Why it pays to sleep around for B&B owners

4poster

A Guest Blog by Heather Turner at Forfeng Media.

I wrote a post a while back about Viewing your restaurant from a customers perspective, and it occurred to me after spending a weekend away at a very nice B&B, to wonder how many innkeepers have actually stayed (and not just one night) in every single room in their own B&Bs. I mean packed their bags and literally “checked in”.

I bring this up because, as an example, the B&B I just stayed at recently had wonderful hosts, a delicious breakfast, comfy beds and great amenities, but the toilet paper holder just wasn’t very functional. Every time someone went to use the loo, the toilet paper fell off the decorative holder. How annoying was that? Trivial, but annoying.

Did this mar my whole stay? Absolutely not. Did I forget to mention it to the innkeepers? Yes I did, because it was a very minor problem (am I emailing them after I write this post? Yes).

It got me to thinking though, how many small things that the usual guest may have a small problem with, that doesn’t really affect the overall stay, but stays in the subconscious and they forget to mention it to the innkeepers.

As innkeepers (I know I would feel this way if I had an inn) you go out of your way to try to make a guest’s stay perfect. So to me, take one step more and go a little further.

I recently wrote a post about Attracting Business Travelers to B&Bs, and in it I listed some very minor pet peeves about staying in B&Bs. If I think back to recent stays, not just in B&Bs, but hotels as well, I can list a bunch of minor things, that if the owners or managers had actually stayed in the rooms themselves they would have noticed.

Two different places, had big armoires that had flat screen TVs in them. Terrific idea to get them out of the way and not be an eyesore. Defeats the purpose of having a TV for guests to watch though if the armoire doors won’t stay open, and keeps slowly swinging closed.

Defective or misplaced toilet paper holders seem to be huge one. The one that was two feet from the commode really made my day so to speak, LOL.

The water faucet that sprays a little too hard when turned on all the way. I tell you it’s a real pain having to find another set of clothes to wear, when you are on your way out the door, and all of a sudden you are wearing water polka dots.

What are you supposed to do with all those pillows and comforters (especially when it’s 90 degrees out)? They get piled on chairs. I’m not suggesting you do away with them, they look gorgeous, but perhaps put a place aside where guests can put them. The places that have luggage racks generally get used for that oversized comforter and my luggage ends up on the floor, and the pillows I put on chairs, and then end up with nowhere to sit when I want to put shoes and socks on the next morning.

I am not trying to nitpick about very minor things, but more to make the point that if innkeepers spent actual time (sleep time, activity time) in the rooms they let guests sleep in, they might notice some minor things, like the very bottom drawer of the dresser that just doesn’t want to get unstuck easily.

As innkeepers you want to make your B&Bs perfect, take a look at it from a customer’s point of view, it’s a fresh perspective, and it will help you to better understand and fix any small issues that can make a very small (but lasting) impression on a guest.

I would suggest setting up a log, so you can track when you’ve stayed in the rooms as well. Did the other rooms have guests at the time? Was it a weekend? What season was it?

You may find things like the room that is perfect in three seasons, in the summer the air conditioner blows directly on the sleepers (so you could consider moving the bed), or the suite upstairs you can hear a TV playing (so you consider moving the location of the TV stand against a wall that doesn’t connect with an adjoining guest room). You wouldn’t know these things otherwise.

When was the last time YOU stayed in your rooms?

Accommodation photography

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words….

It only takes a quick glance for someone to evaluate what they see and form a positive or negative judgement. In fact, studies have shown that the viewer generates an opinion as instantly as the blink of an eye.

Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage.
The study, published in the journal ‘Behaviour and Information Technology’*, also suggests that first impressions have a lasting impact.

Researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the “halo effect”. Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and lead researcher of the paper says: “If people believe a website looks good, then this positive quality will spread to other areas.” As websites increasingly jostle for business, Dr Lindgaard added that companies should take note. “Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors,” she warned.

Your establishment may provide guests with a spectacular breakfast to beat all of your competitors or you may have spent time, effort & money on the interior design. But if the pictures are poor, unprofessional or non existent, you could risk losing potential customers in an instant.

Therefore, it is evident that good quality photographs are essential for success in drawing in new guests. If there are few or no pictures to look at, the chances are they will move on.

Sarah Kay Photography specialises in all types of accommodation photography and styling. Here she shares some of her tips for creating photographs that will bring out the best in your holiday let and help you use the power of image to increase sales.

Tips for photographing your property:

Tip no 1. It may seem obvious but don’t forget to de-clutter every room. This includes removing bins, leaflets, etc.

Tip no 2. Don’t have wires/cables dangling all over the place! Wherever possible try to hide them either by unplugging or removing them all together. With kettle bases or wires from other appliances, or in the case of lamps which need to be switched on, tuck the wire behind furniture or use masking tape to ‘stick’ them out of the way.

Tip no 3. Tidy and straighten all curtains, blinds, bedding and sofa cushions. Iron them if necessary, there is nothing worse than creases and crumples that stare back at you in photographs!

Note this BEFORE and AFTER shot. Yes it’s the same room!

compare2rooms

 

Tip no 4. Personally, I always like to have all lights switched on in my shots. I feel it gives the image added shine and sparkle. Depending on the natural lighting in your room, you may want to experiment and see which you feel looks best.

Tip no 5. Please, no toilets in shot. I’m not against photographing bathrooms, some look great. If you think it will be beneficial to photograph your bathroom, do try to avoid the toilet. If this is not possible, please please ensure the lid is completely closed and there is no bin or toilet brush in sight! Eeek!!

Added tip: Take a shot of a detail in your bathroom rather than the whole room. To give a taster of the style of the bathroom. The viewer can then create a idea of the whole room just from that one shot.

Tip no 6. Think about your target market and dress your rooms accordingly. Romantic getaway? Champagne and chocolates will do the trick.

Added tip: Less is more, never over-dress the room or it will look cluttered.

Tip no 7. Remember the reasons that people come to stay in your property. Is it the stunning lake view? Is there a fantastic feature window? Think about it’s uniqueness and take those photographs.

Tip no 8. Ensure your outside areas are looking tip top. Hanging baskets flourishing, decking or patio swept and free of weeds, grass trimmed and looking neat. Take the photograph on a day with some sunshine and blue sky. If you can’t get a good day, take one at dusk with all your lights on for an ambient glow.

Tip no 9. Finally, take your shots. Study each image for imperfections as mentioned above. Does the furniture need tweaking slightly to create better composition for the viewer? Would the picture look better if taken from a different angle? Try every corner of the room, some will look “right” some won’t; again, experiment with this.

Tip no 10. Save time and hire a professional photographer, but first ensure they will take care of all the points mentioned above. Not all photographers include styling in the price. I always say, during my accommodation photoshoot it’s 10% photography, 90% preparation! And then there is professional editing… which is another story all together!

www.skhp.co.uk

Twitter @Sarahkay_photo

https://www.facebook.com/skpcumbria
*Source of research into psychology of first impressions: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4616700.stm

What’s your digital footprint?

heather turner

As a property owner, what’s your digital footprint? US based marketing guru Heather Turner, Forfeng Media provides some great tips and cautionary tales.

Facebook

Posts: Make sure your posts are locked down to friends only, if you want to keep your posts public, fine, but be cognizant of, if you wouldn’t discuss it at a gathering, ie. religion and politics mainly, you may not want it posted publicly.

Likes and Groups: Be aware your likes of other pages may be visible (depending on your settings even if your posts are locked down) You may not think about this one, but think about it, you may have friends asking you to like their business pages as well as like pages they like.

Profile Pictures: Your profile pictures are public including likes and most especially comments from others. Be cognizant of profiles images but mostly the comments from others (delete comments if needed).

Even if you think your profile is totally locked down, go check it at least once a month, Facebook is constantly changing the settings and sometimes things can be viewed you may not know about. Get a friend on the phone, have them unfriend you, and then have them refresh your profile page and tell you what they see. The “View As” option in Facebook is NOT 100% accurate.

Pinterest

Having some personal hobbies or interests on your property board is fine, food of course is always good. But eyeball your interests, knitting and home improvement are generally fine, but fashion, bad memes, pictures of spider bites, inappropriate photos of men and women, weird toilet boards (yes these are all images and boards I’ve found on property accounts) and I could go on … are probably not appropriate, and belong either on a personal account, or make the boards secret so only you can see them.

Twitter

Who are you following and who is following you? Yes people do look. If you are following all the Kardashions for example, A. they will never follow you back (so why follow them) and B. if you want to follow their posts, put them on a private list (you are then not actually following them, your following their tweets, and only you can see that). Any celebrity including sports figures can actually influence a booker. Same goes for politics.

Lists: If you use the lists feature or someone has added you to a public list that you don’t want people to see. Your own lists you can make private. If someone has added you to a list and you don’t want to be on it, you can block them, and it will remove you from any of the lists they have added you to.

Favorites (now call likes): Take a look at what you have liked/favorited. Anyone can see that list, a funny joke you liked 2 years ago shows up on that list in the number 5 spot, is it appropriate?

Stalk Yourself

It’s worth Googling yourself as well periodically. Put your name in quotes “Jane Doe” Charleston, NC, “Jane B. Doe” Charleston, NC, and add yourself to any Google alerts you’ve set up. Hopefully you have done this for your inn already. The alerts don’t pick up 100% of new spidered items and news though so it’s worth looking manually.

Why do this? I have an innkeeper friend in the UK who had another innkeeper namesake in the UK, different town get arrested for fraud last year. They actually lost bookings about this, until they started being proactive and put out on their social media accounts that this was not them in question.

Eyeball your own online presence heavily and view from the aspect of someone who may book. Even better ask some friends to help you out and get some additional perspectives, what might not occur to you, they may see differently.

for the full article clink here:

Back to Basics

Well done, you’ve made it to the end of the busy summer season.  Take a breath but then start planning for next year.  Guests are already thinking ahead to next year’s holidays so you must too.  If you have forgotten how to enter your rates or set up your minimum stays, here’s a quick “Back To Basics” to help you through it.

 

Entering rates:  On the AVAILABILITY tab, click on the first green box, hold your finger on the mouse and drag all the way to the bottom green box.  This turns the boxes a darker colour.  Release the mouse and a white square appears in each box.  Enter your rates in the first column and then click the “a” below that column to copy the rate forward to all days.  The “d” will copy to just that day of the week and in all cases it copies to the dates going forward so you can up your rates later in the calendar and click the “a” or “d” again below those new rates.  Don’t forget to hit save before moving forward and repeating for the next six months.

ratesAniSml

Changing minimum stays:  You can set a default minimum stay in AVAILABILITY tab under DEFAULTS subtab.  This is handy if you normally insist on stays of 2 or more nights.  You can also set minimum stays on individual days or sets of days.  Similar to adding rates, on AVAILABILITY tab click the MINIMUM STAYS sub tab and then highlight the boxes on the calendar by clicking your mouse, dragging and releasing.  Each box will have a white square.  If you want to set all of a certain day of the week then change the first column of that day and then click the “d” button.  You can also change individual days/rooms as required.  Again, don’t forget to hit save before moving forward.

minStay

Close outs:  There are two ways to enter close outs.  In the DIARY tab you can click on a white box and bring up the “Quick Close Out” box.  This is ideal for one or two close outs on specific dates.  If you need to close out on a larger scale then you should do that in AVAILABILITY tab and CLOSE OUTS subtab.  Clicking a green or blue box will turn it pink.  Clicking, holding and dragging the mouse will allow you to close out multiple rooms and date in mere seconds.  Once you have closed out all that you need remember to hit the save button before moving on to the next six months.

closeOuts

Special Offers: If you are looking for a bookings boost during the quieter winter months then adding a special offer can help.  There are two types of offer in the SPECIALS tab; discount offer (i.e. offering a monetary or percentage discount from the nightly rate) and free night offer (i.e. stay 3 nights and get one of them free).  Please note that special offers do not transfer through the channel manager, if you would like the offer to be added to the channel manager please contact us for details of who does what.

specials

Planning ahead for your promotions

heather turnerThis week’s guest blog is from US based social media and marketing expert Heather Turner, “Chief Logroller” at Forfeng Media. Here Heather helps you plan your social media calendar for holiday events and special promotions.

The time to start planning ahead for your promotions throughout the year, is best done in slow season when you actually have a little down time, a little space to actually think and work on your marketing for the upcoming year.

Developing a social media and content calendar in advance is key to getting promotions out in an stress free, and timely manner so you have the best chance for a journalist to pickup an event or special for a story, and to make sure you work any kinks out of the special or offer in advance. If you are doing specials in conjunction with other area businesses, i.e. a discount at a local restaurant in conjunction with a stay, or free or ½ price tickets to a museum, for example, as part of your packages, it’s best to be able to make those connections and iron down the details as far ahead in advance as possible. When making joint package deals its very important to stress to the partnering business that they will be getting a lot of free publicity out of it. Working some numbers up, and letting them know where and how you will be promoting it, and them, is leverage for getting you a better deal on a partnership offer or discount.

If you are hoping to get your special or offer picked up by the news for inclusion in a newspaper or magazine, be cognizant of the fact that the lead time for both is very different. A newspaper generally needs several weeks leads time to run an article. Monthly magazines generally need three to six months.

socialIcons

Realistically any unique specials or promotions should be up online on your website at least 6 months prior to the actual event. If you send press releases out about it, it should be send out at least 4 months or more prior. Advertising them on social media should start being pushed out at last 3 months prior, 2 at the very latest.

If you have something that you know will book up and sell out in advance, advertise it on social media at least 4 months in advance so that if you get the inevitable cancellation or two you have time to rebook it. Developing the social media calendar will help you keep on track for when you are scheduled to start promoting your specials.

Specific Holidays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are generally high traffic days for lodging packages, and many potential guests do like to plan ahead for those. You may want to consider starting to advertise these on your social media channels a little earlier than the rest of your other packages.

Posting your specials on social media should not be done more than once a week, each post should be unique, have an appropriate and inviting picture accompanying it (make sure you either own the photograph or image, have permission to use it or have purchased it from a legitimate stock photo source), and be written in a way that utilizes the soft sell approach.

As an example of the soft sell post: Father’s Day is coming up soon. What better way to thank your Dad for being there for you and your family then treating him to a weekend away from it all. Our special Father’s Day Package includes a full day of golf at the historic Beach Head Golf Club, followed by a day on the water fishing for Bass on Lake Bestinach. For more information about this special Father’s Day package please visit http:thejanedoeinn.com/fatherdayspecial.

VS. the hard sell post:  Father’s Day Package, June 18-19, Package includes 18 holes of golf, cart included. River tour with Bass fishing instructor, $360 for the weekend D.O.. Exclusions apply. Book Now at 800-555-1212.

Make sure to keep your social media calendars from previous years, and note when you have gotten the most traffic and bookings for each previous year on them. You should also include anything of note that happens during the time your packages have happened. The Christmas of 2013 had a horrible snowstorm resulting in cancellations, Easter of 2011 had a travel ban, etc. Long term this helps you better plan for next year, as well as being able to look back and see what previous years results were based on what you did for marketing as well as any external events that may have happened that were outside of your control.

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What’s Your Unique Selling Point?

USP_photosteve101
USPs can be powerful sales tools

USPs are all the rage these days, because they make you stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Given how full of character – and, yes, “quirky” even! – B&Bs and guest houses can be, they’re in a great position to sell themselves in this way.

Having said that, figuring out your USP can sometimes be a bit of a head-scratcher, so here’s some food for thought.

For one thing, the great advantage that all independent properties have is that they’re unique in relation to chain hotels: they’re smaller, more intimate and offer a more personalised service. But, as the owner of a bed and breakfast or guest house, how do you distinguish it from all the others in the area? Here are some things to think about…

  • Are you family-run?
  • Do you grow your own fresh produce?
  • Do you have a herb garden?
  • Do you do some home baking?
  • Are you pet-friendly?
  • Do you have a log fire?

If you can think of something, you’ll find it a lot easier to attract customers and get extra bookings,

Mind you, it’s not just a case of being unique; it’s also important to be unique in the right way. If you’re looking for a unique attribute that you can use to sell your property and nothing comes readily to mind, it might be a good idea to start by looking at your recent customers:

  • Who has booked your property in the past few years?
  • What kind of people are they? What are they interested in?
  • Have they written reviews on your website, or on TripAdvisor? If so, what have they said?
  • Have any of them told you that they booked your property for a special reason?
  • Has a certain local event or landmark brought them to your area?

In terms of finding something unique, customer feedback can be your most valuable resource.

USP_ebookIf, having done all this, you still feel that your property still doesn’t have an obvious unique attribute, there’s always the option of creating one. If you’re in an especially beautiful part of the world, you could study some local history and offer walking tours that focus on that. Seasonal unique selling points are another great way to keep business coming in all year round: you could focus on an outdoor facility, like a patio garden, in summer, and an indoor facility, like a real log fire, in winter.

Once you’ve settled on a unique attribute that you’re confident about, the other most important strategy is not to undersell it. Make sure it’s prominent on your website and try to complement it, if possible, with the best possible photos.

Winning Images – Part 1

Great Visuals Sell Accommodation

bestPriceTickBig hotel chains have the largest marketing budgets, so their websites must always be the ones that attract the most attention. Right? Wrong. In the USA recently, it’s the websites of smaller, boutique hotels – and even B&Bs – that have been generating the most buzz in the media. Why? Because these smaller hotels are much better (and quicker) at adapting to what customers want when booking accommodation online. And these days…

It’s All About Images!

A strong visually-oriented layout is the only way to go, because (and this can’t be emphasised often enough)…Photos sell rooms.

1. Good photos.
2. Big photos.

And, most importantly…

3. Prominent photos

Here’s a great example of a rooms page (courtesy of the Lion Inn, Winchcombe)…

 lion_inn_rooms

Don’t force your customers to hunt around for images that will tell them what the place they’re thinking of staying at actually looks like. Put them front and centre. You own a great property – let the world know about it!

So, even if you don’t want to redesign your whole site, at the very least get your web designer to boost the size and number of quality visuals on the front page and all the room pages. And, ideally, add a big, unmissable link on the front page itself that shouts, “ROOM IMAGES.”

VisitScotland Update

freetobook connecting with VisitScotland

One of the most exciting things on the horizon for freetobook is our new connection with VisitScotland.

visitscotlandVisitScotland has a new accommodation search system that allows all B&Bs, guest houses, small hotels etc in Scotland to be displayed regardless of their relationship with VisitScotland itself (this is known as a “polling” system).

What this means is that very soon all Scottish freetobook properties will be able have their rates and availability appearing on VisitScotland’s site whenever a prospective customer does an accommodation search.

1st June is the current “go live” date for VisitScotland’s new system. Keep checking our blog for further details and updates.

How To Manage Your Online Reputation – Part 1

 

Iain shares some thoughts on the best ways to engage with your customers online and how to turn good service into sales.

Everyone seems to be talking about ORM. You could even say that right now ORM is one of the most popular TLAs (three letter acronyms) in the business world! The official, rather stuffy, definition of ORM is, “the practice of monitoring the Internet reputation of a person, brand or business, with the goal of suppressing negative mentions entirely or pushing them lower on search engine results pages to decrease their visibility.”

That makes it all sound a bit sinister and corporate. I think the true definition of ORM is more positive and is best expressed by former Vancouver hotel manager and ORM consultant Daniel Edward Craig: “…Online reputation management is the process of tracking and responding to online reviews and commentary and using feedback to guide improvements. It’s about actively participating in social networking to build awareness and shape impressions.”

Spot on. Online reputation management isn’t about anything so crude and cynical as gaming the system. It’s about developing an on-going relationship with your customers, responding to their opinions and showing that their feedback, whether positive or negative, matters to you. So what follows are some personal thoughts about ORM that have emerged out of my own wide experience of managing an online travel company and communicating with customers on a daily basis:

1.                  Managing your online reputation

Why bother?

  • People now research trips, make decisions and share experiences online via social media.
  • 75% of customers now cite reviews as being influential.
  • More and more people are using social media platforms, like Twtter and Facebook, so review information moves at ever greater speed.

Evidence suggests social media is currently used primarily as a service channel rather than a direct sales channel, so if your customers are using it they will expect you to be on it and may want to connect with you via social media.

Sales and service are linked and there is absolutely no doubt of the link between service and loyalty, so service and reputation are a great place to start. The transactional “sales” side of social media may not be that strong, but I don’t believe it will be long before large businesses make it happen….just like they did with the Internet! Indeed large companies are building these social media platforms into their service models.

When you come right down to it, using social media is really just about working with your customers in a way that they find most convenient…and isn’t that what good service is all about anyway?

We built the customer review process into “freetobook” right at the start so every customer using our online booking engine receives a review email a day after their stay….and 29% of our customers complete reviews for the properties (voluntarily).

2.                  Where does your independent property start?

  • Audit first, find out what’s out there and what people are saying…or not saying.
  • Understand what you want customers to say and where you want them to say it.
  • Monitor, react and encourage feedback: these are all “first principles” of service… wherever you are.

(These are just some of the tips I have picked up from various places, but if anyone has any comments or examples of situations I would be glad to hear of them: iain@freetobook.com).

More bookings for Elgin B&B via Freetobook channel manager

Case Study: Freetobook’s channel manager brings more bookings to Ardgye House B&B in Elgin.

In the current economy, many independent accommodation providers know all too well the importance of getting new business. It’s a challenge, especially if you can’t afford expensive campaigns or newspaper advertising. Freetobook now offers some help: an easy-to-manage connection to LateRooms and Booking.com, which allows you to update your availability on both those site quickly and easily via your Freetobook diary.

It’s true that some property owners are still wary of LateRooms and Booking.com, concerned that the commission charged by these Online Travel Agents will erase their profit margin. But experience has shown that many accommodation owners who take the plunge really benefit from the increased exposure. The internet is just so big and managing to get your property in front of the customer at the right time is no easy task.

One Freetobook customer who has definitely benefited from the extra exposure is Carol McInnes, who, with her husband Alistair and daughter Kerry, runs the 4-star Ardgye House in Elgin. A beautiful 5-room Edwardian property, built in 1904, the Ardgye has been welcoming guests for over 20 years. It boasts sumptuous Family, Twin and King Rooms and is rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Elgin B&Bs/Inns. None the less, Carol had noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to compete for attention in an online world where paid results dominate the first page of any accommodation search.

Already offering online booking with Freetobook software, Carol decided to integrate with LateRooms via company’s channel manager.

“We’ve always been successful and we have a great reputation. We get a lot of bookings from the RAF at Lossiemouth and the Royal Engineers at Kinloss. We’re also very popular with German tourists visiting Scotland. But as with a lot of properties these days, it has become harder and harder for us to be ‘found,’” says Carol. “The main thing that attracted us to LateRooms was their huge advertising spend. We realised that we could piggyback on that to become much more visible to potential guests. The Freetobook system’s channel manager allowed the integration to be done quickly and easily. It really couldn’t have been simpler.”

Carol is well aware that some accommodation owners feel they’ll lose money on booking by going down this route, but she doesn’t share that view.

“I don’t see a LateRooms booking as 15% lost in commission, I see it as 85% gained on a booking I wouldn’t otherwise have got,” she points out. “I’m also noticing that guests who book through LateRooms the first time are becoming repeat customers who book with us direct on subsequent occasions, now that they know we exist.”

And although Carol has only been offering LateRooms availability for a short time, she has already seen the benefits: “LateRooms bookings are up by a third since we integrated via Freetobook. We’re much busier than we were before and we are starting to see a pick-up in direct bookings too. Pretty soon we’re looking to integrate with Booking.com via Freetobook as well.”