Bardstown’s Hotel and Motel Dilemma – A Buzzard’s Road Kill or An Angel’s Gourmet Delight
Posted September 13th, 2013 in Bardstown and tagged , , , , by Rick Hill


I recently hosted eight young couples who were visiting Bardstown from various places around the country.  They were employed in the financial, fashion, medical, legal, internet, and retail industries.  The average household income of the group was significant but not unlike many similar gatherings that occur throughout the town on a regular basis.


Over dinner the conversation turned to the upcoming bourbon festival, held annually in Bardstown each September attracting upwards of 50,000 people.   Interest was expressed in returning to Bardstown with friends, co-workers, and clients during the Bourbon Festival in subsequent years.  But, the prevailing question was: “where would we stay?” This was particularly relevant since this group had experienced their own problems finding acceptable accommodations in town.  Some settled for the last couple of rooms in a quality-for-the-money 3 star national chain, one roughed it in a B & B, and others ended-up on air mattresses on floors and flopping on the living room sofa rather than subjecting themselves to the remaining alternatives of “outdated, musty, worn-out, and transient shelters.”

Bardstown has 8 to 10 hotels and motels, a few bed & breakfast establishments, and two camp grounds.  Most of the town’s hotels fall in the 2-3 star category but nothing close to a four star hotel, let alone above.


A recent hotel study for Bardstown, found no support for a larger quality hotel with a supporting convention center.  But, these types of studies tend to be backward looking based on the conditions of the local hotel industry.  Data on existing occupancy and revenue per room provide limited data on how more upscale visitors would respond to a better quality product.  Using current data to project the success of a quality hotel is like looking at hovering buzzards on Gilkey Run Road examining last night’s road kill and trying to project the market for gourmet dining.  To be fair, the hotel study did call for a small boutique hotel in downtown, maybe around 35 rooms or so.


The participants in my small focus group have enjoyed luxury accommodations at various points in their lives.  More importantly, under the theory of three degrees of separation, they are all directly connected or once removed from entertainers, fashion designers, bestselling authors, industry icons, world renowned scientists, and more.  The point – they all want to come back and bring their friends and I am sure many others would like to do the same.  But where would they stay?


Potential Solutions:


– Update the town’s iconic motels to the way they were.  Restore their mid-century modern neon marques.  Add back the pastel colored metal lawn chairs on the front sidewalks.  Restore the jewel box swimming pools and add hot tubs and add small cabanas.  Show nightly movies which can be viewed from inner-tube seating in the pool. Make the hotels hip vintage with chenille bedspreads, high quality linens, decorative postcard pillows, polished linoleum flooring, colorful throw rugs, fun curtains, and fiesta pottery.  Add small cafes and make them social centers.


– Use Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN; Fearrington Inn in Pittsboro, NC; and San Ysidro Ranch in San Ysidro, CA as models that show “what can be” in pursuing the boutique hotel.


– Create temporary hotel rooms.  Think vintage airstreams, lavish rock-star motor coaches, and luxury tents.  To be more specific:  A luxury bourbon safari camp of canvas tents in the shabby chic style, with hardwood floors, piped-in air-conditioning, hot showers and toilets, antique iron beds with fine linens and quilts, and high levels of service with on-site gourmet cooking by chef’s flown in for special events and nightly entertainment will become the ultimate brand showcases.  Nestle these luxury camps between the local distilleries where guests will enjoy the early morning aromas of the Angel’s Share flowing from the nearby bourbon warehouses and the influentials needed to sustain and grown an upscale tourism industry will follow.


And your suggestions?


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