With the dearth of online travel review sites, Tripadvisor, Yelp etc. and the focus the media puts on how important online reviews are, I think lodging businesses have a tendency to forget how important local chambers of commerce and lodging business associations can be.
While you may (or may not) get a decent amount of traffic from the chambers website itself, most chambers and associations have staff that answer the phone or deal with walk ins from potential guests asking about lodging recommendations. Having spent a lot of time volunteering at chambers in NH, Cape Cod and in NY, the amount of people that call and walk in looking for lodging recos is quite astounding.
There are many people out there who still want the in person information, to use the recently found “greycationer” description, many leisure travelers are in the retirement phase and quite a few are still slightly afraid of the computer. Even if computer savvy, many tend to like the old fashioned way of actually speaking with a live person. I am quite computer savvy but will frequently call a chamber to ask for advice and recommendations and I still have a few years to go before I reach that “greycationer” stage. From seeing walk-ins my age and also answering the phone apparently I am not alone in this.
This subject was recently brought to light by one of my innkeepers that asked me to cold call a couple of local chambers that they belonged to. The inn tracks origins of incoming reservations as much as possible and found while they were getting high hits and reservations through their online listings, they were not getting much in comparison by phone compared to some of the other chambers and associations they belong to.
In calling the chambers and associations (including the ones they were getting some good phone referrals from) it was interesting to find some bias in the answers, even when asked leading questions like specific locations, specific amenities, size of establishment etc.
I know having volunteered in chamber offices and overhearing Executive Directors, A.D.s and other volunteers answer the phone and in person there is bias going on and I’m afraid I’ve probably been guilty of it myself. I would in the past have hesitated to recommend an inn where the innkeeper has been drunk repeatedly early in the morning serving breakfast for example. (unfortunately a true example) From a chambers perspective if a guest has a bad experience in an area the first time they are there, the odds dramatically decrease that they will ever revisit. It not only affects the one establishment but the whole tourism base in the area.
While I think many chambers and associations are doing the best they can and are struggling to help businesses in this economy and that many lodging businesses feel that they could be doing more for them, I think it’s important to take a minute and step back and actually think about how many personal referrals you get from them.
While I definitely don’t condone bribery I think there are things lodging people can do to make sure they stay in the good graces of their local chambers and associations and keep those word of mouth referrals coming in.
- Invite your local Executive Director and staff to your inn, give them a tour and some history. People are more likely to recommend you if they know you and your establishment.
- Volunteer! Take an hour a week or a couple of hours per month and spend it volunteering in the local chamber or association office. There is NOTHING wrong with some shameless self promotion and you meet some great people this way AND you are doing a service for the community. If other lodging people have an issue with it, just tell them to get THEIR rears in gear to do the same.
- Donate some small items periodically to events and raffles, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself but this has two purposes, an item that has your name on it is branding yourself and the way to an Executive Director’s heart is the businesses that are willing to donate items.
- Have some people call your local chambers and associations, if they are not recommending you, find out why. Fix it if possible! Several prior guests had complained about being ill after being served breakfast at the inn, maybe this is something you need to look into. hint hint. Guests loved the place but several complained about the odor of your fabric softener on your sheets, etc. etc. some things can’t be “fixed” but you can gain some very valuable insight on your inns operations by getting external feedback. You can also gain the loyalty and trust of your local E.D.s and staff by making sure they know you are willing and able to address problems.