Corporate Owned Bed and Breakfasts

The Corporatization of B&Bs

I recently was asked how I felt about the franchising or corporate ownership of B&B inns and decided that was a good Innfo topic. To me corporate-owned (which includes franchises) and B&B are mutually exclusive concepts. I have seen a trend towards corporate-owned inns and have heard about some big franchise/corporate projects. For many years I’ve watched innkeepers move out of their inns, often turning their room/apartment into more guestrooms. Sometimes the change works and sometimes it doesn’t; “working” meaning that it feels like a B&B rather than a hotel.

What do I think of this? I’ve always said that the size of a property doesn’t define a B&B, hotel, or home-stay (renting in someone’s private home). What defines a B&B is the “heart” of the property. I’ve seen larger, corporate-owned and -operated inns feel like “home”. I’ve seen small, privately-owned and -operated inns feel like a hotel/motel. The public is pretty smart and will find a way to discern private ownership from corporate ownership and support the “small” operation.

Badly run inns of any size hurt the B&B industry’s concept and overall reputation just as well run inns boost the B&B industry’s concept and overall reputation. So though I don’t feel a corporation can actually do “B&B” because I don’t think a corporation can put “heart” into a small property, I don’t care who owns a B&B if it’s done well — with the guests’ needs foremost in mind. Often the problem with franchises/corporate-owned properties is that the staff doesn’t care as much as an on-site owner would. I have seen some outstanding managers through the years who treat the B&B as their own, but that’s rare. I can almost always tell when an inn is manager-run when I walk into the property — probably because of that missing “heart”.

In my seminars and consulting I always say that “You can do anything you want in your B&B, as long as you tell people what you are doing. Don’t disappoint your guests by not living up to promises made in your advertising.” I sincerely believe that’s true and that if you are honest the public will help you thrive, assuming you are meeting needs. I also urge people to “under promise and over provide” or to give people more than they were expecting. Pleasant surprises add to a guest’s experience and that comes back to you in increased business.

Interestingly, another topic this question reminded me of is the concept of the “authentic B&B”. I’ve seen/heard innkeepers justify their way of doing business with the argument that “this is the way authentic B&Bs operate”. That can be a “justification” for not having staff and only the family running the inn, for not having TVs/phones/private baths/…, or not having the budget to improve the situation like installing double-paned windows or ADA compliance.

My response to that is innkeepers from the beginning of innkeeping time have utilized what was available to them to operate their business. If an innkeeper from the 16th century were operating a B&B today I bet they’d have private baths and all the modern conveniences they could manage because it would satisfy guest needs. If we want to be “authentic” then I think we have to get rid of our central heating and cooling, indoor plumbing, insulation, electricity, business phones etc. That’s not going to happen, of course — and for good reason! If an innkeeper doesn’t want to have some of the modern conveniences for their guests that’s fine — as long as they tell their guests they aren’t providing them. I don’t see the need to hide behind the concept of being an “authentic B&B” to justify your preferred business style or indeed the lack of proper maintenance and amenities!

Having modern conveniences doesn’t turn a B&B into a hotel any more than offering breakfast makes a hotel a B&B. Both modern conveniences and breakfast are elements of “heart” because they answer guest needs. The presentation and attitude about those offerings helps divide the B&B from the hotel. Part of that attitude includes how you pay for including those amenities or offerings; do you include the cost of phones and broadband Internet in the cost of the room, or do you have a per-use or per-day charge? A corporate attitude tends toward making the policy of let the guest pay for what they use, be it coffee in the room, broadband connection, or phone. I think a property with “heart” includes it in the room rate so their guests don’t feel “nickled-and-dimed”.

The bottom line to me is each innkeeper or B&B owner needs to follow their business concept. If your dreams and plans are sound and answer guest needs then you’ll be successful. If you convey your reality to your potential guests and provide what you say you will, you’ll be successful. Bigger is not necessarily better. The “Ma and Pa” approach is not necessarily better. Hotels have as much place in the lodging industry as B&Bs do — there’s a place for everyone. Knowing your guests, what your market niche is, and putting your heart into that is better — and that’s what makes it work!