Branding, Marketing and the Internet for Aspiring Innkeepers. Part Three

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This is part three of a series based on a recent session I did for Aspiring innkeepers at the recent Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference in Virginia. Part One can be found here and Part Two here.

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Slide 14 gave screen shots of a nicely laid out well designed wordpress site (above) that is responsive (or adaptive) and mobile friendly.  A discussion was had about the importance of having a mobile friendly website. While new or innkeepers taking over an existing business may not have the funds to go out and redo a new website right away, we talked about some of the alternatives that inns could use in the interim of having the site redesigned. (suggested links at the bottom of this post). While it’s not the best substitute for having a responsive or adaptive website done (but with the realization it may not be in the budget just yet), it’s a stop gap interim that needs to be done as Google is making it more and more important that businesses have mobile friendly sites, it’s not something to ignore. (Google Just Upped the Penalty for Not Having a Mobile-Friendly Hotel Website)

Slide 15 is an older standard HTML website with a mobile friendly separate website screenshot from a mobile phone.

Slide 16 is an example of a DIY website through Wix.com which is mobile friendly.

Slide 17 is an example of an older standard HTML website with no mobile friendly alternative, I can forsee an extremely high mobile bounce rate for this site, as you have to really expand the view to move around in the site.

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Slide 18 is an example of a wordpress site that’s lovely, well designed (above) but NOT mobile friendly. Again similar to the older HTML site, I would guess it has a rather high mobile bounce rate.

Slide 19 is a screen shot of a newer website with some rather bad photography of their rooms. Here I put in my own two cents about the importance of good photography, and in terms of marketing budgets and money, my feeling is spend the money on good photography FIRST, before you have your website done or redone. Photos are what is going to sell your inn and book your rooms. A lovely well designed, well coded and well SEOed website is still not going to get you the reservations if you have crappy pictures. People don’t read and they won’t, they look at the pictures and that besides the pricing, influences their booking decisions primarily.

Slides 20 & 21 is a comparison between a not attractive photo selection from an inn, and an attractive one pleasing to the eye, i.e. an “I want to book your rooms photo selection.”

Slide 22 are some food photos I came across on inn’s websites. If you have to ask “what the hell is that?” then it’s probably not something you should be posting on your website (or your social media for that fact either.).

Slide 23 is an example of two professionally taken photos, which still doesn’t take away the fact that inns need to eyeball photos heavily before posting. The top has a photo with pumpernickel toast (and a blurb underneath, which people won’t read) but at first glance (and second) the toast looks burnt. The second is an example of a well done “action” photo i.e. maple syrup being poured.

Slide 24 is an example of another professionally taken photo that is used in large format on an inn’s website but also goes into the category of the innkeeper should really eyeball the photo carefully, especially if being used like this as a photo front and center. It IS a gorgeous photo, well lit, well laid out, But…………. The apple in the photo has been cut prior to taking the photos for enough in advance that it’s start to brown around the seeds, the grapes are lackluster looking and could have used a bit of glycerin or a brief spritz of water. And my personal pet peeve, lots of cheese but very few crackers, so from a visual aspect, i.e. a guest looking at it, the photo looks appealing, but something in it is just a little “off”. I would suggest reading these three articles I wrote, one from last year and the other two from several years prior: Suggestions for Professional and DIY Inn Photography, and Some food styling tips for Bed and Breakfasts, and Innkeepers, think before you post…a photo.

Slide 25 is a shot from Social Media Examiner’s yearly social media report. http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/. I would really recommend that inns and aspiring innkeepers sign up for their free newsletter, very informational. The slide has a breakdown of social media being used currently for business.

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Slide 26 is a snapshot of a B&B using Youtube (above) with a well filled out profile and lots of videos and went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 27 is a snapshot of an Inn’s Facebook profiles and we went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 28 is a snapshot of an Inn’s Pinterest profiles and we went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 29 is a snapshot of an Inn’s blog and we went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 30 is a snapshot of an Innkeepers Linkedin personal profile page we and went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 31 is a snapshot of an Inn’s Linkedin business page and we went over some brief pros, there are no cons to having a Linkedin business page.

Slide 32 is a snapshot of an Inn’s Twitter profile and we went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 33 is a snapshot of an Inn’s Google+ profile and we went over some brief pros and cons.

Slide 34 is what Google+ pages are transitioning to look like.

Slide 34 is snapshot of the web interface for an Inn’s Instagram account and a mobile screenshot of the actual Instagram account.

There are also handouts of all of my sessions at http://forfengmedia.com/MAI2016/. The Pros and Cons of Social Media, and Reputation Management handouts would also be ones I would encourage aspiring innkeepers to download.

Another article that may also be of interest (and it came up in another discussion at the conference) was “checking yourself in” to your own B&B. A related article from 2012, Why it pays to sleep around for Bed and Breakfast owners.

Helpful Links for Aspiring Innkeepers on a Budget

Mobile alternatives if you don’t have the money to redo your website: (some are also website builders as well as offering mobile site alternatives)

Website builders that are fairly low cost and mobile friendly (definitely save up for a good quality designer, but some alternatives for the interim, a website is better than NO website at all realistically)

Free photo editors – lets you edit all your photos online, from one easy place. If you don’t have a desktop photo editor these are great.

If you are an innkeeper or aspiring innkeeper and would like a copy of the actual slidedeck (for the visuals) please send me an email at heather@forfengdesigns.com and I’d be happy to send you a copy. (no sales pitches included, I promise :) **By way of explanation for not posting the slidedeck online, I did get several email requests from people asking me to post it online. In most cases I would, but I’m being bugged by someone that teaches aspiring innkeeper courses (for a rather large fee) that attended my session at the conference. Quite frankly I am happy to share for educational purposes but not if someone is going to profit off it. I realize I should take this as a compliment but it irks me, i.e. take the 6 hours it took me to put the slidedeck together, and do it yourself if you are going to charge for it. (sorry if that comes across as snarky.)

Posted in B&B, Hospitality News, How tos, Observations | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Branding, Marketing and the Internet for Aspiring Innkeepers. Part Two

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This is part two of a series based on a recent session I did for Aspiring innkeepers at the recent Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference in Virginia. Part One can be found here.

Slide 10 was on utilizing your business cards and using them well. I also talked about how in the beginning you may not have social media links set up for your inn, but instead of having to reprint them as you add them, use the Clear Avery Mailing Labels and utilize any white space on the cards for the new text on the label.   I also mentioned the importance of not just saying “Find Us on Facebook” on your cards and print materials,  or just using the logo but actually putting the direct link, like https://www.facebook.com/forfengdesigns as people are honestly lazy, A. they won’t search for it and B. with a name that may have multiple variations or be worded a certain way, you want to make sure you direct people to the correct inn (instead of the inn with the same name in another state for example or you have abbreviations or hyphens in the FB url). Some additional ways you can use your business cards can be found here from the blog in 2011: Leveraging your business cards for the hospitality industry.

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Slide 11 was about the importance of an innkeeper having their 30 Second Elevator Speech done and perfected. I wrote about this one back in 2011: Why Bed and Breakfasts need to have an elevator speech.

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Slide 12 was about Telephone Tools and having scripts in place for certain types of calls and also Post-its or reminders to make sure you concentrate on the art of the upsell. I wrote some tips about this one back in 2009: A tale of two Inns and the importance of good phone sales skills.

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Slide 13 was about whether local Chamber membership was worth it. I feel personally that it is, but you have to take advantage of the membership, otherwise it’s worthless. A post from 2014 relates more: Is Chamber membership worth it for Bed and Breakfasts?

I still have about a dozen more slides to go, mainly on websites, photography and social media, so stay tuned for next week when I wrap up the series. Same bat time, same bat place.

If you are an innkeeper or aspiring innkeeper and would like a copy of the actual slidedeck (for the visuals) please send me an email at heather@forfengdesigns.com and I’d be happy to send you a copy.

Posted in B&B, Customer Service, Hospitality News, How tos, Lodging, marketing, Observations | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Branding, Marketing and the Internet for Aspiring Innkeepers, Part One

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At the recent Mid-Atlantic Innkeepers Conference in Virginia this past week I did a session for the aspiring innkeepers, and realized much of what I went over with them in terms of marketing both offline and online I’ve never really either put down on paper (so to speak) or condensed in one place for reference.

Many of the things we went over were basic marketing tools that many B&Bs either don’t take advantage of, or don’t think of, and going out of the starting gate with some additional ammunition to get your offline and online marketing in shape is never a bad thing.

I’ll start out with what was my first slide (slide two) where I talked about having consistent branding. Before even starting to develop your marketing materials, think about what fonts do you like and are planning on using. Are they easily readable in different sizes? i.e what might look great on a sign in front of the B&B may be completely squint worthy on a business card. Is the font going to be one that if you work with a designer on a project,  are they going to be able to find it easily (if it’s not a common one), will they have to purchase it (expect a markup). Is it going to print well on different surfaces like silk screen or having it done in embroidery.

What colors are you planning on using? Are they from color palettes from RGB/Hex or Pantone colors, which the codes can be translated to each other, but a color that may look terrific on print materials (Pantone) may look hideous on a computer screen. If you go to GoffGrafix (there are other conversion sites out there as well) if you are planning on using Pantone colors, test them out with their RGB color conversions down at the bottom of the linked page.

Make sure your branding is consistent from the get go. I’ve seen too many B&Bs where business cards look one way, rack cards another, website another, have three different logos floating around, etc. I know over the years things get revamped, but starting out with consistent branding in the first place gives you a leg up on when you want to change your branding at some point, (as it’s not bad to occasionally do a brand refresh) but it’s something to also put in your initial budgeting. You want to think about in advance that at some point down the road you may want to do a full website rebrand/redo, start budgeting to have any print and other materials you have already developed at that time to be redone at the same time.

Slides three and slide four were on rack cards, and a guest post/interview I did for Bedandbrunchpr pretty much sums up everything I would want to impart about rack cards. You can find it here: Media Moment: Rack Cards

Slide five was on thinking out of the box a bit on your branded amenities.  I wrote about this one (had to go find it! Back in 2010) The great debate about “branded” amenities, necessity or waste?.

Slides six, seven and eight were on advertising where your guests will find you. If you are a Select Registry Inn and have a lot of high end cars in your parking lot for example, consider doing print ads (no print is not dead if used correctly) in magazines like Roundel magazine,  which caters to BMW enthusiasts, or if you are a pet friendly inn, connect with your local vet who always has copies of the pet directed branded magazines in their office, ad space in those is very affordable. You have guests that love quilting, check out McCall’s Quilting as another example. What do your guests like to do, and more importantly what do they like to read!

Slide nine was making sure that if you did print ads, make sure they had a call to action on them, and make sure they had a referral code on them so you could track your ROI (Return on Investment) for the ad. Adding a small incentive always helps. “Use this referral code when booking for a small sampling of chocolate dipped strawberries when reserving your room, Phone reservations only.”  So you give them 3 or 4 strawberries when they come (remember it said small sampling:). Or something else (it doesn’t have to be big, a small room discount, free tickets to an area attraction that you may have gotten for free) as an incentive to save the ad itself, plus use the code so you can track your bookings.

I have 2 dozen more slides to go, so I’m going to make this a multi part post, more next week. Same bat time, same bat place.

If you are an innkeeper or aspiring innkeeper and would like a copy of the actual slide deck (for the visuals) please send me an email at heather@forfengdesigns.com and I’d be happy to send you a copy.

Posted in B&B, How tos, Lodging, marketing, Observations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A revised way to curate Facebook Interest Lists for Bed and Breakfasts

Interest listsFor those unfamiliar with using Interest Lists in Facebook, they are a terrific way to curate content for re-posting on an inns or associations social media channels including re-posting to an inns or associations Facebook business page. While one method of curation is to like a area attractions page “as” your business page, Facebook still filters out the majority of the posts so you are not actually seeing everything posted by the liked pages. Utilizing Interest Lists for curation lets you see every single post posted by the pages who have interesting content, ie. local theatres, restaurants, area attractions etc.

In the past Facebook gave you the ability to add a page to an interest list when you were directly on a business page, you had to like the page first (with a personal account) and then you would see the option. Facebook took that away several months ago. You could still create interest lists, but then you had to like a page first, then go to an interest list and add them.

They have now changed it so that you can add a page to a list without liking the page first and it also appears that business pages can create interest lists (I would be cautious doing this at the moment, as A. I don’t know if that feature will still be around in a few months or its in testing mode and B. it doesn’t appear that you can then share the list with others, ie. having them be view-able and searchable to the public and to friends.) From a collaboration aspect (especially if you are using this feature for the benefit of an association) you may want to stick with creating Interest Lists with your personal accounts for the foreseeable future.

To walk you through some quick steps to create and add pages to an Interest List, go to https://www.facebook.com/bookmarks/interests

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Then:

step one

Then name your list:

Step 4

Add a page to your interest list to start:

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To add additional pages to your list, find the Facebook business page you would like to add, copy the ending of the page from the url:

list one

Paste the url snippet into the box to the right and hit add and bingo you are all set!

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You can have multiple interest lists for multiple topics and they can be private, public or friends only.

Posted in B&B, Facebook, Hospitality News, How tos, Lodging, marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Innkeepers, What does your personal digital footprint say about you? (and your inn)

foot1I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday (an Innkeeper in Virginia) about attending the PAII conference next week, and my friend asked, “So where are you staying?” and we got into a discussion about B&Bs in Austin and how she thought she had found one she was going to book at, and then changed her mind.

“How come?” “Well, I always check out their Facebook page because sometimes they have better pictures of the rooms and inn then the website itself does. (FYI, it appears that Facebook has re-enabled “Featured Page Owner” which means you can click-through to someone’s personal profile from the business page. Facebook took that away about a year plus ago, and has recently brought it back. You can disable this feature or enable if you choose). To continue. “The featured page owner icon said I had several friends in common so I clicked through to their personal profile. Big mistake. I don’t like their politics and I don’t like their views on the politicians leanings even more. I don’t want to stay there!” I.e. that inn just lost her business.

Which brings up a few things I’ve bookmarked and seen over the years (so I guess this post was brewing for a while) that innkeepers may want to take a wandering eye and look over their own social media posts and profiles in the new year. I encourage inns to be proactive about reputation management about their inns, but that should also apply to their personal profiles, and I think many may not be aware of how they “personally” may be appearing to guests and potential guests online. In this day and age, people click-through and explore, you may not be cognizant of how you appear.

I’ll give you some of the examples of innkeepers posting things over the years and some quite recently as well as profile issues.

I recently was attempted to be friended by a innkeeper that I chat with on Twitter, her profile was locked down but her likes, groups and favorites were still visible. I’ll leave it to say that what I saw on her profile in Likes and Groups was not my cuppa tea (similar but probably not nearly as bad as the inn my friend didn’t book at but still). Not friended. I still chat with them online but it’s not someone I think I want having access to my personal information. Nothing horrid but as I said, just not my cuppa.

The very professional innkeeper who has a well populated Youtube channel with some great videos, their Channels and Playlists though feature some really shall we say “interesting” videos as favorites. You do have the ability to make those private FYI.

Another inn’s Youtube account favoriting dating videos. hmmmmm…….

The local innkeeper that connected her personal Facebook profile to her inn’s Twitter page as a feed by accident (I hope). Apparently she has some mum issues and hates her parents. From a guest’s perspective, just a tad too much TMI.

Another innkeeper who has two Twitter accounts, one for the inn (very professional) one for personal. Sadly the person likes to swear, allot, which normally wouldn’t be much of an issue as people do, but their public bio on Twitter says innkeeper @  Jane Doe Inn with a link to the inn as well. Perhaps using a pseudonym would be in order here, or at least taking off that personal identifying information.

The pinner on Pinterest who has a “Hunky Man” board on their inn Pinterest page, mixing business with pleasure is always fun, and while I greatly enjoyed the lovely men with the muscles, perhaps that board should have gone on a personal profile instead of the inn’s Pinterest account.

I have many more examples but the main point being, innkeepers in the New Year should really take a gander (and look from a guests/potential guests) viewpoint of what their own personal social media profiles look like.

I’ll give one more and just because what a guest sees can very much influence their booking practices. An inn advertising they are LGBT friendly, and they personally comment on their own posts on their Facebook business page quite a bit with their personal account, (which has all posts set as public and the account very clearly tracks back to the page as the owner) which is fine. But it is not so fine from a guest/potential guests perspective if they are clearly NOT LGBT friendly on their personal profile. Kinds of defeats the marketing eh?

Recommendations

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. If you are a Republican and you don’t want guests from other Parties staying with you, that’s one thing, and your prerogative, but be aware of what else is posted in conjunction with that, just as an example.

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. The first inclination by most people is to “like” the page just to get rid of the suggestion. Eyeball your likes, you don’t see them in your timeline so you may not remember you liked the “Going to McDonald’s for a Salad is Like Going to a Brothel for a Hug” page, or your friend added you to the group “My Friends Are Getting Married. I’m Just Getting Drunk” group 3 years ago and you totally forgot about it.

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 inn board is fine, food of course is always good. But eyeball your interests, knitting and home improvement are generally fine, but fashion, bad memes, people of Walmart photos, pictures of spider bites, inappropriate photos of men & women, weird toilet boards (yes these are all images and boards I’ve found on inn 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. I know a fellow who didn’t want to book at an inn because the innkeepers were apparently diehard Red Sox Fans (they were following all the players who had accounts) and their Facebook business page had set Red Socks Pages as featured liked pages, and he was a Yankees fan. You can’t sadly make this stuff up.

If you have spammers, scammers and “Get 10000s of Twitter followers Now!” accounts, while you can’t control who follows you initially, it looks bad to people who do look. You can get rid of these accounts by blocking the person/account following you.

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. I had an inn call me in a panic last month because someone had apparently added her to a list labeled. “Grandma type doily B&B” which she is not, and it clearly hit a nerve.

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?

Linkedin

While many innkeepers I’ve talked to don’t see the value in Linkedin, and don’t actively use it, many have accounts. If you haven’t visited your Linkedin account in a while, it is worth a gander at. If nothing else you should have a professional Linkedin photo on the account.

Also look at who your connections are (if it’s set to public which most are) as well as what groups you belong to/have listed. To give you an example, I was on an innkeeper’s profile last week who asked me for some help, and I asked her why she belonged to all of these jobseeker groups/forums on Linkedin. She had apparently been looking for a job before she landed one at an inn about 5 years ago, but forgot to remove herself from the groups.

Think of it from the perspective of a guest/potential guest researching an inn. Linkedin profiles do come up in public search, and are very good for search engine optimization. In this case a search for the inn online also brought up the innkeeper’s Linkedin account, from an outsider’s perspective it appears she is job hunting and may negatively affect (primarily subconsciously but still affect) someone’s decision to book.

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. If your name associated with an inn popped up negatively, I would think you would want to know about it (I know I would) and take steps to negate any online damage. In this case. 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……………..

Posted in Facebook, How tos, Inns, Lodging, marketing, Observations, Reputation Management, Social Media | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Q&A with Tripadvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, Brian Payea

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A bit over a month ago, I got to visit Tripadvisor’s new Headquarters in Needham, MA, with our Fidelco Guide Dog Puppy in tow. (off topic for a minute, my husband and myself are volunteer puppy raisers for the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, my apologies for the shameless plug for Fidelco, but it’s a great organization that trains dogs for a great cause.:)

Their new headquarters is cool, and I think it interesting that anytime a article has come out in the past month with snarky comments about, “My business listing money increase put to a great cause, etc. etc.” and “oh so THATS why they raised my biz listing fee.” I can understand the unhappyness and frustration that having raised fees causes, but if I could point out, and this is not in Tripadvisors defense, but just an external observation, the new HQ is geared (from what I could observe) in making their employees happy and productive. I personally would much rather call a company with someone happy and helpful on the other end of the phone to deal with my problem, then a grumpy, unhappy and fed up with life customer service rep, IMHO.

I spent more then a hour talking with Tripadvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, Brian Payea, and we talked about the state of the industry and where Tripadvisor was headed.

I had been collecting questions for some time from inn’s that I had been talking to and gave Brian a laundry list of questions. I hadn’t priorly published them, as I was still waiting on some of the statistics that took some time for them to put together. There is a comment regarding reviews and claimed listings (from me) at the bottom that I think the B&B industry needs to address.

General Questions from more than one property:

A comment: A ton of inns said they would continue or start to list on TA if they kept rates affordable. But every time the rates are raised more small properties are dropping. When their marketing budget is $3000 for the year and their TA listing is more than ½ of that, they just can’t afford it.

Just to be sure everyone’s using the same terminology, every business has a free listing on TripAdvisor.  The Business Listings product, which provides contact info, links, special offers and announcements, is a distinct product that is available for purchase.  So, whether or not a property decides to purchase the Business Listing, they always have the free listing.

Business Listings has evolved from the first iteration, where we had flat pricing regardless of the property’s business specifics, to a product where each property has an individually calculated price.  Each property now sees property-specific pricing, based on a calculation using the following elements:

  • Number of rooms
  • Geographic area
  • Total page views for the property in the last 12 months
  • Click-through rates for the property
  • Estimates of conversion rates based on industry standards
  • Average daily rate and average length of stay

The pricing is higher than it was when we first introduced it.   The factors used in any property’s pricing are available for consideration, and if the property owner disagrees with any of the individual elements of the calculation, he or she should contact their sales person and explain which elements are incorrect, and then work with the sales person to determine the price that reflects the accurate elements.

Why is Tripadvisor so hard to contact and get answers from? Especially support?

With more than five million businesses on TripAdvisor, we constantly re-examine how best to provide support sustainably.   We have recently made significant changes in our support structure, and have seen a measured improvement in the time to respond.   Our management center is still the place to begin all dialogs regarding most areas that require answers.    Our Help Center has also been rebuilt, and almost every question of policy is answered there.  Where properties most frequently want additional help is when there’s a desire for escalation of the discussion after an answer has been delivered through the management center.   In those cases, they are able to reply to the email, or call the toll free numbers and follow the path to customer support.  The wait times on those calls have gone down, but I can’t guarantee there will not a hold time.  

My experience with customer support issues when I’ve been drawn into the discussion is that frequently the request, for instance a review dispute, has not been framed with the TripAdvisor guidelines in mind.   I recommend that before submitting the request, take a look at the guidelines and consider whether the request has been described in a way that the violation of the guidelines is clear.    Also, it’s important to include details that will help the investigators come to the same conclusions.  

Why do do B&Bs continuously get promises to follow up on issues once they get ahold of support and many don’t get followed up on?

 Unfortunately it’s not possible to speak to specific instances without the details of the case. I’ve investigated claims like this after conversations with innkeepers and sometimes find that there is a difference of opinion about whether the inquiry has been addressed.  It’s good to check the spam filters on emails in case the email response got caught there. Second requests can be entered in the management center as well, or the phone support can be used to see if the case is closed on our side, and to discuss the outcome.   The innkeeper may decide to begin a new case with additional evidence that wasn’t provided the first time as well.

If site traffic from Trip Advisor is down, why do you think a rate increase is justified?

Site traffic to the site is up overall.  If a particular property is seeing less traffic than previously, they might want to check their figures against what is provided in the management center, and discuss any differences with their sales person.

Why must business listing members choose between a Special Offer & Announcement? Why not both?

Business listings customers do get both the Special Offer and Announcement.   I’d suggest checking out the resources in TripAdvisor Insights, www.tripadvisor.com/tripadvisorinsights to read some of the case studies and best practices documents about maximizing the impact of both of these features

Why not remove the most commonly used terms algorithm? It’s clearly not being updated.

We constantly reevaluate every feature on the pages.  If something isn’t benefiting the traveler, it’s tweaked or removed to make way for something that helps the traveler more.   You’ll see many new tests in the area of personalization that should improve navigation, and help travelers discover B&Bs as well.

What’s the process for merging small towns that only have 1 or 2 listings each?

We don’t merge towns unless the local government merges.  We keep properties in the towns in which they are built.   One option that you might be considering is when it makes sense to create a larger entity that includes multiple destinations.   One example is Cape Cod.   While a property in Chatham stays in Chatham, there is a larger area destination of Cape Cod, which includes Chatham, Brewster, etc.   You will see those across the top of the page, with the final destination on the right, and working back left, you’ll see Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States, etc.   If you believe your area would be well served by adding that additional layer of structure, please let us know.   Maybe best to contact Heather (heather @ forfengdesigns.com) and she can forward to me.

TA has been telling B&Bs this week that ALL lodging business listings start at $899/year and that is for a property with a $70/ADR. Is that true?

Our Business Listings are priced individually and the pricing changes.   Best to contact your sales person for your specifics.

Why don’t they charge restaurants for listings?

Every business gets a free listing on TripAdvisor.  The commerce opportunities vary by segment.  As you’ve probably noticed, we now feature booking options on restaurant listings, often through Open Table in the US.   We’ve also recently purchased companies in this space, and you’ll see The Fork, as one of our restaurant initiatives.   The different businesses have different ways to engage in commerce, and can choose to or not.  But all businesses have a basic free listing.

Why can’t they tell B&Bs unique visitors vs. total visitors when given their stats.

When the management center was built we worked with business owners to determine which pieces of information would be most useful, since we had to prioritize.  We will add your suggestion to the list of possible changes for the next version.

I’ve had a bunch of inns say they had a top listing in a town, with 5 star reviews and more then double the reviews of the competition, when they stopped paying for a premium listing their ranking dropped to #2

The ranking of properties has absolutely nothing to do with a property’s decision of whether or not to purchase any commerce opportunities on TripAdvisor.  Everyone’s heard us say that the popularity algorithm is confidential, and it will remain as such, so I won’t disclose any additional details here.  But the total number of reviews is not as important as the number of recent reviews.   Use the resources in the management center to compare yourself to your competition and pay particular attention to how many and how good the reviews are from recent months.

Why aren’t the analytics that are being provided anywhere close to the numbers that Google Analytics and other tracking programs return with. In terms of clickthroughs and visits.

We provide information from our servers, based on the clicks travelers make from our site.   Our data regarding what travelers do on TripAdvisor should be more accurate than another party’s data about our site.   Your sales rep should be able to walk through this particular data with you. 

Why do they favor hotels (e.g.; asking travelers to “choose a hotel” and totally leaving out B&Bs).

TripAdvisor is delivered in 28 languages and is used by people literally all over the world.   Hotel is a universally known term, while the B&B experience varies language to language.  The overall question is how best to get travelers who are looking for, or would enjoy, a B&B experience to those property listings.   Our ongoing testing of personalized navigation should be a big step in this direction.    While many ask for B&B tabs, we know from experimenting with them that that isn’t the answer, and we continue to innovate to help find your ideal customers and help them find you. **This also came up in conversation, about TA trying to best word B&Bs, as in other countries B&Bs are also known as guest house, holiday lets, country house, gites, etc.

Why are they now making it impossible to stop subscribing to Trip Connect until the end of an annual agreement?

TripConnect can be turned on and off as you wish.   You choose when it appears on the page.

Why doesn’t TA automatically “reset” the review count to zero when a business is purchased by a new owner?

If you notify us of the purchase, using the management center, the reviews from the previous owner can be removed and you start over.  Keep in mind you also start over in your popularity calculation and the reviews cannot be replaced after having been removed.   It’s your call.  We don’t automatically reset it without a request, as many purchasers consider the history of reviews as a goodwill asset of the property.

This request from many many B&Bs

Why is TA requesting auto renewal as one of the renewal conditions, considering the fact that the prices are increasing every single year drastically? Why they are not giving people the opportunity to go on on a year to year basis? People cannot just let Auto Renewal On and agree to have the money taken out their accounts when prices are increasing hundreds of dollars every year.

 Auto renewal is the standard contractual language, but you are notified in advance and given the opportunity to end your subscription.

This from one of my innkeepers. (and it was a question I had from some of my clients as well)

Our rate was going to go up by $339 this year to a total of over $1100 for 3 rooms. That is higher than I pay for B&B.com and they are our highest referrer and responsible for highest booking rate. I use http://intellakeeper.com and proved them wrong with the actual bookings TripAdvisor was responsible for. (we also have Google Analytics and Awstats on this account and neither match even close what Tripadvisor is reporting for stats)

Any time you have data that contradicts what is being used to calculate your new pricing, you should present that information to your sales contact. **Brian specifically said when we talked about this, TA is willing to negotiate, but you need to present them with facts about reservations, etc. 

How many B&Bs under 12 rooms in the United States have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 12 rooms: 17,309

How many B&Bs under 12 rooms in the United Kingdom have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 12 rooms: 26,221

How many B&Bs under 5 rooms in the United States have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 5 rooms: 11,633

How many B&Bs under 5 rooms in the United Kingdom have listings on TripAdvisor

  • Total B&Bs under 5 rooms: 18,096

How many B&Bs in the United States have registered owners? (i.e claimed their listings)

  • Of the 23,471 B&B properties in the United States, 12,563 have at least one registered owner at them (46%)

How many B&Bs in the United Kingdom have registered owners?

  • Of the 29,288 B&B properties in the United Kingdom, 19,856 have at least one registered owner at them (68%)

How many B&Bs in the United States are writing management responses?

  • Of the 23,471 B&B properties in the United States, 19,140 have reviews (82%). Of the properties that have a review, 7,036 have written a management response (37%).

How many B&Bs in the United Kingdom are writing management responses?

  • Of the 29,288 B&B properties in the United Kingdom , 27,631 properties have reviews (94%). Of the properties that have a review, 11,405 have written a management response (41%).

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Of concern to me is in the US, how many B&Bs have not claimed their business listings (the free listings) as well as how few (37%) have written management responses.

Considering that guests are booking lodging with a very heavy review bias behind them before they book, I think it’s of the utmost importance that B&Bs claim their listings so they can respond. If your B&B has nothing but great reviews, that’s terrific, but my feeling is you should still respond to the reviews. People have taken the time out of the day to write a positive review, responding lets them know you have acknowledged that, as well as for the thousands of other people looking at those reviews after the fact.

Posted in Hospitality News, Reputation Management, Tripadvisor | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Suggestions for Professional and DIY Inn Photography

In browsing many innkeeping sites and looking at photos taken by innkeepers, as well as professional photographers, I’ve come across a few things of note that all photographers should be aware of. There are some great blog posts on DIY photography out there that touch on things like making sure your wastebaskets are out of the shot, and power cords are moved, but many of them don’t touch on some common mistakes that from a guest’s perspective may make the photograph seem “off” and may not realize why.

I am including examples of things I’ve seen on multiple (i.e. more then several dozen sites, in a few cases hundreds, especially the unopened wine and champagne bottles). **I do have photo permission to use the below photos.

These are cropped portions of full sized website photos, things that caught my eye and will also catch a potential guest’s eye.

As the trend to use larger and larger photos keeps on, and I forsee keeps getting more and more common, inns need to heavily eyeball photos, and look at them from the perspective of a potential guest.

a

No utensils and no napkins.

b

A table set up for multiple people, but only one place to sit at. I’ve seen this on many porch shots as well.

c

Tables with drinks and food many feet away from a place to sit. To a viewer this shot is staged, but if you wanted it to look like from the perceptive of an action shot (which this one was supposed to be), the table should be closer to the couch and the two glasses and plates aligned with the people that would be sitting on the coach. (note the unopened champagne bottle). I see this on a lot of B&B sites but logistically doesn’t make much sense.

d

Cords, a different wrap for this would have been suggested. Or remove the appliance entirely. I realize leaving it in the photo is to show that it’s an amenity, but using a black twist tie (easily replaceable if lost) to neatly wrap the cord is an option.

e

Missing items, where are the tongs?And the full unopened bottle of wine accompanied by two glasses with wine in them. If you are doing “action” shots make sure all your props are in place and see whether you are missing something logistically.

f

Angle of the soap pump dispenser, but primarily the tissue box, tissues should be tugged up to a point.

g

This is from the same inn and the prior photo, un-consistency, in the prior photo, soap dispenser is in the cabinet, prior on the sink. In this case, the amenities are arranged nicely but the dispenser is kind of tossed in. The towel is also something to address. (will in another photo).

i

Oh the rose petals!!! (and the unopened wine again). I see this on decorated beds for romantic retreats as well. A guest’s subliminal impression? Wow it’s going to take forever to get those out of the tub (or off the bed).

j

The crimped towel hang, I see this on alot of B&B sites. While a tad time consuming, it may be worth it to invest finding out some additional ways to use towel folds so they give a neater impression. Try https://www.pinterest.com/legnonfamily/decorative-towel-folding/ for a few ideas.

k

The empty hangers. In each room in this inn there are complimentary robes in each bathroom, either remove the hangers or hang the robes in the armoire (for the photos sake). Or consider cropping out the armoire totally, in this case it was on the edge of the photo.

l

Alarm clocks and Ipod/phone docks that are unplugged. In every other shot on this inn’s website, there are phones plugged into the docks, so not consistent as well as not “on”.

m2

Unopened champagne and full glasses. I’ve seen this on scores and scores of B&B sites. Probably twice as much as the unopened wine.

n

Another (unopened wine) but in this case, look at one of the glasses, it looks like wine speckles on the glass but its from the wood work. Easy enough to edit out. The cheese should be trimmed to be neater (remember this is for show) and the cheese with the rind should be turned around. From an technical perspective as well, the amount of cheese vs the amount of crackers to accompany them is also off.

The benefit of digital photography and especially if you are a DIY photographer for your inn, is the ability to take multiple photos until you get exactly what you want. I’d recommend blowing up the good ones, and doing some serious eyeballing of the image to see if things can be moved, what draws the eye in the photos, and have some other people seriously take a gander at the photos to point out what they see, or in some cases don’t see.

Here are some of the other things I’ve run into on multiple inn sites as well, so when you are staging your rooms and are looking at your photos or your photographer’s photos, just to be aware of.

  • Making sure silverware is centered and straight. (this is another personal pet peeve with me coming from the restaurant fine dining venue) but it does make photos look sloppy when the knife and spoon are straight and the fork is not aligned.
  • Games (Chess and Backgammon) set up for two players, but only one has a place for someone to sit at.
  • 1/3 full glasses of wine next to fully made beds. If the photo had a bed with the covers pulled to the side as if someone was going to get in, that would make sense, but otherwise it just looks off.
  • Trays with teacups and tea (or coffee) and nothing else on them on top of beds. Cream, sugar, napkins, utensils?
  • Beer mugs with microbrew empty beer bottles with more beer in the glasses then the bottles hold.
  • Breakfast with coffee and food but no cream and sugar.

Look at your photos, you may be surprised at things you catch after the fact.

Posted in Hospitality News, How tos, Lodging, marketing, Observations | Tagged , , | 6 Comments