Like many of you, I’ve lead a rather busy life lately. And while I had been raised to think of others and contribute to social goodwill, over the past few years that meant less and less active service and more and more cheque writing. In fact, every time I wrote a cheque for another worthy charity, I felt I ought to be doing more. So, I said to myself, what about working for a not-for-profit? That way your business skills can go towards helping a charity become even more efficient, enabling contributions to go directly towards the cause….”good idea”, I thought.
So while I looked around for the right not for profit in need of my particular area of expertise, I ended up in the B&B business. And, after the first few weeks of helping people connect over coffee and make new friends, plan how they will spend their much needed vacation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and generally create a welcoming atmosphere, I thought….could this be public service?
Is it trite and demeaning to compare the hospitality business with other public service such as charitable organizations and service clubs? Or is there something in this business that can be said to contribute to the overall health of our society?
I have to admit, when I help a new visitor to our town discover our local beauty and regain the spark that was perhaps dulled by the weekly grind, I do get that glow inside…you know the one that comes from knowing you have reached out and touched someone. Even if it is on a much smaller scale, is it fair to compare making someone’s holiday remarkable with helping someone learn to read, or leading a boy scout pack week after week?
Tell me, is helping someone plan their vacation the same as helping out your fellow man?
We got into this business thinking it was a logical way for my husband (a former Executive Chef) and I to transition to retirement. And while we understood the commitment it would require, we were surprised at the diversity of our guest demographic.
When I say B&B’s are a travel trend, many might say…”Hey Nancy, what are you talking about, the B&B idea has been around for years!” And you’d be right. However, it isn’t just for the retired and near retired silver-haired generation.
Based on our experience to date, many of our guests are under 35 and looking for a getaway that feels like home. In fact, as one of my guests explained to me, since they are only able to rent a smaller apartment in the downtown area of their city, getting away to our B&B gives them more space with a lovely outdoor patio on which to unwind with a glass of their favourite local wine. Add to that the king sized bed, soaker tubs and lack of toddlers, and many of our newly married guests find a brief break from home to be the perfect size vacation for their budget and timeline – without giving up the comforts of home.
Now that demographic group I can understand. But it is the number of guests that are under 30 that shocked me! I mean, while we are happy to have them join us at Maria’s, when I was that age, I think I was camping, using a hostel or sleeping in my friend’s car when I travelled. I guess the trend in travel is that younger folks have a more sophisticated appetite for creature comforts and are willing to part with their hard earned money for an experience that offers the kind of luxury and quality they have come to expect. Instead of saving for a car, new wardrobe or even their first home, today’s 20-year olds are ready to invest in an experience more than previous generations did at the same age.
What do you think? Are B&B’s a trend, or just an old idea that has been refreshed? And if it is a trend, what demographic is supporting it?
I’ve mentioned before that it is the people stories that amaze me about this business. I’ve met parents of dying children who describe themselves as blessed to have met their heroic child; a child who doesn’t question their fate but knows they have a limited life-span and puts every ounce of living into the time they have. I’ve met survivors of illness and injury, including a mother of 2 who was determined to walk up our stairs to her room every night and down again for breakfast, despite having to use a wheelchair at home as she recovers from an injury expected to leave her unable to walk again.
However, this past week, we met an amazing young woman from Russia who had been adopted by a US family just 3 years ago. She was just like any 12 year old girl you may know in your neighbourhood. Having spent time this summer at camp, she was eager to teach my husband how to make smores over the gas fire pit in our back yard and she thrilled at the opportunity to show us the new top she bought her last night here.
What makes her a hero to me is how she doesn’t bat an eyelash at the trials she has survived. Apparently life hasn’t been so good to her in the past – but instead of asking for sympathy or using it as a crutch, she is very proud to tell us about life in the Russian orphanage and how she learned to work hard and do her part to keep the orphanage clean.
You see that’s what makes a hero….the ability to rise above our challenges and keep focused on what is important. Perhaps children are natural at it – more resilient than adults, but I choose to think that we all have the ability to be heroes. And better yet, there are heroes all around us that can help to inspire our own inner hero!
Have you met any heroes lately?
Are we crazy? Some days I think so…Right now, with only one month of the busy season under our belt I definitely think so. When was the last night I didn’t have a guest in the house or enjoy the luxury of wearing my PJ’s at breakfast?
But then, I meet a new guest and hear them telling a bit about “their story” – because as you know, everyone has a story – and I tell myself how cool this B&B stuff really is.
What is so wonderful you ask? Well let me tell you, I was prepared for the cleaning, laundry and dishes, although some days I admit it wears me out. And I knew my husband would turn out amazing breakfasts with his usual flare for food. But what I wasn’t expecting was the magic that often happens at the breakfast table.
I’ve never really been a fan of cocktail parties, I find them a bit tense even after the first glass as my inner wall flower always seems to emerge…but put people together over a cup of coffee and a bowl of homemade granola and voila! Friendships are forged, the generation gap disappears, in fact I’m certain with enough java, world peace could be obtained. With tea towel in hand, I eavesdrop on the most amazing stories as people share their daily trials and tribulations, victories and defeats at Maria’s breakfast table.
We North Americans are so voyeuristic, aren’t we? We love our gossip mags and entertainment shows because we think the celebrities lead such special lives and we love to watch from the sidelines. But I tell you, we are surrounded by special people. Your neighbour, child’s elementary school teacher, mechanic…these are the people who stay at Maria’s and they have amazing stories to tell, if we only take the time to listen.
I hope to use this blog to highlight some of those amazing people and their spirit. Perhaps you will join me in sharing stories of some of the amazing B&B’ers you’ve crossed paths with during your travels?
Until then, happy trails…