Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

A Look into the World of Hotel Groups

Royal Marine Hotel, Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland

When I started putting together this piece, I had no idea just how complex the world of chain hotels actually is. U.K. headquartered budget hotel groups like Premier Inn or Travelodge are among the simplest to understand and it was these that inspired me to add this article on here in the first place. It was when the scope extended to big international hospitality groups that things really got complicated. Quite a few of these trade under a number of different brands and serve different market segments in so doing. Then, there's the practice of franchising in order to gain the sort of expansion that has come to my attention over the last few years. All in all, it seems that there's plenty of choice on offer from the more prominent hospitality groups when it comes to price and type of accommodation. After all, the range extends from low cost rooms for a night with no food on offer to extravagant and opulent full service offerings, the sort that most of us would consider out of our range.

That isn't to say that independent hotels and guesthouses like those that I have tended to use for walking trips away from home are outmoded by the seemingly ever expanding hotel groups. Websites like those operated by a tourism agency (VisitScotland, Visit Wales, EnjoyEngland, VisitBritain, etc.) or even the likes of TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Expedia.co.uk, Hotels.com, lowcostholidays.com, lastminute.com, ebookers.com, venere.com, 12GO, LateRooms.com, The Independents and the AA have their place too when it comes to seeking out somewhere with competitive room rates. Choosing to stay at these places can bring their own rewards too, with a certain air of individuality all being part of the package as should be evident from the photo of Dunoon's Royal Marine Hotel here.

Then, there's the guesthouse and B&B (bed and breakfast; see Bed & Breakfast Nationwide for a selection) for that added air of intimacy with more than a hint of a personal touch. It does look as if that added individual character will be how independent accommodation providers will provide in an age when chain hotels have appeared in all sorts of places. The same could be said for the short term renting of a holiday home through the likes Rural Retreats or from the Landmark Trust. The latter rent out historic properties so that is a definite selling point and it looks like others are getting in on the act.

Where the big hotel conglomerates can come into their own is when you want to make a quick booking over the web, assuming that everyone else hasn't had the same idea as you beforehand. In the case of the budget market, you can get some frankly ludicrous deals like work colleagues of mine secured for a night's stay near Manchester Airport after a Christmas works do. Mind you like the budget airline business, these are rationed so the rates can be high enough to make you wonder if an independent guesthouse is the more competitive option, especially if no breakfast is part of the service on offer. Of course, fining one can take a little while...

After those thoughts, here's a collection of hotel groups for your perusal. What cannot be promised at this stage is that it's exhaustive but there's a fair bit of variety already. Organisations like Logis may see an entry yet as the list becomes ever more international than it is today. In the meantime, my hope is that what is below has its uses.

While playing with the idea of basing myself in Glasgow in order to explore some of Argyll's southern reaches, the option of staying at a Novotel came to my notice. Nothing may have come from that pondering but I didn't realise the size of the French hotel group of which it is part. Novotel apparently is a mid-range range brand with prices to match as I found when checking them for one in the heart of Manchester. All hotel markets seem to be covered from the low end to the high. It seems to be matter of picking the right one. Helpfully, the Accor group hotels website allows you pick the one for you without your having to go to all of the brand websites for a comparison.

Barceló

There is one of these near Pott Shrigley in Cheshire and I have been there attending a training course too. It's situated atop a hill with a steep drive leading up to it; despite a sharp hairpin bend on the way, there is a compensation in the form of extensive views over the Cheshire Plain. From what I know of Shrigley Hall and looking at the prices on the website, this is not the budget end of the market but there are times when we all like to treat ourselves too. Incidentally, the Palace Hotel in Buxton is another member of the same group and also has a lofty siting.

Beales

Many of the names that you'll find on this page belong to large multinational PLC's but this is a much smaller family concern that seems to have turned its hand to a number of things in the world of catering and hospitality. Nowadays, there are two hotels in Hertfordshire as well as an outside catering business. It sounds and interesting combination and exhibits a little of the sort of character that may be absent from some parts of the hotel sector.

Best Western

It was a Scot who alerted me to the existence of this chain of hotels; in Scotland, they have a reputation for doing good food. The organisation is an interesting one in that it is a collective of independently owned hotels that pool marketing resources and agree to following certain standards of service provision. Though you can get a good deal in the right place and at the right time, I get the impression that what are being offered from this grouping is not as low in cost as others. Saying that, if it meets that you get treated well as guest then I am not going be complaining.

Britannia

This privately owned chain started out in Manchester over thirty years ago and has come a long way since then with 36 hotels at the time of writing dotted around England, Scotland and Wales. Also, some of the buildings that they now use were derelict until they returned them to a far more glorious state. Interestingly, you get a sense that they are not in the opulent end of the market either.

Classic British

This is a group of independently-owned hotels rather than a chain and I get the sense that they are mid-market rather than at the budget end. However, there's always a place for hotels with distinctive characters too.

Creran

Aside from a single hotel in Otley, West Yorkshire, this is a group of Scottish hotels headquartered in Oban. Other Scottish locations include Craignure on the Isle of Mull as well as Inverness, Elgin, Nairn, Inverary, Pitlochry, Inverurie, Grantown on Spey, Ballater and Glencoe. The list provides plenty of destinations for the traveller

My having worked for a large then cash rich company for part of my career has meant my having a brush with two De Vere hotels, Mottram Hall and Carden Park in Cheshire. The latter of these is a full resort with a golf course and other facilities so you get an idea as to what they're about. The Village brand is a new one to me and there's talk of affordability though I'd hesitate to call them cheap.

Fairmont

This serendipitous discovery came about because they have a hotel near Banff in the Canadian Rockies. North America is their main stronghold but they are in London too and a further look reveals that they have hotels all over the world.

Until I discovered that they run hotels under the Doubletree brand, I had it set in my mind that I never have savoured the service in any of their establishments. That stay in Wilmington in Delaware on business trip to the U.S.A. has been my only encounter with what they offer and it served my simple purposes. It for the parent brand than the group are best known and I have been surprised to find one of them at Coylumbridge near Aviemore in Scotland, a more rural location than I had expected. It since has turned out that this one of Hilton Grand Vacations offerings, of which there are three in Scotland. Otherwise, they have the scary looking building on Manchester's Deansgate as a hotel and Edinburgh's Caledonian Hotel. They seem to be becoming pervasive in the U.K.

There cannot be many hotel groups that have been spawned from a famous British brewery but that is what this is. The brewery in question was Bass but that ale has a somewhat diminished existence as a brand in the AB InBev portfolio. The hotel side of the business continues as the international Intercontinental Group, still with headquarters in the U.K. It was on trips to two conferences when had stays in two of their hotels. The first of these was at the luxurious Intercontinental London Park Lane; it's like a dream to me that it once had Hyde Park Corner in its name but that is nearly ten years ago now. In those days, my line of work put me up in more expensive hotels than would be the case now. As if to prove the point, attending a conference in Cardiff was the cause of my spending a night in the Cardiff Bay Holiday Inn. While that is a budget brand, it served my purposes just as well as the more expensive counterpart where I stayed a few years earlier. However, I must state that I have simple needs that are more easily pleased.

MacDonald Hotels & Resorts

What persuaded someone that it was a good idea to build a tower of a height more suitable for a big city in Aviemore? A walk around the Strathspey village will bring you past golf courses owned by the same company, with a base in Scotland. After all, this is billed as a leisure resort and has the scale to match. Still, I am left wondering why you would relax within sight of the Cairngorms without eschewing man-made facilities for the natural world. Other hotels are in more urban situations such as Manchester or Handforth in Cheshire. Though I saw some good deals being advertised in Aviemore in the month of March, I do get the impression that these aren't a budget option.

Marriot

Apparently, this is the Hilton group's arch rival and I vaguely remember passing one of their hotels in Edinburgh but that's the limit of my association with them. Like other groups of the same size, there are quite a few brands under which they trade too. Still, I'd be starting from their main website you book from any of their branded hotels from there and not all of their hotels are operated under the Marriot brand in the U.K.

McMillan

With seven hotels, this is not the biggest of chains and they are spread across southern Scotland with areas such as Galloway, Borders and Ayshire being served. These may not strike many as being visitor destinations but that's part of their charm. Sometimes, it feels good to leave the crowds elsewhere.

Old English Inns

What brought this group to my notice was a stay at the Sun Hotel in Hitchin in 2010. That was a business trip like so many that involved my staying in a hotel for a few days. The building itself certainly has plenty of character and it was down what felt like a Tudor long gallery to get to my room. Other than that, it did the job that was asked of it and I came away with no complaints.

Premier Inn

There are quite a few of these dotted around the place and Macclesfield is no exception; there even is one in the village of Alderley Edge. Having used the same one twice on business trips to Oxford and spending two weeks in another in Hatfield due to work, I have a good impression of what they have to offer, particularly in the catering offer. That is reinforced too by past experiences of taking food at the Macclesfield North one (between Tytherington and Bollington in reality but who's to argue?) because I worked from an office near there at one point.

Prima

This is a fairly select group of hotels whose locations mainly are English with one in Scotland (Edinburgh) as well. Two are to be found in Cheshire and there one each in Leicestershire, Yorkshire and Northumberland. It was the latter of these that came first to my attention recently but I also have discovered that the Stanneylands in Wilmslow is among their holdings too and I attended a company away day at that venue. The room tariffs seem to be mid-tier though some don't look that outlandish so you might get lucky. Along with breakfast, evening meals also are part of the offer though I'd be surprised if you didn't need to pay extra for those.

Principal Hayley

When you hear talk of a hotel collection, you can sense that someone is trying to put themselves a little upmarket though the prices can be mid-market for some of these. For those of a more corporate mindset, they are in the business of providing training venues too.

QHotels

It was their Leeds hotel that drew my attention while pondering a night's stay there as a stepping stone for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales of a Sunday. As much as I played with the idea, I never could bringing myself to committing to it. That's not to say that a night's stay in the heart of Leeds and next to its train station didn't appeal and rates weren't so extortionate either but I kept getting cold feet every time. In addition to The Queens Hotel in Leeds, it also owns the The Midland Hotel in Manchester (tariffs were not cheap when I was checking, though) and quite a few other ones too.

As far as I can make out, these are the only hotel brands operated by the the American Carlson group in the U.K. The Radisson one came to my notice because there is one quite literally at Manchester Airport; you'll pass it on the way from the train station to one of the terminals in fact. What these aren't is a budget option but Carlson having a subsidiary called Park Inn for exactly that and the "by Radisson" moniker gets added to that brand too.

Recommended Hotels

Here's another group of independent hotels to complement the others that found their way into this listing. Again, individuality is a hallmark of what they offer and they aren't that cheap either. Maybe that's the price to be paid for something that's a little different.

Strathmore

It was a cancelled booking for their Oban hotel that brought this small group to my attention and I have stayed at their Harrogate one of a Saturday night prior to a walk around Nidderdale. However, I hadn't realised that Fort William's Alexandria Hotel was one of theirs and I have been known to eat there too. Most of their hotels in Scotland with another in Fort William to go with those in Perth and Nethybridge. Their encroachment into England is not limited to Yorkshire since they also have one in Grange over Sands in Cumbria. Prices seem to middle of the range on their website but I have seen a good deals on LateRooms.com too.

Travelodge

With this lot, it might be best to check the facilities on offer wherever you might be staying. The one near Macclesfield only offers you a bed for the night and Caernarfon seemed to be little better when I checked it out on the website. They may claim to be cheaper than Premier Inn but I have my suspicions as to which corners have been cut, especially after having to spend a week at the one in Hatfield where there was a certain lack of care for the facilities to be seen. The cafe felt more like a television room serving food and drink too but that has its place too. The one in Swansea was similarly spartan but did what I wanted for a night away from home after savouring the Heart of Wales Railway and the Gower. A handily located branch in Edinburgh saw me twice during the winter of 2013/2014 and may see me again sometime.