A tiny cottage in New Market is officially the most requested Airbnb in all of Alabama, and its popularity shows a major component Huntsville and Madison County are lacking when it comes to tourism - destination hotels. These are hotels and resorts that are considered an overall part of the travel experience, not simply a place to stay. The Cottage of Winchester Manor belongs to Bethany and Whitney Dean, a young couple who turned a 350 square foot cottage on their property into a true destination for travelers and those looking for a staycation as well.
"We've had people come from all over," Bethany Dean told WAAY 31. " People from Germany, China, and then we get people from Madison and Huntsville who want something unique."
Her husband, Whitney, explained some of the features that he believes are driving the incredible demand for the house. "When you walk in here you walk on a 100-years-old floor - in a building rumored to be one of the first post offices in north Alabama, and who knows what else?"
Charles Winters with the Huntsville-Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau said there are currently 6,700 hotel rooms in Madison County with plans to add another 1,000 in the coming years. Those include two hotels which will fill the destination hotel market.
One is a Margaritaville resort planned for the new Town Madison development off I-565 in Madison. Founded by Jimmy Buffet, Margaritaville hotels and resorts come with a signature beach theme. They are currently located throughout the southeast and Caribbean. The chain plans to expand into the northeast with a location under construction in New York City.
The other hotel is called 106 Jefferson. This is a boutique-style hotel with just 117 rooms. It'll be located in downtown Huntsville and feature upscale dining and a rooftop bar. It is part of a group of specialty hotels owned by Hilton which are spread across the country. They currently operate locations in Birmingham and Mobile.
"The addition of new lodging broadens our base and makes it easier to market Huntsville as a destination," said Winters.
However, niether hotel is expected to open until 2020. It gives the Deans plenty of time to expand their Airbnb business while simultaneously revitalizing downtown New Market.
"We have four main locations. The old greenhouse we've converted. People are pleased to visit and have a unique experience you'd never have at the Hyatt," said Whitney.
As for reservations at the The Cottage at Winchester Manor, those hoping to book need to plan ahead. Bethany said the cottage is typically booked up weeks in advance.