Who would be a hotelier? First Basil Fawlty mocked the profession; next, the then tourism minister, Kim Howells, accused some English resorts of "rotting from the ground up". And now the biggest cheese in domestic tourism, Christopher Rodrigues, lambasts "grumpy" and "greedy" hotel proprietors.
As someone who spends life permanently on holiday pretending to work, I have encountered some awful UK hotels; one in Shropshire, for example, where an overbooking meant I spent the night on a sofa-bed in a conference room; and many gloomy properties where the provision of a trouser press is presumed to displace the need for conviviality. And last time I passed the landmark Hilton in Manchester, the big sign outside proclaimed it to be a "Hilto".
Yet many Britain's hotels are at last offering excellent value for money. Partly this is because of the slump in sterling, making rates in the UK look much more competitive with prices in Paris, Amsterdam and New York. But the main reason is the rise in low-cost hotel chains. Those such as Premier Inn, Ibis and Travelodge are expanding fast and employing the "yield management" techniques of no-frills airlines to boost income. Travelodge has just finished another online promotion offering tens of thousands of nights for £9 a room sleeping up to four, far less than the cost of a youth-hostel bunk. This is an excellent way to shift "distressed inventory", the bed-nights that simply will not sell at any higher price, in the hope that guests will buy enough extras such as meals for the stay to generate a profit.
Indeed, an upmarket East Sussex seaside property, The Place at Camber Sands, has emulated the technique: stay midweek this month for £1, as long as you dine in the restaurant.
Entrepreneurs are beginning to transform run-down properties into 21st-century "destination hotels" that, in turn, stimulate other businesses. The Zanzibar, a boutique hotel on the seafront in Hastings, is boosting the fortunes of a once down-at-heel resort.
Although I can usually be found at the hostel end of the accommodation spectrum, I considered £99 well spent on a dreamy night here, followed by an entrancing sunrise over the Channel. Mr Rodrigues has yet to stay there; I urge him to book in.
Innovation in pricing and product is spreading across the UK's hotel industry. And now that sterling has taken over from the Zimbabwe dollar as the world's leading comedy currency, many more of us are likely to holiday at home this year rather than risk ridicule or penury abroad.
For most of the two million employees in domestic tourism, 2009 will be the best year so far this millennium. And as Brits battle for beds with foreign tourists lured by our new bargain-basement status, the profession of hotelier looks a better bet than many.Reuse content