Marketing: Matchmaker for the small hotel: A focused guide offers family-run establishments throughout Britain the benefits of worldwide exposure

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TRAVELLERS and holidaymakers visiting British beauty spots such as Devon and Cornwall have become increasingly reluctant to settle for chain hotels, looking instead for places that offer charm and intimacy. They are also frustrated by the difficulty of booking rooms in smaller, less well-known establishments.

For some years, Les Routiers has gone some way towards solving this problem for the small to medium-size establishment. But while working for the group, David Horsley realised there was a need for a service for the smaller, family-run hotel. Fortuitously, another French hotel marketing group, Logis de France, had already decided to move across the Channel, and at the end of 1991 agreed to back the plan dreamed up by Mr Horsley and his wife, Jenny.

Logis helped with the concept and paid the legal fees, but the fairly modest start-up costs came from the couple's savings - meaning that the UK operation is financially independent.

Confirmation that they had spotted a gap in the market came quickly. Working from the front room of their home in Fulham, west London, they achieved a membership of 342 hotels by the end of 1992. Last year, the figure grew to 415, while the addition of Logis in Ireland has helped to add another 100 this year.

Now operating from the converted stable block of their new home outside Oxford, the Horsleys still have only five people more or less fully employed on the project. But the involvement of the individual hoteliers helps keep costs and staff numbers down.

Since the only methods of gaining publicity hitherto available to small hoteliers have been signing up with the local tourist board or paying money they could not afford to appear in guidebooks, the scheme 'sells itself', according to Mr Horsley.

For an average annual fee of pounds 425, hotels receive an entry in the Logis hotel guide, marketing and PR help, free legal advice and access to a recently installed state-of the-art central reservations system that is linked to toll-free 0800 numbers in countries around the world.

Consequently, a tourist looking for a 17th-century manor house in a secluded position that is equipped with the latest gym equipment and offers vegetarian meals can be told of the options and make a confirmed booking within minutes.

Moreover, the computer system will log relevant details about him or her - such as breakfast requirements or the the desire for a non-smoking room - for future use.

Next year, the fee is going up to an average of pounds 600 because Logis plans to start advertising itself. It has also set up a corporate club, which offers discounts to business users at 240 hotels. But Mr Horsley still maintains it represents good value. 'A couple of bookings would pay for it,' he said, pointing out that Logis offers the small hotelier a worldwide presence.

As for Logis, it benefits from a simple set-up. The cash comes upfront through invoices for entry fees sent out each September. It also takes a small commission on each booking and a small royalty on each guide book sold.

'It should be a case of everybody winning,' said Mr Horsley. 'A tourist in Dallas, Texas going into a travel agent will for the first time be able to book direct into an eight-room hotel in Devon.'

(Photograph omitted)