Select Registry, an association of distinguished inns in North America, has an interesting history, one that started in the 1960s with a travel writer named Norman Simpson. As a result of driving (mostly) about New England, he wrote “Country Inns and Back Roads,” a pioneering book about his travels and about specific inns—basically introducing a new type of lodging experience. Those inns banded together into the Independent Innkeepers Association, which has evolved to become the Select Registry family. In its 38th year, the association has had nearly 400 members throughout the U.S. and Canada and forming an elite network of B&Bs, urban inns, boutique hotels and small resorts.
Members include AAA four-diamond properties and/or are recipients of top honors, from “Leading Inns of North America” to “Most Romantic Hideaways” and “Best Places to Watch the Sunset.” Many inns were once turn-of-the-century mansions and sprawling estates—now they offer everything from full pampering with onsite spas, to unique activities as special as the inns themselves, including moonlit wine-and-cheese snowshoe tours, hot air balloon rides, icewine festivals, and onsite beer brewing classes. Almost all offer scenic, drive-to-escape vacations that are well suited to today’s various lifestyles and travel tastes.
“Select Registry seems to be the right product, or basket of products, for a time when the economic outlook has redirected many travelers to choose to vacation right here at home,” says Bill Moncrief, the newly named president of Select Registry and an innkeeper/owner himself (Candlelight Inn on the New Jersey Shore). “At the same time, the booking profile has also changed, for a good percentage of the inn stays that used to be for a week are now for three or four nights. However, repeat business remains as strong as ever.” He points out that clients seem to be attracted to travel itineraries that Select Registry has designed to link member inns into easy-to-plan regional circuits.
The association directory and website are the primary tools Select Registry uses to market its members, and Moncrief says that the majority but not all of the inns pay commission to travel agents. Association members are independent innkeepers, he says, and they make their own business decisions. However, with at least 200 members working with agents, “…their clients have dozens and dozens of very special places for relaxing and rewarding vacations all over North America.”
Select Registry is particularly proud of its Quality Assurance Program. Before being accepted into the association, the program requires each applicant property to pass a rigorous evaluation, conducted anonymously by an independent inspector who comes and stays at the inn as a guest. Perspective members are graded 0 to 200, with 173 the passing grade. If required, there is also a process for follow-up inspections. “We gain roughly 20 new members a year and lose almost an equal number—many in recent times, to people buying the inns to use as private homes.”
One could say that Select Registry properties are basically B&Bs, however, Moncrief points out, “The ‘breakfast’ part of the ubiquitous B&B category doesn’t do justice to the variety of incredible breakfast experiences our inns offer, all included in the cost of each night’s stay.” Indeed, taking a good look at the Select Registry directory, one finds that some breakfasts are elaborate, multi-course affairs with layered pastries, imported teas and hard-to-find delicacies. Others offer simple goodness: home-made granola, baked items, fresh-squeezed juice, eggs cooked to order and maple-smoked bacon.
If there is any question of the importance of breakfasts to the Select Registry brand, the star attraction of its annual association conference is the “Inn-Credible Breakfast Cook-Off.” At the same time, many inn members have their own, full-service, often distinguished restaurants.
Consider the following sampling of agent-friendly members of Select Registry (lead room prices are all mid-week, quiet season; all include full American breakfasts).
• Richmont Inn, in Townsend, TN, is in close proximity to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is furnished with English antiques and French paintings. It offers 14 guestrooms and luxury suites with hydrotherapy spa tubs, wet bars, wood-burning fireplaces and private balconies (rooms from $170).
• The AAA four-diamond Mill Rose Inn in Half Moon Bay, CA, is modeled after an English country cottage with six guestrooms and suites, as well as a dining room and spa, all overlooking blossoming garden courtyards by the sea (rooms from $175).