Jun. 29—PLATTE — Donna Travis was recently visited by a mother and her daughter on their cross-country trip from Virginia to Alaska.
The two were driving home to Anchorage following the daughter's college graduation, but decided to keep off the interstate in an effort to see the sights. That's when they booked a stay at Molly's Manor in Platte.
Molly's Manor, owned and operated by Travis, is just one of South Dakota's 328 bed and breakfasts, offering guests an alternative lodging experience often enriched by historic houses and typically located in smaller towns.
Despite a global pandemic disrupting travel, some bed and breakfasts in South Dakota actually saw an increase in business in 2020, and are holding even higher expectations for the remainder of 2021.
Platte bed and breakfast thriving
Molly's Manor was originally built as a private home in 1918 and owned by a doctor and a nurse in the 1930s. Travis, a realtor in the area, purchased the property and renovated it into a bed and breakfast, which opened in 2010. The home now has two bedrooms, a family suite and an apartment suite.
Travis believes that the smaller environment of a privately owned bed and breakfast offered a different comfort value for guests than large hotels.
"The idea that they could stay in a small B&B instead of a large hotel with a lot of people" helped drive business to Molly's Manor, Travis said. "I'm on site, but out of sight, so the guests can just enjoy the bed and breakfast."
Plus, her small-town location and proximity to the Missouri River offered guests plenty of outdoor, socially distanced recreation.
"(Guests) could take their boats down to the river and fish," Travis said. "I think it was the idea that they could social distance and be in a safe, clean environment."
Data from South Dakota Department of Tourism shows that while airport arrivals in 2020 were down significantly, travel to the state from 10 key Midwestern markets plus the Denver area increased 35%.
"I had the busiest spring and summer last year that I've ever had," Travis said. "People felt that this area was a good choice because they could drive here rather than fly."
Travis said 2020 initially presented itself as bleak, but after seeing business take off, she hopes to see travel to the state and the Platte area continue to increase.
Tabor venue looking forward
The Cogan House — a bed and breakfast, RV park, hunting lodge and events venue — sits on a bluff over the Missouri River between Springfield and Tabor. Greg and Holly McCann, the owner and property manager, respectively, said business was "OK" in 2020, but that they hold a good outlook for the future.
As CDC guidelines surrounding the pandemic tightened, events held at the Cogan House had to change.
"We had a lot more weddings booked in 2020 that got either rescheduled or canceled altogether because they decided to do something a lot smaller," Holly said. Larger hunting groups also had to cancel their stays.
Holly said the travelers coming through the Cogan House are typically from the region, coming from nearby parts of Nebraska or Iowa, and even from all across South Dakota. The proximity of their guests gave them a boost in weekend getaways when other businesses dropped.
"I'm getting a lot of last-minute type of reservations," Holly said. "People are kind of just slowly testing where they can go and what they can do."
Holly said quick weekend getaways have made up many of their bookings over the past year, adding that many smaller hunting groups of fewer than six moved ahead with their plans anyway, as they typically are out in nature by themselves.
As COVID cases continue to trend downward, the Cogan House has been fielding more calls to schedule, or reschedule, events at one of the property's many indoor and outdoor venues.
"It appears that business is picking up, and Holly's getting quite a lot of calls," Greg said. "We're looking at a number of events."
While holidays are currently booked, Holly and Greg look to continue filling openings for the rest this year and next.
An experience so nice, guests do it twice
Both the Cogan House and Molly's Manor are listed on various travel websites, giving potential guests plenty of resources to plan their stays in South Dakota.
"South Dakota has a lot to offer for people that want to see a variety of land," Greg said. "If we can provide a good place for people to go as they're coming into South Dakota or leaving South Dakota, I think they would be well pleased with that."
Both bed and breakfasts average five-star reviews on Google, with most guests raving about the properties and promising to return.
"The owner(s) will make or break any B&B and in the case of Molly's Manor, 5 star excellence!! We look forward to coming back sometime soon," one guest said in his review of Molly's Manor.
A similar review of the Cogan House reads "What an absolute wonderful facility with a breathtaking view of Lewis and Clark Lake. The hunters that we had that stayed there and our guides absolutely loved our time there."
Tourism metrics reported by the state for 2021 such as airport arrivals, visitor spending and hotel room nights are currently outpacing numbers from 2019, signaling a good outlook for the year, so far.