John Penrose visits Guestscan
Sunday 18th September 2011
The Government yesterday backed a new initiative to safeguard Britain’s hotel industry from “nightmare guests” during the 2012 Olympics. John Penrose, the Minister for Tourism, threw his weight behind a pioneering scheme that will allow accommodation owners to check UK and overseas tourists’ credentials before taking a booking.
Members of the Guestscan Association will have immediate access to an online database of known or potential troublemakers. It means they can identify and filter problem guests in advance - reducing the risk of trashed rooms, non-payment or anti-social behaviour. Until now, they have been forced to rely on gut instinct, face value and trust alone.
Mr Penrose said the scheme, would go “some way” towards protecting independent hoteliers next summer. It already has the backing of several police forces and industry body The Bed and Breakfast Association.
“As Tourism Minister, I obviously want everyone staying in our hotels, B&Bs and holiday homes to have the best experience possible,” Mr Penrose said. “Unfortunately, a small proportion of guests are a complete nuisance, which can ruin other people’s holidays and drive up costs for everyone. “I was very interested to see Guestscan’s solution; giving business owners a simple way to check if a potential guest has caused problems in the past.”
According to research, some three million Britons have damaged property in the last five years when staying at a UK hotel. The cost of guests’ damage is believed to cost accommodation owners in the region of £50 million each year.
Guestscan, the first scheme of its kind in Europe, relies on a comprehensive online database that members can access instantaneously via a PC, laptop or smartphone. Subject to data protection laws, it contains the names of past offenders - much like the community-based PubWatch schemes. Members are provided with a unique access code and can retrieve information about a specific guest instantaneously. If no results appear, accommodation owners can ''rest easier'' in the knowledge that the customer has had no ''previous misdemeanours'' - and accept the booking.
The initiative has already received the backing of Devon and Cornwall Police, which says the database could help maintain ''safe environments for our communities''.It also includes information and advice about insurance, and practical tips about avoiding spurious claims. A number of leading tourism organisations, meanwhile, say it will “restore the balance of power” while saving the industry as a whole millions of pounds each year. Hundreds of hotels, B&Bs, holiday lets and camping sites – in the UK and overseas – are already members of the Guestscan Association.
David Weston, the Chief Executive of The Bed & Breakfast Association, said: ''There is nothing worse for a B&B owner than to become victim to a malicious or destructive guest, or a fraudster. ''There is a need for additional protection for owners against known repeat offenders, so we welcome the launch of Guestscan.'' Martin Sachs, Chief Executive of the English Association of Self Catering Operators, added: “Guestscan is another level of due diligence and provides a valuable safeguard for anybody letting out property.”
The technology is the brainchild of Neil Campbell, a businessman whose neighbour, a B&B owner, felt the force of a ''visitor from hell''. He said the woman was forced to defend herself against a hefty insurance claim following a faked accident by a ''money-grabbing'' guest.
Mr Campbell, 59, who lives in Bristol, said: ''Guestscan is about preparing for - and protecting against - unwanted, nightmare guests. ''Owners whose rooms have been vandalised, or whose legitimate guests have been disturbed by rowdy behaviour, will understand only too well the importance of doing so. ''Holiday accommodation has been blighted by these people for too long. The Guestscan scheme is a simple and effective way of stamping them out for good while finally restoring the balance of power.''
Speaking yesterday from Guestscan’s office near Bristol, Mr Penrose said: “Guestscan is based in my constituency of Weston-Super-Mare so, as their local MP, I’m delighted we’ve got local accommodation owners trying to help the rest of the tourism industry. Let's hope they do well.”