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Four-star breakfast included with two-star bed

Breakfast is just as important as the bed in a BnB Keystone

During last year’s financial crisis, many tourists passed over fancy hotels and all the trimmings in favour of the basics – a bed with breakfast.

This content was published on April 21, 2010 - 20:57

While visitors spent nearly five per cent fewer nights in Swiss hotels last year, bed and breakfast accommodation saw a jump of more than ten per cent.

A close look at the visitor demographics shows that Swiss BnBs have profited from the recession. The Swiss – like many nationalities – tightened their belts last year, and chose an affordable home not very far away from home to spend their holiday.

The association, Bed and Breakfast Switzerland, said 19 per cent more Swiss checked into BnBs in 2009 than in 2008, representing 44 per cent of all BnB guests. In contrast, bookings from abroad dropped slightly.

But the financial crisis alone is not responsible for the association’s success. Bed and Breakfast Switzerland has seen bookings rise steadily over the 15 years of its existence – as well as the number of Swiss willing to open their doors to strangers in exchange for cash.

There are beds available for booking in nearly 900 houses and small lodges (maximum 30 beds) listed in the association’s guidebook and on its website – double the number only five years ago.

“I’m surprised the Swiss are willing to invite strangers into their homes,” the association’s Dorette Provoost, told swissinfo.ch about the normally reserved Swiss.

“Many are cautious at the beginning, but I think the Swiss are becoming more open-minded. And the more foreigners come to the country, the more open they are.”

Hands-on

While the 355,000 nights booked by tourists in bed and breakfast accommodation last year pales in comparison with the 36 million spent in Swiss hotels, the smallness of the association gives it the flexibility to meet the changing demands of the tourism market. It is a hands-on business run by Provoost and two other colleagues.

Owners of BnBs confirm that many guests find them through the association’s user-friendly website, which includes an interactive map making it easy to locate a bed and breakfast in the area they want to visit.

The association has also introduced its own classification system which goes beyond the stars used by hotels. BnB owners who may only be able to provide modest two- to three-star accommodation can enhance their offer by piling the breakfast table high.

“Sometimes a place can’t get four stars but they can make points with breakfast,” Provoost explained. “Sometimes a two-star room can include a four-star breakfast.”

Big breakfast

That goes far beyond pre-sliced bread or a croissant, a portion of cheese and a coffee to include a variety of breads, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, various cold meats, fresh fruits and that staple of a Swiss breakfast - muesli.

The website also allows visitors to select a place based on their preferences, for example, a three-star home in the countryside near Lucerne offering a four-star breakfast, or a studio located in a castle near the River Rhine.

Rosmarie Whiston, a retired flight attendant, is a three-star accommodation, four-star breakfast host.

She told swissinfo.ch that the website makes it easy for guests to find her offer - a reasonably priced (SFr55 per person, per night) and homey place to stay near Zurich.

And Bed and Breakfast Switzerland is about to launch its own iPhone app, making it a simple matter for those already on the road to check out where they want to check in.

Like Whiston, Anne-Dominique Egli has welcomed tourists and business people from across Europe but has also had visitors from North America, Australia and Israel.

Room with a view

Egli’s comfortable four-star digs (including swimming pool) near Vevey offers superb views across Lake Geneva. And she goes all out to keep the five stars she’s earned for her breakfast. She says she particularly enjoys having people of all nationalities sit around the table together to start the day.

While BnB guests get to play voyeur and peek inside people’s homes, BnB owners learn about the idiosyncrasies of different nationalities – some that forget to turn off lights, others that have a penchant for slamming doors and those who never forget to give the host a souvenir from their homeland.

And many guests and their hosts become friends, which may be the real secret to the success of Swiss BnBs.

However, “friends”, according to Whiston, are still expected to pay. “You have to make the difference between business and friendships.”

Dale Bechtel, swissinfo.ch

Bed and Breakfast Switzerland

The association, now in its 15th year, represents 884 homes and lodges. Classic home stays (taking a room inside a family’s house, and sharing the same facilities) make up 30 per cent of all accommodation, with studios, apartments and rooms with separate entrances accounting for 50 per cent.

Members are allowed to have up to 30 beds.

The association has a group of quality controllers, who visit each member at least once every three years to ensure they are up to scratch.

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