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Earn a good crust with a bed and breakfast

Your own property could bring home the bacon if you join an industry that has refreshed its reputation, writes Jasmine Birtles

Some years ago, bed and break- fasts had a bad image – hard beds, stern proprietors and greasy breakfasts. But in recent times the industry has been transformed.

"It's much more professional these days and much more competitive. All sorts of people have B&Bs – it's becoming very chic," says Pam Foden at the British Tourist Authority's VisitBritain website.

Anyone can convert their home into a B&B, as long as it has enough rooms and is in the right location. Even if the house itself is ideal for the purpose, attracting guests will be a problem if it is in an area with little tourism or visiting business people. So before you think about opening up, research the market and see if there is likely to be enough custom. Checking out websites such as www.visitbritain.com and www.enjoyengland.com should provide a reasonable indication of whether there is an established market in the area.

The local tourist office is the best place to go to for help in setting up a B&B. It will be able to offer advice on likely custom and what modifications may have to be made to comply with building regulations.

Nowadays, B&B proprietors have to comply with a plethora of laws. Fire risk and food safety are just two of the legal considerations.

The best source of information for proprietors is Legislation for Tourist Accommodation, a guide available from the British Tourist Authority. If the premises need to be modified, make enquiries about local planning constraints and what it is all going to cost.

There is insurance to consider, too. B&B owners will need special contents and buildings cover, which will inevitably be more expensive than a standard household policy.

Public liability insurance is also recommended in case guests have an accident on the premises.

Making a B&B pay, though, is all about attracting visitors, so being able to flag up a star rating is essential.

"About 85 per cent of websites, brochures and travel information centres will only promote B&Bs with a star rating," says Ms Foden. "Once you have one, you will receive newsletters and networking opportunities which will help you to promote your business."

A star rating can be anything from one to five – one being those establishments that you stay in because you have to, not because you want to, and five being fit for royalty. Both VisitBritain and the AA award ratings. They will send a hotel inspector to assess the property for facilities, cleanliness and service standards.

Once you are armed with this accolade, the marketing push can get under way. Lots of bookings are done online these days, so having a good website is vital. Another useful idea is to contact local theatres and ask to be put on their list for touring actors.

If there are large companies in the area, try to make contacts among those employees responsible for booking rooms for visiting business people.

'The house pays for itself but there's a lot of work'

Mary Morgan and her husband, Peter, opened Park Gate, their family home near Canterbury in Kent, as a B&B 13 years ago. The couple converted two of the rooms in their eight-bed property and started to market it to tourists.

"It's a large house," says Mary, "and when our two girls moved out, we didn't want to downsize. It's good because the house pays for itself now."

The double rooms cost £65 per night and most of their business is in the summer. Mary and Peter will, if required, offer tips to their guests on what to do during their stay.

"I'm happy at the moment," says Mary, "but there's a lot of hard work involved and one should not take it lightly."