Opening your doors

African American innkeepers share the ups and downs of operating a bed and-breakfast

The idea of owning and managing a bed-and-breakfast or country inn may seem like a practically effortless way to run a business from the convenience of your own home. After all, you’re basically hosting a few guests overnight, baking muffins and brewing the morning coffee. You can put those empty rooms to use and, with your people skills and business background, this endeavor might provide the perfect transition into retirement.

If that scenario matches your concept of being an innkeeper, don’t open up those rooms just yet. The reality is that running a bed-and-breakfast inn (a home used primarily for lodging where breakfast is served) or a country inn (a lodging that serves breakfast plus an additional meal) is no different than running any small business. The financial preparation, market savvy, customer service expertise and entrepreneurial finesse basic to any venture are just as vital in this one.

In fact, the job is far from glamorous. You’re on call 24 hours a day as concierge, chef, repairperson, receptionist, maid, host and entertainer, and you probably won’t get wildly rich doing it. You’ll probably occupy the smallest room in your house to make guests more comfortable, and weekends will be anything but leisurely. But if you’re business-minded and self-motivated, genuinely enjoy the company of others and have a creative knack for decorating, cooking and making others feel as if they’ve arrived in paradise, then this could be the business for you.

SIZING UP THE MARKET
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for African Americans, who have not yet made a dent in the marketplace,” says Monique Greenwood, proprietor of the Akwaaba Mansion in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. “Traditionally, when you think of a bed-and-breakfast, you think of a countryside inn in a quaint little town,” says Greenwood. Frustrated with the lack of lodging options for visiting family members, she and her husband, Glenn, decided to open their own B&B. “We’re finding a niche in our own neighborhood.”

Lauren Craniotes, tourism liaison for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, says that B&Bs can fill a need in America’s suburbs and cities. “There’s currently no hotel in Harlem,” she explains. “But strong potential exists for lodging opportunities in the area’s historic brownstones, especially now that Harlem is experiencing its second renaissance.” In fact, the return in popularity of cities as tourist destinations has contributed to a 42% increase since 1994 in the number of inns located in urban areas, according to a recent industry study of bed-and-breakfast/country inns by the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII) based in Santa Barbara, California. Currently, B&Bs represent a $5 billion industry.

What’s more, the increasing interest in heritage tours nationwide–one of the fastest-growing segments of the booming tourism market–makes the idea even more appealing. The Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America says that 45% of African American travelers choose to stay in hotels, motels and B&Bs. Yet fewer than 50 of the 30,000 B&Bs and country inns nationwide are known to be black-owned, says Doris L. Clark, president of

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