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I just finished a two week tour of Washington state.  Although my trip started with a two day meeting with the board of the Washington Bed and Breakfast Guild, the remainder of my time was spent with their members.    As the Quality Assurance Advisor for the organization, I have the opportunity to not only inspect every inn, but to learn from every innkeeper.   The economy consumed much of our conversation and I took this opportunity to ask innkeepers what they are doing during these tough economic times.  Below is a short list of ideas and insight from some successful and experienced inn owners.

My questions:  What are you doing during these tough economic times to maintain a strong business?

1.  First, let me emphasis, that those inns who are well “located” are still doing a respectable business.  Yes, location, location, location still counts.

2.  Sweat equity.  For some, money is tight, but they are investing in upgrades: painting rooms, refinishing furniture….many innkeepers are taking this time to put in a little extra effort and creatively use funds to keep their property fresh and interesting.  The market is competitive.  Evaluate your inn with a critical eye and make simple changes to keep it up to date and relevant.

3.  Social Media.  Many innkeepers initially ignored Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media as irritating, time-consuming fads.  Now, many have reevaluated these free and effective marketing tools.  Many innkeepers who would not have considered Facebook or Twitter just two years ago are tweeting and “Like” ing with success.  Todays consumers are turning to social media and sharing their favorite places with friends via Twitter and Facebook.  Savvy innkeepers are taking advantage all types of social media.  For those who feel it is too time consuming....HootSuite, MarketMeSuite and similar products help innkeepers post and tweet quickly and efficiently.

4.  When occupancy drops along with income, the wise innkeeper evaluates expenses and cuts costs.  Too often they cut marketing and advertising first, as these are often large fees they can eliminate quickly.  The problem:  With fewer guests searching diligently for the perfect guest experience, marketing is MORE important….not less.  Certainly when making changes, every cost should be “on the table” and reviewed, but the successful innkeeper evaluates the effectiveness of every marketing and advertising opportunity and actually spends more money, time and effort on those that are effective.   In a competitive market it is vitally important that people can find your inn.  Local BnB Associations, State BnB Associations, the local Chamber of Commerce  and online directories like Bed and Breakfast.com are just a few ways people find your inn.  Now is not the time to cut advertising.  Guests need to find you…use these tools effectively.

5.  Communicate with your guest.  Encourage your guests to post a review on TripAdvisor.  Like it or not, TripAdvisor is often the first place people go when searching for lodging, dining and transportation.  One successful inn sends a thank you note to every guests as a follow up to their stay and includes a link to TripAdvisor, encouraging them to post.  Keep an eye on your TripAdvisor reviews because……

6.  The successful innkeepers are listening to their guests.  TVs?  WiFi?  Coffee on demand?  Breakfast to go?  Concierge service?  Successful innkeepers are offering more…listening to their guests and meeting their needs.  Although owning a bed and breakfast is about creating a world where you love to live and welcome guests….it also needs to be a place where guests feel comfortable and well cared for.  In today’s economy the wise innkeeper always considers the guest when making any decision.  You would probably be surprised how many innkeepers set policies or create an atmosphere without considering the guest.  Remember….it is ALL about the guest.

7.  Two night minimums and pricing.  Some innkeepers have had to drop their two night minimum (except during special peak events) and even lower prices.  Pricing is about what guests are willing to pay as well as what your rooms and experience are worth.  I am not advocating making a deal with every guest when they call.   A strong business cannot be based on price alone, but, do evaluate your local market and consider what guests are willing to pay and adjust your prices accordingly.  Although it can be difficult to find the balance finding the right price for you rooms…right for you and for the guest is important.

The good news is that guests are still traveling, still looking for the perfect experience and a well-appointed, up to date bed and breakfast can offer them a more personal, well crafted experience than any major hotel.  As you continue through 2011, listen to your guests, make sure they can find you, perfect that guest experience.  Personal service, well-appointed rooms and warm welcoming innkeepers never go out of style.  Bed and breakfasts are in a class of their own and the wise innkeeper and savvy guest know it.

In a previous blog, I introduced the Charlton House, a bed and breakfast opened in the late 60’s by two retired school teachers.  They patterned this BnB after  some of their favorites from summer backpack excursions through Europe.   Ample breakfasts, shared baths down the hall and a collection of record albums for guests were the norm.

Well, after a little more than a decade of success  in innkeeping, they sold the bed and breakfast in the mid-80s to two sisters.  One was the resident innkeeper while the other had a job with a successful computer software company.  While both enjoyed innkeeping, for one it was a hobby and investment…for the other, a full time job.

They promptly added color to the walls…lots of it.  Seafoam green, peach, country blue, deep wine shades and forest green flowed throughout the bedrooms.  Wallpaper was added.  Stripes, flowers….wallpaper was popular, easy to clean and very trendy.  Drapes adorned  the windows and plush carpeting covered the floors.  For entertainment, cassettes replaced vinyl, and then with the walkman, CD’s started to appear.  Thanks to cable, guests watched TV in their room and could also choose one of the VHS tapes the innkeepers kept on hand.

The 80’s were all about Dallas….the tv show, that is.  Everything was big…cars, guest rooms, beds, breakfasts, and yes hair….really really big hair.  Our innkeepers replaced the full beds with queen size.  They removed one guest room, remodeled and added a bath to every room. Bathrooms were ornate, with large mirrors (remember the big hair) oversized light fixtures and large gold plated bathroom fixtures.  Parking was still an issue.  Cars were big, and expensive…in fact, the bigger and more expensive the better.  Guests were becoming a little health conscious.  Equal was added to the table and  Yogurt became a popular breakfast add on.  The innkeepers added a small guest refrigerator stocked with Coca Cola and Tab…diet soft drinks had arrived.  On top of the fridge they left a basket of goodies for guests, Doritos, and California Raisins (the commercial with claymation singing raisins was quite popular).

Special events were becoming popular.  These innkeepers accommodated 2 small weddings, one family reunion as well as a “Who Shot J.R.” TV night.  People liked meeting in their BnB.  It was a warm, welcoming place for a gathering.   After their first year, they added Murder Mystery Party weekends with much success.

Reservations were still taken by phone. Guest found the BnB from popular guidebooks, magazines and sometimes AAA.   Credit cards were now a popular means of payment, but many people arrived, checkbook in hand.  The new innkeepers required a one night’s deposit.  The Charlton House had remodeled into an elegant little BnB and now they were quite popular.  Reservations were a must on weekends and that one night’s deposit was important.

Guests expected privacy in their rooms, but enjoyed sharing success stories around the communal dining table.  In the 80’s comparing cars, rings, fashion…well comparing just about anything was popular.  Guests would start the morning with freshly brewed coffee, Coffee Mate and croissants.   Breakfast casseroles had arrived and the innkeepers had a recipe box full of their favorites.  Orange juice was Minute Maid and Apple juice was now a tasty alternative.

The owners were happy.  In the 80’s guests were ready to spend and they enjoyed spending on travel.  People from all over the country visited their city and they were truly welcoming the world at their doorstep.  They took pride in spotlessly clean rooms, well placed guest amenities, as well as fresh ample breakfasts served with a warm, genuine smile.  As with the previous owners, hospitality abounded.  They were always available to answer a question, suggest a great hike or restaurant or add a bouquet of flowers or bottle of wine to the room for a special occasion.

Décor changes, foods change, styles change, but good hospitality is forever.  Paint to wallpaper, TV to VHS, sugar to Equal, vinyl to cassette….remember some things never change.  A warm greeting, welcoming smile, comfortable bed, fresh breakfast and genuine concern, never go out of style.

People who own a bed and breakfast don’t just like people.  To be successful, they must genuinely care about others.  Members of the Seattle Bed and Breakfast Association pool their efforts each year to show that genuine care and concern.   This year, 9 local inns collected new or gently used linens for three local shelters: Mary’s Place, Jubilee Women’s Center and Operation Nightwatch.  Included with the linens were unopened soaps, shampoos and other amenity items from the inns.

Inns are constantly upgrading, remodeling and changing their look.  Donating high end bed linens, towels, robes as well as amenities is a great way to make a difference in the community.  With a little planning and organization, your inn or local association can do the same.  Here are a few ideas:

1.  Set aside a box or two where you can collect items worthy of donation.

2.  Contact local inns or business and form a donation “group”

3.  Choose several local charities who can effectively help others with your “gently” used goods

4.  Set a date for delivery and notify your group.

5.  Remind your group throughout the year and check progress.

6. Get involved.  Go as a group to deliver your items.  Take coffee, muffins, sandwiches and spend time with the people you meet.  Often times a warm cup of coffee, shared with a new friend can mean as much as a warm blanket or fluffy towel.

7.  Finally, get involved.  I know that an innkeeper’s time is limited, but consider sharing a little of you time volunteering at a local charity.  Your time can make a difference.

The Seattle Bed and Breakfast Association makes everyone in their community a priority.  Consider how your inn or association can get involved in your area.

Everything changes. Fashion changes. Laws change. The weather changes (fairly often in some places!). It should be no surprise, then, that bed and breakfasts have changed a great deal since they first began popping up across the U.S.

The first Bed and Breakfasts were patterned after charming homestays travelers experienced while visiting Great Britain and Europe. Once travel became easy and affordable (or perhaps WHEN travel was easy and affordable) Americans backpacked and traveled the rails, many times choosing a cost effective bed and breakfast . Charmed by the warm welcoming hosts, comfortable, home like setting and the exceptional value…many people in the U.S. decided to “retire into innkeeping.

Let’s visit a mythical bed and breakfast, The Charlton House and see how it has changed since it’s first owner in 1970 to now.

Sometime in the late 60′s to early 70′s the Charlton house was opened by a couple, retired school teachers who spent their summers traveling Great Britain. Located in a small, seaside town on the east coast it had 4 guest rooms and 2 baths. Back then, sharing a bath was no problem…after all, that was just part of the experience in a B&B in Europe. The innkeeper had a television room where everyone could gather, visit and watch their favorite shows. The bookshelf would probably have a well used copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a few Stephen King thrillers and maybe even a copy of the racy, Valley of the Dolls. Music was vinyl and flipping through the creative album covers was half the fun. When the record “skipped” blowing the dust off the needle usually worked. Perched on the crisp, pressed, snow white doily on the nightstand was a giant clock radio and a lamp with an incandescent bulb. The full size bed was comfortable with fresh, crisp sheets, several warm blankets and a bright green chenille bedspread. (the 70′s were all about color) The innkeeper peppered the room with family photos, favorite books and even a small collection of her favorite porcelain dolls. In the morning guests could peer into the gold/avocado green kitchen and smell muffins baking and hear the bacon crackling. Coffee was Maxwell House or Folgers and OJ might not be OJ, but Tang…a favorite of astronauts. How did the guests find a B&B in the 60′s or 70′s? Guidebooks, almost exclusively. Armed with maps or a AAA triptick, they arrived at the door toting Samsonite. Communication was done by phone or mail. A stamp was 6 cents. Payment was cash or check. Gas prices were an issue and the gas crisis made for some very quiet weekends. It was expensive to fuel the large family sedans or those Dodge Chargers with 8 cylinder engines. Guests expected a charming innkeeper, warm homey surroundings and an ample hot breakfast…all at a bargain price. They were charmed by this alternative to modern, but sterile hotels and motels. Innkeepers loved welcoming new “friends” into their homes. Although the 70′s were all about change, the timeless values of warm hospitality were valued, even then.

Next, the 80′s and 90′s….but that is my next blog!

Travel Trends 2011

2010 brought the year of the “deal” and budget conscious travel.  “Staycation” was a buzz word and hotel rates in major cities were at an all time low.  Airline travel became increasingly difficult and gas prices “stabilized” somewhat.  That being said, what do we have to look forward to in 2011?  Here are just a few predictions….

1. Escapism: People want to escape the stress of their everyday lives.  Although peoplehave always wanted to “escape”, from day to day pressures today, escape means “unplugged” to many.  Don’t be surprised if guests arrive armed with smart phones, laptops or iPads, but then check technology at the door.  Many travelers want to adopt a slower pace.  They will use modern technology to find you, but many will power down and switch off and simply unwind.

2.  Higher Hotel Prices: In 2010 great deals in major cities across the U.S. were common.  Last year it was simply about putting heads in beds.  Major hotels in cities like New York, Boston and Miami are already increasing rates.  Although there will still be deals, they will be very last minute and specific…expect rates to raise about 5% this year.

3.  Celebration Vacations: When the budget is tight, people need a reason for travel. Weddings, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays are a great excuse for people to take a few extra days away.  Many will choose to add a few days to their trip to explore once they have “celebrated” with family.

4.  Business travelers are looking for value: Companies are still limiting corporate travel and today’s “road warriors” are looking for a deal.  Free WiFi, complimentary parking, free breakfast and mulitple stay discounts are important to them in 2011.

5.  The Resurgence of Travel Experts: Although the internet has led to a deluge of information on travel…much of it can be misleading and downright wrong.  Travelers are more discerning in what they read and see and many are turning to experts.  For the first time in a decade, the use of travel agents is on the rise.  Hotel concierge services and small boutique hotels or inns that “know” the area will be valuable to travelers in 2011.


A day to come together in support of the small businesses we love.    The businesses that are the heartbeat of our communities and local economies.  That day is November 27, 2010—the first-ever Small Business SaturdaySM.                 Facebook, Nov.2010

Everybody knows about Black Friday, considered to be the busiest shopping day of the year and a predictor of the economic climate and success of the shopping season ahead.  Lots of people are out before sun up heading to their favorite malls, shopping centers and chain department stores to snatch up bargains.  Yesterday I stopped at Best Buy to grab a game.   I take great pride in shopping BEFORE Thanksgiving.  (I have never shopped on Black Friday!)  To my surprise there were 2 people camped out..yes literally camped out on the sidewalk in front of the store waiting for the Black Friday opening!  This was Wednesday.  Apparently they were spending THEIR Thanksgiving on a sidewalk in front of a chain electronics store so they could be first in line to spend money!  Seriously?

Although some consider Black Friday fun, I just think of the crowds, the shoving, the lines, the parking…not to mention the news reports of people being literally trampled when the doors open, and I stay home.  Yep, there has never been a deal great enough or an idea creative enough to entice me to shop Thanksgiving weekend…until now.

Enter Small Business Saturday!  Now there is a concept.  I owned a small business and realize that Black Friday and all the $$$’s  go to the chains, big box stores and shopping malls, but not many people consider shopping in pedestrian friendly small town shopping districts or dropping by that small strip center with their favorite home store or boutique.
Again, Enter Small Business Saturday.  This holiday, sponsored by American Express, is gaining momentum.  Check out their Facebook page! FB is offering free ad space to small businesses across the country to promote this new idea.

There are a number of reasons to shop small and local on Small Business Saturday:

1.  They are looking forward to seeing you.  Yes, the person behind the register or greeting you as you enter probably owns the business.  No punching a time clock here.  They depend on you to pay the bills and they are glad you have chosen to shop with them.

2.  No lines.   No lines at the register, no lines in the parking lot, no lines on the highway waiting to exit only to get to wait in the lines in the parking lot and then stand in the  lines at the register! (ok, that’s a lot of lines)

3.  Great deals.  Local business offer great deals on their goods and services, but often they do not have the $$$’s to advertise like the big chains do.  Drop by and check them out.

4.  These are your friends and neighbors.  Small business owners live in your community.  They shop where you shop, their children sit next to yours in school, they attend the same church or civic group….they even do yoga at the same place!  If you don’t know them, stop in and introduce yourself.  They don’t get out much…small business owners work a lot to pay the bills.  Drop by and say hi!

5.  Spread the wealth…or at least the budget!  Do not misunderstand.  I am not against the chains and big box stores….I just believe there is enough to go around.  Every store is unique.  Small business owners started with a unique idea and vision. Check out that holiday shopping list and consider spending some of your hard-earned dollars with people who are an important part of your local community.

For more information on Small Business Saturday check out these links;

First – ever “Small Business Saturday” Gains Momentum by John Titlow, Nov. 24, 2010

AmEx promotes “Small Business Saturday” AP/Yahoo News

Foodie: A person that spends a keen amount of attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food, and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation. Urban Dictionary

Innkeepers are foodies.  I know, most people don’t think of breakfast as a culinary experience.  In fact, most renowned chefs would never darken the door of a kitchen before 10:00am.  Breakfast is eggs and cheese and milk…sausage, and muffins or scones.  Breakfast is the realm of pastry chefs and short order cooks.   If you believe that, then you have never had breakfast at an inn or bnb.

Innkeepers are absolutely obsessed with breakfast.  They buy cookbooks and watch the Food Network to learn how to make the fluffiest eggs or the perfect scone.  They cook, bake, poach and saute and serve up gourmet breakfasts to friends and soon to be friends a like.  They take a simple recipe, scour the local farmers market for fresh organic ingredients and then they lovingly create a dish that would impress even the most discerning food snob.  They study vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, sugar free, no dairy recipes the same way a stock broker would study the Wall Street Journal.

How d0 I know this?  Some of my best friends are innkeepers…and since I love food, especially good food, this works really well for me!  Sit in the room and have coffee with a couple of innkeepers and after the initial pleasantries, things like “How is business? Did you buy a new commercial dishwasher?  How do you get your sheets so soft?”  the discussion turns to food.   Recipes are shared. Ingredients are analyzed and stories are told.

A typical afternoon goes something like this…

“My guests just LOVE my poached pears!  They are organic.  I add just a touch of fresh squeezed orange juice, you know.”

“Seriously, you use orange juice? Try splitting one vanilla bean and using just a touch of cinnamon, but make sure it is Korintje cassia.”

“Well, I found the best organic greek yogurt.  Just add a little lavender honey from that great little farm in Sequim and top it with some organic berries from the Skagit valley.”

“Does anyone else add a drop of truffle oil to their veggie scramble?  The scent wafting from the kitchen is delightful and it certainly enhances the flavor of the organic veggies and blends well with the goats cheese.”

“My Bosch Grain Mill broke and I actually had to BUY wheat flour…can you imagine.  They simply can’t ship me a new one soon enough.”

These are people who know food, love food and believe in sharing that love with their guests.

Here are just a few examples.

Try the versatile Fruit Pasta Salad from The Shepherd’s Inn in Volcano Country within easy driving distance of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. St Helens.     Start your day with Eggs Florentine featured at The Blue Goose Inn in located in charming Coupeville or relax in Aberdeen at The Harbor View Inn and enjoy their specialty,Apple Cinnamon Tart Souffle.

Need more?  Just visit our website to learn how to create a breakfast fit for a king…or a guest.

So next time you consider a getaway, visit a BnB.  Not only do they have comfy beds, soft, elegant, sheets and friendly innkeepers, they also serve a breakfast perfect for the foodie in all of us.

Book you next getaway today and discover Washington, one delicious breakfast and one delightful inn at a time.