B&Bs fight for a fair slice of Blackpool's still-growing tourism industry

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Many remaining B&B owners are left wondering how long they can survive and what is being done to help them.

Jamie Lopez from The Blackpool Lead delves into the changes that are coming for Blackpool as the town continues its battle to keep tourists visiting the seaside resort

Town Deal and Levelling Up funding is due to fund more than £130m of regeneration projects, and modern accommodation for visitors is clearly on the agenda for the council and developers. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On Tuesday councillors granted planning permission for a new 143-bedroom hotel to be built on the Promenade in South Shore. Conditions on the Singapore-based Fragrance Group behind the £30m scheme include that messy bedrooms are not on full display from the floor to ceiling windows. 

Also in South Shore, the Hampton by Hilton sprang up on the Promenade in 2018 and was extended by another 74 bedrooms on top of its original 130 last year. The £12m Boulevard Hotel opened to serve visitors to the Pleasure Beach in 2019. 

Change is coming for Blackpool as the town continues its battle to keep tourists visiting the seaside resort (Credit: freeimageslive.co.uk)Change is coming for Blackpool as the town continues its battle to keep tourists visiting the seaside resort (Credit: freeimageslive.co.uk)
Change is coming for Blackpool as the town continues its battle to keep tourists visiting the seaside resort (Credit: freeimageslive.co.uk) | freeimageslive.co.uk

Questions still hang over the Sands Hotel – a luxury hotel and spa on Central Promenade that was due to open in 2021. The council loaned the development £10m and say a legal dispute between the owner and contractor is the cause of the hold up. But there seems to be no shortage of modern accommodation elsewhere in the town centre.  

The Holiday Inn is set to open up its new Blackpool accommodation on 1 May – part of the £350m Talbot Gateway development project. The 144-bedroom build will also include Marco Pierre White’s New York Italian restaurant on the ground floor. And that’s just a short ride on the new tramline away from the new Premier Inn on the site of a former Yates’s Wine Lodge. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Where does this leave the B&Bs? 

So what of the traditional guesthouses and B&B which have hosted the resort’s visitors for decades? As more and more close each year, many remaining owners are left wondering how long they can survive and what is being done to help them.

A walk down Palatine Road encompasses broad change from one end to the other. Well kept houses sit near the Whitegate Drive end, Blackpool School of Art is positioned around the middle, and the far side is home to a large number of guest houses and bed and breakfasts. Some look modern and inviting, others have clearly seen better days.

It’s within this run of holiday accommodation where one property sits so derelict and damaged that it’s a wonder it’s still standing. The upper windows are boarded up and the roof is crumbling but it’s the bottom of the house where the problems are really visible.

The boards which covered the front bay window have been torn away, revealing a burnt and collapsed shell inside. Passersby can peer all the way through the building – the fire damaged upper floors have collapsed and there’s no back door.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Outside, a double mattress has seemingly been fly tipped onto the small space between the building and its external wall, along with huge bags of rubble. Walking past this property, which sits on the stretch between Livingstone Road and Park Road, you might assume it’s been recently damaged. But the property has been in this state for a number of years. 

“I’ve been living here for about three years,” one neighbour tells The Blackpool Lead. “It’s always been like that. Since before the pandemic definitely.”

Another neighbour says the property was last listed for sale with a price tag of just £20,000 but still failed to attract a buyer willing to take on a potentially risky project. 

“You’d be asking for trouble,” he said. “It needs to be knocked down and rebuilt – who’s going to do that here?”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lee Turner owns the Leecliff Guest House which is located only a few doors down from the ruin. As well as working as a mechanic, Turner has been involved in property and three years ago decided to make the move to Blackpool from Bolton to open the hotel with his partner Laura.

“The prices of places are cheaper than where I’m from so I came here,” he says. “For the price of a two bedroom house there, I’ve got eight bedrooms here.” Renovation and improvement work has been ongoing since then and Turner plans to invest another five figures to modernise another two bedrooms this year.

The property on Palatine Road has been in this state for years. (Credit: The Blackpool Lead)The property on Palatine Road has been in this state for years. (Credit: The Blackpool Lead)
The property on Palatine Road has been in this state for years. (Credit: The Blackpool Lead) | The Blackpool Lead

Tourism in Blackpool is on the up. Up 1.5m in 2022 on the previous year, in fact, and hitting a record 20m mark. But with many visitors only visiting for the day, a more modern accommodation available where visitors know exactly what they’ll get for their money, the reality is that for guest houses such as those on Palatine Road, trade isn’t sufficient to bear the costs of carrying out extensive renovations. 

“The week after Covid opened up, there was so much going on,” Turner says. “The year after that was good as well because people still couldn’t travel abroad as much. But it was quiet last year and we’re expecting the same this year.” 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The battle to offer the lowest prices forces many into operating at unsustainable levels, he says.

“The problem is you’ve got so many B&Bs. They’re all competing, they drop the price and drop the price and then can’t afford to keep going. They close down every year – there’ll probably be six or seven on the street that go this year.

“I’m not knocking Blackpool, it’s a good place. I like it here and there really is something for everyone. The problem is if you’re a family with a choice of going abroad for a few hundred quid or coming to Blackpool, you’ll go abroad.”

The knock-on effect of those closed businesses is the buildings often become disused and neglected. In some instances, the empty buildings attract rogue landlords or criminals using them for purposes such as growing cannabis. In December, one such cannabis farm was raided in Withnell Road. Some 419 plants were seized from 13 rooms spread over four floors of a disused hotel, with a street value of over £400,000. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Without willing investors like Turner, properties become derelict and extreme examples such as Palatine Road lead to literal collapse. The Boltonian said he once considered attempting to revive the damaged property but the potential reward was not worth the risks involved. 

“I’ve looked at it. I’ve looked at a few but what you’re taking on is the responsibility if it collapses,” he says. “I reckon no-one’s gonna take it on. It’s a rebuild. The damage is so bad it needs knocking down.”

Blackpool Council said they are aware of the issues empty properties cause and are committed to tackling them using ‘all the powers at their disposal’. They said these can range from improvement notices, to prosecution or an enforced sale. 

While traditional B&Bs become more difficult to tempt tourists into, developers draw up plans for more modern alternatives to holiday accommodation to sit alongside the major hotel developments. The rise of Airbnb has resulted in an estimated 500 operating in the town – something the council has attempted to control by calling on planning and enforcement powers, largely unsuccessfully. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hartes department store

Last month planning permission was sought for the development of 23 holiday apartment, retail units and car parking on another derelict site – the former Hartes department store on the corner of Waterloo Road and Bond Street.

The building opened in 1928 as the town’s second Woolworths and was latterly known for extravagant Christmas displays. But Hartes closed the store in 2019 when it went online-only and a few months later plans were mooted to demolish the building to make way for a car park. 

In 2023 the council listed the building among others in South Shore as a heritage asset but no moves have been made to restore it. In February councillor Diane Mitchell raised her concerns about the building, which has been a derelict eyesore for locals and businesses on the once busy South Shore high street. 

At the meeting Mitchell said: "The Hartes building is a complete eyesore and doesn't inspire investment in old business or new business. Tourism in the area is suffering, the hotels, the guesthouses, they need investment to encourage footfall in that area. I support the council with the heritage protection status but working with the owner quickly is imperative before what remains collapses." 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The current application, submitted by Groves Town Planning, says its plans support “Blackpool’s ambitions to broaden its tourism offer and target families as part of the drive to secure social and economic benefit from the visitor economy”.

Hartes department store (Credit: The Blackpool Lead)Hartes department store (Credit: The Blackpool Lead)
Hartes department store (Credit: The Blackpool Lead) | The Blackpool Lead

Speaking to The Blackpool Lead, Mitchell says derelict buildings are a problem in various areas. She recounts the words of one resident who spoke with her recently: “If you were in Brighton and you were one street from the front, your property would be worth £1m, here if you’re one street back it’s probably worth £20k”.

“I’m just hoping that this money that’s given for regeneration in Blackpool is put into housing which will then lift the area,” says Mitchell. “I know there are a lot of B&Bs which are wanting to convert back into housing rather than accommodation. More helping people to do what they want to do is what I’m hoping for.”

Mitchell says the council should get firmer with property owners, enforcing them to keep their buildings to an acceptable standard, but adds that she has sympathy with the owners too. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is hard, lots of people are coming to Blackpool for a small weekend or a day trip which means that a lot of the B&Bs don’t benefit.

“I have a lot of sympathy but you can’t have properties like Hartes which have nobody in them and are effectively left to rot.”

And while lots of investment has already been seen and more is planned, the Waterloo Ward representative hopes that the traditional businesses don’t miss out on the benefits. 

“You’ve got to modernise, you’ve got to move forward,” she says. “I think there are some young people who won’t want to stay in a guesthouse but we can offer both. A lot of people do want to come to Blackpool and stay in a guesthouse.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Now it feels like a 12 months a year town.”

Samantha and Aishley Bell-Docherty are two Blackpool landladies who are embracing the new while keeping one foot in the traditional seaside B&B. They have renovated Ferny House, their hotel on Central Promenade, to cater for a new generation of tourists. 

“We wanted to make it feel more like a house, and as far away from a Hilton as possible,” says Samantha. Each of their rooms is decorated in the couple’s unique maximalist style, with original artwork and murals adorning the Victorian building’s walls. 

“We host house parties and we want it to feel like you’re visiting a friend’s house. It’s a more creative feel to what was on offer and more places are doing that, which is cool. Doing something non traditional while still rooted in the traditional seaside B&B.” 

It was important to Samantha to retain some of the traditional character – before she and her wife took over, her parents ran the hotel and she grew up there. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It was really important to me to keep the history of the space because that’s what’s in the walls when you walk in. I didn't just want to rip everything out, I wanted to upcycle what we already had and add to it. It's authentic. Things in the hotel have been found, locally sourced or kept for generations. And it’s fun. It has to remain fun and true to Blackpool.” 

Samantha remembers her parent's business as booming but argues that in some ways she and Aishley are in a stronger position now. 

“It was very seasonal,” she says. “You’d be packed from Easter through to the Scottish holidays in July and then it would stop in November when the lights went off. 

“Now it feels like a 12 months a year town. That was unheard of when I was a kid. When the lights went off in November that time was taken for the hotelier to go on holiday and to decorate. Now we have bookings all year round.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Ferny House, BlackpoolFerny House, Blackpool
Ferny House, Blackpool | Contributed

The couple are also embracing their roles as Blackpool landladies – an important one they feel shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten. 

“The landlady has always been a strong woman, a matriarchal image, and we really like that and it ties in with our identity as gay women,” says Aishley. “The double whammy landlady is part of that package at the Ferny. That offer of having someone to look after you is important. 

“At a hotel you have a receptionist but there’s no personal touch, they’re not there for small talk or to engage with you about your visit. We like to chat to people about Blackpool, recommend places to go and find out where they’re going and what they’re up to.” 

But the couple also welcome the building of new, big hotels in the town.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A few years ago we were quite annoyed because we thought, what's the point of putting up new hotels when there are existing ones that should be renovated? Then we learnt about rogue landlords and some of that can’t be controlled,” says Aishley. 

“Investment of any kind is good,” adds Samantha. “There’s a particular clientele who will want to go to that kind of hotel because they know what they’re getting. But what we offer is personal, without that corporate feel, modern and Blackpool through and through.” 

A spokesperson for VisitBlackpool told The Blackpool Lead: “Together with our resort partners, we invest millions of pounds each year in events and destination marketing for the benefit of all those businesses operating in the tourism economy.

“Over the past three years, we have extended the tourism season by two months through the introduction of an extended Illuminations season and the launch of the hugely-successful Christmas By The Sea festival, which has brought millions of visitors to Blackpool during the autumn and winter months and created a significant trading opportunity for accommodation providers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“At the same time, we are investing in an extensive programme of conferences and exhibitions which bring hundreds of thousands of staying visitors to the resort, helping create one of the few year-round seaside tourism economies in the UK.”

Over on the North Promenade, council bosses hope new measures could help safeguard historic buildings and attract new investment. Lessons, it seems, have been learnt from the fate of the Ambassador Hotel. 

In its North Promenade Conservation Area Appraisal published in December 2018, the council wrote: “Modern windows and sun lounges aside, the condition of most of the hotels is good apart from the Ambassador Hotel adjacent to the former Hilton Hotel. The hotel is in very poor repair and detracts from the amenity value of the conservation area. However, it retains many original features and could be restored so that it makes a strong positive contribution to the character and appearance of the conservation area.”

Councillors granted planning permission for a new 143-bedroom hotel to be built on the Promenade in South Shore (Credit Falconer Chester Hall)Councillors granted planning permission for a new 143-bedroom hotel to be built on the Promenade in South Shore (Credit Falconer Chester Hall)
Councillors granted planning permission for a new 143-bedroom hotel to be built on the Promenade in South Shore (Credit Falconer Chester Hall) | Falconer Chester Hall

But plans to restore the building and convert it into luxury apartments ran into disastrous problems and an emergency demolition took place in 2020. Hacketts Hotel, also in the conservation area, met the same fate following a fire last year. A new Conservation Area management report also lists the Sherwood Hotel and the former Queensgate Hotel as being “in various stages of dilapidation”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The report follows a public consultation on the area and the formal approval of a management plan for the Conservation Area that runs from Cocker Street in the south to Carlin Gate in the north and encompasses Gynn Square. Action was deemed necessary after Historic England visited the town last year and placed North Promenade on its heritage ‘at risk’ register due to the neglect of some of its best known landmarks.

They include the Imperial, the Cliffs and the Savoy, which are among the oldest and grandest of Blackpool’s hotels. Once the height of luxury accommodation, the Savoy is now operated by Brittania, which was last year voted UK's worst hotel chain for the 11th consecutive year.

The group is also responsible for the Norbreck Castle, the Grand Hotel and the Metropole – all of which have fallen into various states of disrepair. The grand Metropole Hotel, the only on the seaward side of the Promenade, was ordered to improve standards after a visit by council inspectors gave it a one out of five food hygiene rating in 2021. Weeks later it was assigned to house several hundred asylum seekers. 

The Metropole falls outside of the boundaries of the new management plan for the Conservation Area, but the council hopes it will give more protection to the properties which do fall within it. The authority will now have powers to ensure properties are maintained and new developments are designed to meet appropriate standards and follow public consultation. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The management report explains: “Early enforcement action will now be prioritised for the conservation area to ensure a satisfactory resolution to bring any properties into a state of good repair in order to protect the character and quality of the conservation area.”

The new designation will allow more early intervention and, the council hopes, help attract investment. It says its new plans “will raise awareness about the vulnerability of these large hotels to risk of loss". 

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.