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

An Insider’s View of the NEW PAII

PAII-Logo-Color - Copy

Some of you may be aware that I have been working a bit (well more than a bit) behind the scenes (for the most part) for the last few months for PAII. I suspect, however, that most people don’t know that – including the many Innkeeper friends I have on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

For the most part, I have tried to be “Switzerland” following the emergence of the new association – “AIHP” which came on the scene this past January. Since then, I have been bombarded with questions about which association to join. I would simply say, “at this point, I don’t know”…and when pressed I would say, “Wait and see how this year shakes out a bit more.”

Some history: I have been posting content to PAII’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google+  accounts for most of the past year. I was asked to do so by a very good friend who has  a long association with PAII, and someone I simply can’t say no to because I absolutely adore him. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I read about an hour+ a day every morning about what is going on in the lodging industry, and anything interesting I find I post to my own accounts. Needless to say, posting industry content that I come across on a daily basis to the PAII accounts hasn’t been much of a stretch.

Back in January of this year, another longtime PAII Supporter asked whether I would be interested in doing some more marketing for PAII. At the time I said no, as had too many irons in the fire as it was at the time.

Before I get into more, a bit more history about the interactions between PAII and myself. For many years, I was a PAII Vendor member, rationalizing that the pricey vendor fee for membership was pretty much a wash given the amount of business I received from PAII (which was not much). I do not recall ever getting much other value from my membership at the time.

Advertising was available, but for someone like me, who got business primarily from referrals, paying a lot for advertising didn’t make much sense. I spoke at several PAII conferences over the years, and did several PAII webinars for their webinar series. Nevertheless, I finally made the decision to not renew my membership because “breaking even” never held much appeal for me long term, realistically what’s the point?

Over the years, I can recall disagreeing with how the PAII leadership handled some things, thinking that they really should have stepped up and tried to make more noise when it came to things like Advocacy. For example, one big issue I felt PAII dropped the ball on was the proposed expansion of the ADA pool lift requirement. While it did not affect the majority of B&Bs, it, nevertheless, did affect quite a few including several clients of mine. One B&B had to close their hot tub for guest use, as they couldn’t afford the $10k for a pool lift, another had to take out a hefty loan to stay compliant, and I heard from quite a few friends in the industry with larger properties that they were getting hit hard with the issue.

Before I go any further, let me be clear about something. Like most Innkeepers and others in the industry, I like Jay Karen a lot. He is a great person with a terrific people personality. His strengths are numerous and well known. That said, not all was perfect under his and the former PAII board members’ stewardship. What was left to “clean up” after the “Charleston debacle” was quite a mess that was several years prior in the making (and note I said “years” plural.) While I continue to like Jay as a person, my opinion of him as a past CEO is not nearly the same as it once was.

Filling Jay’s “shoes” was going to be a daunting task. Following in the footsteps of a charismatic leader is always a very difficult thing. I got to know Jay’s first successor, interim CEO Ruth Ann Hattori fairly well. She is a smart, hardworking, lovely person who I now consider a friend.

In hindsight, however, PAII might have been better off (and this from an industry Vendor’s perspective) hiring someone with Innkeeping experience, and who was well known and liked in the Innkeeping community. Such a person might have had an easier time explaining PAII’s situation without all the rancor that ensued. It certainly would have helped put PAII on the path to recovery quicker. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

Ruth Ann had jumped in and was doing a great job in spite of not having the industry background. Unfortunately, she had to resign due to a family illness (as opposed to the hogwash that she quit because PAII was about to fold). What many people do not know is that she continued to work on the 2015 PAII Conference as a volunteer, and was very instrumental in making it successful. Unlike the prior years’ conferences, PAII actually made money on the 2015 conference.

Fast forward to this past March when I received a phone call from another longtime PAII supporter (I was recommended by a friend) asking if I would like to be on the “new” Board of Directors. I gave this some thought for a bit and said yes. At the time I did not know AIHP was forming (and I don’t know if it would have made that much difference at the time or not). I did, however, think that PAII, after seeing and hearing all the negative feedback from people after Jay’s departure, did need to be revitalized.

Innkeepers need a strong advocate. While there are many national organizations out there (Associations, Vendors, Consultants, etc.), and while most states have state and regional organizations, there was no organization out there that had a broader “reach” and aim to help B&Bs than PAII did.

In order to fix what was, in fact, and, perceived to be broken, PAII was going to have to change. In order to effect change, one has to create change. If something is wrong, find out the cause and correct, if it is broken, see if it is fixable and fix it!!! If it’s totally done in, then send it to the dustbin, but do not send a Ferrari to the junkyard if the trannie blows, put a new trannie in! The cost to buy a brand new Ferrari far far far exceeds the cost to put a new transmission in an otherwise perfectly good car.

Based on the knowledge I have now, it is clear that many of the people who bailed on PAII, and have become some of its most vocal critics, were the very same people who had knowledge of what was going on financially prior and had known about it for a while.

Some have said that if Jay and the Board had been successful in converting PAII to a not-for-profit we would have been better off. Logic dictates the question – “how’s that?” What would being not-for-profit have done to increase member dues or conference revenues? It was PAII’s costs that really got unbalanced. For example, overhead costs (excluding anything having to do with the Annual Conference) ran far in excess of annual membership dues. This meant that the Conference HAD to be EXTREMELY profitable in order for PAII to make ends meet, and go back up a paragraph or two to my comment about prior conferences.

PAII can – and will – go nonprofit but, in and of itself, it does nothing to help the financial position of the organization. Only good stewardship from the CEO and Board will assure that and the current leadership is doing just that.

Jay and past staff and volunteers did do much good for PAII in the past, but a lot also got majorly fowled up. (use your imagination on what I’d really like to say!!!!!!!!!!)

For those who still gripe about PAII and continue to spread rumors, half-truths, and revisionist history, I have a little advice – GET OVER IT! The “good ole days” are just that. All that matters now is the future. On that score, I am convinced of one thing – the “new” PAII is extremely well positioned to provide Innkeepers with what they want and need.

When Kris Ullmer, PAII’s Executive Director, was hired, I was overjoyed. I first met Kris several years ago at the Lake-to-Lake Michigan B&B Association conference where I was the Keynote speaker, and was very impressed by her composure, her knowledge, her background, and her experience running the Wisconsin Bed & Breakfast Association for many years. WBBA, along with CABBI, the Bed & Breakfast Association of Virginia, and Lake to Lake were some of the successful state B&B associations I have kept an eye on over the years. Seeing what the more successful B&B organizations were doing was always on my radar. To have Kris come on board (a well-known, liked, and successful association leader to boot) was the crème de the crème for me and kept me enthusiastic about being on the PAII Board.

We have had some challenges and have made some tough decisions over the past few months. A change in venue for the conference – to a better space at a better rate (perhaps worthy of a blog post by itself), tough but fair discussions with creditors, and some change in conference organizers have left us in a better position than we were just a few months ago. The Board continues working on PAII’s costs, developing a solid long-term strategy, and do what best benefits innkeepers and our important vendor network.

So, what prompted me to write this, after all this time? A recent post by another vendor I respect, calling out our current leadership: “Change is inevitable! Change never stops, but to have a handful of hungry-for-power-and-money individuals destroy what was such a vital, enthusiastic support organization is incomprehensible!” She then went on pitching a pro “AIHP” position. When pressed on why she did this, she said she was simply responding to a comment posted on her board. In my opinion, the original comment was baseless and not worthy of a response. She has since added a comment to another commentator saying she was talking about past “leadership” i.e “I think our wires are getting a bit crossed here. The “hungry-for-power” individuals that I am referencing are no longer associated with the organization – they left some time after Jay’s “resignation” (almost two years ago). We very much believe that PAII, with Kris Ullmer leading the charge, is, once again, proving itself to be a vital resource for current and prospective Innkeepers. Sorry for the miscommunication.” But unfortunately, she hasn’t clarified that on her main post and many times people do not read the comments.

And to put this out there, I am quite frankly sick to death of posts by certain former PAII members, including some past board members (who I used to respect but no longer do) jabbing at PAII in a snarky manner. Insinuating and insulting emails and posts continue – to what ends I have no idea. My suggestion to you of the snarky emails and the blog posts… Grow up, put on your man panties, and stop with the B.S. already.

What is past is past; PAII has a new Executive Director, a new board, better control on its finances than ever before. We are paying off debt that the current board, leadership, and staff did not have a hand in causing or accumulating. We are trying our best to fix broken promises, unfulfilled agreements, cut costs, and deal with and fix tired old issues that several years (and this is including issues far prior to Jay’s departure) later people still are having a hard time letting go over.

We are trying to bring back things that PAII formerly did promise to members, much of which they never actually delivered on (don’t get me started on this one), and give more value for membership. Education, Advocacy, and Communication is WHY innkeepers and vendors become members. Having PAII become an actual resource and advocate for State and Regional organizations is critical and we are working hard on making that happen.

I sincerely hope that PAII and AIHP can get along and work together in the future. There may be room in the B&B sphere for both organizations, only time will tell. Both will need to clearly articulate who they are and how they plan to effect their strategy. We all know that with threats like monopolistic OTAs, the never-ending TripAdvisor challenge, etc, Innkeepers need all the voices they can get out there to try to represent our industry.

If you are an innkeeper, or an aspiring one, a vendor, or an interim innkeeper and you left  PAII because of all that transpired, (this is important) I’d ask you to let PAII know what you WANT and WHAT will help you as a business – PLEASE be specific!!!

If you are an innkeeper, a vendor, etc and promises were once made and not fulfilled, let us know. We are a new team and we don’t always know what was promised. We will do our best to honor what may not have been our promises, BUT is our responsibility to honor and fulfill, as that is what the NEW PAII is about.

Candidly, until a few months ago I had my own doubts about whether the conference would happen and whether PAII would survive. As a vendor, a board member, and a member I was honestly reluctant to put out, “Join PAII” because I didn’t know what would happen, I didn’t want to endorse something unless and until I was sure it would  succeed. I no longer harbor any doubts. PAII is going to not just survive – it is thriving! HOWEVER, we need support.

Some answers to questions that I know I have had over the last couple of months:

Were you on any prior PAII board?

Last year, I was listed on the PAII website as being a member of the advisory council for PAII, one that did not meet once and never (to my knowledge) exchanged a single email or phone call.

The PAII forums are dead, what about that?

That is probably my fault. A couple of years ago I started a couple of Google+ groups (communities) as an experiment when they rolled the option out in Google+. Many of the old and current PAII members post on it, and we do have AIHP members in the group as well. I don’t think that is a bad thing, as it encourages discussion. The new website will have forums and some new and improved ones as well. Will they get used? I hope so, but I personally like the Google+ groups as it does encourage discussion amongst everyone and I will be continuing to be the owner and administrator of those groups for the near future.

**Yesterday I received an email from an AIHP board member “Dear Heather, A friendly request, as owner and moderator of the Bed and Breakfast People group, when you post comments regarding PAII and or AIHP, it would be appropriate for you to disclose that you work for PAII.  You may try to stay neutral but I’m sure all would agree, for the benefit of the groups members and credibility, it would be appropriate if you were disclose your relationship with them.”

I am going to address this here, as it does coincide timing wise with my post:

  • I am an independent contractor for PAII, not an employee.
  • The Google+ groups were started by myself, and I am the owner of said forums.
  • I have no plans for the forums to become a PAII owned or PAII driven, as I think it defeats the purpose of having an open discussion.
  • Any recent discussions on the forum I have not stated I was pro PAII when asked which association one should support, but just pointed out that AIHP has not stated anything PUBLICLY (to date as of now) that they are advocating for Airbnb to be more regulated, and I did specifically ask to be shown where that information was listed. I am not an AIHP member, so if they stated this in their member emails I don’t have access to that information. (which I think was what prompted the above email). I did tell another of their board members that when they did have something posted I would be happy to share that information on my comment. **Updated my post was published at 2:09 PM, I just received a link at 2:27 PM directing me to a page on the AIHP site somewhat clarifying their position on Airbnb and I did update my G+ comment to reflect that. Just to point something out perhaps to them (I may have missed although I did look) I don’t see a link to this statement page off their main page anywhere, that would perhaps help them get the word out about it……and by the way did just pass that comment along to one of their board members.
  • I have specifically stated I will try to stay neutral on Pro or Anti PAII vs AIHP discussions, and that I wouldn’t bring PAII up and promote it. (And to my knowledge, and I’d be very happy if people want to double check this, have not.)
  • I personally don’t feel that I need to label the forum as being owned and moderated by a PAII “person”, there are several other moderators with just as much administrative rights as I have, and I have no idea which organization they support, and quite frankly that’s their own business and opinion, they have not stated on the forum which they do, and it is their prerogative if they would like to.
  • I have in past posts stated I was a PAII board member and that I was doing work “for” PAII.
  • If the majority of forum users think that I need to, or should be disclosing that a PAII “person” is the owner and one of the moderators, I will add it to the forum introduction information, or if they feel that I should put it in every single post (which kind of defeats the purpose since I stated I would not post about PAII info, LOL) I will do so. I am kind of offended actually that I actually got an email like the above, as people that do know me know I do try to be neutral. Just because others on the opposing team sadly can’t be, doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. The forum was started by me before I had anything to do with PAII.
  • If forum users see me promoting PAII or being in anyway non neutral (with the exception of this blog post) I would VERY much like them to say something to me about it, and they can then dip me in waffle batter and cover me with marmite jam (which is in the rules for the forum for self, or in this case, PAII promotion).

Can you give us some examples of debt that was accrued that was not well spent?

First and foremost, overhead costs were way out of line. No organization can have overhead costs that continually exceed their membership revenues, unless they have a large endowment or another guaranteed revenue stream. PAII had neither.

A few specific examples:

  • Over $2000 worth of stock photos that were not priced out for comparison from competing stock photo sites, i.e. the vast majority could have been sourced for under $300 total.
  • An out of date and costly website and a terrible CMS system (FYI, PAII is currently in the middle of moving to a more effective, updated, mobile friendly website content management system specifically geared for Associations and Non-profits that is about ⅓ of the price per year).

There are many more examples. I do know that money was also not well spent on additional websites, promotions (Better Way to Stay, for example), and many other things that were not cost effective. Much of this has already been addressed (if they are ongoing expenses that PAII still has). I could run this to many pages long, if you want to see, come to the conference in January, but don’t just come for that, come for the great education sessions, and to check out Austin.

Why am I no longer on the board?

Because some months back the amount of time I spent working on PAII related work was growing, and having PAII give me a stipend to offset some of that time, I felt was a conflict of interest, so I resigned from the board. I don’t as of now, “officially” work for PAII, that may change in the future, I don’t know. Currently I am a dues paying Vendor member who is to put it mildly, sticking both feet in and trying to assist as much as I can, as I very much believe that PAII has a lot of great things in the works, and we have made a lot of positive improvements just in the past few months, and continue to do so on a daily basis.

What are we doing to improve PAII?

  • We have brought back the weekly Newsletter (with the aim that it be educational and be more geared towards B&Bs then it was prior).
  • We have brought back and greatly expanded the monthly Newsletter (with the aim that it be educational and be more geared towards B&Bs then it was prior).
  • Brought back the Innkeeping Now Magazine (and yes we may bring back the print version if and when it becomes cost effective, as many people know, print costs and postage have been steadily rising for years, and more and more publications have been moving to digital only).
  • We are having on average, weekly educational webinars (in comparison to in the past when they had on average about 10 per year).
  • We are including educational webinars for associations open to all, as well as developing additional association driven education for both the benefits of our state and regional B&B associations as well as their members.
  • We are working on information (that will soon be available to everyone) that will help B&Bs find information relevant to the industry as well as make it easier to find.
  • We are working on instituting partnerships with other global organizations that can help advocate and educate members.
  • We have a new and improved website that will be rolled out very soon.
  • We are renewing our partnership with several organizations whose partnerships had lapsed, including several for educational opportunities for members that may not be cost effective to go directly through.
  • We are sending out a newsletter shortly to all state and regional associations offering their members access to our weekly webinars through the end of January 2016.
  • We have in the works a partnership with AHLA, and are working hard on advocacy for B&Bs, not just on the Airbnb front, but also on the TripAdvisor front.
  • PAII prior had about 4+ full time staff not including the CEO, last year it went through more staff changes, and then literally running with only a very part time bookkeeper for about 5+ months, it now runs with one part time bookkeeper and two part time people, and we are doing twice what was formerly being done with just this. Next year we hope to bring on one more person and bring the part timers to full time. All I can say is “you ain’t seen nothing yet folks!” in terms of what we can do!
  • We are working on bringing more value for vendor members (as a vendor member this is very important to me personally), we are highlighting vendor blog posts in our newsletters to start with, we make a point of trying to repost vendors blog posts on PAII’s social media and we are currently working on giving Vendor membership more bang for their buck and this will be inclusive of vendor members that have joined or just recently rejoined us this past few months.

“What are we doing to improve PAII?” The above are some of the things we have been working on. Now it is your turn – Tell us what you, the vendor, the innkeeper, the interim and aspiring innkeeper want, and we will do the best we can to make it happen.

This is not the old PAII; this is the new improved PAII. Think Six Million Dollar Man (but the one that is paying off formerly accrued debt not instituting new debt)

Harvey Bennett: Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.

Scuttlebutt and Rumor: (PAII, Innkeeping Association, An Association barely alive)

Oscar Goldman: We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.

(Kris Ullmer, Heather Turner, PAII BOD: We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. Better, stronger, faster.)

The result? One that we are and have been re-building….a better, stronger, more responsive, advocating and educating association. We are putting the P back in Professional Innkeeping.

Which association should you join? You decide. I support PAII wholeheartedly.

I wish AIHP the best of luck. Instead of bickering, let us find common ground in helping the Innkeeping industry succeed and find our own niches that can support themselves.

Please stop bringing up the “old” PAII, it IS dead and gone, the new PAII has arrived and is in the driver’s seat.
For those on the fence about whether PAII is a viable and strong organization? It is.

Posted in B&B, Observations | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

New Important Changes for Facebook Page Owners that Innkeepers Need to Know.

arrgg

  1. The Addition of a “People Also Like” Box to the left, it can be reordered but not deleted.

2.  The “Welcome to this Page” option (under the About Section) for mobile, looks like it may have only been a test, this option is now removed.

2. ***Verify Your Page looks like it’s now rolled out to all Pages. Verifying is easy. They call you with a pin number, you enter it and you’ve got the verified check mark.

Note, if you have a number for the business set in the page, you can change the number to call to verify it. This almost seems rather pointless as anyone can then verify a page, even someone not officially the business owner, or someone can set up a competing page for a business and have that verified. I just verified 5 pages (with the same phone number used) as an example. I suspect this may come back and bite Facebook at some point.

3.  ***Reviews has moved to its own location in the menu bar underneath the banner. The option to hide your reviews by unchecking the map option (in the About section) looks to be currently gone. It’s now been changed to “Show Map and Checkins on Page” instead of “Show Map and Reviews on Page”.

It does appear you can now comment/respond on ALL reviews, not formerly an option depending on individual privacy settings.

This is really bad news for page owners, if your business hits the news in a bad way, you may have to resort to unpublishing your page until it blows over now.

4. ***Adding Pages to Interest Lists has disappeared (from where you previously added them on the page itself in question).  The option itself still seems to work, you have to be logged in as yourself/personal account, go to your main page/feed, scroll down on the left to where it says Interests.

If you already have interest lists you can still add to them, or you can create new, you will have to “find” the page by entering it into the search box to the right. Note you must have also liked the page in question first before you are able to add it. I really hope they don’t do away with this option completely as this is one of the few things that made aggregating content on Facebook easier.

5. ***Page banners are undergoing yet another change and revision. Reverting a bit to the old format where most of the buttons/options with the exception of the Call to Action button are moving back under the banner. The smaller avatar profile image is getting smaller and moving up into the banner itself more. So anyone that’s spent time customizing their banner to look nice (if it has text on it) will probably have to redo it.

The interesting thing about this option is it’s not be rolled out to page owners, it being rolled out to users. I first heard about this about a month plus ago but the vast majority of users still don’t see the new format. I’ve so far run into two people who have the new view option and from reports I’ve found I’d peg it at about 5% of Facebook users see the new format currently. I’d recommend changing the image as soon as you can, past experience with views and major changes usually takes about 2 months and we are about a month in so far. I don’t have the option enabled, the screenshot was sent by a FB friend who has the new view.

Old Header

Richard old header

New Header

new header

Usually Facebook when rolling out some major changes (like the last four) means there are still more changes in the works. I’ll try to add to this if I come across any more.

Posted in B&B, Facebook, Hospitality News, How tos | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Unbundling, Innkeepers is it time to start thinking out of the box?

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I was recently talking to a friend of mine and was extolling the virtues of staying at B&Bs vs hotels, motels and Airbnb options, and he had an interesting question for me.

His question was do B&Bs ever offer the option of offering a guest to stay and pay for just the room, but not the breakfast. He is a frequent business traveler, and he said while he loves the environment of staying at a B&B, he generally is not a breakfast eater, and frequently just isn’t hungry in the morning, on top of which he says he doesn’t want to spend the time out that breakfast at a B&B would require, when a yogurt and piece of fruit would do, and he would rather (or needs to be) working on a report.

I was reminded of an interesting Skift article that came out last week: Will Unbundled Amenities be the Future for Budget Hotels? http://skift.com/2015/08/19/will-unbundled-amenities-be-the-future-for-budget-hotels/  And the leader into this article was The mid-range to low-end hotel sector hasn’t had an easy ride of things recently. With the popularity of vacation rental sites like Airbnb growing, hotels have decided they need fresh new ways to compete.” The article (and I recommend actually reading it in-depth as it’s got some interesting points of note) goes into several hotels that are “unbundling” their rates, offerings and amenities.

While I don’t put B&Bs into the budget hotel category, I do put many of them into the mid-range (and they are usually less expensive than said mid-range hotels) and with the ever looming and ongoing Airbnb threat (which sadly think is here to stay) B&Bs have to think up some alternatives to the traditional Bed and Breakfast model.

One of the major highlights of a stay in a B&B is of course always the Breakfast part, but in order to compete with the ever-changing world out there, Flash sales, Last Minute Booking Options, OTAs and Airbnb, B&Bs need to be realistic, offering options, like not having breakfast, it doesn’t mean everyone gets it, or doesn’t get it, but it could fall into the category of unbundling. Most Airbnbs do not offer food unless a “guest” wants to raid someone’s fridge, technically it’s a luxury.

There are other things that can be considered amenities that a B&Bs could consider unbundling as well, the biggest obviously being the breakfast, but things like housekeeping/room cleaning, bottled water, towels or just changing out the towels, amenity baskets, early/late check-ins. You could even go the route that hotels go if you really want to unbundle, AC (if available), TV (if available), WIFI even, parking, etc.

If you take your average room rate, most B&Bs average between $140 – $160 per night. By unbundling some of the regular options a B&B might offer they could potentially compete with the hotel/motel market, and Airbnb rentals without compromising their standards, or more importantly by losing money on the options because that’s what they are, options.

How much does your breakfast actually cost you? And then ask what would you charge a guest individually if they wanted to “add on” breakfast as a stand alone. $15-$20? Realistically your actual cost numbers should be between $7-8 a head, but you should have budgeted $10-12 which would include your labor, gas and shopping time and overhead like utilities. Build a realistic “retail” price that you would charge a guest for breakfast, like $15, but you don’t want to price too high because it would become an option that more would perhaps take out to lower the final price point.

A couple of key points from the end of the Skift article that bear consideration if a B&B would like to try this. I personally like the model Nomad Hotel’s uses, where guests are deducting amenities (i.e. especially ones they would normally get at a B&B) like breakfast and daily room cleaning. These two paragraphs (in segments) instead of having a base and adding on.

“The nature of Tune’s booking system feels somewhat miserly in the way guests have to pay for every amenity they want. And of course, their base rates can only go up, whereas Nomad’s can only go down. Budget-conscious travelers will undoubtedly find something rewarding in seeing their room rates drop every time an amenity is removed.”

And I think from a Bed and Breakfast’s perspective, people go to B&Bs “for” the breakfast as one of the best reasons, they have the option to take it away, but why do that as it would part of the normal booking amenity one would get anyway.

“Nomad Hotel’s booking system also exploits a human tendency that finds the fear of loss greater than the desire for gain—a consumer psychology phenomenon known as loss aversion. Applied to the idea of “subtracting” rather than “adding” amenities, customers would be less inclined to get rid of amenities that in theory, they already have.”

A B&B would have to put a price tag on each amenity prior to offering the deduction, your cost vs “retail cost. I am just going to put some numbers in for rough examples, they obviously will vary per B&B.

A suggested mock-up if a B&B was going to try this

Your regular room rate is $139

Minus Breakfast (and then a luscious description of breakfast – as a tease to not delete because who would? BUT they have the option.)  -$15.00

Minus Daily Housekeeping -$10.00

Minus the Amenities Basket -$7.00 (I know some B&Bs that this would be higher)

Minus WIFI -$5 (I think people would choose to keep, still cheaper than a hotel)

Minus Water bottles in room (2) -$3.00

All deductions would bring the room rate down to $99.00.

Minus the Housekeeping, amenities and water, down to $119, still very competitive and they get breakfast to boot!

Think about if you take away some of the things that are normally costing you money, daily housekeeping (labor, laundry costs, general overhead), amenities basket and the bottled waters (both found for free in almost every B&B I’ve ever stayed in, but hopefully built into your rooms cost), You are saving the money, they see a cost savings.

Most people will still take the Breakfast option and probably the WIFI, the key being you are giving them a choice, plus also than competing (or seeming to compete by giving them options) with both the traditional hotel/motel, plus at this point, and more importantly, the Airbnb competition (if there is some in the area).

I tend to think regular B&B goers will also keep the housekeeping as well, but the point here is the “illusion” of having saved a few dollars, water + amenities basket still brings the rate down by $10 and it’s your cost savings still as well at that point.

I would make a point of mentioning on this page, (with the options) about the fact that a B&B is fire inspected, has insurance, etc. etc., all of those are part of your “regular” lodging price, and it protects the guests, vs an Airbnb rental that offers none of that will still charge a similar rate.

While I love the traditional B&B model, I think it’s time that innkeepers need to start investigating ways that may be a little alternative to the regular business model in order to compete and long-term, stay competitive.

Just a snark of note, similar to PAII’s Better Way to Stay video, I’d love to see a B&B (more as a gag to a well-adjusted guest who can take a joke) have their room filled with things with tags on it (like the hotels do) Bottled Water “Cost free, in a hotel this would have been $5.00” etc.

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Some Social Media Changes Innkeepers Should Be Aware Of For 2015

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Facebook Is Testing “Saved Replies” To Help Pages Manage Customer Service Messages http://marketingland.com/facebook-is-testing-saved-replies-to-help-pages-manage-customer-service-messages-131055 As the post mentions, it “could” be a boon for small businesses, but for innkeepers it may not be, but it’s good to be aware of this as it may have potential future applications. Of the 40+ B&B Facebook pages I am the admin of, 99% of the incoming messages would not have been a good fit for a canned response. I do think it may have some value if you are outsourcing your social media, and you do have a very well crafted response done up in advance for your outsourcer to use for something like a complaint, or a basic booking inquiry.

Google Says It May Unverify Inactive Local Business Listings http://searchengineland.com/google-says-it-may-unverify-inactive-local-business-listings-222414 Why is this important for innkeepers? Because many innkeepers have gone ahead and claimed their pages thinking that is all they need to do to them, and have never returned to them again. Google+ pages of all of the social media platforms out there seem to be the least used and utilized amongst innkeepers.

Why should innkeepers bother to keep an eye on this? If your page is unverified and someone leaves a review, you will have to re-verify it before you can respond. Google says they will try to contact businesses via email before un-verifying, but innkeepers may ignore this as a spam solicitation. “In some cases, we may contact Google My Business users via email to confirm that they are still actively managing a business page. If a user is unresponsive to our attempts to contact him or her and has not logged into Google My Business for a significant length of time, then we may unverify pages in the account.

I would recommend innkeepers (even if they are not going to actively use their Google+ accounts) put it into a calendar that every few months go over to their Google+ account and login to avoid the possible future inconvenience of having to reclaim their pages again.

Mike Blumenthal has a thread going about this topic with further information as well. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2015/06/04/google-now-requiring-null-edits-to-keep-accounts-active-in-us/. A question to Mike about what constituted logging in to the Google+ account came back with. “In conversation with Google they noted that Logging in would be logging in as the page in any respect — so that would be any of the following– seeing the GMB dashboard, – making an edit, – posting, etc. So, yes, posting to G+ would “count.” And “Google has confirmed that any activity including that of a manager is enough to keep the page from going into “default”.

Coming soon: Buyable Pins! https://business.pinterest.com/en/blog/coming-soon-buyable-pins Why is this of interest? Because if innkeepers have an inn gift shop including inn cook books, uploading good photos of products can push sales. Inns Associations can also take advantage of this if they have produced an Association cook book. Keep in mind, the images in Pinterest can be recipe photos from the cookbook, not just an image of the cookbook itself. Businesses can get on the waitlist for buyable pins at https://business.pinterest.com/en/get-list-buyable-pins. You can currently create Pins directing people to your availability link url directly from a photo and promote them as well but the Buyable Pin option (from what I understand) are Pins you can mark as purchasable (there is no layout of funds like Promoted Pins) and they will show up within your Pin boards.

Instagram Adds Call-to-Action Buttons, More Relevant Ad Targeting http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/instagram-adds-call-to-action-buttons-more-relevant-ad-targeting Because Facebook owns Instagram, and it’s ad platform is integrated with it, this could be a huge plus for inns wanting to cater to the Millennial market. They have not yet rolled it out, and while it says buttons will offer “buy now”, “app install” and “sign up” options, I lean towards thinking it will also offer a book now option as well. Even if it does not, the “buy now” button could be redirected to a booking link, and a “sign up” could potentially boost an email distribution list. Caveat, similar to Facebook’s current Book Now option, if your reservation system is not mobile friendly, even though your website is, and Facebook is, expect a high bounce rate and an even higher abandonment rate from a potential booker.

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Facebook Beacons, Places Tips and Mobile Checkins Page, should Innkeepers care?

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Facebook has just started asking businesses if they would like a Facebook Beacon mailed to them, I just got a notification of 3 of my businesses that I have admin rights to asking if they would like one. (How do Facebook Bluetooth® Beacons work? Using Bluetooth® technology, these beacons send a one-way signal to the Facebook app on your customers’ phones to help us show them the right information about your business during their visit. They don’t collect any information from people or their phones or change the kind of location information Facebook receives.) You can request your beacon here https://www.facebook.com/business/a/facebook-bluetooth-beacons

Should innkeepers get excited about this? Yes and No.

Yes, because it has the potential to be very interesting, and have some interesting capabilities, No, because like everything Facebook does when it implements changes, they don’t let people know all the details, and the changes that a business page owner will have to navigate when the changes and new options roll out.

One of the changes a page owner might see is a new option in their about section, called “Welcome Note”. I found a preview of this option months and months ago on one sole page, but it looks like it’s rolled out across the board for any business that has the “Local Business” category selected for their page. I suspect that the rollout and availability of the beacons, and the same day appearance of the mobile welcome tab are going to tie together further at some point in the future, if and when beacons take off.

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By default, the Welcome tab will pick up the header image from your business page unless you select another. With only 155 Characters to use for your descriptive welcome (or it possibly is meant to be a tip? Or a special offer?) You need to think of something short, sweet and pointed to say in this area.

The interesting thing is that while Facebook lets you edit this option (as of today), the preview and tab does not seem to be actually rolled out as of yet to mobile check-in users.

There hasn’t been much of an announcement yet about the beacons rollout other then an Entrepreneur article about an hour ago http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247081  , and this announcement in January, http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/01/29/facebook-tests-bluetooth-beacons-to-feed-users-local-content/  .

Places tips in itself (http://newsroom.fb.com/news/2015/01/introducing-place-tips-in-news-feed/ integrated with Facebook beacons) could be a huge boon to innkeepers in tourist driven or more populated areas where the chance to reach passersby perhaps looking for a place to stay would be large, especially for the last minute bookers, but there are also concerns the application could be intrusive and people will turn off the notifications, rendering any benefit useless.

I would suggest Innkeepers keep this on their radar as I predict it will make page owners make some changes to both content and the type of information that is posted on their business page.

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Buffer and the new Pinterest Integration for Innkeepers, Is it worth a look?

Pin1In my opinion Pinterest is still one of the fastest growing social media networks that Innkeepers should have a presence on, and Buffer (Bufferapp.com) one of my favorite pre-scheduling tools out there. I am a big fan of the free version, up to 3 social media accounts and up to 10 pre scheduled posts. I have been on the fence for awhile about upgrading to the awesome plan (12 social media profiles and pre-scheduling up to 200 posts at a time). The Pinterest/Buffer integration may just put me over the edge where I decide to upgrade ($10.00 a month).

Buffer is letting people sign up for the Pinterest access for a free 7 day trial (no credit card required) to test it out. I’ve found some pros and cons, but mostly pros so far in playing with the trial.

Why do I think this would be of interest to Innkeepers? Pinterest is fantastic for search engine optimization, boards can be brought in to a Facebook page using free apps, plus Pinterest boards can have widgets added to both websites and blogs enhancing visual appeal, plus visual is what “sells”.

Plus Pinterest is super easy to use, one of the easiest to learn (and also the most addictive). Using Buffer to preschedule images to Pinterest will A. save valuable time for innkeepers as it will give the ability to space out posts and B. they then won’t have to login to Pinterest and get distracted tracking down that delish bacon recipe or getting sidetracked seeing cool new renovation ideas for storage in guest rooms (and I am not being sarcastic, Pinterest can be a time sucker and it’s super easy to get distracted). This will allow innkeepers to better spend that time on actual marketing.

Cons, I have not found a way to easily post a photo from an exterior page using the Buffer toolbar button. So using Bufferapp to pin photos from your website may not be an option at this time.

Pros, You can upload your photos, put in your descriptions and set what exterior links the photo will link to in less time then it takes to upload and do within Pinterest itself (The photo uploader in Buffer seems to be at least 50% faster than the Pinterest uploader especially with higher resolution photos) AND it gives you the ability to repin photos from within Pinterest itself, and send them into your pre scheduling queue, much better for marketing for both things, as it spaces your posts out more so you have more of a potential of more eyeballs seeing your posts at different times.

I would recommend if you have a business Pinterest account, taking a look at your analytics and then pre-scheduling not more than 3 posts per peak time period.

Tip: when pre-scheduling Pinterest posts, go into your Buffer dashboard to schedule, using the Bufferapp toolbar button to open a new scheduled post tends to glitch.

Posted in How tos, marketing, Social Media | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments