These last few mornings walking through the woods, my thoughts linger over my recent trip back to Germany with my two grandchildren, Miles and Holden. At 14 and 12 years old, they were my perfect travel mates. We are all three filled to the brim with memories of bicycle rides in the Lunëburger Heide, adventures galore while exploring Hamburg and our wonderful experience on the Baltic Sea in Boldenhagen.
I was surprised by the empty rooms at our inn in the Lunëburger Heide, the Undeloher Hof. The age group that assembled there each evening at the dining tables were mostly people in the 50-60 age group, on the weekend escorted by their children and grandchildren. Yes, one inn still had bicycles outside in front of their door, but only half as many as five years ago and the bicycle rental shop was gone. The rooms were clean and the plastic flowers dust-free and almost authentic-looking… but there was no air-conditioning, no TV or movies to rent.
This had been a major resort area, especially in August when the heide (heather) is blooming. It is an area reserved for horseback riding, walking, bicycling and carriage rides. No cars, and as far as you can see over the rolling hills, there is heather and the Wachholder trees! But the heather looked dried up with lots of grey/brown grass interspersed within it.
The shepherds herding the sheep with their dogs are gone, and the herds of sheep grazing and making baaing sounds stilled forever. Without those sheep and their shepherds this idyllic scene, with the straw-thatched sheep barns, looks empty and forlorn. We bicycled, and my eyes missed what from my childhood was my solace: the fields of lilac hue right up to the dark tree-line on the horizon.
In our seminars I speak of what character traits innkeepers need to embrace, one of them being an “ambassador” to your area. We need to be aware of what we need to protect to keep our area vital and healthy, and attract forever that newer guest. The bicycle paths were well maintained, but the area lost its appeal for the newer generation; the rooms clean, but empty, had none of the amenities vital to attract the latest successful group of inn-goers.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Sylvia and Gary Muller, of the Mill House Inn in East Hampton, N.Y. Look at what amenities they offer their guests; what gracious hospitality and generosity. I knew when they bought their property what it offered for their guests then! Their occupancy is very high and their prices for the rooms are to be envied. They stay abreast by continuously upgrading their rooms as well as providing the latest, most ingenious service.
I am glad to be home, though I miss sharing my room with my grandchildren and hearing them talk in their sleep. I love our woods – they are well protected in a forest management program to stay healthy, growing oak, pine and maple trees galore!
Best to you all, fall is just around the corner!