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Gloom at the Inn Over Guidebook Lists

August 14, 1987|GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writer

Four months ago, Santa Barbara innkeeper Nancy Donaldson opened a letter from a leading country inn guidebook and learned that, for the first time, it would cost her $750 to be included in the upcoming edition.

"The fee starts with a base of $550 for inns with five rooms or less," the letter explained, "and increases with increments of $50 for each additional room, with a set maximum (of $2,500). An inn with a restaurant open to the public will be charged an additional $200."

Robert Reid Associates of New Haven, Conn., packager of "Country Inns of America: California," also added in the letter that a photographer and writer would visit the nine-room inn to prepare text and color pictures. "If it is necessary for them to stay overnight," the letter said, "we would like you to put them up on a complimentary basis."

Alarmed at both her inability to afford the payment and the potential loss of bookings if her inn were not listed in the 1988 edition of what many consider to be the Cadillac of guidebooks, Donaldson decided to fight.

She persuaded the Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers of Southern California, of which she is president, to send a letter of protest to Reid. It pointed out that readers of the guidebook won't know that they're seeing only inns that can afford to "buy their way in" the book, and it urged that the new guidebook carry a notice "that the books are reflecting paid, solicited advertisers."

Far From Alone

But Donaldson may be bucking a trend. "Country Inns of America" is far from alone in charging fees or association dues for inclusion in the guidebooks that many travelers consult before they arrange accommodations in inns and beds and breakfasts.

Norman Simpson, a pioneer of country inn guidebooks who turned out his first booklet in 1966, charges innkeepers $500 to join his Independent Innkeepers Assn. in Stockbridge, Mass. Only member inns are listed in his "Country Inns and Back Roads, North America" (Harper & Row: $10.95), said Simpson's editor, Virginia Rowe.

Diane Knight of Watsonville, Calif., assesses proprietors $50 to $170 every two years to be listed in her self-published "Bed and Breakfast Homes Directory" for California, Oregon and Washington ($8.95).

Of course, many guides still charge nothing. They include Julianne Belote's "Country Inns of the West Coast" (Globe Pequot Press: $10.95), Linda Kay Bristow's "Bed and Breakfast: California" (Chronicle Books, $8.95), and Jacqueline Killeen's "Country Inns of the Far West: California" (101 Productions: $8.95). Killeen occasionally and Bristow frequently accept free accommodations from inns they are reviewing; Belote accepts nothing.

But Reid said he decided to charge innkeepers for inclusion in "Country Inns of America" when he realized that rising film, transportation and typesetting costs would push the price of next year's book beyond $20. As a result of the new policy, he said, the 1988 guide will still sell for $12.95.

Reid said he started the policy with guidebooks about country inns of New York and the Mid-Atlantic states. When he wrote to Southern and Northern California innkeepers explaining the change, he said, few objected.

In defense of their objectivity, guidebook editors maintain that they visit each inn and inspect it carefully, rejecting many that do not meet their standards.

At least two Southern California inns contacted by The Times said Robert Reid Associates turned them down for inclusion in next year's book. In both cases, the innkeepers said, they were refunded the advance payment they had made to appear in the book. (Reid's payment schedule requires that one-half the assessment be paid in advance, the other half to the writer and photographer when they visit the inn.)

Personal Visits

"It's not a matter of looking for someone interested in paying a fee to be in the book," said Tracy Bernstein, Reid's editor at Henry Holt and Co. in New York. ". . . They are selected the way they've always been, by personal visits to the inns."

"We've been doing this for 10 years," Reid said by telephone from his New Haven office. "We have a record of credibility. If we say we're doing books under the same basis for judging and choosing places as before, people believe us--except for the odd innkeeper who doesn't.

Holt, he added, "is one of the major publishers in New York and is totally ethical. They would never let us do this if they didn't trust us."

Even so, the payment trend concerns many travel editors who think the fees pressure writers to give favorable reviews.

"I cannot believe that . . . you could place any faith in an operation that at once reviews a property and gets paid by that property to be included on that list of reviews," said Philip Sousa, travel editor of the San Diego Union.

Paid Advertisements

" . . . It's the same thing if you or I were to discover that (in) AAA travel guides, . . . the listings are (made up of) hotels that sent a fee to be included. Immediately an informed reader would say forget it. This is paid advertisement."

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