B&B Guests Migrating to the Country

I attended both the National Association of REALTORS fall conference and the B&B Innkeepers of Colorado (BBIC) annual conference in November. The message I heard in both places related to the general U.S. population migrating to the country for both living and vacationing.

One story at the real estate convention was about one of the industry leaders who several years ago predicted that U.S. citizens would start moving to the country to live and telecommute to the city for work. That’s happening more every day — all the more so now, since many don’t want to work in big buildings anymore.

The reports at my hospitality conference was that tourists were seeking rural locations for vacations and getaways. I gathered at the BBIC conference that the B&B inns in rural Colorado are doing better than the city inns, especially the city inns that focused on business travelers. The rural inns are having a slightly better year than previously, in spite of September 11. I heard several reports that business is back to normal, and maybe slightly better.

I have noticed that more buyers are calling to ask about B&Bs for sale in either small towns or rural Colorado. Previously, buyers were looking for larger towns, cities, or ski resorts. That has been a slow change but it is more apparent lately.

What I am gathering as I read travel magazines and newspaper stories and listen to conversations with friends and peers is that people want to get away and reconnect with nature and themselves, yet they want or need to remain connected to work and the world. They are looking for a safe nest to be nurtured in, yet they still want to be part of the world and work scene. My translation is that travelers want to stay in B&Bs, AND have high speed Internet connection and in-room phones. B&B innkeepers need to rethink their stance on what amenities they are going to offer their guests so that they can ride the wave of the new travel trends.

Guests are seeking warmth, comfort and security. What can you do to satisfy those needs? What policies and business styles can you implement that create a feeling of warmth? What can you do to enhance the comfort and security at your inn? Can you increase security without decreasing the feeling of warmth and comfort? I think this is just one more issue to add to the innkeeping balancing act — that business versus hospitality trade-off.

I suggest that you keep all exterior doors, including the front doors, locked at all times so that guests have ready access to the inn (with their key or a combination lock code), but strangers don’t.

That gives your guests the comfort of knowing anyone they encounter in the inn is a welcome guest. Install guestroom door locks so guests have the option of locking their doors, whether they are in or out of their rooms. You feel your home is safe and locks aren’t necessary, but you don’t know the background of your guests so can’t anticipate their needs. Women traveling alone have a higher need for that security measure. And locks aren’t always about safety; sometimes they are about privacy. I’ve had innkeepers and other guests walk into my room, either because they thought I was out or because they thought it was someone else’s room.

I’ve always urged innkeepers to have room phones, but if you can’t do that (for personal or business reasons) then at least have a readily accessible phone — with a modem jack — in the common areas for guest use. Phones give an added sense of security and comfort too. Room phones are also important for the traveling business person. With the growing trend of business people and entrepreneurs taking vacations yet maintaining contact with the office, this is a must for attracting that market segment.

Be available to your guests. I don’t mean you need to constantly sit in the living room with them but you do need to wander through occasionally to offer snacks, activity suggestions, and friendly chats. Interacting with guests gives you extra information so you can better care for your guests and offer hospitality they might not ask for. If you are interacting with your guests you can observe subtle (and not so subtle) body language that indicates a need. You can also anticipate guest needs; perhaps turning lights on at dusk, adjusting the temperature, or even changing the music to suit the tastes of those in the room. An inn’s market niche may initially bring guests in, but it’s the innkeeper who brings them back. Give your guests the reason to come back, time and again.

Whether you are in the country or city, re-examine your inn’s environment. Does it provide a sense of warmth, safety and connection for your guests? What can you do to improve on what you already have?

What holes in your security and hospitality can you fill in to further enhance your business? Are you ready to reap the benefit of the migration to the country? Attention to such details in this rapidly changing environment can mean “make or break” in these difficult times.