The Official World of Asheville Bed and Breakfasts
If you've ever searched for a bed and breakfast on the internet, you've probably come across a variety of websites of bed and breakfast organizations, and may not exactly understand what each one is. I'll try and explain it here.
Bedandbreakfast.com is the 800-pound gorilla in the B&B community. Besides having the country's most popular B&B directory (listings aren't cheap), this for-profit company also provides many B&Bs (including Hill House) with their internet booking and rooms accounting services and acts as our liasion to national booking sites, such as Expedia and Travelocity. Also, if you've ever rented a home or a condo, chances are it's been through bedandbreakfast.com's affiliate companies, HomeAway and VRBO.
The most important national association is the nonprofit Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII). It's very inexpensive to join, but its role is limited to largely offering educational resources, sponsoring national and regional conferences, and lobbying the federal government and national media on our behalf. North Carolina Bed and Breakfast Inns (NCBBI), also nonprofit, does much the same on a state level and additionally provides members with an inspection/certification and sells gift certificates. However, with no paid staff, its activities are even more limited than the national organization.
In Asheville, bed and breakfast warfare could put the nastiest of college sororities to shame. The founding members of the Asheville Bed and Breakfast Association (ABBA) were overthrown in a coup d'etat a few years ago, and left and formed their own association, Legendary Inns of Asheville. The biggest difference between the two groups is that although both are simply marketing alliances, ABBA pretends that its a legitimate trade association (like PAII or NCBBI) in order to restrict competition, while Legendary Inns doesn't.
Bill and Terry Erickson, the wonderful previous owners of Hill House didn't belong to either organization, telling me that they just preferred to steer clear of the vicious local politics. After I bought Hill House, I sought to join ABBA, as I had PAII and NCBBI, with whom I had each just filled out an application and written a check. ABBA, however, felt I first had to go through something like fraternity/sorority rush. On one visit, ABBA's membership chairperson, sat on the Hill House porch me, and one of our national/cultural windsocks was blowing in her face. She could have moved her chair 6 inches. But, she didn't. After a few months, ABBA denied Hill House membership without a reason, saying (just like a fraternity or sorority would) that the vote was secret.
One long time Asheville B&B advisor says that a couple of old, second-rate inns with declining business have gained influence in the organization and blackball any possible new city member who would threaten what business they have left. Welcome to Peyton Place, ahem, the world of Asheville bed and breakfasts.
What Asheville B&Bs Can and Can't Do
Because Asheville is a mid-sized city with a variety of competing interests, bed and breakfasts here are subject to a number of limitations not placed on B&Bs elsewhere.
Foremost, is the county regulation limiting meals to breakfasts. Local restaurants hate the idea of guests having a dinner table downstairs, so no lunch and dinners, as some other B&Bs elsewhere offer. Besides, the state requires a commercial kitchen for meals other than breakfast, and it's a significant expense.
Asheville B&Bs, however, can facilitate meals that a guest orders on his own. This can mean anything from as simple as offering some paper plates and sodas to accompany a pizza a guest has ordered to setting up and breaking down table service for a catered dinner for 40 and pouring our own wine.
Speaking of wine -- we're not permitted to sell alcohol, but we can and do include wine in our room rate. Sometimes we pour, other times we'll just set a bottle out in our guest pantry during the wine hour.
The other important NoNo for Asheville B&Bs, which I've written about earlier, is use of the property for receptions by local people. The city limits B&Bs to four "events" like that per year, and it seems most Asheville inns favor offering their space to community-type gatherings rather than marketing it for weddings and similar events. Guests, of course, are welcome to use the Hill House common areas for weddings, receptions, dinners, and other events, with some boundaries.
Negotiating a Room Rate at a B&B
Many B&B guests don't realize that they perhaps could have paid less for their room than they did. All that it would have taken is a little bit of friendly negotiation.
A B&B isn't a chain hotel whose prices are firm. Large hotels have the technological capability to change prices by the minute depending on vacancy levels per night. Small lodging establishments that dont use revenue management software are much cruder with price maximization strategies. We'll put discounts on rooms on nights that appear to be slow, but we don't always keep up.
The first thing you should do when trying to get a good rate is to review the website to see what specials are in place. When Hill House is keeping up with its vacancy rate, we post "upon request" specials for slow nights, and many guests, believe it or not, don't see them and don't ask.
If you do look however, and don't see any specials posted, start to book your reservation online and see how much vacancy there is. If it's Tuesday and you want a room for the weekend ahead, and you see only two (out of our ten rooms) vacancies, forget it. But, say, there are five vacancies. Make a call.
The two things to do to get a discount on the phone are to say how much you like Hill House and to be direct and upfront about wanting a discount. Something like this... "You're inn looks beautiful and I'd really love to stay there, but your rack rates are a little high for me. I see you still have 5 rooms available this weekend. Would you be able to give me a discount."
Innkeepers always want guests who want something more than a bargain. We really do want people who appreciate what we have to offer. Show enthusiasm for the inn and the room, and, trust me, you'll get a discount.