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Tourism supports Asheville inn keeping business



5/18/2011 - Tourism supports Asheville inn keeping business
by James Shea

So many places in the world to go - but with airline fares and high gas prices, why not take a trip a little closer to home, to a place with all the interesting sites as an overseas adventure?  You can get it all in Western North Carolina!  Asheville has several ways to accommodate even the worldliest world traveller!  Your Summer Vacation may never be more affordable! 

--Tammy Mansell


                 ASHEVILLE -- Billy Sanders provides a unique experience at Reynolds Mansion. The historic bed-and-breakfast inn is on a lush 4.5-acre piece of property with views of the Blue Ridge. He encourages guests to explore the property as part of their vacation.

 "I don't want them to stay in the room," Sanders said of his Weaverville inn. "I want them to get out on the porch. I want them to see the house." 

With nearly 40 bed-and-breakfasts in the area, visitors can choose from a variety of different experiences. They can stay at a Victorian mansion in the Montford neighborhood, where they can walk downtown, or can relax at a more rural location, like Sanders' inn.

"There are certain places that were made for bed-and-breakfasts -- (such as) Key West and Charleston," Inn on Main Street owner Dan Ward said. "Asheville is one of those places."

Local bed-and-breakfast owners say they have recovered from the 2008 financial crash and are predicting a good summer tourist season. They say high gas prices could actually help their business, as people might take shorter weekend trips to places like Asheville rather than longer vacations to exotic destinations.

A destination of its own

Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association President Bob Gilmore, who also owns the 1899 Wright Inn, said bed-and-breakfasts generally reflect the personality of the innkeepers. Guests have a very different experience than staying at a chain hotel, where rooms and services are generally the same.

"There are so many different inns," Gilmore said. "There are so many personalities of innkeepers."

Ward went so far as to call innkeepers "quirky," himself included.

"It's a different experience every time," he said.

While guests stay at the inn, they often rely on the innkeeper for information on places to visit and restaurants. Innkeepers can recommend a trail to hike or an out-of-the-way place to visit, so the overall travel experience is heavily tied to the innkeeper.

Gillmore said bed-and-breakfasts attract similar personalities. People who travel and do not want to interact with people often stay at a hotel, but guests at a bed-and-breakfast are often social. They enjoy meeting new people. "You get to meet people who have similar like and dislikes," Gilmore said. "You'll get to know the area."

The inn itself is also part of the unique experience. People can sit in the library and read a book or relax on the porch and take in the scenery. Some inns have pools and others have gardens.

"They are a destination in themselves," Ward said. "It adds a richness to the experience.&rd quo;

History plays a part. Most of the area's bed-and-breakfasts are in older houses, many built in the 1800s. The innkeepers teach people about the rich history of the inns and their relationship to the history of the area.

"I think the B&Bs are what makes the Asheville experience," Sanders said. "You get to know the history of the area. You get to meet local people."

Many challenges

Running a bed-and-breakfast is similar to operating any small business. Owners can -- and often -- do everything. They clean the bedding, manage the books, cook breakfasts and take reservations.

But innkeepers face other challenges. They live at the inn and their life and work are often mingled together.

"You are tied to it," The Lion and The Rose owner Linda Palmer said. "It's like you had a baby and you have to hire a sitter. We need an inn sitter."

She said she is lucky to have a long-time employee whom she trusts to run the inn when she and her husband are out of town.

Despite that challenge, Palmer said she enjoys being an innkeeper. She meets people from across the country and gets to teach them about Western North Carolina.

"We thought about it for many years," she said. "We retired from our regular job and liked the area. It is much better than our old jobs."

Sanders worked in corporate America most of his adult life, and always dreamed about being an innkeeper.

"I woke up one day and said my life is 'Groundhog Day,' and it was time," he said.

He and his partner purchased the old mansion in Weaverville two years ago. The property was in bad shape. They spent nearly a year renovating the old house and opened Reynolds Mansion last year.

"I have always known that I would be an innkeeper since I was 20 years old," Sanders said.

New hotels rooms hurt

The Great Recession had an impact on the bed-and-breakfast business in Asheville. The inns saw a huge decline in business in 2009 when the economy crashed. Gilmore said business has picked up and he is optimistic about the 2011 tourist season.

He said high gas prices could help local bed-and-breakfasts this year. Vacationers might avoid a long summer trip and instead spend a weekend in Asheville.

Local inns draw weekend vacationers from Charleston, Atlanta and Raleigh. Some serve people on four- or five-day trips from as far away as Chicago and Detroit.

"People say, 'We can't afford a ticket to Europe, so let's go to Asheville," Gilmore said.

The real challenge for local bed-and-breakfasts is the number of hotel rooms in the area, he said.

"Asheville added two new hotels with large occupancy and then the economy went on the skids," Gilmore said.

Palmer said the new hotels have created a glut of available rooms in the community. "The worst thing that we have seen is the number of hotel rooms -- that has hurt us a little," Palmer said.

Ward said the bed-and-breakfasts are so unique that he is not too concerned about the increased number of rooms. People who stay in a hotel are not the same people who would stay in a bed-and-breakfast.

Sanders believes the people who stay at bed-and-breakfasts are changing. Historically, older, affluent people stayed at a bed-and-breakfast. He sees a variety of people at the inn.

"I get a lot of young people," Sanders said. "I think it's coming back around."

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