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Why boutique hotels and homestays beat five-star chain hotels

Staff at five-star hotels are trained to be attentive, well-mannered and courteous. They’ll smooth your stay as much as their job description permits but are rarely able to go that extra mile. By comparison, owners of smaller properties have the freedom to provide the personal touches and acts of kindness we remember long after our holiday is over, as these TripAdvisor excerpts demonstrate.

1 A guest is a friend. A cynic might argue that owners of boutique lodgings are motivated by online accommodation rankings when they run errands and do favours. However, it could be that some hosts, such as the boss of this guest house in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, see guests less as paying customers and more as new friends: “… the owner even invited us to a Hindu wedding which coincident­ally was at the time of our stay. We had the time of our lives”.

Taste the past at these 5 Asian colonial piles preserved as boutique hotels

And in Maryland, in the United States, multitasking staff responded quickly when a couple were stranded after a blizzard: “Baltimore got three foot of snow during our stay, and they even shovelled us out of a parking spot.”

The proprietor of a BB in Italy wasn’t going to let the language barrier spoil this reviewer’s holiday: “We were met by Elenora who was brought in by the owner Bruna as our translator.”

Meanwhile, a hotelier in Cairo came up with a novel way of solving a reservation mix-up: “The manager even let us stay in his room because they had overbooked!”

2 What’s mine is yours. Small hoteli­ers are often happy to lend their guests all sorts of things, from hair dryers to kayaks and mobile phones to binoculars. Payment isn’t expected – you’re staying with the family so you’re treated as family:

“The owner even let us use a boat and fishing rods to fish on the lake.” (In Sweden).

Five homestay-style Asian hotels offering the personal touch

“The owners were also the friendliest and most obliging people you would ever want to meet; they even lent us their car to go get food because we were having car trouble.” (In Queensland, Australia).

And when (in the Shetland Islands, Scotland) allowing a complete stranger to borrow the car is not enough: “They lent us their car, they cooked our catch from our fishing trip; even their faithful dog Suzy looked after us while we walked around the headland.”

3 Repair Service. Innkeepers pride themselves on problem solving and will turn their hand to almost anything, according to a number of online anecdotes, including these:

“Primoz and his family were the best hosts ever! They were extremely friendly, relaxed and tried to support with whatever they could (even repaired our car!)” (Slovenia).

“The young man at reception even repaired our iPad for us which was not working for the past 4 days.” (Iceland).

Connect with nature at a farming homestay in rural Japan

4 Sealed and Delivered. Talking of tablets, the owner of a homestay in Ireland relied on initiative and community spirit to reunite an owner with her device: “I left my iPad in our room next to the bed. Being now three plus hours away it wasn’t practical to return to Dingle. Barbara took it upon herself, calling neighboring BBs, asking every guest until she arranged an agreeable guest headed home to Dublin who would courier the tablet to meet me there.”

Wedding rings slip off tourist fingers more frequently than you might expect. Three cheers, then, for this resourceful hotelier in Uzbekistan: “I realised that I’d left my wedding ring in the room there. Instead of this resulting in death at the hands of my wife, the hotel sent the ring with a taxi driver … and my ring got back to me the same day.”

5 Need a lift? Guest-house owners are forever offering free rides to tourist attractions, restaurants and bus and train stations.

This lucky visitor to Christchurch was treated to a double dose of Kiwi hospitality: “I was even invited to join Deb and her family for dinner. Very accommodating, gave me a free lift to the airport at 4am.”

6 Under the weather. Hypochondriacs headed for the Himalayas could do worse than staying at this place, in Ladakh, India: “The owner is a doctor and he will give you tips in case you become sick due to high altitude.”

Meanwhile, at the Grand Canyon, observant staff may have saved a guest’s life: “… my husband was sick … the manager spotted dehydration and a life threatening look and called an ambulance, they took him to Flagstaff where he was treated … he could have died but these guys cared enough to call for help.”

Back to New Zealand, where renting rooms is evidently only part of the service, this couple win the Beyond the Call of Duty award: “Following an accident to my wife which resulted in a week in Christchurch Hospital I was fortunate to be given the address of this BB. The hosts Jan and Murray are perfect. They even found time to visit my wife in hospital.”

10 of the best boutique hotels in historic George Town, Malaysia

7 No charge. And the Heart of Gold award goes to Denise, who runs a youth hostel in Cumbria, England: “We did the coast to coast walk and stopped at this hostel for the night! Denise – the owner – was welcoming and a true life saver as we were tierd [sic] and soaking as it had been raining for 4 days solid. She gave us a breakfast and let us stay for free as we were doing the walk for charity.”

8 Moving in? Plenty of reviewers enjoy their stay so much they make an online pledge to return. But this smitten visitor to a BB in Belgium is considering taking things further: “Her breakfasts were great and I’ve told my wife if she ever leaves me I’m going to live with Mirjiame in her BB permanently (although I haven’t told Mirjiame this yet!)”.