Asheville B&Bs touting new weapon in fight with Airbnb: Breakfast

Emilie Kapp and her husband Arturo Leal moved from New York City to Asheville and now run their own bed-and-breakfast, the Chestnut Street Inn.
Emilie Kapp and her husband Arturo Leal moved from New York City to Asheville and now run their own bed-and-breakfast, the Chestnut Street Inn. Blue Bend Photography

As they compete with online rival Airbnb, traditional bed-and-breakfasts in Asheville are fighting back – by reminding customers about the breakfast part of their name.

The Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association is launching a campaign to broadcast the full breakfast course that their members offer by releasing a cookbook this fall. The association, made of a group of 15 traditional bed-and-breakfast services in the area, plans to distribute the cookbook in local inns, bookstores and online.

“There is no Airbnb that is offering a full, hot breakfast made from scratch every day with love. That’s what it really comes down to,” said Emilie Kapp, co-owner of the Chestnut Street Inn.

The association has recently created an Instagram account to post pictures featuring the member inns’ breakfast offerings including eggs hollandaise, braised potatoes, roasted tomatoes, fruit bowls, parmesan crusted French toast. The breakfast pictures are also featured on its existing Facebook account.

“The change is mostly in positioning, in our public relations activities so far,” said Christian Hickl, president of the association and co-owner of the Sweet Biscuit Inn.

Banana Crepe Cake
Freshly-baked banana crepe cake is one of the breakfast options provided by the innkeepers at the Chestnut Street Inn. Erin Adams Erin Adams Photography

The campaign is the latest twist in a competition that has been brewing between Airbnb and bed-and-breakfasts in the tourist hot spot of Asheville for years.

Airbnb allows individuals to offer up their homes and apartments for rent through Airbnb’s site. Founded in 2008, the San Francisco-based online marketplace has now served more than 160 million guests in 65,000 cities worldwide since its inception.

Airbnb fills in the gap for travelers prioritizing lower costs for lodging, a need that the traditional lodging business community does not always meet. It also gives people another option if they need short-term housing during a move or work trip.

In 2016, Airbnb rentals in the Asheville area produced more than $13 million in revenue, more than Charlotte and three other top North Carolina municipal areas combined, according to Airbnb.

As of June 2017, there are a total of 886 active hosts in the city managing 1,210 unique Airbnb properties, according to Airdna, a data analytics provider. The average price for a single private room is $77.

“The rise of Airbnb was a wake-up call. In the very beginning, it was possibly underestimated a little bit,” Hickl said.

“(Airbnb) is not only affecting us,” said Billy Sanders, one of the owners of the Reynolds Mansion. “It’s affecting the whole lodging business.”

Airbnb does not have an official policy on breakfast, the company said. It is the host’s choice whether to offer breakfast or not. Some hosts provide access to the kitchen for the guests to cook their own meals.

“If our guests want to cook their breakfast or lunch or dinner, they have the ability to do that at an Airbnb listing. Do they have the ability to do that at a bed-and-breakfast?” asked Crystal Davis, a spokesperson for Airbnb.

Davis said the number of guest arrivals to Airbnb listings in the Asheville area in 2016 was 103,000, up nearly 70 percent from 2015.

Competitive advantage

Sanders says Airbnb’s name itself, which includes the “b and b” nickname for bed and breakfasts, is misleading.

“In fact, most of the places do not offer breakfast,” Sanders said.

Although he has seen a more than 20-percent decrease in the number of bookings at his inn, Sanders does not think lowering prices of the room is a good way to compete with individual Airbnb service providers. One competitive advantage of his inn, Sanders points out, is the sumptuous three-course breakfast starting with juice, biscuits and a specially prepared fruit dish.

Innkeepers also say breakfast is a way for the guests to feel connected and get to know each other in a traditional round-table setting.

“You sit down in a big, beautiful table with up to 16 other people, and get to know their stories,” Kapp said.

Kapp uses an olive oil bread recipe passed from her great-grandmother and includes Mexican dishes like Enchilada as her husband has a Mexican descent.

“We hope our food will tell a story of who we are and where we come from,” Kapp said.

Susan Murray, co-owner of Carolina Bed & Breakfast, heads the association’s marketing committee. The group recently adopted a “breakfast centric” strategy for the coming fiscal year starting on July 1st. Murray said by better publicizing the traditional inns’ advantages, they are giving customers more choices for a short-stay.

“You know what? You don’t need to take things away from people. People who want to stay in an Airbnb should stay in an Airbnb. They should know, though, there are also other options,” Murray said.

Wei Zhou: 704-358-5240

Another tactic for competing with Airbnb

Another way traditional bed-and-breakfasts are competing with Airbnb is listing their offerings on their rival’s own website.

“It’s a choice that each individual inn has to make,” said Susan Murray, co-owner of Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville.

Asked if she lists her inn on the website, Murray said she still has some doubts.

“It’s still not really a platform for our kind of hospitality,” Murray said.

Still, Christian Hickl, president of the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association, said many inns are still choosing to put their bed-and-breakfast on the website.

“This whole thing is pretty new to us. This is something we are considering. It’s not that we avoid it. We have to think about the pros and cons,” Hickl said, adding that he is not convinced of Airbnb’s suitability as a platform for traditional bed-and-breakfasts yet.

But he is not entirely against this idea.

“I am not excluding that option. Just because I didn’t do it so far doesn’t mean that I will never do it,” Hickl said.

Some innkeepers, however, see Airbnb as a platform through which traditional inns can expose themselves to those who may not be familiar with the traditional inns.

After discussing this option with her husband, Emilie Kapp, co-owner of the Chestnut Street Inn., put her bed-and-breakfast on Airbnb in March, and so far, she is not disappointed. She said being on the website exposes the inn to some younger visitors who did not consider traditional bed-and-breakfasts as an option.

“For a lot of people, they look at Airbnb as a threat, and I understand it with the amount of Airbnb rentals. I cannot compete with Airbnb if I’m not on Airbnb, so the first step I took in competing with Airbnb was to put myself on Airbnb. It’s the same mentality,” Kapp said.

“There is no fighting them if you cannot be visible as a part of it,” Kapp said.

Wei Zhou