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Best Travel Deals? The Truth About Booking Engines

March 28th, 2017 by Antonio

    Are you getting the best travel deals by booking thru online booking  engines (OTA’s)? Or are you losing options because the travel industry is being gobbled up by key players like Expedia, Sabre (the booking engine for American Airlines) and other large players, not unlike the Walmart experience in the 1980’s and 90’s?  What does that mean to you as a traveling guest? Since travel statistics tell us we shop 4-6 sites before we then book online, is the ease of using a large booking engine like Expedia or Travelocity costing me?   The answer to that could be, maybe.  Maybe more than you understand.

 couple having fun getawayHistory of Travel Websites

    The last couple of years have seen lots of consolidations and mergers.  Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor are trying to find ways to make their free websites money makers.  Besides having to deal with maddening ads on our emails and other places that were once free, many of us are beginning to find out there really is “no free lunch”.  So what’s the back story?

          In the last year or so, Expedia has bought up several smaller players,, Homeaway (which had mainly dealt with vacation rentals), Rezovation, which was one of the several small lodging system reservation softwares and was previously purchased by HomeAway.  Sabre, (one of the top systems used by travel agents), recently bought InnLink, one of several channel managers (the software companies that  allows properties to connect to travel agents).  In addition, Expedia had long owned Travelocity, Hotwire,, Orbitz and probably a few others.  Priceline owns Booking .com.    All in all, that looks like a pretty decent growing monopoly.

Bill McGee, contributing editor to Consumer Reports, in a 2015 article for USA Today wrote ” …there’s a long history of consumers not benefitting from mergers and acquisitions. And in most industries, customers are best served when competitors fight fiercely to please them, not link arms as siblings. Gobbling up the competition may help a parent company’s bottom line, but it weakens the marketplace for consumers”.

Changes Affecting The Bottom Line

        Small boutique hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts have only recently had the opportunity to be recognized on the large travel search engines.  And previously, with the introduction of the internet, these small properties could easily be seen thru their websites and compete head to head.  But with the advent of paid positioning, large companies like Expedia and Priceline can again knock out the presence of smaller properties.  To be seen, these small properties are forced to be on the large travel sites, at a cost of somewhere between 15-20% of their revenue when booked thru the OTA’s (online travel agencies) .

         The original thought was that the exposure to much larger sites and more people would increase occupancy allowing for the best travel deals, but the fact for most smaller properties, already offering many more amenities and usually at a lower price than hotels, (such as: free gourmet breakfasts, free wifi, free parking, free snacks, complimentary wine, jacuzzi’s, free VCR movies, and concierge service, just to name a few), is that their bottom line is decreasing due to the middle man.  Many have already cut as much as they can and now are beginning to raise rates.  So who bears the brunt of this, as the OTA’s offer their “best travel deals” and take their bite out of the middle; the traveling public.  

What is the Solution?

     The solution, since most people check several sites before they book a specific property:   check the actual website of the property you’re interested in before you book and look for special offers that reduce price, amenities that are offered when booked directly that are not offered anywhere else.  Properties that are on top of their game are offering more if you book directly and allow booking right on line, taking credit cards as larger properties do.  

     Supporting small business in America, in the words of our newest President, will  “make America great again”.  But this act doesn’t require anything but a desire to get the best travel deal that’s available and a realization that there really is “no free lunch”.  Businesses who consistently sell less than their bottom line won’t be around for very long, and that hurts us all.  And most of us are more interested in a good experience, although none of us want to pay more than we have too. 

The Best Travel Deal?

What if B&B's hotel package??


So what can savvy customers do to make sure they get the best deal?  Do your shopping online, then book the property directly.  Make sure you’re actually on the individual properties website.  OTA’s are working to fool you online into thinking they are the actual property.  Individual properties offer travel specials not available on OTA’s.   For an example of the discounts properties offer directly, check out the rooms at the Empress.

The Pot of Gold

     You’ll win by getting more bang for your buck, they’ll win, keeping their bottom line down and at home, the industry wins since competition will give us all more choices.  Buy local, buy small business, buy American!  What could be more American, except maybe applie pie!!

Special credit goes to Stephen and Keegan at Q4Launch Marketing for their expertise and help.

Sharon Welch-Blair has been an innkeeper, inn-owner for 23 years and seen amazing changes from the internet to mobile booking.  She is also a Financial Planner and Investment Advisor and owns her own business “Empire Financial Architects” for 30 years. She holds two degrees from the American College of Insurance and Financial Planning.  Contact Sharon directly at  



The Phantom of the Opera Haunting Little Rock

February 16th, 2017 by Antonio

Legendary musical, The Phantom of the Opera comes to Little Rock!  The two week run begins March 8. The all new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award winning show is being brought to life again by producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh. It is described as an updated version, retaining original elements of music, script, and lyrics. This is the first full scale production of The Phantom of the Opera to appear in Arkansas.

In addition to his association with The Phantom of the Opera, Sir Mackintosh has produced shows such as Les Miserables and Cats. The original London production of  Phantom opened in 1986. It is still running- along with the New York production- making it the longest running Broadway musical of all time.

This show is the first of the Broadway season for Celebrity Attractions. It will be presented in the redesigned Robinson Center. The Little Rock landmark auditorium underwent a 70 million dollar renovation last year, and re-opened in November, calling it’s rebirth “The Second Act”.  Larger touring productions such as The Phantom of the Opera, often require better and more advanced facilities than the previous building allowed. The new accommodations provide more backstage and stage area, as well as a relocated loading dock. 

The Show

The Phantom of the Opera is a musical featuring well known standards such as “Think of Me” and “All I Ask of You”. The story involves a young soprano at the Palais Garnier. She insists that her musical ability comes from an “Angel of Music”. It is a love story between the beautiful Christine and her famed, disfigured phantom who lives in an underground labyrinth.

The new production features Tony Award winning costume and lighting design. The show contains many special effects including the show’s notable chandelier.

Great seats are still available for all performance times. Please note that the show may not be suitable for younger children. 



Stepping Out on a Ledge with Empress Reviews to Inform Future Guests

February 7th, 2017 by Antonio

outside shot of The Empress of Little Rock Bed and Breakfast

The Empress of Little Rock (photo by Nancy Nolan)

When you have been in business for 23 years, you learn to accept that you will never be all things to all people. Fortunately for us, our Empress reviews more often than not have been positive,  and our guests manage to capture our best side.  We rely on Empress reviews to help us improve and also to inform future guests; we learn what works and what doesn’t, and we always want to be better. Empress reviews always teach us something about how  travelers expectations are changing and how we can not only meet, but exceed their expectations.  

Statistics show that 80% of people read 6-12 reviews before booking a hotel on-line. Many of these reviews come from places like Tripadvisor or  We often respond to our reviewers- whether positive or negative, but since reviews are usually posted after their stay, we never have the opportunity to thank them publicly. Below are excerpts from some of our most recent reviews. These reviews embody everything that we at The Empress want to convey to our first time guests, our third time guests and future guests that haven’t booked yet.  Thank each of you that did us the courtesy of understanding how we may serve  you better!

“An Unexpected Pleasure!” 

posted by Mike_St_Christopher 

“I found myself reluctant to leave! So after I checked out at the front desk, I had a great conversation with the innkeeper who told me a lot about the history of the mansion, and then–even though I had a 3 hour drive ahead of me, I chose to sit in one of the three sitting rooms downstairs and take in the beauty of the place. Later, I photographed some of the interior spaces and then I walked the grounds, photographed the exterior, and admired the wonderful flowers that were everywhere. I have NEVER before felt a desire to hang around after checking out of a place.”

“Absolutely Charming and Romantic”

posted by Claire C

“In the morning, we were blown away by the breakfast. It was the best breakfast I have had at a B&B-very European-inspired, and two courses! The owner, Bob, was our server, and he kept the coffee filled constantly!”

“Stay in The Murray Room”

posted by Kathryn V

“Finding this B&B on my corporate travel was intriguing…The property was massive, beautiful and very well maintained.”

“Fabulous step back in time- The Empress is quite a lady”

posted by 837bonnief

“We found out that there is a turret room on the 3rd floor-that may supposedly have a ghost-we went up the stairs, walked through the attic to see it. How fun…We padded around in pajamas looking at all the antiques.” 

“Even though the house is old and decorated in antiques, it is modern in the comforts we look for- great showers and wi-fi!”


“SPOIL ALERT: If you love surprises, don’t read this!”

posted by arkansawtraveller

“A stay at The Empress is the only way Little Rock and its southern charm should be experienced. It is a cultural adventure you should not miss, whether you live outside the state or within it.”

Bedroom at The Empress of Little Rock

Murray Room (photo taken by Ottho Heldring)

Empress Reviews Don’t Lie!

If the reviews above didn’t convince you to stay with us, maybe our accolades will. The Empress was rated #4 Most Romantic in the United States and continues to strive to be your favorite getaway.  


Here Comes the Bride! Bridal Trends for 2017

January 29th, 2017 by Antonio

  December is statistically the most popular month for proposals in the United States. With an average engagement period of 16 months, this makes Spring and Summer prime time for nuptials! Below are some of the hottest bridal trends you’ll see in 2017.

Vintage Glamour

According to multiple online sites like and, “Vintage Glamour” remains an overwhelming favorite of brides when it comes to the style they want to convey. Classic with a few funky details is the trend of the moment and is reflected in everything from the invites to the exit.  

Before You Say I DO! 

Brides are opting for smaller, intimate settings which may limit their guest list. The advantage of a paired down crowd is that brides are free to spend the extra cash on surprise settings or destination weddings. Decide which is more important- your Uncle Eddie seeing you walk down the aisle or your nearest and dearest having a great time in a fabulous location? 

Pretty in Pink?

The colors a bride chooses can say a lot about her personality and her style. Blush has always been a classic and continues to be a steady bridal trend, but neautral tones and metallics are also very chic. Wedding coordinators are also encouraging the mixing of eclectic patterns. 

Flower Power

Colors are not the only things changing in the brides bouquet. There is a move to more organic arrangements and hanging centerpieces. Bridal trends always include peonies and other soft petal blooms, but succulents are gaining popularity. Hanging centerpieces that include flowers, ribbons or natural materials like tree limbs and leaves are all the rage. Pinterest has thousands of ideas perfect for DIY brides!

Let Them Eat Cake!

Deciding whether or not to have food or drink and what kinds can send a bride into a panic. Depending on what time the nuptials take place, you may need to serve a more substantial meal. There are as many options for food as there are flavors of ice cream. Planning ahead can take the stress out of the decision. First, make sure your venue doesn’t have restrictions on outside catering. Once you know the rules (and your budget) the sky is the limit. Bridal trends for 2017 lean towards multiple food stations and interactive options such as food trucks or varied dessert tables. If you plan to serve only cake because of budget restraints or time of day, serve a cocktail alongside such as the classic moscow mule. Like bouquets, cakes are returning to a more “naked” approach with multiple tiers set upon each other. Cakes are appearing non iced or topped with simple fruit or blooms. 

It’s All in the Details

There are plenty of ways to insert your personality into your wedding ceremony, but providing your guests with a great experience tops the list of priorities for new brides. Photo booths offer guests a chance to be interactive and some will even text the content straight to a smart phone which makes sharing the day easier. Drones allow brides to catch those shots from more creative angles. 

Whether it’s your first time to be a bride or your third, it’s YOUR DAY! Make decisions that don’t just make pretty pictures, but beautiful memories!







Resolve to Travel in 2017 with These Easy Tips!

January 11th, 2017 by Antonio

According to recent statistics, at least 15% of people nationwide resolved to travel more in 2017. Spontaneous travel can be difficult for many reasons, but most obstacles are easily overcome. Below are the top three excuses people don’t travel and ways to combat these issues so you can succeed in your travel resolution long after January.

Too Expensive

Arkansas roadways show off their fall color in Packages from The Empress of Little Rock

On the road in Arkansas

Any time you travel there will be expenses involved to get from point A to B, but getting creative and thinking outside the box can help you save. You might not stay at a 4-star hotel each night or dine in a Michelin Star restaurant, but you may discover that a budget friendly trip allows you to really immerse yourself in the “local” experience.

*Stay in a hostel instead of a hotel. You may give up some privacy, but you will be too busy experiencing your destination with all of the money you saved to notice.

*Do your homework! The internet has a vast array of data that can be gathered and compared in a matter of minutes. It can be a daunting task, but if you shop around for the best prices, you can really save. Many hotels give significant discounts for students or other groups. It also helps to sign up for their loyalty programs which costs nothing but a moment of your time. The same advice goes for airfare and attractions.

*Save on airfare by not checking baggage. Baggage fees can be outrageous. Do your back and your wallet a favor and pack lightly.

*Cook your own food. Restaurant tabs add up quickly. Hostels typically have shared common space with a kitchen, or you could find a small space with a kitchenette. Every town has a local grocery!


No Time to Travel

Another excuse people commonly use to break their travel resolution is the myth that they don’t have enough time. We are busy people with kids and pets and jobs and projects. However, most of us get at least a weekend off. Try not to think of travel as being a week long excursion. It doesn’t have to be long or far away.

*Be a weekend warrior! Travel close to home can happen quickly and cheaply. Almost everyone has things to do in their town that they have never had the opportunity to experience- whether that is an art museum or a restaurant you’ve really been meaning to try. Take a look at your area calendar which always features the best local events. Many of these are even FREE!

*Make a check list of places you want to go this year. Be conscious of the time you spend doing things other than traveling. Sure, the newest Netflix series looks enticing, but you have a travel resolution to keep!


I Have Kids so I Don’t Travel

Traveling with children was once unheard of. You needed a pack-n-play, a mini van and a never ending supply of chicken nuggets for your picky eaters. No longer! The travel industry has modified it’s age old policies made exclusively for those over the legal drinking age. Now most front desks supply in room cribs or a roll away at a very nominal fee- if there is one at all. Menus have kid friendly options and even Amtrak offers “family bedrooms” available on their Superliners. Whatever your reasons for not traveling with kids, options are available.

*Visit all inclusive resorts. Children eat. A lot. Plenty of family friendly resorts offer all inclusive packages that spring for your meals. If that option is too expensive see the first list in this post.

*Do more “living” rather than “vacationing”. There are plenty of family travel blogs to follow for great advice. This one is a phenomenal blog from a family with six kids that has been to 13 countries! What is your excuse now?

Your Travel Resolutionhd-area

Do it today. Do it now. Repeat after me:

I commit to making travel (with my family or without) a priority this year. I will do my homework to make travel more affordable and be more conscious of where my “travel time” is being spent. I will be a weekend warrior and stay at my local bed and breakfast or hostel and visit that Presidential library that I have been meaning to explore. I will never use my children as an excuse not to see the world. I will check SOMEPLACE off the list in 2017!




How to Host a New Year’s Eve Dinner Party

December 29th, 2016 by Antonio

Vista Red vintage dinner plates New Year's Eve dinner party

Vintage dinner plates

Preparing for a formal dinner party, like those of ‘Downton Abbey’, can be a massive undertaking, especially if it is a holiday or event that requires extra preparations to make the evening special. At The Empress of Little Rock, we begin preparing for our New Year’s Eve dinner party months ahead!

Holiday dining room decor at The Empress

The Empress table decked out in her holiday best!

Attention to detail is key when setting a formal dining table. Selecting the perfect china and making sure each utensil is in the proper position can be a chore, but is easily tackled by remembering just a simple rule. Place utensils in the order of use from the outside to the inside. You can also add personal touches to your table such as Christmas crackers or noise makers for a New Year’s Eve dinner party.

Our menu is narrowed from hundreds of gourmet recipes in our repertoire. It is important to choose dishes that offer a variety of flavors and textures. They should be appealing to each of the senses. This year we have chosen four courses and a sorbet that will act as a palate cleanser between the soup and salad. We will begin with Victoria and Albert’s Leek and Brie Cream Soup followed by a rosewater sorbet. The soup recipe can be found below.

The main dish will be Quail in Pear Halves with a Brandy Cream Sauce. Roasted baby carrots and a unique parsnip puree will round
out the entree.

The wines have been selected by the house Sommelier to complement each dish. Guests will explore regions of Spain, France and Italy with our 2016 selections.

A New Year’s Eve dinner party is not complete without dessert! Our Tangerine Tart topped with slivered almonds, fresh cream, and candied peel will be sure to delight!

Victoria and Albert’s Leek and Brie Cream Soup
 2 cups chopped leeks (white & tender green portions)place-setting-template
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1/2 cup vermouth
2 cups peeled, cubed new potatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
White pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cubed Brie (rind removed)
1/2 cup lightly packed, stemmed spinach
Sour cream and milk for garnish
Cinnamon basil for garnish
1) In large saucepan, saute leeks, celery, shallots, and garlic in clarified butter until soft.
2) Add vermouth. Boil gently until reduced by half.
3) Add new potatoes, thyme, white pepper to taste, chicken stock, and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add Brie, 1 cube at a time, whisking until blended after each addition.
4) Boil gently for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
5) Pour 1/3 of the soup into blender container. Add 1/3 of the spinach . Puree until smooth. Repeat with remaining soup and spinach in 2 batches.
6) Ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with swirls of sour cream thinned to a drizzling consistency with a little milk.
7) Trim plates with sprigs of cinnamon basil.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings



Holiday Decor Delights Little Rock Guests

December 9th, 2016 by Antonio

The elves at Thxmastreenotraine Empress of Little Rock have been working so hard to get each and every ornament and wreath in place for the Christmas season. We have trimmed every tree (all 10!) and tied each bow to bring our guests the most exquisite display of holiday decor in Little Rock.

Each Piece Uniquezachjessxmasoval-christmas

Much care has been taken to preserve the historic integrity of The Empress at Christmas. Each of our unique pieces tell a story of long forgotten traditions. It is a place of live boughs of greens and handmade ornaments and where tiny candles still light the tree. A white wire tree filled with Victorian mementos sits atop our square Steinway in the Ladies’ Parlor. During our ‘Downton Abbey’ New Year’s Eve Wine and Dinner Dance this room is filled with the sounds of live musicians, the clank of wine glasses and the rushing of ball gowns as they waltz away the evening!whirewiretreexmas

In addition to our trees, we have a beautiful Nativity Dining room,The Empress of Little Rockscene, two handmade kissing balls, our authentic 1800’s wooden sleigh, and countless other wonders for the eye. Each mantle is decked in greenery and hung with stockings. It is the “most wonderful time of the year”!

Tours Available Now!

Explore the Empress in her holiday splendor! There are surprises around every corner. Learn the complete history of the Hornibrook mansion- from its completion in 1888 to its present day restoration. Holiday tours are $12.50 per person and are daily at 11:30 AM and 3:00 PM. Reservations are not necessary for groups fewer than

Our holiday decor is not the only reason to visit The Empress. We have plenty of seasonal packages available year round!kershxmas


Holiday Events at The Empress on KATV this Saturday

November 22nd, 2016 by Antonio

The Empress of Little Rock in Christmas Snow

The Empress looks beautiful draped in Christmas snow and boughs of holly!

We are decking the halls for the holidays at The Empress!  Next week, the owner of The Empress,  Sharon Welch-Blair will be visiting with the morning crew on KATV Channel 7.  The segment will air after Thanksgiving on the Saturday morning show. Sharon will talk about all of The Empress’ holiday plans including the 2nd annual Christmas Grand High Tea and our New Year’s Eve  bash. She’ll be making our delicious tea blend on air and showing off our new teapots! See our tea recipe below and be sure to watch!

white teapot with burgundy Empress logo

Empress teapots make great holiday gifts for the tea lover in your life. They retail for just $29.99.

wooden sleigh on porch of Empress

Our 1860’s wooden sleigh is the pride of the porch during the holiday season!

The Christmas Grand High Tea is the public’s first opportunity to see The Empress in her finest holiday garb. We use only quality Douglas and mixed fir wreaths and boughs. The Empress staff spends three days making sure each of our decorations are sure to delight. One item that continues to wow our guests is our fully restored wooden sleigh. Hand made and painted in the 1860’s, our sleigh has all it’s original parts. It also includes the red, hand-tufted velvet driver’s seat and cushions. The sleigh has been used in many local parades.

Book Now

Start the new year off in luxury! We still have a few rooms available for New Year’s Eve. We have been throwing the classiest New Year’s Eve bash in town for quite some time, and this year will be no exception! Come dressed in your furs and tuxedos and relax in our formal dining room while the house chef prepares a four course offering-each paired with a unique libation! After dinner, retire to the parlors where pianist Jeff Long will entertain guests with his large repertoire of musical selections. You’ll keep dancing until the champagne toast at midnight! Call us today!

Empress Special Tea

2 1/2 quarts water (4 cups =  1 quart)

7 raspberry zinger tea bags

2 cinnamon sticks

4-6 cloves

4 slices orange

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

Place all dry ingredients into water and bring to boil. Continue boiling for 30 minutes

Reduce heat and cover. Simmer ingredients for approximately 2 hours

Pour tea through strainer to remove dry ingredients

Serve and enjoy!



13 Places in Arkansas ‘Made of Dreams’

November 9th, 2016 by Antonio

We’ve all been scrolling through our news feed on Facebook when suddenly we come across one of those lists. The lists that you just have to click through because they have a catchy headline that entices you. One such producer of those lists is BuzzFeed. Anyone can post a “list” on BuzzFeed. Their help section suggests posting “cool, funny, interesting stuff that you’ve found online or made yourself that you think has a strong chance of going viral and being shared by other people.” One such list posted recently by Arkansas State Tourism  features 13 places in Arkansas that are “made of dreams”. The Empress of Little Rock is #6!

The list claims that The Empress is both rustic and elegant and could be mistaken for a Yorkshire Estate! While our story doesn’t date back to ‘Merry Old England’, we do have quite a distinguished history!

We certainly appreciate the shout out-particularly with so much competition in our beautiful state!

So What’s on The List?

 yurt overlooking fall foliageNumber one on the list was the new Yurts available for rental at Petit Jean State Park. Yurts are for people who want the experience of being outdoors in a tent, but need more space and to feel like they have a solid roof above- think tepee. The yurts are round, high walled tents with electricity, screened windows, and doors with locks. The ones at Petit Jean can sleep up to six people but yurts vary in size. At only $55 per night, they are an unbeatable bargain!

Places in Arkansas: The Crescent Hotel in background with fall foliage and trolley in front

Another amazing location is Eureka Springs which is home to the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa. Like The Empress, this house has a haunted legacy. You can read more about The Crescent Hotel  and other places in Arkansas on their blog. If you haven’t visited Arkansas, Autumn is one of the best times! Check out the rest of the list to plan your stay.

The Empress offers plenty of seasonal packages that you can see here! We hope to see you in each of these Arkansas treasures soon!

Robinson Center Debuts Second Act

November 5th, 2016 by Antonio

Amidst the Great Depression, the Public Works Administration sought and gained approval (and funds) for what would become one of Little Rock’s most beloved landmarks. Construction of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in December of 1937 and was completed in January of 1940. Known as the Robinson Center Music Hall since 1973, the auditorium is home to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and hosts countless acts each year. The doors officially closed on July 1, 2014 to begin a $70M renovation project. With the ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled just days away on November 10, Little Rock residents can’t wait to see what improvements have been made!

Looking Toward the Future

robinsonAccording to the Robinson Center Facebook page, much of the outside structure has remained the same, while the inside has a complete makeover. Many are excited to see the new lobby. The older facilities were not equipped to handle the number of guests that visit the center. The new addition will not just be large, but beautiful. It includes a glass lobby that overlooks the river as seen in the rendition below. 
computer generated rendition of new Robinson center with glass lobby overlooking the river.
A complete list of the upcoming season events, beginning with the ASO, can be found here on the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau homepage.

Much excitement is in store for visitors to Robinson’s ‘Second Act’ including Elf: The Musical, the Moscow Ballet and Eagle’s artist Don Henley.

Other notable performers from the hall’s past include Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Mae West and Louis Armstrong. With such a strong history and an anticipated bright future, Robinson Center should continue to foster a love of the arts in Little Rock and build a legacy of pride for the downtown area.