In the last column on tourism, the focus was on the hotel industry, but there is another flourishing form of visitor lodging emerging in the Valley: bed and breakfasts. Unlike a hotel/motel, you might drive by a B&B and never know it, as they are homes or estates nestled in residential areas or out in the vineyards that by design, provide a private and intimate experience for the visitor.
The guests directly interact with the innkeeper, who is their host, rather than front desk staff. On average, there are three to four rooms or suites. Breakfasts often are provided by the innkeeper or a private chef.
The B&Bs in Walla Walla vary from restored homes where much of the lodging is common space, except for the rooms, to larger estates where guests have their own self-contained suites. Each B&B distinctly reflects the personality of the innkeeper.
To get an inside look into B&Bs, we spent some time with Christine Beito, owner and innkeeper of Stone Creek Manor on Bryant Avenue. Beito opened the upscale B&B in fall of 2006. Guest lodgings consist of two cottages behind the majestic manor. Each unit can accommodate four guests and is designed to be a complete living space with a refrigerator, oven -- even a dishwasher.
The suites are stocked with fruits, bakery goods, coffee and juice every morning for the guests. Each suite also opens out onto a deck that has its own barbecue.
So, who stays at Stone Creek Manor?
"Mostly wine enthusiasts," said Beito. "Most of them are repeats (customers). I also host a lot of Whitman and Walla Walla University parents who are attending events." But after a pause, she added, "I'm getting couples now who are serious cyclists. They ride the trails. They like the new bike map."
Stone Creek also consistently plays host to what Beito describes as wine divas who want to spend a "girls' weekend" in Walla Walla. They tour the wineries, eat at all the top restaurants, go to the spa, and just pamper themselves, Beito said. One recent group consisted of four women from Santa Barbara, Calif., Phoenix, Seattle and the San Juan Islands. It was their annual reunion.
On the whole, most of the manor's guests come from Boise, Seattle, Portland and Spokane, with many using a private jet as transportation.
How popular are B&Bs in the Valley? Beito says that when she opened in '06 B&B lodging was scarce.
"Look at it now," she exclaimed. "Look at all the vacation rentals and the bed and breakfasts."
And Beito enjoys the company.
"People have choices and that's a good thing. Competition is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes. The Innkeepers Association is a good thing," she said.
The Innkeepers Association was formed in the summer of 2009. Tourism Walla Walla encouraged the formation of the alliance that supports the marketing efforts and interests of the area's inns. Currently 10 B&Bs are members of the association.
Beito said her greatest joy in running a B&B comes from getting to know people. This happens most often with her guests during a traditional champagne Sunday brunch. When speaking of their visit, they most often mention the farmers market, walking the streets of downtown and popping into stores and wine tasting rooms, Beito said. They also like taking the Stone Creek Manor cruiser bikes and riding to Bennington Lake, or through the historic home district, in addition to visiting their favorite wineries.
Our visit came to an end just as guests arrived. As is an innkeeper practice, Beito greeted her visitors as they arrive at the property; in Stone Creek's case, this means meeting them at the gate. A nice personal touch.
Andrew Holt is tourism services manager for Tourism Walla Walla.