Have you thought this out?

It’s Fall and so we’ve begun our traveling season. We tend not to escape from the Gulf Coast during the summer months. Yes, it can be hot and humid (although that doesn’t worry us too much) it’s more as Jimmy Buffett would say “You can’t reason with hurricane season”. The tropical wind event season isn’t over yet, but we’ve passed the peak and with forecasting the way it is these days, you seem to have a week or so warning of any tropical unpleasantness.

My chief researcher and frustrated travel agent (Beth, the First Lady) suggested that we escape to the Northern Georgia Mountains, where her family once owned a mountain lodge. The Development chosen is Big Canoe, a huge property about an hour or so north west of Atlanta. A simple seven hour drive from the coast.

We’ve rented properties before and have gone through property management companies and have also become familiar with VRBO and HomeAway. This time Beth found an ideal property through Airbnb. I’ve written about Airbnb in the past and have followed their progress over the years, but we’ve never actually used them.

The search and booking process was simple and very efficient. We were looking for somewhere that was suitable for the two of us and our two Smooth (short haired) Collies. Airbnb matched us up with a great property and the booking was made. As things happened we subsequently received an offer from American Express (who appear to work closely with Airbnb) which resulted in our extending the stay to take advantage of the offer. Yes, advertising obviously works!

As part of the booking we were put in touch with the owners, a charming couple (Cindy & Joe) who also own a bed and breakfast in Gainsville, Florida. Obviously they’re immersed in the hospitality business and their B&B (The Magnolia Plantation – http://www.magnoliabnb.com/ ) looks like its certainly worth a visit. As things transpire, they also own a Collie, so a mutual bond was established. That’s certainly something that can happen easily with the Airbnb type system, and the personal owner/guest relationship is rather more difficult with more traditional ways of renting. It does seem like a beneficial thing.

Simply put, the property is exactly as described and so far the exercise has been great.

While sitting relaxing I was reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (thanks once again to the Researcher-in-Chief) about how vacation rentals are being challenged in the North Georgia Lakes area. It’s something that appears to be happening in other parts of the USA and the world in general.

In the Georgia Lakes area, the move is being driven by Georgia Power who own most of the land around the lakes. They are invoking clauses in the leases of properties that are offered by the power company. These are usually 15 year renewable contracts, although according to the AJC, some of these properties have been in the leaseholders families for generations. Families have rented out their homes through rental companies and realtors, and later through VRBO/HomeAway and now Airbnb. The no-subletting clauses have been largely ignored in the past, but now Georgia Power has decided to change their policy. Regrettably some leaseholders who may be second home owners in the lakes or who have inherited the properties feel that the only way they can keep them is if they fund their upkeep through short-term letting.

Certainly Georgia Power have done a huge amount to keep the area pristine and very attractive. Their aims appear to be to avoid the region becoming an overcrowded tourist ‘resort’ area. That’s a very laudable policy.

The move against short term rentals, particularly of the peer-to-peer variety like Airbnb is not restricted to the Georgia Lakes. Many cities, resort areas, states and cities across the world have taken against the growing trend. The reasons appear to be many and varied and range from worries of over-tourism, through to the disappearance of affordable accommodation for locals. Cities like Barcelona and Venice have become places where locals, who service the tourist industry, simply can’t afford to live. Even if they could, property owners can get a substantial income by ‘buying to let’ and therefore the stock of property for permanent residents dries up.

In other case, the move against short-term rentals is driven by competitors in the accommodation markets – hotels, property management companies etc., who don’t like the change in the way business is done. You can’t really blame them, but then it may be a case of adapt to changing fashions or die.

Lastly there are are the folks who having moved into an area, perhaps to retire or to buy a second home, rather like the idea of being ‘the last newcomer in the village’, and wish to call an end to further arrivals.

I’m not judging all of these motives as they’re valid reasons, and I can identify with the emotions. However, there are consequences to not thinking through the whole process.

Let’s start off with the Georgia Lakes. These properties have been in the area for many years. The building of the actual houses provided work for the locals in the construction and later maintenance industries. Subsequent expansion brought in stores to service the new residents and as short term visitation – tourism – developed, so did the need for restaurants and all the business that service the transients. If the current leaseholders can’t short-term rent their properties, they may be forced to sell them. That will probably drive down the real estate prices, and with no transient visitors, the jobs that cater to them will also dry up. Tax revenue (from both income and sales tax from visitors) will reduce putting pressure on local communities to fund services, which in turn will increase local taxes and the vicious circle moves on. This is sounding more like an economics class that tourism observations!

The same sort of thought process applies to the over-tourism scenario. Tourism was attracted by the, well, ‘attractiveness’ of the destination. Rather like over-fishing which destroys the habitat and eventually the livelihood of the fisherfolk, badly managed tourism eventually destroys both the destination and the very people who rely on tourism for their jobs.

The only scenarios that I can’t reconcile are the actions of competitors who would rather legislate against changes in process (For example the taxi drivers versus Uber and Lyft in may destinations around the world) and the ‘Last foreigner in the village’ scenario. I have little sympathy for either group.

The rest? Well, it relies on compromise and sensible management from both sides. Regrettably letting the market decide, isn’t really an option. Like any good farmer will tell you, land management and animal husbandry over a long period are the policies that will result in a sustainable model for all concerned. The same is true of tourism.

Enough of this. The dogs need walking and we need to go and spend some money in local stores to stimulate the local economy. It’s a tough old life eh?


These are not the B&Bs we remember….

Back in the UK, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was an institution known as the ‘Seaside Bed and Breakfast’, a type of hotel for the masses to stay in during their two week vacation at the beach. They were usually presided over by a formidable landlady who ensured that all her rules were adhered to, that breakfast was taken at the hour of her choosing (when she rang a gong!) and that guests were out of the establishment by 9:30am and not allowed back until 5pm regardless that a hurricane force gale was blowing on the beach. Such fun!

Bed and Breakfast accommodation here in the USA these days is nothing like that hackneyed cliché. We’ve (thank you Researcher in Chief Bethany) sought out any number of B&Bs over the past while as an alternative to conventional hotels, and more precisely as an alternative to staying in anonymous chain, box, hotels when only one night is required.

Most recently we’ve stayed in Watkinsville GA, Auburn AL, Louisville KY and Tallahassee FL, each of which have been spectacular.

There is much media chatter about what AirBnb are doing to the hotel business, but to my mind the real story is how Bed and Breakfast is bringing a new meaning to true hospitality. Let’s look at our stay in Watkinsville…..

We chose the Ashford Manor (http://ambedandbreakfast.com), which is right in the centre of Watkinsville, 10 minutes from Athens GA. Watkinsville itself is a pretty town, with a bunch of good restaurants and stores right outside the B&B.
The rooms are a delight – eclectically designed and very comfortable – just look at the photos. We stayed in the Cottage Gallery Suite – again see the photos – and it was absolutely charming. They also have a suite that is dog friendly (The Cottage Hideaway Suite) and a room in the main house that accommodates dogs.

The B&B is owned and run by Dave and Mario who are a case study in Hospitality Management. Check-in was easy (as was check-out!) and the breakfast was perfect. We stayed in mid-June and the weather was ideal to have Sunday breakfast on the front porch. An added draw is that Ashford Manor also specializes in weddings, so if you’re about to tie the knot, it’s a place to look at.

Back in April, we traveled up to Asheville NC (see the blog ‘Thinking outside the Kennel’) and on the way back broke our journey in Auburn – Researcher in Chief Bethany, is a graduate (War Eagle! apparently). Rather than stay in an anonymous chain hotel, we chose The Crenshaw Guest House (http://crenshawguesthouse.com). No photos unfortunately but have a look at their website. We stayed in Thach Cottage, which again is dog friendly should you be traveling en-famille (or even ‘Avec Chien’!). As you’ll see from their photos, again the rooms are really comfortable and welcoming. But the common theme with these B&Bs is the welcome you get from the owners, in this case Steve and Sarah Jenkins, and the amazing breakfast they provide.

Whenever I have to travel to the Florida State Capital, Tallahassee, I always check into The Little English Guesthouse (http://www.littleenglishguesthouse.com) run by fellow Briton Tracey Cochran and her husband Thom. It’s very English themed and the welcome is perfect. Hospitable but not intrusive. The food is exactly what’s needed before a day treading the halls of government and the afternoon glass of Sherry doesn’t go amiss either.

Speaking of amazing breakfasts, you can’t beat the DuPont Mansion in Louisville KY. We stayed there for nearly a week in March. http://www.dupontmansion.com to check out the photos. The property itself is both beautiful, historic and very convenient. The welcome from the InnKeepers as they term themselves was exactly as you’d be taught in the best hotel schools. ….and the breakfasts….. Simply amazing.

One more for your list. The Shade Tree Inn in St Francisville LA. ( http://shadetreeinn.com ). We stayed there back in 2012 and it’s as different from the others I’ve mentioned as it could be. This is a 4 acre hilltop bird sanctuary hidden away in the Deep South. I’ve added a photo of the panorama from our room. An unbelievable welcome, perfect hospitality and great food.

The thing that comes from all these outstanding Bed and Breakfast establishments is that they are not providing a commodity – a room to stay in and that’s it. They are providing a true experience, a reason to go there in addition to visiting the destination for vacation or business.
My visits to Tallahassee for example could be achieved in a day – early morning drive down I-10, business meetings and a drive back. But the experience of staying in the Little English Guesthouse encourages me to go the afternoon before. I’m rested and calm before I start my day of meetings and I’ve had an experience, not just a night in an hotel.The same applies to all the B&Bs I’ve mentioned, and others we’ve stayed at.

Traveling these days, no matter for leisure or business, must involve more than just a bed to sleep in, a plane ride to get there or a beach to lie on. The experience and the memories can stay with you and encourage you to return. The great experiences that are offered by these hospitality experts encourage their guests to become advocates and ambassadors, spreading the word by TripAdvisor and other review sites

The Main House, Ashford Manor
The Main House, Ashford Manor
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA

and by the stories they tell their friends and family.

If you’re involved in tourism, hospitality, restaurants or attractions, that must be your number one goal – surely?