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Post-COVID Re-Opening Part 3: Monique Greenwood, Owner of the Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, Discusses Creativity and Community

Many innkeepers have found ways to open their properties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring changes to many aspects of their business. We thought it would be helpful to interview some of them and share their insights on how they are managing their businesses in today’s climate. This is one in a series of feature articles on Post-COVID Re-Opening.

For this installment of the article series, we interviewed Monique Greenwood, owner of the Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, and learned how she managed a business turnaround for her five properties through community support and creative offerings.

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For Monique Greenwood, owner of the Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, and star of the television reality show “Checked Inn” on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), being able to pivot quickly and think creatively has often been the key to her success as an innkeeper, which is especially important in today’s COVID-19 environment.

As an owner of five different properties, Monique had to deal with a three-month shutdown of all of her inns when the pandemic first hit in March.  Her portfolio is mainly urban-based locations with one of her properties, the Mansion at Noble Lane, being located in Pennsylvania’s Poconos Lake Region.

There was a dramatic difference in the bookings between the urban properties and the Mansion at Noble Lane.

“When COVID first started, we came to a complete stop in mid-March,” said Monique. “The first property to re-open was the Mansion at Noble Lane on Memorial Day weekend. From that moment until now, we have had 95 percent occupancy. Though our city locations have been much slower to return.”

Most of the guests staying at the urban locations have been locals looking to do “staycations,” with weekend occupancy around 80 percent, and slower during the week. Monique’s Cape May, NJ, location also performed well during the summer months.

For the urban locations, the Akwaaba team developed a wide-range of add-on services for guests, which includes in-suite breakfasts, picnic lunches for two, champagne turn-down services, as well as partnerships with local caterers for chef’s dinners and massage therapists.

As with other innkeepers we have interviewed for this article series, Monique was very proactive with communicating their COVID-19 policies through email marketing and social media. She also developed this landing page with a video of Monique discussing how they are keeping their full property portfolio clean and safe.

In addition, Monique found that the Black Lives Matter movement helped to contribute to an ongoing stream of guests that were motivated to support black-owned businesses.

“We had the Black Lives Matter movement happening at the same time as the pandemic,” said Monique. “Because the African American community, and their allies, were on a mission to patronize black-owned businesses, we had a rush of guests. And, we really appreciated this – it has helped tremendously.”

Finally, Monique was able to embrace a new revenue stream through her Shop at Akwaaba e-commerce site, which offers Akwaaba-branded products and other imported products handmade from African-American artisans – all “curated with love.”

“We decided to launch Show Akwaaba, and tap into the Black Lives Matter movement by selling products from African Americans,” said Monique. “It has been a great way to generate revenue when we could not put heads on beds. And as we go into the holiday season, we expect more people to shop online.”Be sure to listen to our previous two-part Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series with Monique here, and here.

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #30: Wild Man Dan Tatarka and Terri Tatarka, Owners/Innkeepers of WildManDan’s Beercentric Bed and Breakfast, Discuss Their Passion for Beer and Pleasing Guests

For episode #30 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Wild Man Dan Tatarka and his wife, Terri Tatarka, the owners/innkeepers of WildManDan’s Beercentric Bed and Breakfast, a B&B with an onsite nanobrewery nestled in Nelson County, Virginia, about following their passion for beer and pleasing guests.

You can also listen to this podcast at Libsyn Directory.

In many ways, success in life comes down to following your passions, and working hard to turn that passion into a viable livelihood. For Wild Man Dan Tatarka and his wife, Terri Tatarka, the owners/innkeepres of WildManDan’s Beercentric Bed and Breakfast, success comes from their passion for beer and being around great people.

After having careers in both fiber optical engineering and hospitality, Master Brewer Wild Man Dan and Terri decided to launch a unique beercentric B&B in 2015 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where they could offer specialized beer and accommodations for guests.

As a result of this focus on their passions, WildManDan’s Beercentric Bed and Breakfast, has been named the “Best of Blue Ridge,” has a 50 percent re-booking rate, and has received enthusiastic press coverage from beer-oriented media outlets.

The inn has also made some changes due to COVID-19. For example, in 2021 guests will need to rent out the full property of five bedrooms, and is exploring expansion and ways to serve non-guests at their bar. Currently, they are able to sell to-go crowlers.

Following are highlights from our interview:

  • About Wild Man Dan and Terri’s backgrounds, and how they became innkeepers. (1:44)
  • About the property, and how they are going through renovations right now to potentially expand their beer business. (6:07)
  • What they offer to guests that revolves around their beer and beer classes. (13:49)
  • How guests will need to book the full five-bedroom property in 2021. (21:48)
  • How Wild Man Dan and Terri define the guest experience, and what strategies they have used to improve it. (26:05)
  • The most important questions they would ask a leading expert/consultant in the B&B industry. (29:10)
  • Age demographics for guests who stay at their property and how they are trending. (31:00)

We are very thankful to Wild Man Dan and Terri for sharing their insights with us!  You can learn more about WildManDan’s Beercentric Bed and Breakfast by visiting their website.

Frictionless Innkeeper TIP #9: Learn and Promote Some Amazing COVID-19 Cleaning and Disinfecting Ideas

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As the United States experiences a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, many innkeepers are hoping to keep their properties open, as long as guests are willing to travel to their destination.  Having experienced an initial COVID wave, guests are likely more conscious and knowledgeable than ever about finding lodging providers that are committed to cleaning and disinfecting to make their stay as safe as possible.

While all innkeepers have become more aware of the importance of cleaning because of the pandemic, it’s always worthwhile to continue learning about the topic.  In addition, it’s essential to communicate your knowledge and how you apply it at your property when marketing to prospective guests through your website and other channels.

Showing that you understand some of the science behind your cleaning approach may actually differentiate your property from others and result in more bookings, as well as positive reviews if guests see your commitment to their safety in action during their stay.

So, to pass on some knowledge and suggestions that you may not have heard before, we’ve tapped Teresa Luttrell, owner of Enliven Bed and Breakfast.  Teresa has done a few podcasts with us and we’ve been amazed with the depth and breath of her knowledge on the subject of cleaning and disinfecting.

That should come as no surprise, since Teresa is passionate about keeping her property safe for medical travelers staying with her while getting their respective treatments.  She has also established chemicalfreeinns.com to advocate for chemical-free cleaning and help innkeepers interested in finding ways to do so. In other words, Teresa is a true hygiene expert – so much so that we’ve given her the endearing nickname of the “Queen of Hygiene”.

We have taken what we’ve learned from Teresa’s most recent podcast and condensed it into some basic ideas and suggestions, with the hope that you can use them to increase your knowledge, improve your cleaning processes, and better market your approach to prospective guests.  Here they are:

  1. Remove Biofilms: Biofilms are a collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and protists, which can grow on wet surfaces.  They can be removed through rigorous surface cleaning/disinfection, and keeping these surfaces dry to prevent biofilms from repopulating.
  1. Use Steam Vapor Systems: Ladybug steam vapor systems from Advanced Vapor Technologies can also destroy biofilms through the use of steam and vapor heat. Lab tests have shown that this type of solution to be highly effective for cleaning any surface – killing germs in seven seconds.
  1. Use Hypochlorous Acid‎: The BRIOTECH Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) solution is a bio-compatible sanitizer and disinfectant that’s been approved for use by the EPA in 34 states. It is completely safe for use – so much so that it is also effective for healing wounds, because it is the substance white blood cells produce to fight off infections.
  1. Tips for Disinfecting the Air: Since there’s concern about the air-borne spread of COVID-19, Teresa recommends the use of IQ air filters, which are used in hospitals. She also recommends using an ultrasonic humidifier, and run HOCI through it to clean the air.
  1. Don’t Forget Overlooked Areas: Don’t forget to clean and sanitize TV remotes, light switches, doorknobs, coffee machines, shower heads, drains, and buttons on security safes. All of these areas are often overlooked and can be cleaned with steam vapor.
  1. Hygiene is the New Luxury: Be sure to market your next-gen cleaning efforts to your current and prospective guests because “hygiene is the new luxury,” according to Teresa.  Imagine how positive prospective guests might feel about your commitment to their safety if they read about some of these ideas on your website!

Thanks to Teresa Luttrell, owner of Enliven Bed and Breakfast, and “Queen of Hygiene” for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP by sharing insights during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.

Post-COVID Re-Opening Part 2: Lookout Point Lakeside Inn Experiences Summer Booking Successes

Many owners have found ways to open their properties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring changes to many aspects of their business. We thought it would be helpful to interview some of them and share their insights on how they are managing their businesses in today’s climate. This is one in a series of feature articles on Post-COVID Re-Opening.

For this installment of the article series, in late July we interviewed Nancy Sullivan-Shener and Sam Shener, owners of the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas and learned that they were able to see a significant business turnaround after the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

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When the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn officially reopened on May 21st, the property found itself with a high-level of bookings, experiencing a major turnaround after being closed for several months due to the pandemic.

Much of this success can be attributed to Lookout Point Lakeside Inn being located in a picturesque environment on Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, which is in driving distance from several major cities in Texas. The property owners also took extra steps to develop comprehensive COVID-19 protocols and cleaning strategies.

“When we announced our reopening plan in early May, we were inundated with guests calling us to both book rooms, and ask us about our COVID protocols,” said Nancy Sullivan-Shener. “The more questions we had, the better able we were at gathering information for helping us to shape these protocols.”

In addition, the property used its PMS system to send out emails to guests after they booked with a very dramatic subject-line to get guests to read more about their COVID protocols. 

“We are now at record occupancy, and many of these guests chose to stay with us because of the safety protocols in place,” Nancy added. “This has definitely become a marketing tool for us.”

When it comes to bringing their protocols to life, the property adheres to the AHLA Safe Stay guidelines, and they sanitize all of the fabric in the guest rooms. They have also shut down their dining room completely, and converted each guest room to have private dining – leading to a more streamlined workflow for staff.

 “We work equally hard to keep guests and staff safe,” said Sullivan-Shener. “We also converted dining to in-room only, and will keep it this way until there is a vaccine. Also, we are contactless when we deliver items such as wine to a guest room, where we leave the bottles on small tables outside of the guest rooms.”

Also, when guests check in and check out, no members of the cleaning staff enter their room, and rooms are only cleaned in between guest stays. Without the need to do daily room refreshes each day, the inn is able to further streamline the overall room cleaning workflow.

In terms of the future, Sullivan-Shener is hopeful that bookings will continue to be high, as many travelers continue to seek out drivable destinations.

“With our specific demographic within driving distance, we have a huge audience that we market to, and we have not needed to dial up our marketing,” she said. “Now we are even seeing people drive here from further away places like Chicago. All we can do is keep doing what we are doing, and we are at record-breaking bookings right now.”

Frictionless Innkeeper PODCAST #29: Christa Freeland, Manager of the Founder House Austin, Discusses Her Innovative Shared-Use Lodging Concept

 
For episode #29 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Christa Freeland, who is an entrepreneur, former tech venture studio executive, and the manager of the Founder House Austin. Based in Austin, Texas, this innovative lodging approach shares a portion of an existing Bed & Breakfast to create a co-working and co-living space for entrepreneurs.
 
 

You can also listen to this podcast at Libsyn Directory.

 
Known for its South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival, as well as its thriving music, food and culture scene, the city of Austin is a dream for young entrepreneurs, musicians and creatives.
 
Though just as the COVID-19 pandemic upended the entire globe, Austin was also heavily impacted with SXSW being cancelled in early March, with travel restrictions making it difficult for people to visit this vibrant city.
 
For the Adina Austin Bed & Breakfast, this was a challenging time, since the property officially opened in March right before SXSW – in anticipation of having full bookings during the festival and beyond.
 
With the cancellation of SXSW, the owners of Adina Austin decided to get creative and partnered with entrepreneur Christa Freeland to offer a portion of the property as the Founder House Austin, which is a co-working and co-living place for entrepreneurs that opened in May.
 
Following are highlights from our interview:
  • About Christa’s background as an entrepreneur. (1:26)
  • How the idea of the Founder House Austin came about during the peak of the pandemic in Austin. (3:48)
  • The types of services and activities that take place for entrepreneurs at the Founder House Austin. (9:00)
  • How Christa and her mentor Ying McGuire were able to move quickly, and still maintain revenue for the property through the co-working and co-living offering. (11:36)
  • Christa’s perspective on how the state of the workplace has changed due to the pandemic, and about her company ATX Kit. (20:15)
  • How other innkeepers can learn from the Founder House Austin when it comes to pivoting quickly to provide new offerings. (25:58)

We are very thankful to Christa for sharing her insights with us!  You can learn more about the Founder House Austin here. And, please stay tuned for part two of this podcast series, where Christa shares her insights into the mindset of the Millennial traveler.

 
 

A Touchless Guest Experience with the new Frictionless Guest App v4.0

Photo by Breakslow on Unsplash

Today we released v4.0 of the Frictionless Guest App, which greatly helps Innkeepers to improve revenue and the touchless guest experience

When the Frictionless Guest App first launched, it was built on the premise that innkeepers can enhance the guest experience by offering recommendations on the best places to eat, play and shop during their stay.

With the rising need for guests and innkeepers to communicate with minimal physical interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, v4.0 of the Frictionless Guest App makes major improvements to enhance a touchless connection with guests.  And the great news is that innkeepers have the added benefit of generating additional revenue through the app while improving the guest experience!

The launch of the new Frictionless Guest App v4.0 includes many new features and benefits, and we are excited to highlight some of them here:

  • Property & Offerings Information: With a new Property & Offerings section that guests can easily access, innkeepers can prominently show important property-specific information they wish to communicate to guests.
  • Touchless Guest Ordering: Guests are now able to place orders for any on-property offering – whether it be breakfast, a bottle of champagne or any other services, packages, etc. – and communicate any special instructions or needs.
  • Enhanced Revenue: With touchless ordering, guests can easily purchase packages and other offerings anytime during their stay cycle, which provides innkeepers the opportunity to greatly enhance revenue.
  • Improved Guest Communications: Guests are able to communicate more easily, with innkeepers and staff getting instant notifications by email and text when guests place an order.
  • Share COVID Policies, etc.: With the ability to share any relevant information about the property, innkeepers can highlight what is most important to guests, such as COVID policies, arrival and departure instructions, connecting to WiFi, etc.
  • Market & Sell!: With it being so much easier to organize on-property offerings in the app, innkeepers can seriously market, sell, and upsell to guests, as well as improve the service they provide to them.
  • Replace Your Guest Book, Rack Brochures and Maps: Connect guests to all of the information in your guest book, as well as the maps and brochures you currently offer, and remove printed materials like this from your rooms and common areas to limit the risk of spreading COVID.

Ready to enable your guests to truly connect with you in a touchless way? Please contact us here to learn more about the amazing new v4.0 of the Frictionless Guest App!

Frictionless Innkeeper TIP #8: Put Guests’ COVID Concerns at Ease During Winter Months by Purchasing Humidifiers NOW

Photo by Patrick Lalonde on Unsplash

Much like the way toilet paper and hand sanitizers became very scarce during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some are predicting that there will be a run on humidifiers in the coming winter months.

Dry air and low humidity are an ideal breeding ground for the virus. According to a study that was published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, for every 1 percent decrease in relative humidity, COVID-19 cases can increase by 7 percent to 8 percent. A 10 percent drop in relative humidity could double COVID-19 infections.

According to Hartford Healthcare, an increase in humidity makes infectious particles both bigger and heavier, causing them to drop from the air and land on hard surfaces.

As such, innkeepers should consider purchasing humidifiers for their properties NOW – in preparation for the winter months. The use of humidifiers adds to the many things you can do to put your guests at ease by showing them you are taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID at your property.

If you are unable to purchase humidifiers, scientists recommend keeping a large pot of water carefully kept at a low boil, which can also humidify dry winter air to healthy levels. If your establishment has hot water heat, consider water vessels on the radiators.

Communicating to potential guests how to use a humidifier and the science behind them is also very important. This can be done through updating your COVID-19 policies, e-blasts and social media. 

Thank to Tobias Bray, a marketing expert for the Frictionless Guest App, for providing us with this tip!

Post-COVID Re-Opening Part 1: Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast Shares Operational Strategies

Many innkeepers have found ways to open their properties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring changes to many aspects of their business. We thought it would be helpful to interview some of them and share their insights on how they are managing their businesses in today’s climate. This is one in a series of feature articles on Post-COVID Re-Opening.

For this installment of the article series, we highlight the challenges that Julio Torres, owner of the Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida faced with the pandemic, and how his property has adjusted its operations to overcome them.

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During the early summer months, the pandemic started to have an impact on Florida, at a time when regions like the Northeast were seeing a decline in cases.

As a result, innkeepers in St. Augustine, Florida were facing challenges at a time when innkeepers in other regions across the country were exploring opportunities to re-open.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride in Florida,” said Torres. “Things started out well in Florida. Then as we moved from phase one to phase two, the enthusiasm for travel dampened. It was not as bad as things were in March, but not as good as we wanted.”

For Florida inns, the busy season tends to be from Thanksgiving through April and May. But this year, due to the pandemic, most inns were closed. The Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast took the time however to ramp up both its cleaning and communications to potential guests.

It also reconfigured its dining room to be socially distanced, set up outdoor dining, and eliminated self-service touch-points on the property. Now, all food and beverage are brought to guest tables by staff wearing masks.

“We shortened the check-in process, and we are no longer doing room refreshes,” added Torres. “In addition, we have done many mass emails to potential guests, and posted information to our website about how we are keeping them safe. Also, guests feel comforted seeing the staff wearing masks. We have received lots of praise from our guests.”

In June, bookings turned around for the Carriage Way Inn Bed and Breakfast, driven by a discount promotion that resulted in 184 guest registrations.

“We have a lot of people who have been impacted by the pandemic, and we wanted to roll out a discount to our loyal clientele,” said Torres. “As a result, we topped last June in terms of booking, though we experienced a drop in July due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.”

When looking to the future, Torres hopes for brighter days where he can be more connected with guests during their stays.

“We would like to go back to a highly personalized way of greeting guests, and we are all again sitting elbow to elbow at a bar,” said Torres. “I’d like to see the day where we can shake hands, and if a guest gives us a hug, we are comfortable hugging them back.”

PODCAST #28: Marilyn Bushnell and Eliot Dalton, Innkeeping Consultants and Brokers, Discuss the State of the Lodging Marketplace in the Face of COVID-19

For episode #28 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Marilyn Bushnell, the founder of Bushnell Services, and Eliot Dalton, who are both innkeeping consultants and brokers specializing in helping people buy and sell inns, about the state of the hospitality marketplace.

You can also listen to this podcast at Libsyn.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a varied impact on innkeepers around the U.S. In rural areas, there is plenty of activity – both from increased guest bookings and the buying and selling of inns – while urban environments are being challenged.

There are also an increased number of prospective buyers looking to acquire rural properties, and start their lives as innkeepers away from larger cities. In addition, mortgage rates are ideal right now, and some smaller inns are being marketed to large families that aren’t looking to be innkeepers, but looking to live and work remotely in these properties.

For Marilyn Bushnell and Eliot Dalton, who are innkeeping consultants and brokers working with property buyers and sellers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an interesting time. They have a real “feet on street” perspective on the state of the marketplace, which they share in this podcast.

Following are highlights from our interview:

  • About Marilyn and Eliot’s backgrounds as former innkeepers. (1:35)
  • About both Marilyn and Eliot’s broker and consultant services. (4:53)
  • What both of these experts are seeing in the marketplace with regards to COVID-19. (8:09)
  • How there are actually new buyers coming into the innkeeping arena. (10:50)
  • How the pandemic has impacted urban and rural properties differently, and how more buyers are pivoting to the rural market. (12:10)
  • Marilyn and Eliot’s perspective on travel trends happening right now. (15:53)
  • How the ongoing pandemic is impacting the hospitality sector overall. (17:00)
  • How larger families are purchasing smaller B&Bs as their new homes – in areas away from big cities. (18:22)
  • Marilyn and Eliot’s perspective on this recent AHLA study, and how  properties with more privacy options for guests, such as AirBNBs, are all doing well. (20:14)
  • Why mortgage interest rates are ideal now for buyers. (27:09)
  • What the future holds for this unusual time for innkeepers, and “this too shall pass.” (31:23)

We are very thankful to Marilyn and Eliot for sharing their insights with us!  You can learn more about Bushnell Services here, and Eliot Dalton here.

Enabling Innkeepers to Connect with Guests in a Touchless Way: New Features for the Frictionless Guest App

Photo by Breakslow on Unsplash

New Launch Will Greatly Improve Innkeeper Revenues and the Guest Service Experience – with New Property Offerings Information, Touchless Guest Ordering, and More

When the Frictionless Guest App first launched, it was built on the premise that innkeepers can enhance the guest experience by offering recommendations on the best places to eat, play and shop during their stay.

With the rising need for guests and innkeepers to communicate with minimal physical interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are making major improvements to the Frictionless Guest App to enhance a touchless connection with guests.  And the great news is that innkeepers will have the added benefit of generating additional revenue through the app while improving the guest experience!

The launch of the new Frictionless Guest App will include many new features and benefits, and we are excited to highlight some of them here:

  • Property & Offerings Information: There will be a new Property & Offerings section guests can easily access, which will allow innkeepers to prominently show important property-specific information they wish to communicate to guests.
  • Touchless Guest Ordering: Guests will be able to place orders for any on-property offering – whether it be breakfast, a bottle of champagne or any other services, packages, etc. – and communicate any special instructions or needs.
  • Enhanced Revenue: With touchless ordering, guests can easily purchase packages and other offerings anytime during their stay cycle, which provides innkeepers the opportunity to greatly enhance revenue.
  • Improved Guest Communications: Guests will be able to communicate more easily, with innkeepers and staff getting instant notifications by email and text when guests place an order.
  • Share COVID Policies, etc.: With the ability to share any relevant information about the property, innkeepers can highlight what is most important to guests, such as COVID policies, arrival and departure instructions, connecting to WiFi, etc.
  • Market & Sell!: With it being so much easier to organize on-property offerings in the app, innkeepers can seriously market, sell, and upsell to guests, as well as improve the service they provide to them.
  • Replace Your Guest Book, Rack Brochures and Maps: Connect guests to all of the information in your guest book, as well as the maps and brochures you currently offer, and remove printed materials like this from your rooms and common areas to limit the risk of spreading COVID.

Ready to enable your guests to truly connect with you in a touchless way? Please contact us here to learn more about our amazing new version of the Frictionless Guest App!