Beds, breakfasts and more

Area lodging emphasizes uniqueness to attract independent travelers

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

Jeffrey Watts knows his breakfasts, and he knows the hospitality industry. As owner of Alaska Fireweed House Bed and Breakfast, he's using his knowledge to set his business apart from other B-and-Bs in town - and his work is paying off.

In a town with more than 40 bed-and-breakfasts, distinguishing one from the others can be a challenge for guests and proprietors. Juneau innkeepers such as Watts have shown innovation in attracting independent travelers.

Alaska Fireweed House Bed and Breakfast, Pearson's Pond Luxury Inn and Adventure Spa, and the Silverbow Inn are among several Juneau bed-and-breakfasts that have received national recognition in recent years.

Arrington Publishing, which produces the trade magazine Arrington's Bed and Breakfast Journal, and Inn Traveler, a magazine for B-and-B enthusiasts, issued the company's first Book of Lists in December. The book contains 50 categories for inns and bed-and-breakfasts, and lists the top 15 establishments in each category, based on the response to ballots proprietors give to their customers.

Though many in the industry use the words "inn" and "bed-and-breakfast" interchangeably, city planners said there is a difference.

"The key difference between a hotel/motel and a bed-and-breakfast is that a bed-and-breakfast has an owner or operator who lives on site, and they provide for more than three guests," said Greg Chaney, a planner with the Department of Community Development. An inn is considered a hotel.

Alaska Fireweed House, a bed-and-breakfast, won second place for best breakfast, a category that included more than 600 establishments in the United States and Canada.

"We decided about three years ago that people really enjoy having dinner items incorporated into breakfasts, and it's worked real well," said Watts, who owns Alaska Fireweed House with his wife, Danith.

He cooks wild rice and smoked salmon quiche, huevos rancheros, gingered asparagus and poached pears, among other dishes for his guests. He rotates meals on a 14-day schedule, to avoid any guest having to eat the same meal twice.

Alaska Fireweed House also received a "Best of the High Country" award from Mountain Living magazine as one of the top five bed-and-breakfasts in the West. The award was based on a survey sent to the magazine's 32,000 subscribers.

"That was a nice one, too," said Watts.

The Silverbow Inn, with its supply of baked goods readily available from its attached bakery, was ranked among the top 15 inns/B-and-Bs with the best midday cuisine in the Arrington survey.

"Most people choose our place because they see that we're a bakery," said Jill Ramiel, owner of the Silverbow.

Gould's Alaska View Bed and Breakfast, in Douglas, was ranked in the top 15 for "most scenic view." Only two of Juneau's bed-and-breakfasts placed in the "best bed and breakfasts in Alaska" category: Bears Run Bed and Breakfast and Alaska's Capital Inn.

While rankings such as Arrington's often have their limitations - they apply only to proprietors who choose to participate, for example - other rankings provide a more objective review.

One of the best ways to find quality bed-and-breakfasts in the United States, and one of the best ways for innkeepers to publicize themselves, is through the American Automobile Association, which covertly visits inns and B-and-Bs and ranks them on a variety of criteria.

Five B-and-Bs in Juneau have earned a ranking from AAA: Alaska Fireweed House and Pearson's Pond Luxury Inn and Adventure Spa have three-diamond ratings on a five-diamond scale; Alaska Wolf House and Blueberry Lodge Bed and Breakfast have two diamonds; and the Silverbow has one diamond.

A five-diamond rating is "the ultimate in luxury, sophistication," said Laura Savage, an AAA travel agent in Anchorage. A three-diamond rating meets the traveler's needs with a "distinguished style," and a one-diamond rating means the inn meets the association's basic requirements for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality.

"AAA is the most stringent to pass their inspection," said Ramiel of the Silverbow. "It is very helpful for us to be AAA-rated, because people assume a certain level of comfort and amenity."

Acquiring an AAA rating involves requesting an inspection from the association's national office, said Savage. The process can be lengthy, and AAA has the final word in what establishments are reviewed. Businesses with a AAA rating are revisited yearly, and are at risk of losing their rating, Savage said.

As for the 35-plus bed-and-breakfasts in Juneau without an AAA ranking, they rely on reputation and word of mouth to convince potential customers of their quality.

The Alaska Bed and Breakfast Association, a nonprofit statewide group, provides marketing and organizational resources for bed-and-breakfasts, but it has no formal ranking system for its members.

"We do peer inspections," said Ramiel, vice president of the ABBA. "Some of the bed-and-breakfasts would like to mandate a more stringent inspection system of each other, just to make sure that the association in general stays a quality association, but it's created quite an uproar."

Membership in the ABBA costs $25 a year, plus additional fees for more elaborate Web links on the ABBA Web site or listing under more than one city in the ABBA directory.

While independent rating systems for bed-and-breakfasts are few, other outlets for marketing them abound.

Diane Pearson, owner of Pearson's Pond, has made herself an expert in bed-and-breakfast promotions. In June 2000 her inn was rated by eharlequin.com, the Web site for the large romance novel publisher, as one of the top 10 most romantic getaways in the world. A stay at Pearson's Pond also was featured as a prize in 1999 and last month on the television game show "The Price is Right."

"She's the most incredible marketing person," said Ramiel of Pearson.

Pearson said she has no idea how the game show or Harlequin discovered her establishment.

"They just called me out of the blue," she said of "The Price is Right." "I don't know how people find us."

Many factors influence a person's choice to stay in a particular bed-and-breakfast, and much more goes into the decision than ratings and awards, proprietors said.

"People decide by the description and location," said Ramiel.

Valerie Horner, owner of Bears Run, chose not to pursue a rating by AAA or membership in any bed-and-breakfast association.

"I used to be listed with bed-and-breakfast associations, but I basically dropped them because I didn't really get anything out of them," she said.

Most of her bookings come from the Web site www.bedandbreakfast.com, on which she advertises.

"We've lived here more than 30 years," she said. "I am able to tell people the favorite off-the-beaten-path places that I went with my own kids."

People who choose bed-and-breakfasts often do so because of personal connections of that sort, said Lorene Palmer, president and CEO of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The JCVB lists more than 40 bed-and-breakfasts in its annual travel planner for the city.

"There are so many avenues for (visitors) to find the information," she said. "They could in their process of planning probably have guide books, access to the Internet, bed-and-breakfast Web sites or the JCVB Web site."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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