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Changing Times: A 20 Year Window to the B&B Industry

June 16, 2005

by Kit Cassingham

There have been lots of changes in the bed and breakfast industry through the years, and there will be lots of changes in the coming years, Gaining the perspective of the changes that have come will give you perspective for the changes to come. Evolution is a natural aspect of business, the better prepared you are for it the easier and smoother it will be for you.

Perspective on the industry changes with your longevity in the business. For those who've been around awhile now, you've seen tremendous changes in the business approach and the guest experience. What has changed and what has stayed the same? You may be surprised by my observations. Even more important, all of us will see lots of changes in the coming years. Having some perspective on the past will help you prepare for the future.

When I got into the industry twenty years ago it was common to see B&Bs with shared baths and double beds. You rarely found phones or TVs in the guestrooms either. Oh, there were private baths, queen and king beds, phones and TVs here and there, but they were less common.

The best way to promote your B&B was to get into one or more of the handful of B&B books, but that took six months to three years to get into them because of print schedules and the innkeeper's dedication to quickly submitting their B&B for inclusion. The number of B&B books rose from a small handful to over 100 in a few years, showing you how popular they were with the traveling public and publishers alike. An ad in the yellow pages and in local newspapers was important. Printed brochures were used rampantly, along with the regular forms of advertising already mentioned.

Room rates tended toward inexpensive and discounting room rates was the norm. And a niche definition that worked well for B&Bs was just being a B&B; that was once sufficient for an innkeeper's success (assuming they effectively communicated they were open for business).

Today it's most common to have private baths and queen- and king-size beds. You find phones and internet in guestrooms now, and more TVs with DVD players (and sound systems) can be found too. There are still inns that have shared baths, double beds, and no phones or TVs, but they are much less common -- and rates for such rooms generally are much less expensive to compete with inns that have modernized. More B&Bs are installing jetted tubs (or even hot tubs in the guestrooms) and fireplaces (most often gas). Innkeepers are finding new ways to pamper their guests.

Now the best way to promote your B&B is via the internet. There still are B&B travel books, but they are less prevalent than they were in their heyday. Yellow page and newspaper ads are still important, but much less so than they were.

Room rates tend toward expensive now and adding value is gaining favor over discounting. Having a carefully honed niche definition, or brand, so potential guests can find the guest experience they are looking for is what sets B&Bs apart and contributes to the innkeeper's success (again, assuming they effectively communicate they are open for business).

With all the change, some things have stayed the same. Cleanliness is still vital. Customer service continues to bring guests back and build great reputations among travelers. Developing and working your marketing program is still what brings in business. Innkeepers, today as yesterday, are concerned about their income and expenses. Networking with other innkeepers and businesses is still an important activity. Innkeepers understand that teamwork with their staff and other innkeepers makes for light work and cheerier days. Innkeeping, when done well, evokes positive emotion in guests that they share with their friends, family and associates. And the need for an exit strategy from the B&B is as important as ever, and probably as overlooked as ever.




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