With all this talk about Facebook’s new Timeline format, we thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane and look at the history of B&Bs in North America.  While the boom in today’s inns and B&B experience came in the 1990′s, the B&B tradition dates back centuries to a simpler time in travel.

For a concise look at the B&B industry’s history, we turn to B&B guru, Sandy Soule, author of the first B&B guidebook series and keeper of the title for visiting more inns and B&B than anyone else in the country. Sandy describes the history of the B&B industry below.

History of B&Bs

The tradition of extending hospitality to traveling strangers goes back to the earliest recorded history for almost all religions and cultures worldwide. Other than soldiers and religious pilgrims, travel for business or pleasure primarily started in the 1700s. Scores of “coaching” or “stagecoach” inns, common in England and the eastern United States, typically provided stabling for horses and lodging for travelers; accommodations were extremely modest (at best). The advent of the railroads provided a huge boost in travel comfort, and hundreds of hotels were constructed close to train stations to accommodate growing numbers of travelers.

As the United States and Canada  industrialized, more people had time and the discretionary income for travel; summer escapes from the sweltering cities to cooler mountain or seaside villages became popular. Wealthy families summered in private villas or luxury resorts, while the working classes headed for boarding houses.

During the Great Depression in the United States, taking in boarders to help meet expenses proliferated. Homes located on state routes (this was long before Interstate Highways) often posted signs reading Tourist Home or Guests, where travelers could typically find a room for the night for about $2, usually including breakfast.

Travel to Europe boomed after World War II; a strong U.S. dollar allowed millions of Americans to discover England’s and Ireland’s B&Bs , and equivalent accommodations on the Continent. Throughout the 1980s, the seeds for the B&B boom were planted. Interestingly, although B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada began as informal, inexpensive places to stay with shared baths and minimal amenities, they are now largely luxury accommodations with high levels of comfort, service, and luxury.

The B&B boom in the United States was influenced by several factors:

  • Enjoyment of the B&B experience by millions of Americans who traveled in Europe.
  • The U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 sparked a renewed interest in preserving America’s architectural heritage, and accompanying federal and state legislation provided tax credits for the preservation of historic properties. Many such buildings were on fairly busy roads, making them undesirable for private residences but ideal for conversion into bed and breakfasts; similarly, the large size of thousands of Victorian-era homes made them inappropriate for single families, but perfect for B&Bs.
  • The 1980s saw a rapid growth in the numbers of B&Bs, but despite considerable media coverage, advertising was expensive, and getting listed in the many B&B guidebooks took a year or more.
  • The growth of the Internet provided the biggest boost to the B&B industry, and leveled the playing field so that a bed and breakfast could afford to compete with area hotels, by listing in directories like BedandBreakfast.com, BnBFinder.com and Select Registry.com, plus participation in state-wide and allied associations, establishing a first-rate website, and offering a safe, secure online booking option.

 

Today’s inns and B&Bs experience

Today we estimate that there are 25,000 inns and B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada.  While growth in the numbers of new inns and B&Bs has eased with changes in the economy, innkeepers continue to update and accommodate traveler needs.  Nearly 96-percent of inns and B&Bs offer complimentary wi-fi for guests.  More than 75-percent now include TVs in rooms, and virtually 99-percent include a complimentary home cooked breakfast and/or afternoon refreshments for guests – all included in the cost of the stay. Travelers will find more places to plug in and more ways, as inns add i-Pod docking stations, computer and even i-Pads for guests use.

For centuries travelers have been discovering a better way to stay at inns and B&Bs.  Isn’t it time for your next B&B escape?

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