Friday, October 12, 2012

Why are NY hotels grumbling?

Dear Readers,

I wanted to publish my thoughts on the hotel versus non-hotel situation re. the passing of bill S6783 which was sponsored in large part by the hotels themselves, as it befits our segment of the industry, the few registered tax paying bed and breakfasts in Manhattan.

Is it, I ask, that hotels in New York City are truly concerned about losing out to the likes of us, a tiny fish in a big ocean? The fact that they might be boggles my mind. Take for instance the Beacon Hotel, a nearby place we like to recommend for our overspill should other area b and b's be booked. They have well over 200 rooms to our 4 -- smaller rooms and often higher pricing and yet close to 100% of the time they are booked. We only wish we could book all 4 of our suites 100% of the time but we can't and the reason we can't is that we don't have the marketing reach of the big name hotels -- we are not even in the same stratosphere.

I just referred a repeat guest for what is not an especially busy period (with a good amount of advance) -- Dec 27 to 31 depart (too short a booking for us) and they were already solidly booked. I have 4 gorgeous suites and I still have one more to fill. It's been noted time and time again -- hotels are enjoying record occupancy! Shouldn't travelers to New York therefore have a choice? Not everyone wants to stay in a hotel just like those who prefer hotels don't want to stay in a place like ours. Some want service and don't need the extra space or a kitchen and that's fine with us but with just 4 suites to fill we could never be considered a threat to anyone. Ultimately there are less bed and breakfast styled rooms in New York City than on one floor of one large hotel. Our neighbors love us,  and why wouldn't they? We are owner occupied and preside over the prettiest and most well kept townhouse on the block. Our typical guest profile is mature adult couples or singles from all over the world and many have become loyal to us and wouldn't consider staying anywhere else -- that is because we satisfy their preference not because we are 'better' than hotels. On the contrary we are apples and oranges. 

If the city knew better (sadly they seem to care little about us, or to get to know us) they would be helping us rather than seeking to tear us down for what appears to be short term gain. We have a 97% approval rating on Trip Advisor and have been featured in all major travel publications and yet it is we who are under attack in spite of our having distinguished ourselves at great personal risk (our business was built on credit cards and little or no prior experience) to provide travelers with a choice. Why I ask is the city looking to shut us down? Why has the city suddenly decided after all these years that they don't want us? And to make a larger point, why is the city clamping down on small business in general, for isn't it the small individually owned businesses that gave the city its unique flavor in the first place? Some things are worth being preserved and we are one of them and we will not die without a fight.

And if the city should prevail, what then? What would they have gained at our expense. Certainly not 'affordable housing.' The only person who could now afford this townhouse is a private or wealthy investor. We'd be on the street with the proceeds from the 'forced' sale (after having bought this building in 1978 when few wanted to live in the area) and our guests would no longer have a place to stay. Surely no one gains from a situation like this, least of all the city?

Thank you for reading and please consider signing the petition... and or donate what you can to the cause...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

State of the UNION address: Summer occupancy rates -- a mixed bag with a happy forecast

Dear Followers,

As the summer season slowly draws to a close it's time for an update on the state of things at Country Inn the City and for the NYC bed and breakfast industry in general. First off I should mention that the summer, contrary to popular belief, is a slow period for tourism. Many are deterred by the high heat and humidity and would rather spend time at the beach or visit cooler tourist spots. Similarly business travel, a huge contributor to occupancy rates, is low as many choose the summer to take time off, typically for family vacations.

Occupancy rates are a key indicator of an Inn/Hotel's success - when occupancy rates are low so is the price and vice versa. Occupancy rates for Country Inn the City for our two most difficult second half months in July and August were at approximately 65%, about the average, not too bad given the continued economic woes; spurred on most likely by our relative longevity and increasing notoriety. The good news is that we were able to sell most of our suites at rack rates when typically we find that we have to discount our lowest rate to compensate for the lack of demand. What we found this summer is that there were some weeks that we just didn't get any demand, never more so than the last two weeks of August, that is in stark contrast to the first two weeks.

Naturally we tried every tactic to attract last minute business for these two miserable weeks -- from Trip Advisor specials, to Google Places announcements, to mass last minute special notification mailings via our website, but in the end we may as well have been fishing in empty waters. Every year I do my best to encourage those on a budget who have to visit NYC (and there are many) to come sign up for our last minute specials. In the end it's a no-brainer for the budget traveler -- travel during high season and pay double for a horrible room or travel in the off season and pay half for a gorgeous apartment. This is the conundrum that both parties face -- folks want to come here when the weather is conducive to travel and they would rather go elsewhere when not.

So what of that other aspect of summer -- the advance booking pick me up in fall bookings? It's no secret in the industry that the fall is New York's busiest season, a time when we depend on profits to make up for the losses of summer whereupon an increase in demand allows us to increase our rates -- to a level, however, that is still considerably below our full service hotel equivalents. In summary, I am happy to report that this aspect of summer is where things have been dramatically different than previous years following the downturn with demand reaching levels that have been hard to keep up with at times, a harbinger we hope that consumer confidence is finally on the upswing albeit that we are still running in to some price resistance. So folks keep those calls and emails coming and lets ride this wave together.


Fergus O'Brien

P.S. Here is the link to sign up for last minute specials notification:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The delights of the Upper West Side via talk show legend Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett made a career out of his ability to spot societal trends or size up wily politicians, but when it comes to New York City, his adopted hometown, he's downright wistful. The Midwest native got his first taste of the city while on a three-day layover en route to his first semester at Yale.

"My favorite place in New York is the first step I ever took when I came from Nebraska on the train," he says. "I remember the exact spot: 44th Street and Grand Central. I stepped out into the night air and kept saying to myself over and over, "Am I in New York City at last?"

After graduating from college, Cavett knew there was only one place he wanted to live. "I knew I belonged in New York, and I had not being there," he says. His first Big Apple residence was a studio on West 76th Street. "It was a roach-infested dump and $60 a month," he recalls. "My second apartment (on the same street) was wonderful because it had two rooms and looked down in the garden of Carl Ballantine." Now Cavett's life as a New Yorker revolves largely around the Upper West Side, the neighborhood he has called home for more than 40 years.

Cavett's is still passionate about the city, and his mind is a steel trap for memorizing addresses. He can rattle off the street names and building numbers of every place he has lived in Manhattan during his rise through the world of television writing, and later as host of his own Emmy-nominated talk show. Cavett got his start writing jokes for Jack Paar's Tonight Show in the '60's. That stint led to a brief stand-up career at clubs such as the Bitter End and his own acclaimed talk shows on various networks. His 2010 memoir Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Sectets, was a best-seller, and he currently contributes to a blog for The New York Times.

Cavett has come a long way from his one-room bargain. His current digs overlook Central Park and hes fonder than ever of his neighborhood.

"I do love the West Side. I would never use the word funkier... God, I just did," he muses. "But I love the kinds of stores, restaurants and museums that are here. Theater is nearby and, of course, there's the park. I don't go to the usual hangouts in Central Park. I've discovered a few secret places where no one can find me."


Best place to get away from it all: Central Park (particularly in the more northern sections).

Practice your Japanese: Raku restaurant at 57 West 76th Street (Tel: 212 873 1220)

Sip a cocktail with atmosphere: The Bar at the Algonquin Hotel at 59 West 44th Street (Tel: 212 840 6800)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why we depend on the success of hotels: a look at the B and B industry through the lens of hotels

As a bed and breakfast owner since 1991 operating in North America's most competitive market (Manhattan) I have learned to accept that we will always play second fiddle to the behemoth that is the hotel. We simply don't have the budget or scale to compete with them and by competition I mean marketing. With the advent of the internet it has become increasingly difficult to get noticed. As an innkeeper I have tried everything from studying the mechanics of SEO to web design to phone manner to the power of the special offer, to of course loyalty.

There is no doubt that every little move we make or new strategy that we implement has an impact on the success of our businesses but in the final analysis nothing is more integral to our success than the success of the hotels, in as much as the more hotel rooms that are booked the greater the likelihood that tourists or business travelers alike will look elsewhere. Demand drives up rates and when rates get high travelers are more apt to seek out alternatives. When this occurs (particularly during the busier periods in the spring and fall) travelers get more creative with their searches which creates a greater opportunity for the likes of ourselves

Ultimately in order to thrive in an environment as competitive as New York where the number of hotel rooms has increased dramatically in the last several years, we have to, as a small player, provide more for less. To alleviate the manifest financial burden we have to cut corners of course, and as noted in previous blogs, service is chief among them. Unlike the majority of hotels, we provide limited services while increasing the amount of space and quality in our suites for a price that is below the hotel average and considerably below similar hotel suites. We don't do this because we want to beat them at their own game, we do it because we have to. Hotels will always get the lion's share on account of their greater reach. However, if the numbers of travelers coming to New York City was to revert to the previous highs none of this would be quite so critical.

As alluded to in previous blogs we (hotels and b and b's alike) are all dependent on the number of travelers coming into the city. Statistics have shown that foreign travel is down considerably as a result of post 9/11 restrictions. Before 9/11 the total US share of the worldwide travel market was 17 percent. If is now just 12%. Marriott's new CEO in Arne Sorenson is trying to change this, claiming that if the US had the shame share as it did pre-9/11, it would translate into 500,000 more jobs. Sorenson is focusing on visa reform to help boost international tourism to the US. Long visa wait times in the wake of 9/11 are a major reason international travel to the US hasn't rebounded. Chinese travelers, for example, have had to wait as long as 100 days for a US visa, prompting many to go elsewhere such as Europe. Sorenson estimates China will send 100 million travelers to foreign countries in the next 3 or 4 years, up from 1 million a few years ago. Happily, after years of political bollixing, President Obama is starting to demand visa reform as well.

We are Country Inn the City are not alone in hoping that the likes of Sorensen and Obama will prevail...more hotel rooms booked means more action for the small but invaluable players such as ourselves.