A proliferation of online booking systems has opened up the world to individual travellers who prefer to take control and plan their own travel itineraries. But, as the saying goes, buyer beware. These systems have also been flooded with scoundrels who claim to be bed and breakfasts or who offer bare minimum accommodation at rock-bottom prices. The genie is out of the bottle and there is no stuffing it back in, so it is now up to you, the consumer, to do your due diligence when booking your accommodation online.
Is the bed and breakfast you plan to book legitimate? Is it licensed? And why should it be?
Rules and regulations governing accommodation differ from one municipality to the next across Canada and from one country to the next around the world. What used to be a regulated industry has become a hodgepodge of choices ranging from a couch in someone’s living room to a luxury oceanfront villa with staff.
If you are booking your accommodation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, here is what to do:
- Call the property directly. Why? You may be able to negotiate a better price because the owner/hotel does not have to pay a minimum 15% commission to an online booking agent, which gives them a bit more wiggle room. And, in the event something goes awry, you have an actual entity (organization or person) to call and deal with rather than an agent in a call centre on the other side of the world who has no power to do anything on your behalf. You can also ask the owner or hotel agent questions about the property and obtain information or assurances that an online booking system cannot possibly provide.
- Ask the owner if the B&B is licensed by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Why? Licensed B&Bs go through a rigorous inspection for fire and health safety and any code violations. Licensed B&Bs pay an annual fee and the license MUST be publicly displayed for all guests to see. The property MUST also be adequately insured according to the town bylaws. Licensed B&Bs MUST also offer onsite parking for all guests as street parking is not permitted. A licensed B&B usually can be identified by the Town-issued signage on their property. A copy of the Town’s bylaws governing licensed bed and breakfasts MUST also be available to any guest to peruse at his/her request. There are two ways to check if the bed and breakfast you are planning to book is licensed:
- Call the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake at 905-468-3266 (Mo-Fr, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., exc. holidays)
- Visit BookYourStay.ca to see if it is listed on the Niagara-on-the-Lake Bed & Breakfast Association website (every B&B listed here is licensed by the Town).
- Check if the B&B is a member of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Bed & Breakfast Association. Why? While this is not mandatory in order to be a licensed property in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it offers added advantages to you, the consumer. First of all, association members MUST be licensed by the Town in order to join the association. Members of the association are held to high standards of service over and above those set by the Town to which they must adhere. The member also pays an annual fee to the association in order to be listed on the association’s map of the Town as well as on the association’s website at BookYourStay.com. And in the event of a dispute with the B&B you booked, if you don’t get any satisfaction from the B&B owner, the bed and breakfast association offers you an added avenue to pursue.
So there you have it—three simple ways to ensure you have booked a LICENSED accommodation in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We wish you a most pleasant stay.
Posted by Donna Vieira, Owner, Globetrotters B&B/Gallery, Niagara-on-the-Lake