Beds empty, small innkeepers turn to stop-gap measures

Lu Feiran
Bed and breakfast operators are striving for conquering the coronavirus crisis.
Lu Feiran

Bed and breakfast operators in Chuansha Town in the Pudong New Area were overjoyed when Shanghai Disneyland Resort opened in 2016. Business boomed. But now, the beds and breakfast tables are empty.

Disneyland announced a temporary shutdown in January due to the coronavirus outbreak, and B&Bs relishing the prospect of a prosperous Spring Festival holiday hit rock bottom.

Room reservations and company team-building retreats were canceled.

Even now, as the epidemic abates on the Chinese mainland, there is no immediate sign of recovery for B&Bs, so some operators are looking for new business avenues to help them weather the crisis.

Suyu Inn in Lianmin Village is a typical case. Before the epidemic hit, it was one of the most popular B&Bs in the area.

“By the end of January, canceled reservations cost us 230,000 yuan (US$32,620), and there were no reservations at all in February,” says Chen Yumo, an official with Suyu. “Although we had several reservations in March, there are still no team-building events on tap, and those events account for half of our income.”

What to do?

After seeing that stores and scenic sites were resorting to live stream to keep afloat, Suyu latched onto the concept of reminding visitors what they are missing and what they can expect when life returns to normal.

The inn has a ready team capable of doing baking, pottery crafts, painting and the weaving activities provided for guests during their stay.

The idea was to showcase that expertise.

Beds empty, small innkeepers turn to stop-gap measures
Ti Gong

Suyu Inn in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area live-streams a bakery lesson from its kitchen to promote room coupons. The ploy has received positive feedback. 

Zhang Yangyang, a “butler” with Suyu, is also an experienced baker. In the live stream, he shows how to make cakes and pizzas at home.

“Live stream is a new thing for me,” Zhang says. “But I believe that showing what we have to offer guests may spur some people to say, ‘I want to have such a weekend.’”

Another live stream features strawberry tasting. Staff with the inn show viewers the ripe, juicy strawberries grown in the village.

“It’s started out well,” Chen says. “During the baking live stream, we sold five room reservation coupons. And during the strawberry live stream, we sold more than 200 boxes of strawberries.”

The same kind of transformation is also happening in the neighboring province of Zhejiang. In Changxing County there, B&B owners are using e-commerce to make up for the loss of revenue.

Before the coronavirus epidemic, the county was popular as an idyllic tourism destination of green tea fields, ancient temples, quiet old streets, U-pick orchids and specialty local cuisine.

It earned the nickname “Shanghai Village” because of the large number of visitors from the city.

B&Bs are a pillar industry there. Residents redecorated their houses into small inns, receiving guests with a cozy environment and homemade delicacies.

Song Chaofeng, one of the earliest householders in the village to become a B&B business, is now making money selling farm products online. Free-range chicken and duck eggs, ducks and salted meat are among the most popular items in his online store.

“I try every one of the products before I sell them to make sure that they are worthy of the price,” says Song. “Sometimes I give buyers extra gifts, such as fresh bamboo shoots, to go with salted meat.”

Nearly half the 580 B&Bs in the county have launched online stores, and every day more than 1,000 orders are dispatched.

Meanwhile, many B&Bs are taking advantage of the slack time to redecorate the rooms and gardens to welcome guests back in a better environment when the pandemic is finally over.

“We’ve cleared up the yards and planted a lot of new flowers, hoping that when the flowers are in full bloom, business will pick up again here,” says Song.

B&B operators are optimistic that the crisis will end and visitors will return as soon as possible.

“Many people have been cooped up at home for more than two months, and they will crave a getaway as soon as the epidemic subsides,” says Zhou Jia, owner of Past to Future Inn in Zhoupu Town, which is located in the vicinity of Disneyland Resort.

In the first months of the epidemic, B&B operators were pretty pessimistic, she says. But she is prepared to return to normal and is promoting pre-order coupons that people can use anytime within the year.

“We need to expand our source of customers,” she says. “In the past, we relied on visitors to Disneyland, but now that the resort is still closed, we must develop something else to attract customers.”

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