Innkeepers, Thinking of running a social media contest?

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Thinking of running a social media contest? Before you do make sure you check out contest guidelines, and make sure that what you want to do is legal in your state.

Each social media platform has different rules and regulations regarding contests and it’s very important to make sure that you follow them as well. Most of the platforms reserve the right to remove content that’s not following regulations, plus it’s very important to make sure you find out what rules and regulations you may have to follow by Federal law as it’s different state by state.

Some states may fine you. or you may face criminal charges if they find you are not following the laws.

The Three Types of Online Promotions:

Sweepstakes—Sweepstakes are prize giveaways where the winners are chosen predominately by chance. A sweepstakes prize can include anything from a coffee mug to an all‐expense‐paid trip to the Maine Coast.

Contests—Contests are promotions in which prizes are awarded primarily on the basis of skill or merit (for example, the best essay on an B&B stay or the winner of a weekend getaway). Entrants in a contest must be evaluated under objective, predetermined criteria by one or more judges who are qualified to apply such criteria.

Lotteries—Lotteries are random drawings for prizes wherein participants have to pay to play. A lottery has three elements: prize, chance, and consideration. Unlike sweepstakes and contests, lotteries are highly regulated and (with the exception of state‐run lotteries and authorized raffles) illegal. Further, each state has its own definition regarding what constitutes consideration. Usually, it is money, but it generally also includes anything of value given in exchange for the opportunity to enter and win, including the entrant’s expenditure of considerable time or effort.

As an example: Connecticut’s Sweepstakes laws are quite different from the State of Florida’s.

Connecticuts: http://www.ct.gov/dcp/cwp/view.asp?q=430834. Under state law, no person may advertise a sweepstakes if there are any conditions or restrictions placed on the person who wins the sweepstakes. The winner shall not be required to buy anything or pay a fee of any type. However, the winner may be required to complete publicity or liability releases or eligibility affidavits and assume liability for city, federal, state, or local taxes, and pay federal, state or local license or registration fees or other similar costs. A person advertising a sweepstakes in Connecticut shall disclose in immediate proximity to and in at least the same size and type face as the descriptions of each prize in the advertisements, the verifiable retail value of such prizes, the element of chance involved, the odds of winning such prize, and whether the receipt of the prize is restricted or qualified in any way.

Vermont: http://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/13/051/02143b Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter, a person may organize, execute, or participate in a contest or game of chance, including a sweepstakes, provided that persons who enter the contest or game of chance are not required to venture money or other valuable things. The cost of mailing an entry shall not be considered a venture of money or other valuable things. This section shall not be construed to prohibit a person from organizing, executing, or participating in a contest that is not a contest of chance. (Added 1989, No. 7; amended 2013, No. 9, § 2, eff. April 26, 2013.) Both of these states have short and sweet legislature, but compare them to Florida’s (which I won’t reprint here as it’s too long, but take a look at for comparison’s sake.

Florida: http://www.leg.state.fl.us (search for sweepstakes) You may have heard that of one of the inns that was running a “Write an Essay to Win the Inn” in the Northeast was investigated and while it since was cleared of any wrong doing, it made a huge impact in the news, and still comes up high on the first page of search for the inn (and will for many many years to come). While this is not social media, it is something to aware of if B&Bs want to run contests on the radio, TV and in print, be aware of the rules and regulations of your state.

We would also suggest checking out the FTC’s (Federal Trade Commission) commonly asked questions https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking because it does address such concerns as disclosures and endorsements.

Social Media Platform Contest Guidelines:

Recommended Facebook Contest Apps: (Some are free, some are paid)

Contest Ideas You Can Run on Your B&B’s Facebook Business Page, & on some of the other social media platforms.

Like to Win: Like the B&B page to be entered to win

Comment to Enter: While this has a downside, i.e. it’s not getting the commenter to like the page, comments are seen by friends and have a greater reach.

Like the B&B page and comment to enter is the best combination.

Trivia! Answer Correctly to Win

Photo Comment and/or submission contest NOTE: per the Facebook promotion guidelines, it does say that the Facebook release and rules/ terms must be included or linked to in the contest post. At bottom of this first example is a sample rules and disclaimer text. Example: It’s GIVEAWAY time! Click “LIKE” for your chance to win one of our Inn’s gift certificates (or recipe book). Example: Winners will be randomly selected at 4 p.m. CST this Friday and their names will be posted on our Facebook Page! Example: Rules/Disclaimer: This promotion is open to those 18 and above in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Void where prohibited. By “Liking” you enter and agree that this promotion is in no way associated with, administered by, or endorsed by Facebook; and acknowledge a complete release of Facebook by your participation.

Comment to Win: Example: Comment below and complete with “Jane Doe’s B&B has the best breakfast “…………………..” to enter. 1 winner will be randomly selected at 4 p.m. CST this Friday from all comments as winner of a Free Romance Package at our B&B. We’ll post the winner on our Facebook Page! Trivia: Answer correctly to win! What is the name of our newest B&B addition? (hint we featured them on this month’s blog post) –this does double duty as it gets them to go to your B&Bs website, provide the link but not the direct link, and than find your blog. Simply comment below for your chance to win a $25 off certificate for use towards a weekend getaway! 1 Winner will be picked from correct entries and announced at 1 p.m. PST on Monday! Answer correctly to win! How many signature recipes do we have online?

–again double duty, forces them to go to your B&B website and search. Comment below with your answer! 2 Winners will be picked from correct entries and announced at 1 p.m. PST on Monday!

Photo Contests: Example: Enter our Timeline Photo Contest! Enter a photo in the comment area below that shows us your favorite meal for breakfast. Deadline to enter is this Friday at 11:59 p.m. EST! Our team of 3 judges will review all photos and announce a winner next Monday at 9 a.m. EST. Winner receives a $50 Gift Certificate for our B&B. Post a comment with a Photo of you at our B&B for a chance to win a 30% off a future stay!

AND>>>>>>

See you in St. Charles! I’ll be speaking at the PAII conference at the end of next month. If you have never attended a PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International) conference, make this your first one! And a whole day devoted to aspiring innkeepers! Check out more information at http://www.innkeepingshow.com

 

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

Ideas for Bed and Breakfasts using Video and Live Streaming

One of the most common questions I have been getting recently is what kinds of things can B&Bs use for both video projects, and for content for live streaming video.

Video is HOT and I don’t expect it to be a passing fad. It’s terrific for Search Engine Optimization, wonderful because its a winner for guest engagement, and the content itself is both evergreen (ie the content stays around long term), and it can be shared and hosted on a variety of channels you own and are connected with: your website, your blog, on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tripadvisor, Yelp, Google+, Linkedin, many of the directories B&Bs list on and more.

Take #11 as an example: Mini Video tours of local points of interest, the local beach or harbor, a historic site, the local ice cream shop or bandstand that has music in the summer.

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Fountain in Salisbury, CT by the side of the Salisbury Town Hall

This fountain for example has some of the best drinking water around Litchfield county. When I lived in the area and was on a local sports team, our bus used to stop on our way from and to field hockey meets. My Grandparents who lived in the neighboring town of Lakeville had a good well, but swore by the water here and used to come down once a week and fill up gallon jugs. The site itself has a lot of history, it’s next to the town hall which was originally built around 1750, and was burned down by arson in 1985 (which has an interesting story behind it by itself alone) and than rebuilt in 1986, and the town hall has behind it one of the oldest cemeteries in New England that has some unique features.

A one to two minute either taped or live video with commentary would give guests and potential guests some personal insight and also a touch of history of the area. Pretty much anything out there can be used for video content. Think a little outside the box!

  1. Live guest commentary and/or testimonials
  2. Room tours (each room a separate tour)
  3. Full Interior Inn Tours
  4. Exterior Inn Tours
  5. In the Kitchen: making a signature recipe, trying a new recipe (make sure that’s referenced a few times, demonstrating a tip you found that works, i.e. the best way to remove sticky waffles from a waffle maker.
  6. Highlight things in your inn: you have historic ___________in each room, you grow___________ in your garden and it’s served to your guests for breakfast………
  7. Video clips from local events: live music (concentrate on the performers not the crowds), festivals, parades, farmers markets, the local air show, a crafts demonstration, glass blowing…
  8. Mini interviews with local business owners: include craftspeople and other artisans, like a mini clip of a local potter throwing a pot for example, or a local quilt shop owner who gets yarn from the local llama farm.
  9. Who you are?: A little person history on you the innkeeper(s), how you got into innkeeping, what you did before you were an innkeeper, how you found your inn, what made you fall in love with your inn…
  10. Do a time lapse video (most can be done with smartphones which have a time lapse setting), have some fun with these, a recipe from start to finish, a parade that goes by, birds at bird feeders, snow melting off a roof, the river/stream going by, a local train. Use your imagination.
  11. Mini Video tours of local points of interest, the local beach or harbor, a historic site, the local ice cream shop or bandstand that has music in the summer.
  12. If you host weddings or other types of meetings, do a mini video tour of the highlights and point out features with commentary.
  13. Mini itinerary tours, the local main street has a bunch of antique shops: walk the street, go into the stores and say hi to the owners/proprietors. (you may want to give them a heads up first so A. you can let them know you are helping to promote them, and the area, and also so they can be on their best behavior).
  14. If you have events, ask permission to tape and use. Wedding attendees expect to be photographed, but any other events make sure you have permission from everyone, in writing is preferable.
  15. Bust some myths about innkeepers, Show a day-in-the-life.
  16. Tell a story: every innkeeper has funny stories or touching stories, the day the oven decided to not work and had a full house, a couple that proposed on the front porch, the family of ducks that comes back every year and has ducklings that get into your garden.
  17. Thank you videos: a great meal at a local restaurant, a local florist who did a great job for a wedding, a local carpenter, etc. (while the clips may not be directly promoting the B&B, it shows a more personal side, plus the recipient of the video will love it and share=bonus marketing)
  18. Before and After videos: B&Bs seem to be always changing and renovating something, a room redo, an addition to the inn, a new flower bed or landscape addition.
  19. Q and A’s: you can use this to highlight some of your specials and packages, or answer most frequently asked questions about your inn.
  20. Favorite products or foods and why you love them, you get cheese from a local vendor, why is it the best cheese, the creamiest, what do your guests say about it…….

 

Posted in B&B, How tos, Inns, Lodging, marketing, Social Media, Story | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Planning Ahead for Your Bed and Breakfast Promotions

Specials and Packages

This is a question I get frequently, and it came up recently when an inn asked for specific times to advertise specials and packages. I recalled having written an article about this awhile back and went in search of it. This post (after the photo) originally appeared last year on http://www.freetobook.com.

In addition I am adding the calendar that I use for inn promotions, this is not a set in stone calendar, as it needs to be customized for your inn, your specials and packages, and where you are in the world. An inn in Southern California may not be impacted like the Northeast does with Leaf peepers/foliage season for example. Please visit the calendar here and please feel free to download it if you can make use of it!

In tab 2 is a suggested schedule for holidays. You may need to wait a moment for the tabs at the bottom to appear. Tab 3 has a mini calendar for each event with an example, remember to add larger or well advertised local events to that section if you use this. You may want to combine all of the calendars together, this is a basic outline.

If a desk calendar or dayrunner type calendar, or calendar on your phone works better for you, than use it, there is no way that’s a bad way, the important part is scheduling it and making sure you stick to the schedule and track it. Tracking while it seems time-consuming, once you’ve gotten into the habit takes only a few minutes and is VERY worth it long-term to track bookings, revenue, brand exposure and historical data.

Keep in mind putting in the days of the week and the weather will also give you better tracking data long-term and help you plan. Valentine’s Day happening on a Wednesday one year, may get less bookings than it happening on a weekend for example. Or a rain out on Memorial Day weekend.

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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 a 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 it’s 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 lead time to run an article. Monthly magazines generally need three to six months, sometimes more.

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 sent 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, than 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/fathersdayspecial.”

V.S. 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.

Don’t forget to visit the calendar here and please feel free to download it if you can make use of it!

Posted in B&B, Events, How tos, marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Innkeepers, what does your email autoresponder say about you?

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Over the years I’ve been the recipient of many B&B auto-responders, and have started collecting ones that are either very good or quite awful. Approximately 1 in every 10 B&Bs has an auto-responder on their email, and based on some of the responses, quite a few have forgotten they are even there.

In the day and age of people wanting an instantaneous reply to an email, auto-responders may seem like a good interim point of contact between an inn and a potential guest, BUT it needs to be crafted carefully, as well as viewed from the perspective of a potential guest making an inquiry.

Or if it’s a general email i.e. innkeeper@janedoeinn.com v.s. reservations@janedoeinn.com, be careful because the receiver of the email auto-responder may have already been a guest, and may not be a happy one, and is trying to contact you about it.

I’ll start with some examples I’ve collected that may come off as “not the best”. Keep in mind that email can be, and has been the cause of many misunderstandings, because there is no tonality in it. What you may think of as a short and sweet to the point auto-responder, may come across as brusque in tone to a potential guest. So here are some examples of good, the not so good and in some cases the hilarious. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. 🙂

Out of date auto-responders (and I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of these with various out of date and some very very out of date dates) “We are closed on vacation through August 14,  2014, we will return your email promptly when we return.” (I got this one last week and called the inn to let them know about it, you would have thought someone would have mentioned it by now, but also consider how much business they may have lost because of it…………scary!) Guests view: Well I guess we can cross that B&B of our list……..

If you have been on vacation, closed for renovations or away for any reason, make sure you check that auto-responder!

I’ll include making sure if you include specials (which IS a fantastic idea to put in) make sure you update them, I received one several months ago advertising a New Year’s Eve Special………for 2015.

An auto-responder in PINK Comic Sans Font. And no the colors of the inn are not pink, so they can’t use branding as an excuse..  Guests view: Not very business like………

“Thak you for your inquirey.  We will get back to you by phon or email a soon as possibe.” Guests view: Spellcheck much? (the sad part is I have seen A LOT of auto-responders with multiple misspellings. If you are going to use one, perhaps run it through MSWord spell check first, not all email programs, believe it or not, have spell check or it may not enabled) I personally would be totally lost without spellcheck, and while grammar errors do get through, at least it catches most spelling mistakes.

“Our breakfasts and hospitality are unmatched in Luna Mills!  See the link on our website to TripAdvisor to read reviews by our guests.” Guests view: “Nice promo of their inn, BUT, I have to go back to their website and click on the link to Tripadvisor to read their reviews? How about I just want to make a reservation” OR “I have a question” OR “I had a bad experience at your inn and was emailing you about it, but thank you for reminding me you are on Tripadvisor, I am going to go there now and leave a review……”

“Greetings! Thank you for considering the Jane Doe Inn for your travel needs. We will contact you within a couple days regarding your reservation request.” Guests view: “I don’t want to be contacted within a couple of days, I want to be contacted now (or close to).”

Some examples of the somewhat “brusque”auto-reply: (and this was literally all the text they contained)

“Thanks for your inquiry. We will respond shortly.“

“Hello – Thanks for contacting The Jane Doe Inn!   This is an auto-reply.“

“This message is automatically sent in response to your email. Please do not reply.“

“I try to check email at least 2 times per day.  You should hear back from me at some point.“ (I loved the vagueness on that one)

“Please do not use this email as it is not read!  Please call the Inn or email to the address on our web site.” (that is the email on their website, and maybe provide a number to call?)

Guests view: “Um ok?…………………..”

Now read those back to yourself slowly out loud, do they sound very welcoming?

“Again, thank you for your interest in staying with us at the Jane Doe Lodge B&B in beautiful Luna, VT. Sincerely, Don and Rachel, Owners/Innkeepers” Guests view: “Again? And how did you know I was emailing you to a book a stay? Assume much? I was going to inquire if you had any breakfast items for people with gluten intolerance and then maybe I was interested in staying with you” OR “I had a complaint, I have NO interest in staying with you ever again!”

And while I don’t label this one as “bad” per say, it does take the cake as one of funniest.

“Thank you for contacting the Jane Doe Bed & Breakfast in Luna, Texas.  We are a small, owner-operated business, and though we try to check email as often as we can, sometimes many many hours can pass before we get the chance.  We could be cooking, cleaning toilets or making beds, running errands, attending to guests, in the bathroom, answering the phone, gardening or sleeping (this is our home too as well after all), so please leave a message if we don’t answer and we will return your call as soon as we see the flashing light on our phone.” Guests view: “Um, TMI much? Also flashing light on their phone? What is this the 80s?”

This is perhaps the worst culprit of auto-responders, the Spam approval filter request, mostly through Earthlink or Spamaware, and sometimes Yahoo. As a potential guest, current guest, already a guest, the last thing I want to have to spend time on, is having to take extra time to get “approved” so I can send an inn an email, I already took the time to email you, I don’t want to have to get approved and then re-email you AGAIN!  Guests view: “Booking somewhere else”

Also of note, people may not be aware of of what their outgoing email says who it’s from, when it is replying to someone.

i.e.

From: Stupid email [mailto:janedoeinn@janedoeinn.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2016 7:13 AM
To: Heather Turner
Subject: Re: Reservation Inquiry

I’ve gotten replies from inns with the return email name is “innkeep”,  “the inn”, “inn, “innkprs”,“Hotdiggity Dawg”, “no answer”, “My email”, “info”, “website email”, “me”,”barleycorn”, “hotticket”, “Stupid email”, “my stupid email”, “apple”, “apple email”, “my apple email”, “my yahoo email”, “my AOL email” and my personal favorite, “Handshake”. Handshake? Is that a name or something you do to your guests?

A few examples of some decent auto-responders:

“Thank you for your E-Mail to the Country Cottage of Luna. We will respond to your request personally as soon as possible. In the meantime if your request is regarding a reservation, or information on availability at our Inn, please call Tom or Jackie at 800-555-1212 for an immediate response. We look forward to seeing you on beautiful Luna Island.”

“Thank you for contacting the Jane Doe B&B.  We have received your email and will be getting back to you as soon as possible. We invite you to visit our website, http://www.janedoeinn.com where you can learn about the bed and breakfast, check room availability and make your room reservations online. If this is after office hours we will respond to your email first thing tomorrow morning. If this email is in regards to a current stay or an emergency, please contact us at 800-555-1212. Thank You! With regards, Innkeepers Sharon and Mark.”

“Thank you for your interest in the Jane Doe Inn. We appreciate your visit to our website and we will respond to your email request as soon as possible. However, a faster way to reach us if you need a quick response, is to call us on our cell phone at 800-555-1212. We’re never far away from it. Remember, it’s 800-555-1212. It’s the fastest way to book what you want! Thank you, Nathalie and Jim”

“Thank you for your interest in The Jane Doe Inn! Most questions regarding pricing and events are on our website at http://www.janedoeinn.com. If you need further assistance or would like to make reservations in person instead of off of our website, please call us at (800) 555-1212 for a prompt response.”

I recommend that if you use an auto-responder, if you feel the need to have one, use it as a marketing tool and read the auto-responder and read “into” how it can be taken from a guests or potential guests point of view. Add links to your direct reservations page, add some specials (if you have them and do keep them up to date), nice touches are adding local events (again keep them current) but make the auto-reply personalized and professional and it doesn’t hurt to add a hook:  Book online now at the Jane Doe B&B website and save 5% off your booking!

Posted in B&B, Customer Service, How tos | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Bed and Breakfast Industry has a problem and it needs some TLC from its Innkeepers

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Statistically for every new B&B that opens, two close, plus a combination of the threat of Airbnb, an aging innkeeper population, and the fact that innkeeping as a profession is not something most people (and more importantly millennials) are thinking about as an actual career option. More inns are going on the market than have buyers for them currently.

Lets address B&Bs closing first, Airbnb is definitely a contributor to that, but not the primary fault, the population of people getting into as a second or third profession, and who have owned their B&Bs for years and want to get out is also a major factor in closing rates. Being an Innkeeper is not sadly looked at as a “I want to be one when I get out of college” option to most.

As I go through state by state doing research, I am finding some rather startling statistics, many of which I think are sadly contributing to the closing of B&Bs as well.

Issues with B&Bs

  • The average room rate is about $135 per room (well above Airbnb rates even with the added fees) so they are not being competitive. I know B&Bs feel they should not lower their rates, but some may want to consider looking at their occupancy and then their individual room occupancy through the year month by month. The room(s) that get least rented, i.e. have shared bathrooms or are small etc, perhaps consider re-evaluating those rates, if the room has a low occupancy overall anyway how can it hurt? A head in a bed is worth money vs none at all.
  • Over 60% of B&Bs have old outdated websites that are not mobile friendly, and another 22% have newer websites done in WordPress that are not responsive/adaptive, and don’t have a mobile friendly alternative site. (With more than 50%+ of people looking for lodging on mobile that’s a huge issue. There are some alternatives both for websites and mobile alternative options, if people don’t want, or in many cases can’t, afford to do a new site with a professional B&B website designer.)
  • 86% of B&Bs don’t do packages or specials.
  • Only 8% are doing email newsletters, which is a huge fail as email marketing is huge.
  • 62% of B&Bs have no social media presence whatsoever.
  • Of the 28% of B&Bs that do use social media, 12% of them have completely abandoned their social media profiles, but still list them on their website by way of links or icons. From a guest’s standpoint looking at an inn’s social media for the first time and debating a booking, that doesn’t look good. If you are going to abandon them, fine, just don’t advertise you have it. Interestingly enough, about 8% use social media but DON’T have links from their website to their social media accounts. 
  • Over 40% of B&Bs that do participate online (out of the 28% above) are lazy with their posts on social media. Promoting a special offer on their website and posting it to Facebook (fantastic!) Posting it with a link directly to the B&Bs home page instead of the page its supposed to reference with more information on it about the package itself (not so fantastic).
  • 54% have not claimed their Tripadvisor listing and 63% have not responded to Tripadvisor reviews. Apparently some people just don’t care what’s said about them online, even if it’s losing them business………………….
  • 78% have not claimed their Google Maps/local listings and more than 80% have not responded to Google reviews. See comment above…………
  • I am currently working on statistics for how many B&Bs have claimed their Yelp listings, but at a semi-wild guess based on the number of B&Bs I’ve looked for on Yelp, I would guess it’s a rather small percentage that have claimed them. This is important because as the millennials become more of player in being guests/potential guests, I foresee they are more likely to post a review on Yelp than on Tripadvisor. Yelp also ranks high for SEO, so claiming and optimizing the listing (free, don’t go for the paid) is good for SEO even if there are no reviews on it.
  • Many B&Bs are doing very little actual marketing with the exception of being listed on a state tourism website (generally at little or no cost).

I know innkeeping is a full-time job, but just like any other business you have to market it. Just because innkeepers work more hours a week/month/year than the average person isn’t an excuse.

Many B&Bs, especially ones with outdated sites with some god awful pictures are just relying on their website to make the phone ring and bookings to come in. If the site has tiny dark blurry photos (which many of the older ones do, a little collection curated yesterday from some sites below) vs well taken large format shots (like above), it goes without saying that guests are going to book at the ones with the nice photos.

bad photos

If you can’t afford to hire a pro photographer, ask some photography students from the local college to come by for their portfolios, or a local starving professional photographer and tell them you’ll give them web credit and a link to their site, or take your smart phone and snap some new pictures, heaven knows they have to be an improvement on some of the sites I’ve seen lately. My biggest cringe? Brand new WordPress sites with bad, dated, old, dark blurry photos. Seriously?

An additional issue is many newer sites are not optimized with calls to action (book now) or are not laid out well, or more importantly link to reservation systems that are not user-friendly, and even worse not mobile friendly. If your website is mobile friendly, but your reservation links and booking capability is not, you probably (certainly) have a fairly high abandonment rate. Studies have shown huge abandonment rates in the booking process across the board. Have you tried to book your own B&B on your mobile phone? Have you? Is it easy? If not, you may want to revisit.

reservation

One in approximately thirty B&Bs has a web request form for contacting them (no email because they still believe that spammers scour the web filching email addresses) so unless you want to call directly (and some don’t even have phone numbers on them at all to contact) they are relying on contact forms for reservations or questions. Of the ones with contact forms, many don’t actually work (I’ve tested many from the front end and the back), so innkeepers may not even be aware they are missing out on potential bookings. If you have a contact form, when was the last time you actually tested it? And if you have, do you still test it once a month or more? Especially if it’s based on a WordPress plugin, is your plugin up to date, or even supported by new versions of WordPress? Check please!

Many B&Bs have auto-responders for their email that are unprofessional with odd fonts (Comic Sans in Pink for example), brusque language, misspellings or I come across this frequently, vacation or away notifications that are months old or even in a few cases more than a year old (a topic for another blog post). What are your auto-responders saying about you as a business? Do you even know?

Suggestions for B&Bs to address.

  1. Be proactive in your marketing. This is common sense, but I see many innkeepers waiting for the phone to ring instead of actively going after guests and potential guests online and offline. Yes I know there is only so much time in the day. Make time, it’s the difference between surviving and going under. If you feel overwhelmed, make a checklist, and tackle one small thing a week. Most of the items I listed don’t have to be and are not time-consuming to do. How long to check that your page links work? = 10 minutes. How long to check to see if your social media links A. work and B. are up to date (or not) and you should remove? = 5 seconds. Optimizing your Yelp listing? = 5 minutes or less. How long to check your auto-responder? = 2 minutes or less. Break it into bits. 
  2. How to compete with Airbnb? List your inn and tweak the listing to appeal. There are a ton of helpful articles out there on how to make your listing stand out. Use them! And beyond that, up your customer service quota. What does a real B&B offer that an Airbnb host does not? Professionalism! Awesome Breakfasts! Terrific Hospitality! Safety! Cleanliness! and the list goes on…………leverage it!
  3. Go through the list I highlighted, are you doing all the things you should (or shouldn’t?) Look at your marketing or lack of marketing from a guest’s standpoint? All of it! From checking links working on your website to responding to guest’s reviews. None of this is rocket science, but look at the statistics above and see where you need to do some homework and spiffing up. If most of those are good to go, that’s fantastic, but check! Don’t rely on a guest to tell you that your request for booking on your non-mobile friendly website isn’t user-friendly, they won’t, they will just book elsewhere.
Posted in B&B, General Rants & Raves, Lodging, marketing, Observations, Reputation Management, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

ADA Service Animal Requirements for Bed and Breakfasts

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Our Service Dog in Training

This past week I wrote an article for PAII’s May Newsletter with some information that the US Justice Department has put out on commonly asked questions about service animals. I wanted to elaborate a bit on the article, and delve a bit deeper into the issues and potential issues surrounding ADA compliance and how it pertains to B&Bs. We are puppy raisers for Fidelco Guide Dogs and this is a topic that hits close to home for me in that regard and not just pertaining to the hospitality industry.

 

PAII and myself directly, frequently gets questions about service animals, unfortunately many times pertaining to guests and potential guests abusing the law. The prevalence of places online where you can buy fake service dog vests (and fake documentation) is unfortunately growing, and on many of the lodging Facebook forums we see questions and complaints from innkeepers about guests bringing “service dogs” that clearly were not.

 

Innkeepers are being overly cautious about this and rightly so, because A. in this sue happy society we live in, they don’t want to get sued, and B. heaven forbid they make an error and it hits the news. An inn’s reputation can get ruined online in very short order, and in some cases could cause them to go out of business.

 

In some cases Innkeepers don’t know specifically what questions they are legally allowed to ask:

From the ADA: In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions:

(1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

and

(2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

 

If Innkeepers think about specifically asking the second question, many times it will actually help them weed out the legitimate service dogs from the fakes.  Apparently most of the people using the fake vests are not actually familiar with the laws. **and note where it says (not obvious that the dog is a service animal) think about that, obvious would be a blind person or someone in a wheelchair, so the “non-obvious” pretty much covers any dog including ones wearing vests (legitimate or not).

 

I have a B&B I work with in New England who is pet friendly, but not all of their rooms are. Every few months they will get someone bringing a “fake” service dog and reserving a room in one of the non-petfriendly relegated rooms.  The innkeeper I think has a very nice way of asking (when definitely in doubt and he tries to do his best to believe everyone is truthful, but a dog for example not paying attention to it’s handler and not settling easily is generally a pretty clear indication of it not being a service dog) “In accordance with ADA regulations I am allowed to ask you two questions about your service animal, my deepest apologies for asking, but we had an issue recently where guests came saying they had a service dog and it bit another guest’s dog, “and then asks both questions. He also has a copy of the ADA regulations in hand when he says it. He told me that its an easy way to tell, as people “faking” having a service dog generally don’t have a quick and easy answer for “what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

 

I think with a bit of foresight an innkeeper could come up with additional ways of being “prepared” for having to deal with potential issues. It may be helpful as well to watch some of the videos available on Youtube (of which there are hundreds) demonstrating what actual service dogs and how they are interact with their handlers looks like and what some of them have been trained to do.

 

Another tip off is guests coming with documentation in hand that certifies their dog as being a service dog. By law documentation is not required, nor is it regulated by the Government. Sadly there are sites out there that will provide certificates and vests with no proof required of any disability (in this case think of the saying, “thou dost protest too much”) Don’t use this as 100% proof though that it’s a fake service dog, some people with disabilities have gone that route after having had to deal with too many issues and questions, but the ones that I know (and there are not many of them) actually have documentation directly from a registered service dog training facility and will volunteer if pressed vs the pet dog owner who cheerfully waves around their fake “documentation”.

 

If you read through what I’ve highlighted in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document, you will also find some other things that are tip offs, a dog must not be left in the room, etc. etc. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8NhdxswriMUTlRMaXBob3c5SFk/view?usp=sharing. What can B&Bs do to protect themselves? If you have a guest saying they have a service dog and are going to leave them in the room, you can bring up that under ADA law it must accompany them.

 

A case in point regarding reputation management (and this was a B&B making a mistake but with a legitimate service dog), a few weeks ago a Bed and Breakfast in North Carolina made the news after a woman with a service dog was made to leave the B&B. They were extremely lucky in that it only made one news channel, and negative comments were only put on their Facebook page (which has been taken down).  The news channels original article only made mention of the B&B by name in the actual video clip. It since has added the name of the B&B, but only after the major search engines spidered the article, so it doesn’t look like it’s effecting the inn’s SEO. The inn does have two Facebook “places” pages which I don’t think they are aware of, those come up on page two of Google search and have negative reviews pertaining to the issue. (They have been sent an email to make them aware of this.)

 

In many cases, issues such as this could hit the more mainstream news and can snowball causing internet trolls to leave many negative comments on Tripadvisor, Yelp and other review sites, and can cause permanent reputation damage to a B&B.

 

In this particular case the service animal was a Yorkie, which is not a dog most people think of when it comes to service dogs. Even though it was wearing a service dog vest, enough questions must have been raised in the innkeeper’s minds about whether it was a real service dog. The innkeepers did apologize but it was handled very badly.

 

An issue may come up as well about service dogs in training, the laws regarding in training dogs vary from State to State, and there are some additional statutes per state that an innkeeper may want to brush up on for their own individual states, although all are bound under National ADA statutes. A good reference state by state can be found at http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/58. Keep in mind miniature horses are also legitimate service animals under the ADA, but I have yet to encounter a B&B having to accommodate one.

 

With more and more legitimate service dogs entering the general population in use for people with PTSD and individuals with other medical issues (like diabetes) that a dog is trained to help with, it’s more and more important that innkeepers know what is a legitimate service dog, and be able to accommodate and interact with people that require them as well as being able to protect their own business and other guests against damage as well as harm.

 

As of now, 18 states have laws that make it a crime to fraudulently represent that a person has the right to be accompanied by a service animal. A list can be found here http://kdvr.com/2016/04/11/law-to-make-it-a-misdemeanor-to-misrepresent-pets-as-service-animals-fails/   I would also highly recommend reading  http://pleasedontpetme.com/pets.php as well as checking out some of the other links off this site, some very valuable education for innkeepers to be aware of in the links regarding service dog behavior, business rights, service dog and handler etiquette and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in B&B, Customer Service, Hospitality News, How tos, Observations | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

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.

Slide14

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.

Slide18

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.

Slide26

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