Small is beautiful for Bob’s B&B

Kent Business TVWhat started out as a retirement hobby has turned into a full time labour of love for Bob Anthony, owner of Birling House B&B in Capel, near Tonbridge.

The former Head of Retail with the Allders department store chain is running a successful tourism business with an occupancy rate of more than 80 per cent and a host of glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.

He puts much of his early success down to the help received from the Visit Kent Tourism Business Advisory Service, headed by Peter Birnie, and the local producers who ensure he has top quality Kent produce to serve his guests.

“When Allders ceased trading, I carried on working in business for a while, but when I retired I thought it would be fun to run a B&B, just a small one,” said Bob.

“I’d already applied for a Visit England accreditation and had a couple of their inspectors along when I was pointed in the direction of Peter Birnie at Visit Kent. He was very helpful and offered much more practical advice.

“He knows what other people are doing and what works for them and it was refreshing to hear from him what the key points for a two-bedroomed B&B such as mine are and what guests are looking for.”

Bob was among the first to register for Visit Kent’s Kent Breakfast campaign, which encourages hospitality businesses producing breakfasts to include at least 60 per cent of products sourced from within the county.

“I thought it was an excellent idea,” he said. “It took a little while to find the right suppliers but once I sourced my bacon and sausages from the Roundwood Orchard Pig Company at Meopham, it all fell into place nicely.

“I’m fortunate in that around me there are a number of excellent farm shops, plus the farm down the road sells eggs. My neighbour makes marmalade and I get jam from the lady down the road.

“But even if that wasn’t the case, these days you can find plenty of Kent produce in your local supermarket, so it’s really not difficult to do.”

The results are clear to see from comments on Trip Advisor, where Bob’s breakfasts get many compliments.

“Between mid-April and mid-September, I’m looking at being over 80 per cent booked,” he said. “I love it, it fits in with my lifestyle and I get to meet and chat to such a range of people from all over the world.”

Peter Birnie, former chief hotel and restaurant inspector for the AA guides and more recently hotel consultant on the popular Channel 4 television series The Hotel, said: “Small B&Bs such as Birling House face just as many challenges as bigger establishments when starting up.

“There are compliance issues which are relevant whatever the size of the property, getting yourself known, even locally, and the owner will still need to be available for guests and their time will be in demand, so they need to be ready for that.

“However, as Bob has found, they can be incredibly rewarding. Kent is fortunate in that it attracts a lot of overseas visitors because of its many attractions and its role as a stop-off point between the channel ports and London, and many make real friendships with the owners of their favourite B&Bs.”

Visit Kent Tourism Business Advisory Service is being expanded to cover the full range of businesses working in the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector and is being part funded by the Cool Tourism Interreg Project.

In addition to free advice on quality standards and accreditation, the tourism champions are developing a business mentoring scheme, planning a series of masterclasses, training programmes and workshops, as well as developing a free online business toolkit.

Find out more at or call 01227 812900.

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