FOOD- THE DISH- Surfer's choice: Local B&B's conquer the web
When TripAdvisor.com, a respected lodging review website, announced its 2006 Traveler's Choice Awards earlier this year, Dish noticed something remarkable in the 10 Best Inns & B&Bs in the U.S. category: three out of the 10 were in Virginia, and two out of those three were in Charlottesville.
At first, Dish was skeptical. Aren't these review sites fundamentally unreliable, vulnerable as they are to bogus reviews and hotels seeking to "game the system" to make themselves look good?
"Actually, they're very good at monitoring their content," says the Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm's Hayden Cabell, who along with her husband, Dick, took the #8 spot on the 10-best list. "Comments don't get posted for two weeks while their experts screen them."
Indeed, according to TripAdvisor, which was founded in 2000, every review is read by someone trained in fraud protection, bogus reviews that slip through are thrown out, and hotels caught writing them are penalized. Only a small percentage of the more than 5 million reviews on the site are bogus, industry experts claim, and as TripAdvisor's reputation has grown, so has users' trust.
"In a short time, they have become very important in the industry," says Cabell. "We often ask our guests how they found us, and they often say Tripadvisor... and that's the only website mentioned in that regard."
"It is by far the best measure," says Foxfield Inn co-owner John Hulburt, who along with wife, Mary Pat, took the #3 spot on the list. "So many people who come to us use that tool."
According to Sugar Hollow's Dick Cabell, what has made TripAdvisor so successful is what makes hotels and B&B's successful.
"Hospitality begins with your advertising," says Cabell. "Be as truthful as you can, so when people arrive at your door they know what they're getting. We don't butter people up only to make them disappointed when they get here."
Cabell also says constant communication, long before guests arrive, is key, as well as supplying them with useful and accurate information. As both inn-owning couples acknowledge, being able to read actual guest experiences on sites like TripAdvisor has become essential to travelers. Indeed, according to the research firm ComScore, $69 billion was spent last year at online travel sites like TripAdviosor, Priceline.com, and Expedia.
Of course, Cabell admits, it doesn't hurt to be in Charlottesville. Originally from Indiana and Chicago, the Cabells had planned to buy a B&B in North Carolina 11 years ago because their two sons were going to school in Raleigh.
"But Charlottesville was a better spot than anything in North Carolina," says Cabell. "Being near Charlottesville, and having Monticello, UVA, and Ash Lawn is key. Our first year, we had people from all 50 states, and that's still true every year."
Cabell also cites another local phenomenon. "A large number of people come here to get married, " he says. "And not just alumni or people who once lived here, but a lot of people who have never been here before."
Along with the Piney Hill Bed & Breakfast in Luray, which took the #7 spot on the 10-best list, the Foxfield Inn and the Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm appear to be a couple of unique local treasures. And how are the B&B owners handling their star status?
"We were very shocked," says Hulburt. "And we're pleased that Sugar Hollow received recognition too. They're great people, and they're just down the road. We were selected best in Charlottesville for a number of years, which was nice, because there are so many great inns here, but this is something special."
"We were very pleased," says Hayden Cabell. "The award carries a lot of weight simply because TripAdvisor is so well known. You can't look for any online information on travel without finding it."
Through the grapevine...
Albemarle Hotel LLC has applied for a construction permit to build a new Guadalajara restaurant at the Old Town and Country Motel site on Pantops Mountain, and the TipTop Restaurant just up the road will be getting a $250,000 facelift, as the popular diner enlarges its kitchen, adds additional seating, and relocates its bathrooms. Also, Pizza Bella on 29 North– just before Airport Road– has been sold. According to a white banner over the door, a new Indian restaurant will be taking its place.
Foxfield Inn owners John and Mary Pat Hulburt were "shocked" when TripAdvisor.com ranked the inn #3 in the country. "It is by far the best measure," says Hulburt. "So many people who come to us use that tool."
PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER
Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm owners Dick and Hayden Cabell say being in Charlottesville has been key to their success. Eleven years ago, the two went looking for a B&B in NC, "but Charlottesville was a better spot than anything in North Carolina," says Dick Cabell.
PHOTO BY WILLIAM WALKER