What are some of the secrets to Biltmore success? I am referring to America’s largest private residence, the two-hundred and fifty room Biltmore Estate. After six years of construction while collaborating with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, on Christmas Eve in 1895 George Vanderbilt officially opened Biltmore House.
George Vanderbilt pictured the possibilities for his family and friends on his eight thousand acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. In present day, the Estate includes:
- delightful shops
- four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate
- gorgeous gardens
- romantic restaurants
- wonderful winery
Today, with two hundred full-time employees and a total of over eighteen-hundred employees working for The Biltmore, bed and breakfast owners may wonder what they have in common this hospitality giant. If we can understand what helps make the Biltmore such a success, then hoteliers (as well as owners of restaurants, shops, and wineries) can apply this knowledge to run their own hospitality businesses better.
Secret #1: Offer add-ons, like tours and activities, to your guests. This caters to individuals who have the ability and desire to pay more for these additional benefits.
The visitors to the Biltmore Estate can opt for additional tours:
- Audio Guide to Biltmore House: capture the feeling of being guided through Biltmore’s grand rooms by our curators and hosts on this ninety-minute audio tour filled with stories about the Vanderbilts and treasures in their collection
- Behind-the-Scenes Guided Upstairs-Downstairs Tour: in this sixty-minute guided tour, descend the back stairs to explore servant life at Biltmore, discover cutting-edge technology that kept America’s largest home humming, visit the domains of the butler, head housekeeper, and lady’s maids, then continue on to a suite of guest rooms to learn about grand house parties hosted by the Vanderbilts
- Rooftop Tour: enjoy amazing views from rooftops and balconies and get a closer look at the design and construction of the Biltmore House with this sixty-minute guided tour of areas not on the regular house visit
- Legacy of the Land Tour: take a motor coach tour of the estate and learn about the history of the land, structures, and former residents while visiting areas not usually open to guests
For an additional cost, visitors to the Biltmore Estate can participate in certain activities (available seasonally):
- Carriage Rides
- Fly-fishing School
- Guided Horseback Trail Rides
- Land Rover Experience Driving School
- River Rafting, Kayaking, and Paddleboarding Trips
- Segway Basic, Off-Road, and West Side Tours
- Sporting Clays School
Morehead Manor Bed and Breakfast of Durham, North Carolina gives guests options for extras, such as:
- Greta’s Girlfriend Getaway
- Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt Weekends (only offered on specific dates)
- Picnic in the Park
- Romance Package
- Spa Services
Secret #2: Variety encourages your guests to return. Always keep things fresh. Each Biltmore experience is different. As the seasons and their themes change, so does their décor and displays.
For example, during our visit to the Biltmore, they had a Downton Abbey theme and featured real gowns worn on that popular British television show. They had signs informing visitors about the material of the gown and what was happening in history during the time it was made as well as more information about the character who wore it on the television show. A Biltmore employee revealed to us that each gown was literally made in that time period or individually hand-made to be authentic to that time.
Many inns choose to decorate during major holidays, such as Christmas. One of the Biltmore’s biggest attractions are its Christmas displays. In addition to the obvious holidays, how about choosing a less commonly celebrated holiday like Arbor Day? Plant a tree in the backyard of your bed and breakfast. Then show the growth of that tree by taking its picture each year. Many innkeepers have their inn for more than twenty years, so this could really be a focal point in your yard.
On the topic of gardening and variety, Biltmore plants things that will bloom at different times of the year. The acres of gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture. That way whenever people visit, they will see something pretty. When we visited the Biltmore Gardens, the tulips were in full bloom.
Secret #3: Offer a closer look at your inn. The Biltmore Estate is full of carefully researched stories of its past. The people who lived and worked at Biltmore, the events and people they hosted, and how historical events (including war) affected them. The Biltmore has many stories to tell.
I was impressed that was a huge painting of the architect and one of the gardener. The audio guide noted that this was rare for a wealthy person to have portraits made of two people that worked for the family. This is a testament to how George Vanderbilt honored his employees and valued their contributions to the overall look of his estate.
The Esmeralda Inn and Restaurant of Chimney Rock, NC also is full of history, including a Presidential visit and two fires. If your inn is brand new, then share pictures of its construction and let your guests know the steps it took from the time you decided to build your bed and breakfast to the time that you opened your doors.
Find your bed and breakfasts’ story. Some name their rooms after a significant person in history or after their official state symbols such as the state bird and state tree. Then you can tell stories about the people who made important contributions in history or about how your state symbols came to be.
Secret #4: Make visitors feel welcomed and appreciated. Biltmore employees are very attentive, polite, knowledgeable, and helpful. They go out of their way to help you and smile while doing so. Let that be said of you and your inn. Extend to your guests your greatest hospitality, and they will reward you by returning and referring others to visit.
While there is no other place quite like the Biltmore Estate, we can implement some of their secrets to Biltmore success and apply it to achieve our own success. Innkeepers can ask themselves if they offer extras, create a variety of looks and themes throughout the year, reveal a deeper look to guests, and help their guests feel appreciated. May your place of hospitality be profitable like the Biltmore.
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- The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home tells the untold true story behind the Biltmore Estate, which has seen more than 120 years of history pass by its front door. A story of how one fiercely devoted woman (Edith Dresser Vanderbilt) was able to save the home her husband loved (George Vanderbilt).
- Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon tells the inspiring true story of the 35-year effort to restore this castle to its former glory and how it became a vibrant tourist destination with a working farm and distinguished winery.
- Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt reveals that while “the Commodore” (the family patriarch) built up a fortune that made him the world’s richest man by 1877, but less than fifty years after his death, one of his direct descendants died penniless, and no Vanderbilt was counted among the world’s richest people.
- The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt describes an improbable life, from Vanderbilt’s humble birth during the presidency of George Washington to his death as one of the richest men in American history. In between we see how the Commodore helped to launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manhattan, and invent the modern corporation.
- Willie K. Vanderbilt II, A Biography explores the life of one of its lesser-known descendats, William Kissam Vanderbilt II, known simply as Willie K. An inheritor, not a builder, Willie K. lacked the drive and ambition necessary for furthering the Vanderbilt dynasty, especially in the political atmosphere of bank failures, the dawn of progressivism, and the First World War.
- The Biltmore Nursery: A Botanical Legacy tells about the Biltmore Nursery, once ranked among the largest and most prolific nurseries in the world. It was part of an unprecedented horticultural, botanical and forestry enterprise on George W. Vanderbilt’s magnificent Biltmore Estate, envisioned and designed by brilliant landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.
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