B&Bs rebounding from tough 2001

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NEW YORK -- Despite having suffered a one-two punch last year -- first from foot-and-mouth disease and then the effects of Sept. 11 -- Britain's bed-and-breakfasts are back in the business of providing high-quality, low-cost stays to visitors, said industry insiders.

"After the foot-and-mouth outbreak, we saw a huge falloff, especially from the U.S.," said Maggie Dobson, owner of the At Home in London booking agency and chairwoman of the London-based Bed and Breakfast and Homestay Association.

"We were just recovering when the Sept. 11 disaster hit," she said. "But now we're busier than ever -- this April is probably the best we've had."

For its part, Bed and Breakfast Nationwide, an agency in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, that books stays at more than 1,200 properties across Britain, saw a 35% drop in business last year compared with 2000 but now has recovered completely, said owner Sue Opperman.

"I find it's a very healthy sector for this year," agreed Elsie Dillard, editor of "The Good Bed and Breakfast Guide," published by the London-based Consumers' Association. "Bookings are way up this year, on a par with 2001."

Quantifying the exact impact of last year's successive disasters is difficult, as no umbrella organization tracks all B&B openings and closures.

But "The Good Bed and Breakfast Guide" -- in theory impartial, as it accepts no advertising and solicits reviews from consumers -- might serve as a good indicator.

This year's edition lost 270 formerly listed B&Bs, mostly due to closure, but it added 160 new ones, so the deletions are "not as devastating as they seem," said Dillard, who also owns the Elsie From England travel agency in Rendondo, Wash.

Indeed, the guide still reviews 1,000 properties.

Getting back to basics

Crises or no crises, bed-and-breakfasts are relying on traditional strengths for recovery.

For example, rates have kept pace with inflation, and some prices haven't risen at all or actually have gone down.

"Bed-and-breakfasts remain a fantastic value," said Dillard. "You can still stay in Wales for [about $27] a night, including a full breakfast."

In addition, B&Bs provide local flavor and scenic vistas hotel chains can't match.

"You get the same quality as in a hotel, but you're in a beautiful environment," said Nigel Embry, chief executive of Farm Stay U.K., which represents 1,000 rural B&Bs. "Many are built where no hotelier would ever get a permit, such as around Loch Ness (Scotland)."

The pedigree of historical structures that often house bed-and-breakfasts also are selling points, he added.

Yet modern conveniences now are found in even the most quaint medieval house, said Dillard.

"I'm so amazed because the standards are improving so. Even though some [B&Bs] date from the 16th century, they have faxes and computer outlets."

Dillard also noted cuisine has come of age, with vegetarian selections common. "But that doesn't mean you still can't order bacon and baked beans for breakfast," she said.

Granted, selling B&B stays isn't the most lucrative of options for travel agents, as most booking agencies don't pay commission.

However, as more agents move to service fees, the payoff in terms of customer satisfaction is something worth considering.

"And, our prices are on a sliding scale, so perhaps travel agents can charge something over and above them," noted Dobson.

For more, contact the British Tourist Authority at (877) 899-8391 or visit www.travelbritain.org on the Web.

Book it: B&B agencies

At Home in London
Phone: (011) 44-20 8748-1943
Web:www.athomeinlondon.co.uk
E-mail:[email protected]

Bed and Breakfast Nationwide
Phone: (011) 44-125-583-1235
Web:www.bedandbreakfastnationwide.com
E-mail:[email protected]

Farm Stay U.K.
Phone: (011) 44-247 669-6909
Web:www.farmstayuk.co.uk
E-mail:[email protected]

The London Bed & Breakfast Agency
Phone: (011) 44-207-586-2768

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