Marketing Tips

Innkeeper Grows Occupancy 40% and Gains $21,000 in First Quarter 2008

Everyday at iLoveInns we are privileged to talk to America's very best innkeepers. They are innkeepers just like you who have started their businesses, restored or purchased property to be an inn. They have thought deeply about innkeeping and how to make their Bed & Breakfast succeed. We collect their ideas and share them every week or so with our member innkeepers. Below are a few marketing tips that have worked well for the inns who shared them. Consider how it might work for you then add your own sizzle or use them as idea starters to come up with your own unique plan.

Cynthia Knauss, an innkeeper for 20 years reports a controversial way to grow her business. The major secret to her success was to focus on what was important – filling rooms at the Country Inn in Ft. Bragg, California. Three years ago she lowered her rates.  Although other inns were increasing rates and disagree with the concept of re-pricing in this direction, this simple act gave her a $20K revenue increase for last year and boasted a $21K increase in revenues in the first 4 months of this year!  In addition, she offered a mid-week special with a two night minimum. This fills rooms during the week. The only concession made was to discontinue afternoon wine and refreshments mid-week.  Occupancy is up 40%!  This may be most effective for inns in towns that are off the beaten path. Fort Bragg is a bit away from Mendocino, a well known destination. Lower rates motivates travelers to make the extra driving and makes them excited about their discovery, which drives word of mouth.

Other Tips from The Country Inn in Fort Bragg

1. Get good reviews. (See Write Review on the right of each inn's individual iLoveInns listing.)

2. Build an email list of guests as well as contacts at area businesses, hospitals and schools and send emails about specials.

3. Participate  in the  Buy One Night Get One Night Free Program 

Take a Hike and Raise Occupancy by 25%
The answer to the famous Innkeeper “Catch 22”:  How do you get more guests if you do not have extra income to invest in advertising?  It's supposed to be a cycle, one gets cash flow from guests and spends some of it on marketing which in turn generates more visitors and so on. But in this economic climate, coupled with high gas prices, we are expecting fewer travelers. This creates more reason to advertise, while at the same time you, as the innkeeper, have higher expenses and lower revenue flows.

Carole, owner of Carole’s Bed & Breakfast in downtown San Diego recently noted that “25% of my business comes from the neighborhood”. When she opened her bed and breakfast in a quiet residential section of San Diego more than 25 years ago, she began to walk her neighborhood late afternoons when she knew folks would be home from work and on their porches or working in their gardens. She introduced herself, told them about her B&B and left a business card. This simple act, repeated over and over, has built a strong local business.

In urban settings, neighbors have no extra room for visiting guests so they rely on Carol's affordable and comfortable accommodations which are so close.

Major Advantage: No matter what the weather or economy, family is going to visit, so you can build a solid, repeat customer business with a little time and legwork! Family are likely to visit year after year. Return visitors, such as grandparents, welcome the peace and quiet of returning to their own room at the bed and breakfast, as opposed to being awakened by the cries of a newborn or having to sleep on an uncomfortable sleeper sofa in the midst of a hectic living room. Carol advertised in her local paper without any success – the personal touch of introducing herself was far more effective.

"I just wanted to really thank you for all you and your team do for us at Four Sisters Inns. After a recent encounter and lack of care with another B&B listing website, I quickly realized how lucky we are to have you. We so appreciate your one-on-one personalized service approach in today's world of failing customer service. Thank you for always being on our team and one step ahead of me, when I need it. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!" Tamara Mims, Marketing Director.

Of all the online directories, you are pretty much the only ones who understand marketing and that there are also other ways than online that are important and that we are not all sitting with $20,000 ad budgets!”  River House Inn, Wisc.

No-Dollar Ways to Get the Euros Coming
Innkeepers Victor and Lynn at Hotel Charlotte Inn in Groveland, Calif. vigorously go after the European tourist market and after 5 years in the business, 50% of their guests are European.

While they are challenged by the size of their small rooms and cannot change them, they make European travelers (who are generally traveling for 2-3 weeks) feel very comfortable by having a large community area with everything from games to a piano and a computer corner. Here are tips they recommend:

1. Respond to trip advisor's foreign language forums about your area if you are fluent in another language.  (By participating in this FREE forum, Hotel Charlotte  consistently gets the name and location of their bed and breakfast in front of perspective European travelers. Victor has his Spanish-speaking mother do this task!)

2. Offer a translation tool on every page of your website for guests to be able to quickly get a translation in French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish. This is a free tool available from Google.

3. Add a currency converter on your rates and reservation pages. Europeans can instantly see how very low the prices are when they do this quick and easy conversion. (Another FREE tool.)

4. Get your local visitor’s bureau involved. Members of Hotl Charlotte's bureau take a marketing trip to Europe twice a year for trade shows focusing on visitors from Germany & UK.

With European travelers so eager to visit the USA because of the favorable exchange rate, you need to benefit and develop a following from this expanding market!

Build Your Back Links
Your web site could be seriously energized by engaging a company to build authentic back links to your site. We currently have a program we are recommending for inns that have been fighting the battle to get on page one on search engines for their city. Our program has been developed by a group of search engine experts who were formerly reporters for the L.A. Times and CNN. They have taken their writing skills to gain position on Google search engines, especially.

Four press releases a month are developed for you but this is only a small part of what they do to get you where you need to be on specific keywords on search engines. This is a somewhat costly endeavor  (though only 1/4 of price others charge!!) We recommend it for large inns, inns in highly competitive areas, and properties with larger advertising budgets. Contact for information.

How to Get Higher Rankings on Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN

Inn Marketing Guru Scott Crumpton of Whitestone Marketing gives this free advice:  "If I have one piece of advice for innkeepers it's this. If you want more reservations, sign up for more lodging guides as they're the best bang for the buck in marketing you can get!!"

We recently caught up with Scott and discussed challenges small inns have in the increasingly crowded internet space.  Recommendations include:

When B&Bs pay for SEO, about the best ROI is getting on 6-10 directories.
The links in from large and closely related sites are highly valued by Google, Yahoo, etc.
Links from directories carry more valuable/quality travelers than those from paid ads.
In a recent post on the PAII forum Scott explained it this way: "One of the benefits which lodging guides provide is a link back to your own web site. This helps your site perform better in the search engines. If you want to show up on the first page (other than the local listings), get more quality links. Lodging guides are especially good links so don't discount them too quickly." This is the objective: to generate qualified guest leads for our inns, people who are properly informed about the property they select as their destination and therefore more likely to book a reservation.

How to Get Lower on the Search Engines

"When you start dropping out of lodging guides your site will start performing worse in the search engines and it's a downhill slide that takes a while to recover from (once you start marketing again)."

"Many innkeepers simply don't understand this concept and look only at their stats. When they see numbers lower than they want, they drop the guide and it hurts them worse than they know. I've tried to explain to innkeepers over the years that even 100 visitors a year is plenty from a guide but they don't get it. - Our clients do though, which is why they're so successful :-)" Whitestone Marketing