Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The changing face of Britain 2 - budget hotels in South Doncaster, early May 2007

These three budget hotels - a Holiday Inn Express, a Sleep Inn and a Premier Travel Inn - can be found within a few hundred yards of each other in South Doncaster. There are a number of others nearby as well.

You'll find a thousand newspaper and magazine features on the demise of the transport cafe and the allegedly dire state of Britain's motorway service stations, while every twist in the tale of Little Chef's decline produces a torrent of reminiscences and sneers in the press. Curiously, though, the budget hotel chains, arguably a far more important roadside phenomenon, hardly receive any coverage at all.

The UK budget chain hotel movement began when the first Travelodge was opened by Forte in Staffordshire in 1985. Travelodge has more than 300 hotels now; add in the hundreds of establishments operated under the Premier Travel Inn, Holiday Inn Express and other main brands and there are probably more than a thousand of these cheap hotels in the UK.

Some see the spread of these - generally architecturally undistinguished - hotels as a depressing development that is turning the UK into a smaller, scruffier version of the US, sweeping away charming local variety in favour of a soulless standardised experience. I profoundly disagree. It is often said that it is impossible to get a bad meal in France; in Germany, you can book into the cheapest independent hotel sight unseen and know you're going to get a clean room and a great breakfast. Britain, though, has no such tradition of charming, value-for-money hospitality. Grotty B&Bs, greasy spoon cafes, fish and chips, and pubs without food; that was our lot before Travelodge - and, dare I suggest it, the drive-through McDonalds - colonised our motorway junctions and trunk road roundabouts. Keep building them, I say.

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