hit!
For wet weather days, we offer our guests the opportunity to use our large upstairs gallery which they can use as a sitting-room. We provide playing cards, board games, jigsaws and wifi access throughout. Surprisingly, we have double the WiFi speed we had in Salisbury.
The only meal we provide is a hearty breakfast, served in our spectacular dining room, when guests can select continental breakfast items and/or eggs cooked anyway they like, with whatever accompaniments are on offer – like black pudding, a firm favourite amongst our visitors to date!
On arrival, we make a point of greeting guests with a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits. We have met some delightful and fascinating people, ranging from a retired judge to two young Viking battle re-enactors! We recommend local pubs/restaurants to choose from for dinner, and handle the booking of their choice.
The beauty about Airbnb is that you get to vet your ‘would be’ guests and they can vet you. After each stay, the host gets to write a report on the guest and vice versa. This is then posted on the Airbnb website for everyone to see. This helps ensure quality and leads to a relationship of trust between guest and host, helping make the house owners feel a lot more secure about having a stranger in their home, and guests more comfortable about staying in a stranger’s house. Another bonus about Airbnb is that the company pays you for the stay, rather than the guest, so there is no problem with non-payment.
Obviously, there are those Airbnbs where you never meet the owner, but that is not the type of operation that appeals to me as an operator.
There is so much to offer visitors to our area. Whithorn is a small attractive Georgian agricultural town, steeped in history. It is near the site of St Ninian’s arrival, reputed to be the first person to bring Christianity to Scotland. The light on the hills and the sea is unforgettable, the people extremely friendly, and historical/archaeological sites abound. The Machars is attractive to pilgrims, artists, walkers, bird watchers, bikers, and anyone fascinated by the area’s rich heritage.
Whithorn has a remarkable museum that incorporates a newly created Iron Age round house and a display of Celtic crosses only matched by Iona’s.
We are close to the official Dark Sky of the Galloway Forest. In the next-door village of Glasserton is the Galloway Astronomy Centre which, from September to March, can demonstrate the miracle of the Milky Way, the planets, and nearby galaxies through its 16″ telescope.
Just to the north of us is Wigtown, famous for its annual autumn book festival –this year running from 21 to 30 September and featuring famous names such as Clare Balding, Susan Calman, James MacMillan, Sally Magnusson, Patrick Gale and Ann Cleves. The equivalent of England’s Hay-on-Wye Book Festival, Scotland’s Wigtown Festival has been growing year-on-year; and we are delighted to offer Airbnb accommodation for this week-long literary feast.
The town is also the site of the infamous martyrdom of the Covenanters in Wigtown Bay.
Garlieston (5 miles from us) is where the D-Day Mulberry Harbours were developed. On the west of the peninsula is Gavin Maxwell’s home, author of ‘Ring of Bright Water’.
There are standing stones, lovely formal gardens, including Logan Botanic Garden and Castle Kennedy, footpaths … and did I mention the views? We often hear that this area is like Cornwall but without the people! Because we are on the Gulf Stream, the climate is moderate. We rarely have frost, much less snow.
Why did it take me so long to fulfil my hotel-keeping dream? On leaving in 1977 what was then the Dorset Institute of Higher Education (now Bournemouth University) with an HND in Hotel and Catering Administration, I got a very fortunate and totally unplanned break of becoming a journalist on the weekly trade publication for the industry, Catering Times, then the rival to the Caterer & Hotelkeeper (now known simply as The Caterer).
This in turn led me to working for a London PR agency, specialising in the hospitality and tourism industry, Wordsmith and Company, and eventually forming my own PR and marketing consultancy called JD Associates which morphed into CommunicationsPoint (www.communicationspoint.net) and FundraisingPoint (run by Catherine), specialising in support for the charity sector, where clients include The Mission to Eradicate Leprosy (TMTEL), and Chapel & York (dedicated to international fund-raising and philanthropy).
Over the years, my many clients have ranged from The Grand Hotel in Le Touquet, the Blanch House in Brighton, the English Tourist Board and the annual international classical Farley Music Festival in Wiltshire, to 25 years as PR consultant to the hospitality industry’s professional body: the Hotel & Catering International Management Association, which became the Institute of Hospitality in 2007; and communications consultant to the British Association of Hospitality Accountants, playing a key role in its rebranding as HOSPA in 2011. From 2013 to 2016, in addition to my consultancy work, I was a founder and Chairman of the Salisbury Fringe Festival for new writing. It has become a popular annual theatrical event on the city’s calendar.
So, you can see I had little time to fulfil my original ambition of hotel-keeping. That was until 2016 and now I am living the dream whilst continuing to run my communications consultancy and trying to write novels! Thank-you Airbnb.Back to Blog