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Not Your Grandma's B&B: Traditional Inns Transform For Young Travelers

Posted: December 20, 2012

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The image of the rural bed and breakfast with claustrophobic rooms, spartan amenities and prying innkeepers has long been a source of laughs for comedians and sitcoms. But B&Bs are fighting back. Now, many country inns are trying to dispel old stereotypes to appeal to new travelers.

Innkeepers are combating old stereotypes about bed and breakfasts. The Abbott Room at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, Vt., was renovated in 2009 to reflect more modern tastes.

Innkeepers are combating old stereotypes about bed and breakfasts. The Abbott Room at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, Vt., was renovated in 2009 to reflect more modern tastes.

The Abbott Room at the Round Barn Farm got a makeover in 2009.

The Abbott Room at the Round Barn Farm got a makeover in 2009.

Innkeepers are combating old stereotypes about bed and breakfasts. The Richardson Room at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, Vt., was renovated this year to reflect more more modern tastes.

Innkeepers are combating old stereotypes about bed and breakfasts. The Richardson Room at the Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield, Vt., was renovated this year to reflect more more modern tastes.

There is a war going on. The enemy is an innocuous little piece of ornamental fabric.

When the Professional Association of Innkeepers launched the Death to Doilies Campaign this year, the approach was tongue-in-cheek, but the message of change was serious: The doily has had the run of bed and breakfasts for too long.

"What was really interesting for me was to watch the reaction of the industry as a whole. Some of them loved it. Some of them did not love it," says Janice Hurley, who manages a Vermont inn and speaks to industry groups.

Twenty-First Century Tastes

In Vermont, B&B owners can be a tradition-bound bunch and for good reason. Their inns are often 19th century farmhouses.

Recently, Hurley told a gathering of the state's innkeepers that their future depends on attracting new and younger guests who have 21st century tastes and demands.

"What we're going to talk about is who are the Gen X and the Gen Y travelers and how can we avoid being left behind," Hurley said.

Hurley said a good website is key to marketing to customers who do everything online, and it can dispel stereotypes about B&Bs.

But first, owners should make sure their inns don't fit those stereotypes. Judging by a show of hands, private bathrooms are the norm these days at Vermont inns, but there's more to be done: more power outlets, less wallpaper and new color schemes are all part of appealing to younger guests. If doilies are out, throw pillows may not be far behind.

"The last thing I want to do is unmake the bed to get into the bed," Hurley said. "So if I walk into a room and there's 15 pillows, I'm, like, 'Ugh!' "

Hurley said it's not necessary to remake every room, and the changes should be consistent with the character of a place.

The Value Of Tradition

The innkeepers met at an upscale B&B, where owner Anne Marie DeFreest showed off a recently remodeled room where ornate touches and busy wallpaper were replaced with soft colors and an uncluttered, open look. The room and the bathroom are spacious.

"A lot of our Gen X, Gen Y clientele are living in smaller apartments in cities, so to come up with a room that has more space to just 'be' is important," DeFreest said.

DeFreest said her inn also features locally produced food because that's important to younger travelers.

Don Huber, one of the innkeepers at the meeting, said he's embracing the decor changes, "to get out of the mode of, 'Oh, you're staying at grandmother's house.' "

But not everyone is keen on abandoning the old B&B image.

"Our inn is small. We have seven rooms. It's kind of like going to grandma's house," said Susan Spencer, who has been in business with her husband for 35 years.

Their inn, just down the road, is tidy and cozy and filled with antiques and handmade braided rugs and quilts. Even the Reader's Digests are from the 1970s.

Vermont B&B owners say the fact that every inn has its own unique feel is a selling point that can help attract a new generation of guests looking for something different.

Copyright 2014 Vermont Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.vpr.net.

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