B&B and Airbnb homes offerhomelike comforts to travelers
The popularity of Airbnb and VRBO have made it relatively easy to start a B&B-style business. With many aesthetically pleasing buildings, B&Bs are on the rise.
Many of the new temporary rental homes in New Ulm are not true B&Bs, in that only the space is for rent, there is no food service. However, New Ulm does have one fully licensed B&B — Bingham Hall.
Bingham Hall Bed & Breakfast has been open since February 2006. It is operated by Shannon and Todd McKeeth. The couple started the B&B after Shannon started taking culinary classes in Mankato. Originally, Shannon had the idea of opening a restaurant, but she was not sure of the time commitment needed for a restaurant.
A few people suggested she start a B&B, combining her cooking and hospitality skills. One of the people who suggested the B&B was a good friend and local Realtor, Mary Henle, who helped her find a house for the business.
Henle found the McKeeths a house on German Street. At the time, the house was being rented as five apartments. The McKeeths moved into one of them, and began the process of transforming it back into a “historic home.”
They restructured the back of the main floor into a large kitchen/family room and the second floor into four Bed and Breakfast guest rooms, each with a private bathroom. Two of the rooms have large jacuzzi tubs. Two rooms have gas fireplaces. All have queen beds, televisions, and sitting areas.
They transformed the third floor into a private living area, along with a laundry room. Guests have use of their bedroom, as well as the large front sitting room, foyer, and dining room.
The fall is the busiest time of year, with September and October being the busiest months, the McKeeths said.
January is the slowest month of the year, but from March through October business is very steady, especially on weekends.
The business has grown steadily from 2006, except for the interruption of COVID. The McKeeths now rent about 450 rooms a year.
The McKeeths said the best part of the business is the people they meet.
“Our guests come from anywhere and everywhere,” Shannon said. “We have had people from Europe, China, and even Australia. We have had people from Hollywood. We have had TV programs taped at our house. But most of our guests are just good people from within a few hours drive that are looking to escape their everyday life, coming here to relax and enjoy our B&B.”
Shannon said in the years since starting the B&B, the biggest trend they have noticed in the industry was the rise of Airbnb and VRBO and representing a younger demographic.
“I think it’s actually helped the Bed & Breakfast industry across the board,” she said. “B&Bs have been around a long time, usually used more by an older demographic, but now there is a huge platform that is attracting a younger crowd as well.”
Within the last year, Char Reinhart-Kalk and husband Dan Kalk have opened two vacation rental homes: Holiday Haus on North State Street and Zwei Haus on South Broadway.
The Kalks have operated Holiday House for a year and Zwei Haus for six months.
Char said they bought Holiday Haus because it was a great older home in a fantastic location. For the size and price, they could not turn it down. She said in New Ulm, high-quality homes are not on the market for long.
Initially, the plan was not to convert it into an Airbnb, but the Kalks realized it was a good idea because Airbnb rentals were where they liked to stay whenever they traveled.
Char believed the Airbnb model worked well during the pandemic. Through online rentals, guests do not need to have direct contact with the renter. The homes are separate entities, unlike a large hotel with other guests and service staff. Individuals who travel can easily social distance if they like.
Holiday Haus has three bedrooms with an additional basement den that could be a fourth bedroom. Zwei Haus has five bedrooms. Both houses have kitchens available for those who wish to do their cooking. Often the homes are rented by larger families, as properties have room enough for a dozen people.
Char said their two homes are usually full. If it’s not for a vacation, it is for another event. Holiday Haus has been used for girls’ weekends, bachelorette parties, couples weekends, and other retreats.
The homes have been rented for wedding preparation. Families traveling can stay in the house and have a space for bridesmaids to get ready. It helps that State Street Theater and Turner Hall, both popular wedding venues, helps.
Holiday Haus and Zwei Haus are both within a few blocks of downtown New Ulm, making them perfect for those looking to explore the city.
New Ulm’s history and appearance are also a major draw. The exteriors of Holiday Haus and Zwei Haus have an old fashioned appeal. The two homes were built in 1924 and 1925, though the Kalks have updated the interiors.
“We do have character,” Char said. “There is a lot of older architecture, but with modern conveniences.”
Char said April through October is extremely busy. It is not unusual to receive two bookings a day. It can fill up fast. It is recommended to book a month in advance during the summer.
As with Bingham Hall, September and October are the busiest months. To secure a reservation, booking six months in advance is advised.
Char agreed with the McKeeths, that the best part of operating a vacation rental home is meeting new people.
“I love people and I love New Ulm,” Char said. “If I can bring people here, great.”