The Inn Crowd

Don't sleep on black-owned B&Bs

A cold day spent relaxing in a bedroom tastefully decorated with antiques and Afrocentric art, drinking a soothing cup of hot chocolate, may remind you of the comforts of home.

That’s what Doris Clark imagined after she bought the old Captain Morgan Inn, a private residence in the town of Vinyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, in 1991. Patricia Napier, a white neighbor, however, sent her a note suggesting she “look for a guest house in Oak Bluffs…where most of the African Americans of the island reside and visit.” Napier then filed a suit in land court against Clark’s permit to operate an inn. When the judge ruled in Clark’s favor, Napier appealed to the Massachusetts Appellate Court, which also ruled in Clark’s favor. Napier then appealed the decision to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the decisions of the two lower courts. Clark renamed the property Twin Oaks Inn, and formed the African American Association of Innkeepers International (AAAII).

There are roughly 30 black-owned inns in the United States. Twenty-six are members of the AAAII, a number that could easily be lost among the 6,000 to 7,000 inns affiliated with the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII). In fact, before the AAAII’s inception in 1997, the PAII had no specific information about black-owned B&Bs to offer consumers. Today, the organization works closely with the AAAII.

“You can have the best inn, but if no one knows where you are, they’re not going to come see you. When I started, my business [clientele] was 99 9/10% white. Today, my business [clientele] is 70% black,” Clark states.

“Our mission is to provide a standard of excellence in the industry, to let people of color know that there are inns of color, and to let other black innkeepers or aspiring owners know that there is an organization out there that can provide support and a professional networking tool for them,” states Monica Edwards, treasurer of the AAAII and owner of Morehead Manor in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Daniel, who is the association’s president.

Citing the challenges that African American innkeepers face, including getting loans, buying homes in certain areas, and marketing to a niche consumer, Clark believes the association makes some of these tasks easier.

Edwards estimates that at least 10% of her patrons–many bed-and-breakfast first timers–are a direct product of her participation in the association.

“Joining the organization has been beneficial for us,” Edwards remarks. “We’ve had lots of guests say they’ve found us through the AAAII Website.”

Currently, with an average occupancy of 45% to 50% a month, Morehead Manor is operating in the black after only four years.

Kenny and Helene Barnett joined the association shortly after purchasing their B&B, Lagniappe Guest House in New Orleans, for $47,000. They’ve spent $100,000 more on renovations. “Business has been good,” says Kenny, who attributes some of the increase–from 30% to 85% average occupancy over the past seven years–to referrals from other members and the association’s brochure.

For the annual membership fee of $150, innkeepers are offered cooperative advertising, cooking tips, insight into industry trends, Internet marketing tips, and vendor showcases. The association also provides mentors for aspiring innkeepers. Contact the African American Association of Innkeepers International at 877-422-5777 or at www.africanamericaninns.com for more information.

ACROSS THE WEB