More unfamiliar but welcome faces are apparently showing up in the streets, guest rooms and dining tables of Little Washington and elsewhere in the county.
At the Washington Town Council’s monthly meeting a few weeks ago, Mayor John Sullivan reported that the town took in 12 percent more in meals and lodging tax revenue in last year final quarter than the same period in 2009.
“People are more comfortable about spending money,” says Mary Ann Kuhn, proprietor of Washington’s Middleton Inn. “The economy is slowly inching [upward] and getting better, and we were seeing that.”
More guests are coming to the Gay Street Inn, too. Kevin Adams, who co-owns the bed-and-breakfast with his partner, Jay Brown, says that business has appreciably increased since last spring.
However, Adams attributes the growth to word-of-mouth references and positive reviews on Web sites devoted to travel. Moreover, Adams thinks that the primary factor is “our effort to make our guests’ experience better.”
The Inn at Little Washington enjoys an international reputation for excellence in hospitality. In February, the restaurant was rated by The Daily Meal as 10th best of 100 dining establishments in the United States. In keeping with company policy, The Inn’s staff elected not to comment for this article.
The coffers of Rappahannock County are growing steadily as well. John McCarthy, the county administrator, says that meals and lodging tax revenue rose 10 percent in 2010 from 2009, countywide. This increase follows a 15 percent dip from November 2007 to the beginning of 2010.
Business at Hopkins Ordinary B&B in Sperryville is also up. Profits were up from April 2010 to the present, compared to April 2009 to April 2010, says Sherri Fickel, who owns and operates the B&B with Kevin Kraditor.
Business at Belle Meade Bed and Breakfast has remained flat in the past two years, or perhaps even shrunk a bit, according to Susan Hoffman, who owns and runs the B&B south of Sperryville with Mike Biniek. She attributes the lack of growth to insufficient efforts at advertising.
Fickel thinks business owners are reaping the rewards of county tourism coordinator Laura Overstreet’s efforts to market the county. Overstreet is a travel consultant who began working to promote Rappahannock County in 2008.
“All the businesses work so closely together here,” Fickel says, noting how each draws visitors and refers customers to each other. Adams also speaks of the supportive relationships that he and Brown share with other inns.
“We don’t each live in a vacuum,” says Adams.
Apparently the flow of visitors mushroomed last fall.
“It was the best October we’ve ever had,” says Susan Longyear, who with husband Walter has owned and run Washington’s Fairlea Farm Bed & Breakfast for 19 years. “October was just out of sight.”
Kuhn says her experience was similar, citing October 2010 as the Middleton Inn’s busiest October since 1997, which was when she began keeping records.
“It was back the way it used to be, before the recession,” Kuhn says. “Back on track.”
It follows that Washington’s meals and lodging tax income grew accordingly. Sullivan told the council that revenue grew 18 percent in the last quarter of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009.
Neither the Longyears nor Kuhn do any significant advertising. Adams says there have not been any changes in advertising the Gay Street Inn. All have Web sites and are rated on Internet travel directories. Last spring, Fickel and Kraditor updated their Web site, which Fickel thinks is important to do in the lodging business.
Prices have remained much the same at the B&Bs. Some rates have gone up at the Gay Street Inn since last spring, but not “across the board,” says Adams. Hopkins Ordinary raised their rate for one room. Charges for accommodations at Middleton Inn, Fairlea and Belle Meade have been constant.
For the most part, innkeepers have not changed the facilities and services that they offer. Guests’ experience at Belle Meade B&B, Hopkins Ordinary B&B and Gay Street Inn is the same as recent years.
Last spring Fairlea began offering wi-fi to guests.
Kuhn learned that more people want to take their pets with them when they travel. She developed a pet-friendly cottage and log cabin.
Kuhn attributes part of Middleton Inn’s growth to the availability of pet-friendly accommodations and to wider exposure on the Web. But she thinks the upswing in the economy is the largest factor.
The summer of 2010 was good for innkeepers, too. Longyear says she saw a surge in guests coming to attend the second annual Castleton Festival last July.
“You could feel the excitement and energy in the county,” Fickel agrees, speaking of the classical music and opera festival for young and up-and-coming musicians at Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel’s 550-acre farm. Kuhn reports that the Inn received a higher volume of business in July 2010 than in the previous six or seven years.
Longyear notes that there was more buzz about last year’s festival than the previous year. Public radio stations and The Washington Post consistently reported on and reviewed performances.
Innkeepers had mixed experiences in their volume of business over the first quarter of this year. Longyear said that the fabulous fall was followed by “the worst winter I’ve ever had.”
The phone wasn’t ringing,” says Longyear. “It was like people were in hibernation.”
In contrast, business at Middleton Inn this past January was good, Kuhn said.
First quarter 2011 income at Hopkins Ordinary ahead of last year’s first quarter, says Fickel.
The number of guests coming to Fairlea has recently picked up again.
“The daffodils are blooming and the telephone’s ringing,” says Longyear. And, she thinks people are hearing that the economy is improving — and guests are also booking for the fall season.
Reservations for April and May are “really fabulous,” says Kuhn.
The county has made efforts to amplify its online presence, such as taking steps to ensure more prominent placement in results from Google search engine queries. And, 18 months ago, a tourism Web site was created, McCarthy said.
According to McCarthy, while Rappahannock County’s revenue from the meals and lodging tax grew 10 percent last year from 2009, meals and lodging tax income in neighboring counties stagnated.
The Rappahannock County Visitors Center opened for three days a week — Friday through Sunday — this past September. After closing for the winter, typically the slowest period for tourism in the county, the center will reopen tomorrow (April 1), Overstreet says.