Inn Consultants and Brokers Since 1993

Rick Wolf and Peter Scherman (that’s Rick on the left and Peter on the right) are both experienced speakers who have presented on a range of innkeeping related topics at the state, regional, and national level. They gather and analyze research for the Innkeeping industry and welcome the opportunity to share it with others. Contact Us

The B&B Team
 

Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

B&B Website Design — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

July 27th, 2010 by Peter Scherman

by Kit Cassingham, The B&B Lady

You know it when you see it and use it, but what is it about a bed and breakfast website that makes it good? Your website is an imperative B&B marketing tool. The quality of the website creates the first impression of your inn and hospitality; it sets the tone for the guest experience.

The beauty of a website, though it can be the curse too, is the additional options websites offer in their design and execution. Websites should be designed for search engines as much as for people. Search engines index websites so that people can find them. If the site isn’t search engine “friendly”, it’s effectively not available to people, at least not without their prior awareness of the site.

Is your website categorized as ugly, bad or good?

THE UGLY:

An ugly site is one that is hard to use and doesn’t take advantage of technology’s advances for either human interface or search engine activity. It’s badly written, badly designed, and ineffective.

One of the best examples of an ugly site is one that is structured of a long continuous page rather than a collection of small, focused pages, forcing people to scroll up and down to find information. This kind of site is ugly because it’s not search engine friendly and specific information can’t be book-marked by people.

Words tell stories. Make sure you tell the right story by choosing your words well, editing and polishing them before going “live” with your site. An ugly site is filled with typos and grammatical errors, and the writing is uninspiring. The “guest experience” isn’t successfully shared, leaving it to everyone’s imagination — not what you want to convey as your inn’s story.

An ugly site usually has hidden contact information, making it difficult for potential guests to reach you with questions, or make reservations. And often visitors are forced to make contact via telephone rather than email. Match the technologies and give your site’s visitors options, especially making sure your email address is available.

On an ugly site, pictures are badly reproduced or utilized, if they are used at all. What a shame to not show people what you have to offer. Pictures can help sell your bed and breakfast inn as the place to stay. The lack of any artwork or ornamentation to break up the text is hard on visitors’ eyes, encouraging them to leave rather than browse your site.

One thing that makes a site ugly is a “virtual tour” with sound that starts automatically. Technology and its advancements are good, but shouldn’t be forced on unsuspecting visitors. People visiting your site may be on a slow dial-up connection, or may be trying to book a holiday from work and don’t need to have sound suddenly emanating from their computer.

The domain name of an ugly site is long, tedious, and unmemorable, like “some-domain.com/your-state/your-town/business/~your-inn.html”. Your search engine placement isn’t ranked as high, meaning people won’t find you as readily. Furthermore, you are promoting other businesses over yours when you don’t have your own domain name. Why would you do that? It can’t be price because domain names are inexpensive, and are usually considered synonymous with your name, so choose it carefully. Inn owners are in the people business, so cater to people’s needs for simplicity and have a user-friendly domain name, like “yourinn.com”.

Site navigation is how people find information on a site. In a one-page ugly site, if navigation exists at all, it takes you to the part of the page that shares the information visitors are seeking when they click a link. A multi-page ugly site navigation system is one where the navigation is so vague that visitors are challenged to find what they want. This kind of site may or may not be search engine friendly, but it’s definitely not people friendly.

An inconsistent design helps create an ugly site. The design can be plain or garish, but either way it doesn’t set the desired tone or hold visitors’ attention. An example of an inconsistent one-page site is the use of varied fonts and graphic styles, and a lack of balance or apparent design. An example of an inconsistent multi-page site is where each page has a totally different and inharmonious background, style, font, and color. These jarring aspects are hard to reconcile and make people wonder if they’ll have a jarring experience at the bed and breakfast.

THE BAD:

Sites don’t have to be ugly to be bad. What makes sites bad? They’re less polished, use technology without thought to its usefulness, are hard to navigate, and/or are slow loading.

Words that don’t help people’s understand why they should stay at your inn contribute to your website being bad. People want to know facts and feel emotions from the copy of B&B websites. The absence of facts or emotions will leave questions unanswered, which means a delayed or nonexistent reservation. Using flowery copy filled with adjectives and adverbs can be misleading and sets your guests up for disappointment, which works against your business success. The adjective “gourmet” is an example of misleading text that creates disappointment more often than not; “gourmet breakfast” is more misleading than informative. Polish your words so they tell the story you intend.

Contact information that’s difficult to find is bad design. If people can’t contact you when and how they want, they may not bother booking with you. Give people browsing your site the options of emailing, calling, and writing.

Pictures on websites that are out of focus, have badly lit subjects, or that are too high a resolution for fast loading are worse than having no photo at all. When dial-up users try to load a page, they’ll gravitate to sites that load quickly and skip those that load slowly. Pictures and graphics can also be a problem when text overlays them, making the text unintelligible if the images overpower it. Deeply colored or heavily textured backgrounds can interfere with text legibility too. How hard will you work to read website copy? Your site visitors won’t try very hard either.

A bad site design concerning virtual inn tours is one where visitors are forced to download software to view your tour. You’ll lose many of them because either they don’t want more software on their computer or they don’t want to take the time to download new software.

Long domain names like “some-domain.com/your-inn.html” (note the use of dashes between words; they make the name more legible but harder to convey while speaking) are hard for people to remember and difficult to share verbally. What people can’t remember, or write down correctly, they can’t visit. That means reduced traffic to your site, and less business. Additionally, you lose brand name power without your own domain.

Poor navigation, where the site’s layout isn’t clear, will frustrate site visitors, causing them to abandon exploration of a site. Owner’s won’t garner much business from your site if it’s difficult to use. I’ve seen beautiful looking sites with navigation I couldn’t understand, so didn’t spend much time there. On each page provide readily apparent links that take your site visitors to the desired information. The links should be obvious, clear and consistently positioned, seen as buttons or tabs in a navigation bar at any of the four edges of your page.

An inconsistent look and feel to your site detracts from visitors’ experiences and may send a message you don’t intend. A bad site’s inconsistent look isn’t as bad as an ugly site’s inconsistencies, but still incongruous enough to raise concern. Examples of what I mean by inconsistent include a hodgepodge of backgrounds through the site, illegible or varied fonts, or different colors for each page (though I have see this technique used effectively).

Using a splash page, or “Enter Here” page, is one that doesn’t tell people much about your inn, and requires they click again to enter the site. This is disrespectful of your visitors’ time. The problem with making them click again — remember, they already clicked your link to look at your site — is the more clicks people make the more likely they are to leave. Making them click repeatedly to get information they thought was one click away doesn’t give a feeling of hospitality or welcome. Splash pages also reduces your search engine effectiveness. Search engines consider the first page in the site THE most important. If you have nothing of value there, your search engine ranking will suffer. One time I was forced to click 11 before I reached the sought information. I clicked the Google link (an expected click), then the enter page (an unexpected and unnecessary click), then I clicked on room descriptions (an expected click), then clicked on room descriptions again (an unexpected, unnecessary, and annoying click), and then had to select each of the seven rooms individually to learn what I wanted (a series of unexpected clicks that by that time was very annoying). That was too many clicks and annoyance for me and my busy schedule. Few visitors will bother with 11 clicks; make information obvious and easy to find, or potential guests will go somewhere else — probably to your competitor.

Javascript and Flash programming are popular in website development, can create beautiful looking sites, but also can contribute to bad website design. One problem with them is that they aren’t search engine friendly. And another problem with Flash is that many web surfers turn Flash off, effectively wasting your efforts at creating the effects you paid for because the information is then impossible to see.

THE GOOD:

Obviously you want to avoid creating an ugly or bad site, but what makes a good one? A good site is one that is artistic, informative and well written, easily navigated, fast loading, and offers options for accessing the information available to site visitors. It’s user friendly to both people and search engines. A good site takes advantage of the ability to share photos, virtual tours, and sounds, but at the visitors’ discretion.

The words on your site convey not only the emotional connection to people, but also the facts they need to help them make their decision about booking a reservation. The use of nouns and verbs, avoiding adjectives and adverbs, creates clear, accurate copy. Addressing your market niche by describing the offered guest experience helps create a connection with those who will value your inn most.

Evident contact information shows your interest in hearing from the people browsing your site. People are busy and don’t want to dig for information when they are ready to book a reservation or to ask questions. Make it easy for them to spend their money with you. Place your contact information on each page, and have a “Contact Page” with the same information. A note about email addresses: to help minimize your spam problem, consider either a contact form for guest communications or a .gif of your address, rather than having a standard email link.

Another aspect of contact information is online reservations. I don’t mean a system whereby people email you asking if certain dates and rooms are available, but a system that lets people see availability so they can book what and when they want. A reservation is the ultimate contact.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so use pictures to speak volumes about your inn and the guest experience. Use pictures of guestrooms and common areas, of the breakfast table, views to and from the house, and guests having fun and interacting with others. Be sure to use photos that load quickly for those on slow dial-up internet connections. In consideration of slow connections, use pictures judiciously; show the cream-of-the-crop photos on appropriate pages, and give visitors the chance to see more pictures by clicking a link. Give people options of how much they learn and see so they feel they are getting what they want and need during their visit.

Inn tours have become popular and if used well are effective marketing tools. People love seeing the total picture, and a tour is gratifying. Having an optional tour, with the click of a button, lets people see more when they are ready. Tours should be easy to use, and viewable without having to download any software first.

Another technological advancement that can enhance websites is sound, speaking and music being the two most common uses of sound files on B&B websites. Allowing site visitors, at their option, to hear a description of the inn and guest experience can augment the visitors’ sense of the inn; that’s good for business.

Registering your own domain rather than using someone else’s domain for your site is also good for business because of the power of branding. Your URL should look like “myinn.com”. Your domain name is part of your marketing, so be sure it stands out.

Clear navigation makes it easier for people to find the information they want or need. Clear navigation uses “tabs”, “buttons”, or a navigation bar that directs the user to the desired content. You would want “Home”, “Rooms”, “Policies”, and “Contact Information” links, for example. Some web developers use a Site Map (available from each page) to help visitors find the information they want that might not be obvious. For example, under the “Policies” link you might place your business policies and green philosophy. That’s not an obvious placement for your environmental philosophy, so the site map provides clear navigation.

Having a consistent look and feel to your site speaks of attention to detail, quality, and care. Your guests want that in their inn experience; showing it at your site comforts them that will be their experience at your inn too.

You only have one chance at a first impression; make it good impression with your well designed and executed bed and breakfast website. Make the website an accurate reflection of your B&B inn and the hospitality you share with guests, making their experience outstanding and memorable.

Make Your Inn’s Website Great!

July 27th, 2010 by Peter Scherman

by Peter Scherman of The B&B Team

In the world of small hospitality properties, as for most small businesses, the Internet is the Great Equalizer. It has brought more democracy and more opportunity to more people in a more profound way than could have been imagined even ten short years ago.

If you own an inn or are simply looking for one to buy, the Internet is (or should be) your best friend. There are a few key elements which all good websites employ, especially in the bed & breakfast market.

Your written descriptions should be clear and inviting and cover not only the inn but the area you serve. Don’t let poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation get in the way of a wonderful property. If the written word is not your strength, get a pro to help you. You’ll find professional contractors of all kinds on www.Elance.com or www.Guru.com.

All inns simply must have wonderful photographs. Digital photography has made it easy for everyone to take a picture and post it on the web. However, “easy” and “good” are not the same. An experienced architectural photographer knows how to compose, how to light, and how to make your rooms look inviting. If you’re not a skilled photographer, hire one. But look at their portfolios and compare prices. Look at great websites of your competitors and find out who took their pictures.

Lastly, remember to have your contact information on every page of your site. Too often even lovely sites make it hard to find out how to contact the inn. If someone prints off any page of your site, they should be able to call or email you without having to go to the “Contact Us” page. Make it easy for the consumer.

With a great website, consumers will reward you with their business.

Technology for Inns … Tips for Making the Innkeeping Lifestyle a Bit Easier

July 13th, 2010 by Scott Bushnell

I received a short message from Mary and Alan Duxbury at The Carlisle Housein Carlisle, PA., and Alan offers TEN time and effort-saving tips for innkeepers.  Mary makes the best quiche in the world and I opted for a picture of the quiche instead of Alan (sorry, Alan!)  Many of Alan’s tips involve technology and how its use can be a time-saving and headache-solving alternative for some of the daily frustrations of running an inn.  Thank you, Alan…here’s your list:

    TECHNOLOGY TIP: A web-based Property Management System allows you to enter reservations from anywhere you have internet access.

    OPERATIONS TIP: Alan recommends using a credit card machine instead of an internet credit card processing service if your inn is subject to frequent power outages.  Phone lines continue to work in outages and you will still be able to do business.

    TECHNOLOGY TIP:  An iPhone or iPad-type device will give you that internet access capability. You can take reservations from the grocery store or while away from the inn without worrying about losing a booking by not getting back to your voicemail or answering machine soon enough.

    TECHNOLOGY TIPGoogle Calendar allows you to manage your daily schedule and appointments.  If you keep your calendar on Outlook, Google Calendar can be synced with your Outlook calendar.

    SECURITY (AND TECHNOLOGY) TIP: Set your wireless network to log all MAC codes and connection times of every device that connects to your service from your account.  This will identify all users on your system and will protect you if any of your users are doing illegal activity on your network (such as downloading pornography or spamming).

    TIME-SAVING (AND TECHNOLOGY) TIP: If you use company credit cards and banks (and we all do!), set it up to have them download their monthly statements directly into your financial software package.  Saves a LOT of typing!  (Call Alan on how to do that…not me!)

    MARKETING TIP: If you want to get to the top of Google search results, when selecting important keywords, ask a friend with a similar inn that is distant from you for ideas.  Local competition may not be as friendly sharing their secrets.

    TECHNOLOGY TIP: On your wireless network, ensure it is secured with a password or phrase.  You can inform your guests of the password but it also prevents the neighbors from downloading movies on your network and slowing your network to a crawl.

    TIME-SAVING TIP: If you make a cash deposit to your bank, write the name and reservation number on the deposit slip.  you will be able to query it on the internet a year later when your accountant asks where the money came from.

    MONEY-MANAGEMENT TIP: Alan recommends having THREE bank accounts.  One is your personal account for all non-business transactions.  The second is for all deposits from sales…whether credit card deposits, cash deposits, gift shop sales, everything.  This is an INTEREST-BEARING account.  The third account is for expenditures.  Transfer money from the revenue account into the expenditure account on occasion to pay the bills.  This leaves the balance of the revenue earning interest.  A side-benefit of having these two business accounts is that you will have all deposits and all expenses on SEPARATE statements at the end of the month for easy reconciling.

Thank you, Alan.  I would be interested in other innkeepers’ thoughts on any of Alan’s ideas and feel free to send me YOUR tips for making the innkeeping lifestyle and business even more wonderful and manageable.  Scott

Do You Know What the B&B Industry’s Competition is Doing?

June 11th, 2010 by Scott Bushnell

On a flight to visit an inn this past week, I was reading an article in the USA Today (June 1) containing some interesting information about the big guys…the hotels…with information that also applies to the B and B industry.  In his article “Hotels try to woo leisure travelers” Roger Yu relates some concepts of the changing travel marketplace and the evolution of the hotels (and WE should listen too!) to meet the change challenge.

First a few facts: According to D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a travel and research consulting firm:

  • Leisure travel surpassed business travel for the hotel industry in 2004
  • That gap has widened and by 2009, 54% of hotel travel volume is now leisure travel.
  • Corporate travel has been slowly declining, and “it’s not going back” according to Shifflet.
  • The Gen X (late 20’s to early 40’s) travelers are replacing the Baby Boomers and are traveling with their young families.

The hotels are watching the changing demographics and evolving to meet the new market.  To entice the leisure traveler to their properties, focus is strengthening on FAMILY travel. Marriott is:

  • Offering a Nickelodeon package to the kids with activity books and Nick bracelets
  • Toddler care packages are awaiting the arriving family with squirting bath toys, fitted crib sheets, baby shampoos and nightlights.
  • Spongebob backpacks with matching sheets and pillowcases are for sale in the gift shop.

The younger demographic is also demanding VALUE, a concept more wide-spread than just the Gen X-ers.  Homewood Suites by Hilton (typically a corporate traveler mecca has seen a 50% increase in its leisure travel this past year) is revising its free meals program, and Kimpton Hotels will give away free sangria drinks and Wii video games in the lobby this summer…something for the parents AND the kids.

So what does that have to do with US in the Bed and Breakfast Industry?

Everything, if you are ready to keep your business growing!

B and B owners often cater to only a certain slice of the traveling market.  They rely on the romance getaway, or traveling couple, typically Baby Boomers, to fill rooms.  But this AGE-SEGMENT of the traveling market is declining and we must target the NEXT generation as well…and they’re traveling with their kids. Some target the corporate traveler if the inn is fortunate enough to have several large businesses or a college within a mile or two.  But this segment is also in decline, and mid-week rooms are going to go empty.

Some ACTION Items for your Next Planning Meeting

  • Is your Inn ready for a Tune-Up? Do your rooms and bathrooms appeal to the NEW demographic of the traveling public?  Do you have Ipod docking stations, and have you replaced gramma’s old furniture with clean lines and Pottery Barn-type styling?  People want to visit museums, not stay in one.
  • Is your website ready for updating?  Anything 2 years or older is a dinosaur that won’t be found by the new search engine algorithms.  Do you have video of area attractions, or still relying on static photography of a bed?  The next generation is ultra techno-savvy and will find you in ways OTHER than your organic website, IF you embrace social media (May 7 posting) marketing and email marketing.
  • Are you still illegally restricting kids to age 12 or older?  Talk to those inns who willingly accept children and find out what they do to make the family experience memorable.
  • If all the inns in your area still restrict children, think of the ADVANTAGE you will have when they send all their family-travel referrals to you!
  • Targeting and marketing for mid-week bookings in addition to your current corporate travelers will prepare to replace those declining mid-week business guests with others…such as quilting groups, elder travel with grandkids, or scrapbookers.  I’ll bet there’s an inn in your area already capitalizing on this new trend.

The B&B Team is ready to help you with your Evolution Planning when you are finally disgusted with negative growth of your inn’s performance.  The traveling market is evolving, and we BEG each of the inns in this industry to evolve with it.  And it’s fun!  And more satisfying than watching Spongebob!

Scott

We are a Visual Society…and Your B&B Can Exploit it!

May 10th, 2010 by Scott Bushnell

Check out the statistics:
–  32% of all Internet activity is made up of Video
–  Consumers prefer video 6 to 1 over text
–  Facebook video viewers are up 2000% in the last year
–  It was discovered by Forrester Research that videos increase Search Engine Optimization on Google’s (and other search engine’s) algorithms by up to 53 times.
–  40% of Internet activity last year was on CONTENT…whereas only 20% was on search and commerce activities.

The numbers are convincing, but not surprising when you see the explosion of Social Media and technology in our industry.  These figures, presented by Stephen Schweickart, CEO of VScreen, were detailed by Stephanie Andre in an interview published in RISMedia’s April 28 Ezine.

SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH A B&B?  Everything!

Gone are the days when having a few photos on your website was all you needed.  The leaders in the inn industry recognize the power that video offers when grabbing the attention of the consumer.  Everybody has heard that you have 3 secondsto grab the attention of a web surfer once your SEO efforts brings him to your site.  If he subconsciously discovers he likes the look of the site, he gives you another 4 seconds to discover if your site can meet his needs by looking at the functionality and navigation. If you fail at either of these steps, he hits the BACK button and he’s lost.

Video, per Mr. Schweickart, extends that window of attention-span to 14 seconds.  People enjoy movies, they like the action.  We are a visual society and the days of stagnant photos of the bed in the guest room will not grab the attention of the potential booking anymore.

It’s time to update websites to meet these evolving interestsof the traveling market.  Check out the YouTube video made by Dallas and Nancy Renner of the Chocolate Turtle B&Bin Corrales, NM.  Not only do you get to see a bit of the inn and its colors, but the video takes you into the community to see the shops, the animals and the mountains, and you get to meet the innkeepers as well…always a part of the guest memories you want to create.  That’s a marketing advantage over the competition that throws water on the fiery argument that it’s the current recession that is causing business to be down.

Your breakfast presentations are fabulous.  Make your inn’s presentation on the internet fabulous too.

Here are a few ideas to consider as you work to improve your website:

  • Replace the stills of the guest bed with video of the guest rooms…panning around the room and out the windows to the scenic river below.
  • Pan across the deck or private patio with the colorful breakfast settings to the bird feeder with the orioles and bluebirds or to the water feature in the garden.
  • Film the scarecrow festival in October, the strawberry festival in June, the sleigh rides in January and the flower fairs in April in your region.  These are the places your guests are going to want to see to have the full experience.
  • Loan your digital camera to your guests heading out hiking or to the battlefield re-enactment, show them how to use the video feature, and put their live testimonial on your site and blog.
  • Link your blog with a feed to your Facebook account to have your videos shown to your fans around the world.

Grab them with your inn’s beauty, your creativity and your innovation.  You only have 3 seconds.    Scott

We’re Stuck with Social Media: Capitalize On It!

May 7th, 2010 by Peter Scherman

I subscribe to piles of blogs and newsletters about marketing and advertising, social media, hospitality, demographics, and trends that affect all of the above. Some of these are pretty esoteric, and some are very down-to-earth practical. One of our jobs at The B&B Team® is to weave the mass of information together and make at least some of it useful to Innkeepers, saving you time and helping you sell more rooms, make more money, and have more fun.

By now most of you realize that social media and consumer generated content, whether it be blogs, Facebook and Twitter, TripAdvisor, or product reviews on e-commerce sites, are essential to long term business success. After all, while Boomers still make up the lion’s share of inn guests (and, by the way, females aged 55-65 are the fastest growing segment of Facebook users), Gen X and Gen Y (the Millenials) are forming a growing percentage of the traveling public. And, since most businesses (like your inn) want to be around in a few years, paying attention is a smart choice.

A great article in Hotelmarketing.com called “Gen Y and the online travel marketer” by Caroline Gates of TIG has some eye-popping statistics blended with some good advice. For instance, not only did this generation (born between 1977 and 1995) grow up with an electronic device in their hand and a computer at every turn, but they are already spending about $200 Billion a year.  The younger ones aren’t booking rooms at your B&B, but the older ones are starting to, especially if you give them a compelling reason and show them that you “get it.” Gen Xers, more than Millenials, are definitely part of every inn’s guest roster, and they’re pretty plugged in, too.

If 78% of people trust peer reviews and only 14% trust advertisements, and your website is an advertisement, the importance of bringing those reviews front and center is critical. If you’re already doing this, good for you. If you aren’t, start engaging your guests in the process and build a reserve of great reviews on all the main travel sites. And put those reviews on your home page.  This is pretty basic.

The younger generations, who are the future of travel, want to be entertained and respected, too. Keep your content on Facebook, your blog (which you should be doing) and your website fresh. Keep and show a sense of humor. Seek out places where all your guests might congregate, and join the conversation. Read and respond to travel blogs. In other words, engage.

In branding and marketing we talk about the fact that travelers want “bragging rights” when they return home. Where once being able to have stayed at the most luxurious, well known, and expensive place constituted the only important thing to brag about, today people want to brag about what they did on their vacation. And increasingly what they did may have social implications. They helped build a Habitat house, volunteered to clean up a park, ran a race for the cure, or otherwise did something that, in their opinion, “mattered.” And hopefully they also stayed at a great inn whose owners helped them find the opportunities and took good care of them. They’ll tell all their friends (via social media), and we’ve always known how important word of mouth is.

We all know about SEO, search engine optimization, and how important it is for travelers to find your website. But are you aware of Google’s new real-time search results? There’s a new wrinkle in SEO, and it involves social media. Google can now find and index information about your inn as it is being published on Facebook, Twitter, and other media. What does this mean for you? The more people you can have writing about their great weekend with you (bragging about it), posting pictures, telling their friends, the more prominent you’re going to show up in the new search results. Will it affect traditional search ranking? No one knows for sure. But “social rank” is increasingly more important to many than organic Google ranking.

But let’s be honest, innkeepers don’t have to obsess about this the way Pepsi or Apple do, but you do have to be in the game. For years at conferences in our blog (The Innkeeper’s Resource™) and in personal consultations with clients we’ve spoken and written about changing trends, tastes, and demographics, social media marketing, and the basics of hospitality. In the end, the important thing is not to get discouraged. Take bite sizes. Put together a plan for reinventing and reinvigorating your marketing. This may have to start with reinventing your inn, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. Think of it as FUN! And if you can have fun, you’ll be happier, your guests will be happier, and your bed & breakfast will be more successful. Did I hear “exit strategy?”

What are YOU doing to be part of the new world we live in?

Peter

Three Ways to Make More Money in 2010

April 2nd, 2010 by Peter Scherman

It’s spring, the time of rebirth and renewal. We’re coming out of a deep recession, and every Innkeeper would like to make more money in 2010 than in 2009. How do you do that? Do the right thing. Be smart and courageous. And be clever in our brave new world. Read on to see what I mean.

There was a great piece recently in Hospitality News about a company that handles vacation rentals on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Eastern Shore Vacation Rentals has embraced “voluntourism” in a big way. In the off season, renters can get one free day for every three paid days for each day a guest volunteers with the local Habitat for Humanity. Not only does the company benefit by being socially conscious, but Habitat gets additional willing volunteers, and the vacationers get something to do that makes them feel good, and they save money in the process. Does anyone lose here?

Andon-Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville, NC is trying to raise money for breast cancer research by donating $1.00 for every new fan over 200 that they get by a certain date. They get the fans; the Susan G. Komen Foundation gets some money, Andon-Reid Inn looks great, and new fans can feel like they did a good thing, and it didn’t cost them anything!  Do the right thing.

Timothy Coleman, a member of the HSMAI Revenue Management Advisory Board, wrote a great article called “How about a ‘race to the top’ for 2010-2011?” In an obvious reference to the Obama administrations plan for education, Mr. Coleman echoed the words of Bob Gilbert, President and CEO of HSMAI, that with all the discounting that has gone on the past year or two in the hotel industry in a frustrated (and largely unsuccessful) effort to fill rooms and make more money, it’s going to take a long time to get those rates back to where they should have been and should be unless property owners are willing to make the tough calls.  That effort should start now by finding ways to increase rates ahead of immediate demand.

Travelers want an experience, right? Innkeepers are great at delivering that experience. And Innkeepers have been MUCH better than hoteliers at resisting the urge simply to cut rates but instead have added value and incentives. But your rates should still see upward creep. If you have a policy of raising your rates in small amounts every year, most people won’t notice it. And if you deliver on that promised experience, they won’t mind even when they do notice. Holding rates steady means losing income over time. So be smart and realize that your ADR is in your hands. Be courageous and willing to buck the trend. Lead the pack by raising your rates in 2010.

And then there was the article “Social media best practices for hotel marketers” on Hotelmarketing.com. Annemarie Dooling writes about the five basic tips to remember.

1.    Make your “friends, fans, and followers” feel special by giving them incentives that don’t go out to the general public. It’s a compelling reason to become part of an inn’s social network. And you can employ “flash marketing” (short-lived specials just for recipients of the messages) with your “inner circle,” which makes them feel special, generating loyalty.

2.    Create an open and transparent dialogue. When you respond to a negative review properly, you are doing this. Taking it a step further and contacting the complainer personally and offering to do something to make up for a deficiency (if it was there) and not wanting to remove the negative review. Honesty pays.

3.    Give your friends and fans tools to spread the word. Find ways to engage your social media circle and post some of what they post on your blog/Facebook page, etc. Wouldn’t it blow away your guests if they happened to be tweeting about something they were doing while staying at your inn, and you knew about it (because you were also following them) and were able to do something special as a result? Try it; it could be fun. And they just might tell everyone what a cool thing you did.

4.    Feature fans in your communications. If you’re adept with a flip video, ask to film some short “reviews” or interviews of guests and post them on your blog. If fans write about staying with you on their page, re-tweet or re-publish their remarks. Their bragging is better than you bragging, but you’re helping them help you spread the word.

5.    Establish relationships on your guests’ terms. At The B&B Team® we’ve talked about the need to have a social media presence, because some people don’t check email but do look at their Facebook page every day. Likewise with Twitter or others who live by their RSS feeds (from your blog and others).  And, by engaging and watching what your guests do, you may find even more ways to reach out and touch them in personal ways that just might blow them away!

Have a wonderful spring, and make 2010 the year to break all records! You just might do it if you do the right thing, are smart and courageous, and are clever at embracing the real world of social media.

What ideas do you have that are making a difference in your business? Let’s hear about them.

An Online Community

February 15th, 2009 by Peter Scherman

Alright, so we write a lot about blogging and social media and the importance of it in your marketing, etc., etc., and sometimes you just want to tell us to SHUT UP already. We get it. But we don't give up that easily!

A couple of weeks ago in my article, "Do Innkeeper Blogs Work?" I mentioned a blog, My Bella Vita, by an American innkeeper in Italy, Cherrye Moore. Something happened this past week that caused me to dig a bit deeper into her blog and to reflect on the power and strength of online community. Something happened to Cherrye's father, and the outpouring has been remarkable.

If you explore My Bella Vita, you'll read a lot about Italy, about food and art and history. But you'll also learn a lot about the author. And you'll learn a lot about blogging. It's by inference and the prominent link to Il Cedro Bed & Breakfast that you'd want to stay at her B&B as well. Cherrye gets an unusually large number of comments to her blog posts because, as she told me, "people feel like they know us through the blog." Remarkably, she replies to every comment, something we're told to do to be effective. But then she told her readers on Feb. 13 that she was going home to Texas for a couple of weeks because she'd received the middle of the night phone call that no one wants to receive. "It's your father." And something amazing happened. 

Daddy-and-his-girls In just a couple of days nearly forty people have left comments, offered prayers and best wishes. No doubt some are friends but many, like me, are strangers. Sometimes it's tragedy that makes us realize how many people "out there" really care. And then you realize that it really is possible to create a community in cyberspace.

The whole purpose of a blog for a bed & breakfast is to share something of yourself and your area with the larger world, to make people feel like they want to come stay with you. You begin to create an emotional connection with your past and future guests, and as you write and make the effort you may not know if anyone is really reading or if they care. But if you persist you might be surprised.

Is this for everyone? No. But if you visit My Bella Vita you'll understand why a blog can be a powerful tool for communication and for creating community. And you'll understand better what drives some people to "broadcast their lives to the blogosphere." And why people would want to stay at Il Cedro Bed & Breakfast. And why you might consider following a great example of what works.

Peter

Do Innkeeper Blogs Work?

February 5th, 2009 by Peter Scherman

Every year The B&B Team travels to various innkeeping conferences, sometimes to exhibit in the trade show, but always as speakers. In the past month we attended the Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference and Trade Show in Hot Springs, Virginia and just this week were at the 17th annual conference of CABBI, the California Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns, in Monterey. As always, we had a great time meeting innkeepers and speaking about topics that we're passionate about, like "Attracting the i.guest in a Slowing Economy"(a version of which we presented on a PAII webinar recently) and "Inn Branding and Market Positioning."

In both of these presentations we focus on the contemporary traveler, the i.guest, who is intelligent, independent, informed, imaginative, Internet-savvy and empowered, and Identified. This i.guest is using the Internet and social media to make travel decisions, and one of the topics that always comes up when we mention blogs is, "Does a blog bring innkeepers business?"

While we have anecdotal evidence that it does, based on some innkeepers who swear by their blogs, there is some new evidence of a blog's effectiveness in generating new business.

Stephanie at the Albert Shafsky House Bed & Breakfast in Placerville, CA has been writing a blog for a year and a half. Before speaking to an eager audience at CABBI about blogging and social media, she showed us her Google Analytics page that proved that one of the top referrers to her B&B's website is her blog. And her bounce rate on those referrals is a mere 25% or so. That's quite something. She thinks that the blog is integral to their marketing, along with the B&B's Facebook page and other efforts. Steph and Rita are really working social media, and it's paying off.

This morning I received a Google Alert linking to My Bella Vita, a blog by an American innkeeper in Italy, Cherrye Moore, at Il Cedro in Calabria. We exchanged an email or two, and I asked her if she got any business from her blog. Her reply was that her "blog site has been a great source of leads for our B&B." She also made an incredibly valuable point, that many people go out of their way to book with them, "because they feel like they know us through the blog." That, folks, is what social media, Web 2.0, Travel 2.0, and all the other stuff is about. Successful innkeeping is about building relationships and providing enduring experiences.

If a blog at your inn could help you build relationships before you've ever met a potential guest, that's really getting a head start on a long term relationship that can pay great dividends, both financial and "psychic," as Holly Stiel likes to say.

For all the inspiration from all the innkeepers mentioned above and those that keep us going every day, all I can say, again to echo Holly Stiel (and some guy with sideburns), is "Thank you, thank you very much!"

Peter

Top Travel Innovations of the Past Decade

November 18th, 2008 by Peter Scherman

In the latest issue of Marketing Review from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) there's a great article by Marvin J. Cetron about the "Top 10 Travel Innovations of the Next 10 Years." Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel asked readers to pick their favorite travel innovations of the past decade while also peering into the next ten years. While many of these innovations might have seemed downright bizarre to conceive of only twenty years ago, I think you'll agree that they are remarkably practical. Here they are, drum roll please….

10. Online maps.Who amongst us hasn't used Mapquest or Google Maps to find out where something is? Computerized mapping has made life for travelers much, much easier, even if some of it is still imperfect.

9. Digital Photography. Traveling through airport security with film was always a hassle. Having to pack film and keep track of it while you traveled and processing it when you got home was inconvenient and expensive. Digital makes it easy to snap away with impunity on your vacation and (gasp!) post pictures of your trip on the web and email them to your friends.

8. Online Flight Check-in. With all there is to do once you arrive at the airport, and with the lead time needed to get through security in a post 9/11 world, being able to have checked in from home or the office the day before makes it that much easier to make your flight.

7. GPS Navigation.Many new cars come with GPS built in (like satellite radio). But there are many aftermarket portable units that can be installed. Even boaters and hikers can use the technology. Going far, far away from everything? No need to get lost anymore. And if you're driving, a soothing voice will tell you where to turn next.

6. Worldwide ATM Access. Need cash? Not at home? In Copenhagen or Johannesburg? Peoria? In a feat that still leaves me a bit boggled, you can use your ATM card in a machine almost anywhere in the world and get cash. Talk about connectivity!

5. Cell phones. Not so long ago cell phones were tethered to your car or immensely bulky. Today they slip into a tiny pocket and are capable of performing somersaults if you ask them too (well, you know what I mean). And if you're broken down on the highway (in many locations, of course) it's easy to call AAA for help. What did we ever do without them?

4. Global Internet Access. For anyone planning a trip and wanting to know where to go or stay, the Net provides access to information about products and services plus traveler reviews. You can find destinations, hotels, car rentals, theater shows, or what vaccinations you need, thanks to the web. And if you're a travel provider, the world can find YOU, too!

3. TripAdvisor. OK. I know lots of you HATE this, but the public LOVES TripAdvisor, because they can find out about your inn from others who have stayed with you. It's pretty hard to be sold a bill of goods ("Great ocean views!" from a crummy hotel five blocks from the beach) when a potential guest can read what others have said. Think about it, as a consumer you love it, even if as an innkeeper you're ambivalent.

2. Online Travel Booking. Lots of innkeepers are getting on board with this, and again, it's the consumer who's driving the ship. Access to comparative shopping and the ability to KNOW where you'll be staying this weekend even if it's 1:00 am on Thursday morning is a great thing. Online booking has made it possible for travelers to purchase their trip without disturbing a soul.

1. Roller Bags. !!!! The TOP choice of those survey by Budget Travel was the invention of the roller bag. I have a bad back, and even if you don't, this really is one of those transformational inventions that has revolutionized travel and made it infinitely easier. So, for those of you who hate all the first nine innovations, let's here it for low tech!!! Simple is good.

Peter

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