May 8, 2012

Be True To Yourself

I worked with a writer on a Wall Street Journal article last year that not only sparked praise but also a bit of controversy amongst innkeepers at the time; so, I thought it would make a good topic for aspiring innkeepers to think about. What was the controversy you might wonder? The article entitled “Potpourri-Free B&Bs” offended a few innkeepers who thought it was a knock on some inns; yet, others were thrilled to see a writer pointing out B&Bs as an option to a segment of the traveling public that would not ordinarily consider trying them. While some of the examples chosen were along the lines of boutique hotels, we take it as a given that no two inns are the same just as all guests are not the same. So what’s wrong with making the point that not all inns fit the myth and stereotype set by Bob Newhart and other less flattering portrayals of B&Bs? I think the most important thing is being true to who you are and the guests you want to attract since, after all, you literally have to live with them in most cases.

These kinds of articles often bring up questions of how to attract younger, first-time B&B guests. It becomes the Gen X-Gen Y question: Who are they and what do they want as guests? And, if you thought you understood them, there’s already a Generation Z (but they are not of B&B going age…yet)! As an industry, the majority of our guests are baby boomers, so innkeepers frequently want ideas on how to attract younger guests. Since they’re not exactly the same, our best bet is to look at generalizations that are usually attributed to their travel decision making. However, as you read through these ideas you may decide they are good for attracting guests of all ages:

Inn at Sunrise Point, Lincolnville, ME
Tell ‘em like it is. Younger guests want to see what they’re getting and know the real deal. They’re the “don’t tell me, show me” generations as information has always been at their finger tips. This means large room photos, breakfast and amenity descriptions and videos. Once they arrive they’ll need easily accessible outlets to plug in their numerous electronic necessities. They’ll also want room to spread out (less clutter) and feel they’re in the comfort and privacy of their room. If eating breakfast with other guests or following any other "rules" is part of your inn, they’ll want to know ahead of time.

Bottom line: Don’t try and be something you’re not. If you’re a Victorian inn proud of your history and collections and known for your family-style breakfasts, don’t advertise as a boutique inn. Be okay with who you are. If you’re not okay with it then change, but don’t misrepresent. In Chapter 2 of the book, I discuss matching your B&B style to the guests you want to attract, and part of that section goes into deciding how your inn will accommodate those guests.

More about you. Attracting younger guests may require freshening up how you present your inn. Typically, an inn’s "About Us" page explains its history, but you can make this page more interesting and show off your passions when you also include your civic activities and green initiatives. For example, are you committed to green practices or do you participate in programs such as Clean the World which recycles partially used soaps? Remember, you're trying to attract guests who have grown up doing community service as part of their school requirements, have learned to be concerned with the environment and own a keen global awareness.

Being hip won’t hurt. Make an effort to understand social media. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are here to stay, and having a presence which guests can easily see and link to when visiting your website portrays your inn in a current light.

Arrowhead Inn located in Durham, NC
Word of mouth. Younger guests almost always rely on testimonials from their peers (online reviews, social media, etc.). They’re also more likely to write reviews after their stay, so you can quickly build a following when they share their good experiences. Don’t be shy about asking them to write a review – they understand their value better than any other age group. In Chapter 8, there’s a section called “Generating Word-of-Mouth” where I give ideas on getting others to toot your horn for you including generating guest referrals, seeing everyone as a guest, managing online reviews and networking.

If you haven’t set up Google Alerts (www.Google.com/alerts) to monitor what’s being written about your inn, you need to do so immediately. Be sure when setting up your alerts to put your inn name in quotes so you only get alerts for your inn or other inns with the same name. Otherwise, every time the word ‘Victorian’, ‘River’ or another popular word in your inn name gets mentioned, you’ll receive an alert.

Can you be everything to everybody? NO. You’re not being true to yourself or your guests if you try. We should be proud to say that in the B&B industry, one size does not fit all. I think guests should wake up someplace special…at your inn.

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