Where the Lodging Business Is More than a Bed

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Visitors to the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, and those who live here and are looking for a getaway – can find locally owned lodgings that range from a romantic adventure, a day of pampering at the spa, a trip into the past or the necessities for conducting business.

The four businesses interviewed for this story — Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa, Tara, the Jacqueline House and the Courtyard by Marriott — demonstrate how the selection of amenities distinguish how the hotel industry operates.

Laura Ackley is the general manager of Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa and the director of marketing for Tara – A Country Inn. The historic properties complement each other and “offer unique experiences,” she says.

“It’s nothing but start-to-finish pampering. That’s our goal,” Ackley says of the spa at Buhl Mansion. Upon arriving, customers are greeted with valet service and champagne. Turndown service and breakfast in bed are also available.

The day spa, open to the general public, is one of the most popular features of the mansion, Ackley says. “We have six treatment rooms in the spa, which actually has any treatment available that you could get at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, except in a much more intimate setting.”

Buhl features 10 rooms with period furnishings and decorations that offer diverse themes. It attracts couples, wedding parties, patrons of the day spa and businesses retreats.

“We get people who are used to traveling to high-end properties all the time,” Ackley says, “and we get people who saved up their pennies for the last five years because it’s their 25th wedding anniversary.”

Buhl hosts some 50 to 60 weddings a year. Larger parties are required to rent the entire mansion. Other parties have the choice of renting “a castle for a day” as part of a package, which includes use of the mansion, gardens, greenhouse, carriage house and courtyard.

Tara, a former residence built in 1854 in Clark Pa., is six miles from the Buhl Mansion. Today, the Greek Revival building is a 27-room inn inspired by the film “Gone With the Wind” and the ambiance of the Old South. Costumes that Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh wore when the film was shot are displayed at Tara and the inn contains numerous artifacts from the Civil War era.

Antiques, parlors, staff dressed in period clothing and the “Gone With The Wind”-themed rooms are what draw people to stay at Tara, Ackley says.

Corporate retreats, banquets, weddings and overnight motor coach groups are among the inn’s clientele. The larger space at Tara allows for more privacy than Buhl. “You can literally be someplace and not see anyone else the entire time you’re here,” Ackley says.

The two restaurants at the inn, Ashley’s Gourmet Dining Room and Stonewall’s Tavern, are popular with locals and those who stay at the inn, Ackley says. At Ashley’s, which requires men to wear a jacket and tie, diners are served a seven-course meal with white-glove service.

Stonewall’s Tavern offers more casual dining, yet one that features white linen tablecloths. “There really aren’t many white linen restaurants left,” Ackley says. Stonewall’s features a wine list recognized by Wine Spectator – a big attraction for customers, she says.

Just outside New Wilmington, Pa., the Jacqueline House, a four-bedroom bed-and-breakfast, attracts couples who want romantic getaways and is a popular site for baby showers, wedding parties and business retreats. “A lot of people come here and say, ‘It’s just so peaceful,’ and it is,” says innkeeper Rebecca Hink.

Pictured: Rebecca Hink, innkeeper of Jacqueline House.

Bed-and-breakfasts tend to have between four and 11 rooms, six being the average, according to the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

The Jacqueline House is rented almost every weekend during the summer, mostly for wedding parties, Hink says. However, family reunions and reunions of friends are also frequent. Many are attracted to the rural setting and the Amish community. “The Amish are a big draw, especially for international travelers,” she says.

Cross-country travelers looking for somewhat different accommodations also seek out the Jacqueline House. Even the electric car charger attracts travelers who require a charging station and room for the night. But locals, especially couples, also book rooms.

“We get a number of people from New Castle who are just looking to get away for the evening,” Hink says.

She hopes to increase her marketing efforts geared to companies that need to hold off-site meetings. “We’re close to both Pittsburgh and Cleveland,” Hink says, “and it gets people out of the office and to a destination for the day.”

In Mahoning Valley, the Courtyard by Marriott in Canfield has become a popular destination for business-related travel. The hotel opened in 2015 as the hotel market began to decline, says its general manager, Ryan Dewberry. Once the anticipated oil and gas boom failed to occur, the northern tier of the Utica shale play was left with surfeit of hotel rooms.

Pictured: Ryan Dewberry, general manager of Courtyard by Marriott in Canfield.

Even so, the Courtyard continues to enjoy growth, thanks largely to its upscale offerings, he says.

“The discerning traveler is looking for options, the ability to not only socialize but also to relax and experience things – not just experience four walls of a room and a free breakfast,” Dewberry says.

The Courtyard does not serve a free breakfast but customers have their choice of hot breakfasts in the hotel restaurant that offers Starbucks beverages. “It’s uncommon in the hotel business to be able to get not just Starbucks coffee, but also your favorite Starbucks drinks, even cold brew and things like that,” Dewberry says.

The Kennsington Golf Club, directly behind the Courtyard Marriott, distinguishes the hotel and draws many golf outings, especially during the summer, Dewberry says. The patio that overlooks the golf course has several water and fire features and leads to the nearby Kennsington Grille, a full-service restaurant.

In 2017, the hotel ranked in the top 5% of Marriott properties for customer satisfaction, according to Marriott International. But customers are always looking for new travel experiences, Dewberry says, which entails ongoing revaluations to stay competitive.

“As far as the hotel business is concerned, it’s a constant learning curve,” he says.

Pictured at top: Laura Ackley, general manager of Buhl Mansion Guesthouse and Spa and the director of marketing for Tara – A Country Inn.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.