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Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #22: John Smallwood, Founder and CEO of ExpressRez, Discusses His New Specialized Reservation Service for Innkeepers

For episode #22 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with John Smallwood, Founder and CEO of ExpressRez, a specialized and simplified voice reservations service for Inns, B&Bs and vacation rental management companies.

You can also listen to the podcast at blogtalkradio.

For many innkeepers, it can be challenging to balance day-to-day operations and be available to take all reservation calls from prospective guests. Missed calls can translate into lost revenue to competing lodging options.

John Smallwood founded ExpressRez to address this very issue – to serve as an outsourced call center for Inns and B&Bs by handling all reservations and guest inquiries. When a call is received, an ExpressRez reservation specialist answers with the B&B’s unique greeting, as if guests are speaking directly with the innkeeper, and they are immediately provided detailed information about the property on their computer screens, to be able to answer typical questions from guests.

The solution will officially launch this summer, is simple to use, and offers tremendous return-on-investment. Innkeepers only need to pay 89 cents per minute for the calls, and there’s no startup fees or long-term contracts. ExpressRez also has an easy-to-use software interface for innkeepers to provide details about their properties, and all invoices include the revenue generated each month.

In addition to booking revenue for properties, ExpressRez takes calls from current guests regarding their questions and needs during their stays. This ultimately helps to enhance the guest experience, and boost overall TripAdvisor reviews.

In this podcast, John provides more insights into the value of the ExpressRez service for innkeepers:

  • John’s background in the hospitality arena. (1:08)
  • How John’s Travel Outlook parent company laid the foundation for the ExpressRez call center solution for Inns. (2:17)
  • How ExpressRez is different than Travel Outlook, and why it’s ideal for innkeepers. (5:01)
  • Why it’s easier for innkeepers to use ExpressRez rather than taking reservation calls on their own. (7:05)
  • Details about the pricing structure of ExpressRez for innkeepers. (11:43)
  • Why ExpressRez can help replace the use of OTAs. (15:50)
  • How ExpressRez uses an inn’s booking system for tracking ROI. (17:32)

We are very thankful to John for sharing his insights with us!  You can learn more about ExpressRez by visiting their website.

Less Obvious Tax Benefits of Owning a B&B

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Many people pursue the dream of owning a B&B to gain more independence, live in tourist destinations, and lead a lifestyle outside of the traditional corporate world.

In addition to these intangibles, there are also quite a number of tax benefits that you should take advantage of, according to Little Hotelier and the financial advice website sapling.com.  While you can deduct the most obvious expenses required for running your innkeeping business, here are a few less obvious ideas for lowering your tax burden, as well:

  • Less obvious items used by guests are deductible, such as magazines
  • The cost of your health insurance premium is often deductible because of being self-employed as an innkeeper
  • You can get travel reimbursement for the use of your car to transport your guests or perform any other tasks for your business
  • Leverage the benefit of depreciation of your property for rooms used exclusively by guests
  • Your payroll taxes can be lowered when hiring family members — especially children and parents
  • Contributions to an IRA may be a way to both lower your tax burden and save for retirement

You should consult your tax advisor to determine if any of these ideas are viable for your situation.  Oftentimes the challenge lies in needing accurate documentation and bookkeeping to be able to take advantage of these strategies.  But if that is a challenge, you can always hire a talented bookkeeper and probably deduct that expense, as well!

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #21: Monique Greenwood, Owner/Innkeeper of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns and Star of Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Checked Inn” Reality TV Show (Part 2)

For episode #21 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Monique Greenwood, Owner/Innkeeper of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns and star of the television reality show “Checked Inn” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In Part 2 of a two part podcast, she discusses her reality TV show, how she defines the guest experience, and much more.

You can also listen to the podcast at blogtalkradio.

As we noted in Part 1 of our previous podcast interview, Monique Greenwood is a highly regarded innkeeper who developed the Akwaaba empire of five properties, and has parlayed this experience into an OWN TV reality show called “Checked Inn.”

While most of us will never know what it’s like to have a reality TV show based on our work lives, Monique had this unique privilege with her Checked Inn TV show.  Though this may seem glamorous on the surface, it actually required long hours of video shoots and Monique had to ensure that the televised content reflected the compassion that she truly has as an innkeeper, without allowing her guests to be used mostly for entertainment value.

As a result, Checked Inn is not typical of most reality TV shows, where producers create environments of drama and conflict to occur. On Monique’s show, she often played the role of a therapist, and strove to continually help guests productively deal with their personal issues.

Checked Inn also had a celebrity guest when award-winning R&B singer Peabo Bryson appeared in an episode, which created a star-struck moment for Monique’s husband Glenn Pogue.

Checked Inn created what Monique calls the Oprah “halo effect”, where she says there was an increased interest and booking from guests wanting to stay at The Mansion at Noble Lane, where the show was filmed.

While the show only ran for one season, Monique’s television career continues on today. She was featured on CNBC’s “Five Day Biz Fix,” on January 1st at 10 p.m. where she transformed the side-yard of her Brooklyn property into a luxury “glamping garden.” 

In part two of this podcast series, Monique discusses Checked Inn, and provides her philosophy behind continually offering the best experiences for her guests.

  • How the Checked Inn TV show came about for Monique. (1:15)
  • What it was like filming a reality TV show for Monique, her family and staff. (3:00)
  • How Checked Inn was not like a typical reality show because it focused more on healing and a human element. (7:40)
  • Insights into the TV story line around Monique’s daughter not getting into the family business. (9:17)
  • What it was like to have Peabo Bryson appear in an episode. (10:48)
  • Monique’s appearance on CNBC’s “Five Day Biz Fix.” (18:31)
  • How Monique defines the guest experience, and what strategies she has used to improve it. (21:28)
  • The most important questions she would ask a leading expert/consultant in the B&B industry. (24:23)
  • Age demographics for guests who stay at Akwaaba properties and how they are trending. (26:44)

We are very thankful to Monique for sharing her insights with us!  You can learn more about Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns by visiting their website.

Frictionless Innkeeper TIP #6: Funding Expansion Through Your Inn’s Equity

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Many innkeepers aim to continually expand the offerings on their properties, whether it’s the addition of a barn for weddings and events or even acquiring other inns. Leveraging the equity in your property is one viable way to fund these types of expansion efforts. 

For Monique Greenwood, Owner/Innkeeper of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns and star of the television reality show “Checked Inn” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), this strategy helped her to expand her innkeeping portfolio.

In 1995, she started with the first Akwaaba property in Brooklyn, and eventually used its increased equity value to acquire four other properties in the U.S.  Today, there are Akwaaba inns in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, D.C.; Bethany, PA; Philadelphia, PA; and Cape May, NJ.

You don’t have to be an empire builder to take advantage of this approach. For example, you can use the current equity in your property to fund renovations and new amenities such as a swimming pool, gazebos and event barns for weddings and concerts.

The key, of course, is being sure that the investment will generate revenue and feeling confident that the risk outweighs the reward. For larger projects that appear to have a significant upside, using the equity in your property may be the best alternative and one that you should seriously consider.

Thanks to Monique Greenwood for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP by sharing insights during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #20: Monique Greenwood, Owner/Innkeeper of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns and Star of Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Checked Inn” Reality TV Show (Part 1)

For episode #20 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Monique Greenwood, Owner/Innkeeper of Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns and star of the television reality show “Checked Inn” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In Part 1 of a two part podcast, she discusses her personal and professional journey, how she built the Akwaaba empire of luxury properties, and much more.

You can also listen to the podcast at blogtalkradio.

It’s not often that we find an innkeeper who has built a reputation to the level that attracted the attention of Oprah Winfrey. Monique Greenwood is a highly regarded innkeeper who developed the Akwaaba empire of five properties, and has parlayed this experience into an OWN TV reality show called “Checked Inn.”

Prior to reaching these heights of innkeeping success, Monique started her career in journalism and achieved her dream of being the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine. In 1995, she decided to move into the innkeeping arena, and realized that real estate investments were the key to success.

With her business plan tied to her overall lifestyle plan, she ultimately wanted to own properties in areas around the U.S. that she loved.  She started with the first Akwaaba property in Brooklyn, and eventually used its increased equity value to help fund the acquisition of four other properties in the U.S.  Today, there are Akwaaba inns in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, D.C.; Bethany, PA; Philadelphia, PA; and Cape May, NJ.

The property in Bethany PA, called The Mansion at Noble Lane, is the “crown jewel” for Akwaaba, and ended up being the location for the “Checked Inn” reality show. It was built and formerly owned by the Woolworth family, and carries significance for Monique that goes beyond its incredible architecture. As an African American business leader, owning a mansion that is connected to a company that would not serve her grandmother during segregation is a reminder of how much she has overcome and achieved in her career.

In this podcast, Monique discusses her background, the growth of the Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, her book titled, “Having What Matters: The Black Woman’s Guide to Creating the Life You Really Want,” and much more.

  • Monique’s background and how she came to be an innkeeper. (1:07)
  • About Monique’s strategy for owning Akwaaba inns, and more about the properties. (2:05)
  • How Monique made the transition from being a journalist to innkeeper. (10:07)
  • Insights into her “Having What Matters” book, and how it has guided her success. (16:39)
  • More about The Mansion at Noble Lane, and the newer Philadelphia property. (19:26)

We are very thankful to Monique for sharing her insights with us!  You can learn more about Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns by visiting their website.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this podcast, where Monique discusses “Checked Inn,” as well as her philosophy regarding enhancing the guest experience.

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #19: Monica Edwards, Successful Innkeeper and Director of the African American Association of Innkeepers International

For episode #19 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Monica Edwards, owner/innkeeper of Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast in Durham, North Carolina, and Director of the African American Association of Innkeepers International. She discusses her experiences of being a B&B owner for more than 20 years, as well as her involvement with various innkeeper associations during that time.

You can also listen to the podcast at blogtalkradio.

Monica Edwards began her career as an innkeeper somewhat unexpectedly in 1997, when she and her husband opened the Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast in Durham, North Carolina. Almost immediately, she chose to become involved with associations dedicated to helping the B&B industry and has continued to be a significant contributor to that cause ever since.

Monica continues to run Morehead Manor, while now also devoting her time to the African American Association of Innkeepers International (AAAii). Though only about one percent of all inns are owned by African Americans, AAAii is contributing to the success of existing owners and helping to build a community of aspiring innkeepers of color, with Monica at the helm.

In her 20-plus years as an innkeeper, she has learned that the guest experience is all about interacting with travelers through the entire booking process and sees herself as an ambassador for the Durham region. She excels at her craft, as is proven by her longevity and the fact that more than 90 percent of her guests book directly through the Morehead Manor website.

In this podcast, Monica discusses her career as an innkeeper, the mission of AAAii, how the role of B&B associations has evolved, and more.

  • Monica’s background and how she came to be an innkeeper. (1:03)
  • What she learned in her research about B&Bs prior to purchasing the Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast. (2:30)
  • Some details about the Morehead Manor property. (3:19)
  • Insights into Monica’s work with various associations. (5:09)
  • How B&B associations have moved towards providing advocacy. (5:45)
  • All about AAAii and the organization’s mission. (10:21)
  • How Monica defines the guest experience, and what strategies she has used to improve it. (16:00)
  • Current innkeeping topics that are most important to Monica. (19:30)
  • Age demographics for guests who stay at the Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast and how they are trending. (22:08)

We are very thankful to Monica for sharing her insights with us!  You can learn more about the Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast by visiting their website.  You can also learn more about AAAii here.

Frictionless Innkeeper TIP #5: Great Ideas for Innkeepers to Increase Revenue

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Remaining competitive in the innkeeping arena is no small challenge, especially in the face of multiple accommodation offerings, and Airbnb growing in popularity. One of the best ways to remain competitive, and achieve long-term business growth, is to maximize virtually every opportunity to enhance revenue.

Megan Smith, innkeeping expert and consultant, as well as the host of the popular “Inside Innkeeping” podcast series, recently offered the following revenue-generating tips:

  • Weddings:  Many people are looking for special locations – outside of the traditional banquet halls – for weddings these days. Consider hosting weddings at your property and develop revenue-sharing partnerships with local vendors (i.e., tent providers, caterers, etc.).
  • Partnerships:  Develop partnerships with local golf courses, museums, art galleries, wineries, and other attractions – where guests can get discounts. This also entices these businesses to refer guests to stay at your property.
  •  Reach Out to Businesses: Are there larger businesses in your area?  Perhaps hospitals? Reach out to the hospital recruiters to have their potential new employees to stay at your property while visiting for an interview.  From this, the hospital (or other business you reach out to) may ultimately end up hosting functions, like their holiday parties, at your property.
  •  Winery/Brewery Tour Packages: Orchestrate tours of local wineries and breweries in your area, where you find the local transportation to drive guests. This allows travelers to have fun and your new transportation partners will help send referrals to your property.
  • Host Outdoor Concerts: During the summer months, seek out opportunities to host live music at your property, which will provide entertainment for both locals and guests. This will also enhance the overall guest experience and make people want to come back to your property.
  • Host Family Movie Night: Consider hosting a monthly family movie night, where you put up a projector in a nice outdoor space on your property. 

Thanks to Megan Smith of Megan Smith Consulting for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP by sharing insights during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.

Frictionless Innkeeper TIP #4: Ways to Go Green With Your Property and Improve Profitability

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

With environmental sustainability being a major trend in virtually every industry, there is often a disconnect between marketing and reality. In other words, many companies claim to be “green,” but don’t actually follow-up on this promise.

Fortunately, there are innkeepers who are doing some very innovative things to minimize their impact on our planet – and are “walking the walk,” while also seeing financial rewards from their efforts.  

The  West Hill House B&B in Warren, Vermont is an example of this kind of property.  As an electrical engineer by training, Peter MacLaren, owner and operator of the inn, has worked to make the property 100 percent solar powered.

In addition to this, here are some other “green things” West Hill House has done that are great ideas for any innkeeper to consider implementing at their property:

  • Install charging points for electric vehicles
  • Provide re-usable bottles to guests for water
  • Offer composting and recycling to guests, in addition to doing so for the property’s operation
  • Use low-power LED lighting
  • Offer reusable shopping bags for guests
  • Create green cleaning products for use at the property which are chemical free and safe

In addition to being a good thing for the environment, these efforts have resulted in goodwill from guests who appreciate the commitment to going green, while also yielding some significant financial benefits. For example, the B&B gets energy credits from local electric provider Green Mountain Power when it generates power from its solar energy operation. As a result, Peter and his wife pay virtually nothing for their energy consumption.

To learn more about the West Hill House B&B’s green efforts, please check out this Mad River Valley TV segment:

You can also view the video here.

Thanks to Peter MacLaren of the West Hill House B&B for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP by sharing insights during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #18: Linda Hayes, Renowned Innkeeping Consultant, Discusses Creative Investor/Innkeeper Start-Ups, Opening New Boutique/Upscale Properties, and Hiring GMs

For episode #18 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Linda Hayes, a renowned innkeeping consultant with ijk Partners, an affiliate of the B&B team. She discusses creative investor/innkeeper start-ups, the opening of new boutique/upscale lodging properties, strategies for hiring General Managers, and her perspective on emerging innkeeping industry trends.

You can also listen to the podcast at blogtalkradio.

When people think of innkeepers, an image often comes to mind of a couple leaving the grind of the big city to own, operate and live at their property. While this is often the case, there has recently been a rise of investors/innkeepers that are purchasing and renovating unique properties, some of whom don’t live on-site or manage the day-to-day work.

For individuals taking this path, many don’t come from hospitality backgrounds, and need the right guidance for helping them make sound decisions to develop unique boutique/upscale properties that generate a solid return on their investment.

Linda Hayes lends her highly-experienced advice to these complex start-up ventures to enable investors/innkeepers to develop successful properties.  She also provides consultation services to aspiring innkeepers searching for existing properties and existing innkeepers looking to improve operational systems, marketing, and the selection/development of support staff.

In this podcast, Linda discusses the various consulting services she provides, the rise of investors/innkeepers, and how the lodging arena needs to move beyond being “merchants of sleep” to focus on providing quality guest experiences.

  • Linda’s background and how she has worked “full circle” in her initial career and the innkeeping world. (1:00)
  • A rundown on the types of consulting services that Linda offers for investors/innkeepers and aspiring innkeepers. (3:15)
  • Insights into her work with investors/innkeepers and how her experience owning and selling the Inn at Riverbend in Pearisburg, Virginia. (5:04)
  • How Linda works in helping with the design, zoning/planning, and re-use of older structures that transform into lodging offerings. (8:57)
  • The services Linda provides that enhance overall operations for property owners. (16:36)
  • Insights into hiring GMs and partial exit strategies for innkeepers to bring staff to free up their time and resources. (20:40)
  • Where Linda sees the innkeeping industry heading, the rise of Gen A, and how today’s travelers are seeking out unique experiences. (26:46)

We are very thankful to Linda for sharing her insights with us!  You can learn more about Linda’s consulting services, by visiting her website.

Inside Innkeeping Podcast: Frictionless Guest App Drives the Guest Experience

At the AIHP 2019 Knowledge Sharing Summit & Marketplace, Steve Short, Founder & CEO of the Frictionless Guest App, participated in an Inside Innkeeping podcast interview hosted by Megan Smith.

Megan is a renowned innkeeping consultant, who also co-owned and operated The Vermont Inn for 13 years, and served as Vermont’s State Tourism Director. She also recently participated in a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast interview, which you can listen to here.

Listen to the full Inside Innkeeping podcast interview, which highlights how the Frictionless Guest App helps to enhance the guest experience, here:

You can also listen to the podcast at SoundCloud here.

Here are the key highlights from this interview:

  • A high-level overview of the Frictionless Guest App for innkeepers. (:53)
  • How innkeepers can inform guests about the app in their pre-stay email confirmations. (1:33)
  • How the Frictionless Guest App team helps innkeepers to populate their apps with local places to eat, play and shop. (2:07)
  • The history and evolution of the Frictionless Guest App. (3:50)
  • The size and types of properties that currently use the Frictionless Guest App. (4:32)
  •  More about the mapping capabilities in the app. (5:24)

By offering guests an easy way to find recommendations of the best places to eat, play and shop – using any mobile device or desktop – the Frictionless Guest App allows guests to plan their trip starting at the time of booking and easily navigate to recommended places throughout their stay, so that hoteliers and innkeepers play a significant role in improving the experience of their guests.To learn more about the Frictionless Guest App, please contact us here.