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Bed-and-breakfasts hang tough, survive lackluster economy

Rochester Business Journal
July 27, 2012

Sharon Myers, a Rochester resident, has been frequenting bed-and-breakfasts for 26 years. She and people like her helped that industry survive the recession.
 
Belinda McElroy, administrator for the Empire State Bed and Breakfast Association and owner of Maxwell Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast in Sodus, says bed-and-breakfast enthusiasts are looking for a unique experience, to reconnect with nature and people.
 
"Our mission is to turn hotel people into B&B people," McElroy says. "I've been doing this for 14 years, and I've got to say that we really do not view hotels as our competition, for the most part."
 
Eileen Cash, owner of the eight-year-old Springdale Farm Bed and Breakfast in Victor, says she does not feel the need to compete with big hotels either because her customers are discriminating. Cash says her customers vow never to stay at a chain hotel or eat at a franchise restaurant because they think bed-and-breakfasts provide better value and quality.
 
Bed-and-breakfasts are commonly thought of as quaint residences with four to six rooms that take in visitors and with hosts who live on the premises and provide a home-cooked breakfast each morning.
 
A 2011 study by the Professional Association of Innkeepers International shows it is an increasingly popular and inexpensive option for trip accommodations. The study surveyed 377 bed-and-breakfasts across the United States.
 
The typical inn is in a village or country setting, has a total of six guest rooms, charges an average of $151 per night and has a median occupancy rate of 39 percent, the survey found. From 2009 to 2010, in the midst of the economic downtown, the average total revenue for these bed-and-breakfasts went up from $216,792 to $262,338.
 
"I'm surrounded by hotels here in Victor, I'm two miles from the highway and I do very well," Cash notes. "I think customers are doing a little bit more research and they realize they can get a local feel, good quality food, no slamming doors, no screaming kids and they can go out and sit on the front lawn or they can do their two-mile run and not worry about traffic."
 
Rosemary Janofsky, owner of the four-room Ellwanger Estate Bed and Breakfast in Rochester, did not have to raise prices in a tough economy. Rooms at the Ellwanger Estate range from $180 to $200 a night. Janofsky has witnessed growth in profits.
 
"The rates stay the same, but I'm probably one of the high-end bed-and-breakfasts, so you also get high-end service here," she says, "Everything is catered, and when you look at the ratings online, I usually have five stars.
 
"(Customers) want the amenities, the gardens, the off-street parking, the free everything, the food, the extra water. I don't find the economy has hindered my business at all."
 
As administrator for the state trade association, McElroy wants to maintain a steady bed-and-breakfast market and help people open up new B&Bs.
 
"We are a statewide association that follows core standards-mostly safety aspects, making sure our members have policies in place," McElroy says, "things like check-in/check-out refund policies, pet and child policies.
 
"If guests should happen upon a bed-and-breakfast and it's not what they were expecting, it puts a sour taste across the industry altogether."
 
With her most expensive room at $179 a night, Cash, who gets both local and out-of-town visitors, believes she offers a much better value for the same price as a hotel. She says she includes bathrobes and sheets of the finest quality.
 
Other bed-and-breakfast owners also try to add touches that set them apart. Janofsky does a social hour in the evening with dessert, offers WiFi and multiple plug-ins for charging gadgets, and even has passes to the Xerox Rochester International Jazz

Festival for guests who visit during that time.
 
"Certainly I think that bed-and-breakfasts have found that today's travelers want Wi-Fi, they want TVs in the room, some of the different, more natural local breakfast foods, and they're certainly bending to that. Private baths are also a must today with bed-and-breakfasts," says Susan Baron, president of the Finger Lakes Bed and Breakfast Association.
 
Janofsky's typical guest is a baby boomer traveling in to see family or looking for a getaway. These guests usually come from Canada and along the East Coast. Janofsky attracts international visitors as well. She says every guest brings a unique story.
 
Myers went to Reen's Bed and Breakfast in Rochester with girlfriends and had a "girls night out" slumber party.
 
"The innkeeper provided us with dough and toppings to make homemade pizzas. We all sat around her big antique dining table, enjoyed wine and even played some games," Myers says.
 
Irene Zaremski-Saltrelli, owner of Reen's, says her guests do not care to pay for all of the extras; they are just looking for an inexpensive place to stay. She does the bare minimum.
 
"Mine is like staying with your favorite aunt," Zaremski-Saltrelli says. "The others are very luxurious and say, 'Don't bring your kid and don't bring your dog and don't touch my stuff.' When you come here, we just have a good time."
 
While the bed-and-breakfasts are holding their own against hotels and other options, they have to fight their battles. McElroy recently was contacted by the New York City Bed and Breakfast Association about its hotel industry's efforts to lobby for a law to prevent the operation of a bed-and-breakfast. Members of New York City's hotel industry believe B&Bs should require a guest to stay for more than 30 days.
 
McElroy concludes that the hotel industry in New York City is somewhat threatened by bed-and-breakfasts. She remains confident that more B&Bs will open in the coming years, and younger couples will be opening them, she says.
 
Personal service is key, Baron says.
 
"You can go to a chain hotel, and while they are wonderfully friendly and very nice, they may or may not know where things are because they may not live there," Baron says. "When you go to a bed-and-breakfast, you have an owner who is on site. They know the area.
 
"You have personal service, that personal contact. I think that is just going to get stronger, and I think people today want that."

Megan Goldschmidt is a Rochester Business Journal intern.7/27/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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