Execs Cozy Up to B&Bs

Road warriors are choosing upscale inns over generic hotels

After a long day on the road, Jane Stark sat slumped over her laptop in the inn's dining room. Suddenly, a tray of milk and cookies appeared at her side. She hadn't ordered them, but the manager saw her and thought she could use some TLC.

That's one reason this vice-president for sales and marketing at publishing house ITC in Fort Salonga, N.Y., stays at the Harbor Light Inn when she's in the Boston area on business. A Federal period bed and breakfast 15 miles north of the city in Marblehead, Mass., the Harbor Light offers her more of the comforts of home than your typical Hilton or Sheraton (HOT ). Make that the comforts of someone else's elegant home, along with high-speed phone lines, fax machine, and conference rooms.

Road warriors like Stark are discovering the pleasures of upscale B&Bs as more of these inns target the corporate market. Peter Conway, the Harbor Light's owner, realized he had a natural clientele when executives visiting a nearby GE Aircraft Engines plant became guests. He says half his business is corporate, which helps him survive slow winters. To offset the tourist slump after September 11, Carol Blumenfeld, owner of the century-old Albion House Inn in San Francisco, courted big companies. "If we didn't have business travelers right now, we'd be dead," she says.

It's a felicitous development for peripatetic managers, as well. At the end of a busy day, they go home to such luxuries as double jacuzzi baths. At the Harbor Light, rates range from $125 to $275, before a corporate discount of around 30%. In general, rates don't go above $200.

B&Bs often market to local companies via direct mailings. Some work through outfits such as American Express (AXP ) Travel. But you can find B&Bs yourself at nbba.com, the National Bed & Breakfast Assn.'s site, or selectregistry.com, which claims to feature the cream of the crop. Check off such amenities as conference rooms and Internet access to bring up a list of inns that fit the bill. Be aware, though, that "conference room available" may mean available nearby, not at the B&B itself. And the high-tech conveniences may be only in the reception area. Other downsides: Many B&Bs don't serve dinner. And forget about room service.

The inns that have succeeded in this market are close to a business center or big company facility. In traffic-clogged Atlanta, the downtown locations of the Shellmont and Gaslight inns make them ideal for convention-goers. At least 70% of the guests at the Victorian-era Shellmont Inn are attending trade shows, says owner Debbie McCord.

Some harried travelers just want the soothing ambience of a small inn. "Who needs to socialize with a bunch of strangers at a big, unwelcoming bar?" asks Lynna McMaize, a pharmacist from Chicago staying at the Gaslight. Especially if your innkeeper already knows your favorite kind of wine.

By Faith Keenan

With Cathy Schottenstein in Atlanta

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