Bed and breakfasts across Nebraska have experienced a decline in business because of the coronavirus, but business owners are hopeful for the 2021 travel season.
Throughout the pandemic, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services recommended that travelers should follow safety and health protocols regarding COVID-19.
“While we were never required to close, the government mandates severely affected us through much of 2020,” Bruce Stahr said. “We lost all business in late March, all but five rooms, one night each, for all of April, and then May and June were crippled, as well.”
Stahr, co-owner of the Prairie Creek Inn, a bed and breakfast in rural Walton, has owned and operated the bed and breakfast with his wife, Maureen, for 11 years.
He said Prairie Creek Inn normally has 15 to 25 weddings and three to eight large family reunions each year. However, last year Prairie Creek Inn had nine weddings and two family reunions. All were smaller than anticipated.
“We helped a few reservations reschedule for later 2020 or into 2021 with no penalty,” he said. “We did have one funeral here, as the funeral home could not accept the number of guests that wanted to come, but we were authorized and made their event very special.”
Maureen Stahr said by July, people were frustrated with being cooped up at home that they started traveling again.
“Many people traveled cross country to see loved ones and were afraid to fly, so they planned land trips and saw us as a safe alternative to cramped motels,” she said.
Prairie Creek Inn has 10 rooms and suites in three houses on a 100-acre farm, hiking trails and a lake, allowing for guests to social distance.
“We could not have any larger events for a few months and then were restricted to 25%, then 50% capacity for wedding receptions,” she said. “That is now back to 100%.”
Bob and Linda Ard have had similar experiences with their bed and breakfast because of a decrease in tourists and economic decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.
“We had 86 B&B reservations canceled in March and April, and our business decreased over 75 percent,” Linda Ard said.
Linda and Bob have owned Burchell’s White Hill Farmhouse Inn in Minden for more than 12 years.
“The Sandhill Cranes Migration is a big deal for our inn, and we typically have visitors from across the U.S. and world,” she said. “With the travel restrictions and loss of many of our older volunteers who help out at the viewing centers, the events were closed down.”
Ard said most of their special events such as weddings, reunions, and business meetings were canceled or were much smaller because it was not safe to travel or to continue hosting these events.
“We certainly are not critical of anyone’s travel ban policy, and we do not blame anyone or any government for the ‘impacts of COVID-19’ on our business,” Ard said.
Some business owners have not been able to keep their bed and breakfasts open during the pandemic.
Bruce Stahr said most of the businesses he communicated within Nebraska have shut down for at least three to six months or have closed permanently. One has sold out, and the new owner has not yet opened.
“Due to COVID-19, we temporarily closed most of our rooms,” said Mary Reinholt, co-owner of the Banker’s House Bed & Breakfast in Plattsmouth.
She said her business only has three rooms available because the government’s COVID guidelines for gatherings and COVID-19 affect her inn’s business.
“We have not decided whether to reopen all rooms yet because we are still discussing it under the government policies and situations of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reinholt said.
The house is furnished with English antique bedroom furniture, stained glass, beautiful, cherry, walnut and fir wood trim and suited as a small-town retreat from the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area.
As COVID-19 cases increased in Nebraska, the Stahrs implemented pandemic precautions.
“We immediately posted on our website plans to use extra care in preparing, sanitizing rooms between guests,” Bruce Stahr said. “We communicated with many making reservations about the layout of the property and how we could accommodate them safely.”
Maureen Stahr said they also adjusted seating to allow for social distancing when serving breakfasts, and also for special events in their barn, and they followed all state and local guidelines as they progressed through the past year.
Maureen and Bruce Stahr hired extra people to help get through this summer, anticipating that business would increase after the COVID-19 ends, and they wanted to be ready for it.
Bruce Stahr said they have also just partnered with an Equestrian Therapy non-profit group that will begin operating in the summer of 2021 for special needs people to serve those people with post-COVID trauma, anxiety, depression, and fear being around people.
“We hope this will be a valuable addition for our community, and even some of our B&B guests,” he said.