Essential marketing tips for innkeepers

Three things thriving inns have in common

As the publisher of a leading travel blog with an emphasis on B&B/Inn lodging, I have learned what makes some establishments thrive, while others merely survive. I have reviewed well over one hundred B&Bs and Inns. I have made copious observations over the years and have noticed what sets some apart from others. I’d like to share some of those qualities with you, while giving you three marketing tips that will significantly increase your occupancy and conversion rates.

As a travel writer and frequent B&B guest, I have a huge affinity for the industry. As a marketer with an extensive background in nearly every discipline, I can tell you that innkeepers have a big competitive advantage over hotels…from often better locations, superior accommodations, personalized service, to of course…a free breakfast. However, with so many lodging options for guests to choose from, innkeepers have to work harder to articulate their value proposition.  The big hotel chains have large marketing budgets, which can make it difficult for innkeepers to compete.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, the successful ones all have the same thing in common…a thorough understanding and appreciation for marketing (which has changed dramatically over the past decade…even more so over the past five years).

Because innkeepers are often working on a shoestring budget compared to their hotelier counterparts, they often don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression with prospective guests. In order to convert lookers into bookers, it’s imperative to make a positive and impactful impression at the onset of the introduction.

If you have a high quality B&B/Inn and are struggling with your occupancy rate, there are three essential things you must do. I have outlined these three things in detail:

1) Quality Website

It may seem obvious, but your most important marketing asset is your website. You simply cannot overlook your website—this is where your prospects will most often be introduced to your B&B/Inn. Your website should reflect the quality level of your establishment. Visitors will make their impression of your inn, and whether they want to stay there, within seconds of landing on your site.

Let’s say out of 100 people that visit your website, 3 book a room with a mediocre website. What if that number was 5, or even 10. The increase to your bottom line would be significant, and, absolutely within reach with a good/professional website.

Recommendations: Just about anyone can put something up online nowadays, but resist the temptation to have your nephew or neighbor build your most important marketing asset. Hire a professional! I would also NOT recommend using a template service company who will build your website and rent it to you for a monthly re-occurring fee.  Your website is an asset, it has value and should be treated as such. I’m a big fan of WordPress and would highly recommend having your site built using its back-end content management system. This will allow you use easily make changes to your site once it’s live, and, you will not require you to seek the assistance of your web developer for content updates.

Cost expectations: $4000-$7500+ for a custom designed and professionally built site. If someone says they can do it for $1000…run for the hills. You pay for quality design and programing. You should be able to build a great site for less than $5k. Where it can get more expensive is when you develop databases, integrate booking engines, and other custom functionality. Your custom site will require annual hosting, possibility SSL if you’re accepting credit cards as well as security services. You should expect to pay $100-$400 per year for these services.

Duration: If you can provide the web developer all the content/creative assets they need, it should not take more than three months to develop a site. You should also not expect your website to last more than three years. The web is a technology, therefore it is always evolving—it’s necessary to keep up with the latest design and programing standards to optimize return.

2) Professional Images

Having professional images of your B&B/Inn is also essential. As they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words.  You want quality signature photos, not snapshots from the nephew who just got a DSLR for Christmas. One/two outside shots, one/two for each room, common area, amenities, a couple different breakfast dishes, etc. There is no way a photographer can capture all the images you need in a single visit, therefore photography should be an on-going investment. Hire someone perhaps once a year and continue to build a creative suitcase of images. Consider getting images for the various seasons, that way you’ll be able to update your website…making it look fresh and up-to-date with the season. I can assure you this will go a long way in converting lookers into bookers.

Cost Expectations: Photography fees can run the gamut, so you’ll want to call around to get prices and usage fees. And, be sure to look at their portfolio with a discerning eye. Depending on the lighting conditions, a photographer may have to set lights up and stage the shot…this can significantly add to the cost, but you need to look at this as a long term investment.

3) Video

Video consumption continues to grow at a rapid rate. YouTube has been the 2nd most popular search engine for four years now. From what I’ve researched, having videos on your website can increase your conversion rates from 40-200%…that’s huge! Here are five reasons you need video:

  • If a picture is worth a 1000 words, how many is video worth?
  • Video builds trust with your prospects. Trust equals paying guests.
  • Videos help set you apart from your competition.
  • Video is important for SEO. Google is ranking pages with video higher for the same search terms.
  • Video is not a fad. Four billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube alone.

When it comes to video, it’s not “one and you’re done.” You want a variety of videos in different areas of your website and social network. Here are five suggestions:

  • Have a professional overview video of your B&B/Inn produced—where the owner/innkeeper has a couple of appearances in front of the camera, letting prospective guests know what makes the inn special, unique and/or memorable.
  • The accommodations at most B&B/Inns are each unique, often having different features and/or amenities…having 30-60 videos of each room helps prospective guests choose which one might be best for their needs.
  • Guest testimonial videos can be very powerful…allowing the viewer to hear what the experience is like from varying viewpoints.
  • Informal videos for your social network can be a great way to showcase area events and/or activities at your inn, while keeping in touch with past and future guests.
  • Everyone likes it when a travel writer mentions or features his or her B&B/Inn. However, what can be even more powerful than a written article…the visual impact of that travel journalist taking the viewer through the property via a video. Videos have a long shelf life and can generate interest for the inn as long as the video is live on the Internet. Other media outlets will often use the journalists’ video on their website…boosting viewership.

Bottom line: If you invested $20k into the following three areas and only saw a 20% up-tick in occupancy (which I think would be extremely conservative) that would be an additional $60k in cash-flow for a modest $300k/yr B&B. Why would you not make this investment?

As a travel writer, video blogger and publisher of MikesRoadTrip.com, I have a huge affinity for B&B’s and boutique inns. As a marketer with an extensive background in nearly every discipline, I enjoy consulting with innkeepers on how they can thrive and not just survive. If you have any burning questions about social media, content marketing, travel writers, video production, website costs, or other marketing related topics…please let me know. I offer free one-hour consultations and would love to help you attain your marketing goals.

I hope you have found this information helpful, if so, please share it with your fellow (non-competitive) innkeepers.

Mike Shubic

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Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.

6 Comments

  1. Agree on the website.. i’m going responsive design this year with my new custom build. You also need to own your website too. Crazy that theres innkeepers out there that rent their new site off companies that do that sort of thing as they can’t afford to pay for the design outright. I know a couple of BnB’s that have done that and they could have major problems if the design company ever closes or decides that they want more money out of the innkeeper .. “or i’ll take your site down”

    And when are you coming to Maine? I’ll host you for a night 😀

    1. Hey Mark…thanks for stopping by and sharing! Oh, you are so right…I just don’t understand the short sided thinking behind “renting” a website. Not a good idea. If I were an innkeeper, I’d also do a cost basis analysis on having my own booking engine built vs. renting and paying an on-going commission for a plug-in. These are short term vs. long term strategies.

      I spent several weeks in Maine this past summer…my first time to the state. I had a fantastic time. I don’t think I’ll make it back there anytime soon as its a long way to road trip. Unless of course there were some incentive…like a dozen B&B’s wanted me to produce videos or provide some consulting. 🙂 Anyhow, thanks again for stopping by and sharing. Cheers!

  2. Theres website design companies that will help you if $ are the problem by guiding you to a standard template website thats still cheaper for you to buy. I know the company i use http://www.acorn-is.com do. Short term gain is long term pain

    Give me a shout when your back in Maine one day.. i’ve got one of those really interesting places thats off the beaten track

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