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2022 ALP Conference & Marketplace Comes to Baltimore, February 5-9!

2022 ALP Conference & Marketplace Comes to Baltimore, February 5-9!

A message from Steve Short, Founder & CEO, Frictionless Guest App

For lodging professionals of all types, the ability to advance educational opportunities in sales, finance, marketing, operations and technology is vital to long-term success. Unfortunately, pandemic challenges have made it difficult for industry people to gather and share best practices over the last few years.

At last, the time is coming for us to get together at the 2022 ALP Conference & Marketplace, which will be taking place in-person in my hometown of Baltimore – from Saturday, February 5th through Wednesday, February 9th!  That’s right, folks, we’re only about one month away. So, if you’re thinking about attending (and you should be), NOW is the time to take action!

Born out of the 2020 merger between PAII and AIHP, the Association of Lodging Professionals’ (ALP) provides essential education, advocacy, networking, and professional development opportunities for lodging property owners and operators.

As the first official in-person event for ALP, the 2022 ALP Conference & Marketplace will offer a wide-range of educational opportunities for experienced, new and aspiring lodging professionals at the main conference, as well as at the marketplace – where vendors and service providers will be showcasing their offerings.

Over the course of five days, more than 60 presentations will be made by lodging leaders and experts about an enormously diverse number of topics that are relevant to our industry. I will be among the speakers, presenting “Mobile Guest Experience Apps – No More Outdated, Coffee Stained Guest Books” at 10:15 a.m. on Monday, February 7th, where I will discuss how property owners can take advantage of guest-facing mobile apps that enhance the overall guest experience (a passionate subject for me!)

Of course, it’s not all about business, and there will also be plenty of fun to be had with networking opportunities and social gatherings.  A highlight is the dinner event on Tuesday evening, February 8th, which entails three hours of entertainment, open bar, and a Taste of Baltimore at the nearby American Visionary Art Museum. I’ve had the good fortune of being a member of the committee of volunteer Baltimoreans that’s organized this special event and they have done a phenomenal job to ensure that everyone will have a great time!

Whether you are an experienced, new or aspiring lodging professional, don’t miss out on the opportunity to gather with the best and brightest in the industry, and push your operational, marketing and sales efforts to the next level in 2022!

To learn more about the 2022 ALP Conference & Marketplace, please listen to this fact-filled, highly informative podcast interview we recently did with Kris Ullmer (CEO) and Erik Spence (Conference Planner and Trade Show Coordinator) of ALP or visit the ALP website.

I hope to see you all in Baltimore!

Steve Short
Founder & CEO, Frictionless Guest App

Frictionless TIP #11: Lessons in Vision and Perseverance

Frictionless TIP #11: Lessons in Vision and Perseverance

Whether you are a seasoned lodging professional trying to emerge from the ruins of the COVID pandemic or recently starting out as a new innkeeper, success can seem nearly unachievable.  And while the journey may be long and daunting, the good news is that you’re not the first to go down that road.

You can learn, if not be inspired from those who have faced some incredible challenges and emerged with successful lodging businesses.  Take the case of Wendy Kelly, who we recently interviewed for our Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series

Through uncharacteristic circumstances, Wendy and her husband became the owners of the Agate Beach Motel in 1990 with absolutely no experience in hospitality.  They soon found themselves faced with one of the biggest challenges of their lives.

At the time, the property was far from being operational, with broken windows in the units, and yellow tape across some of the rooms because of previous drug activity.  Through a vision of what she wanted the motel to be and pure perseverance, Wendy was able to turn Agate Beach Motel into an award-winning property.  She has since purchased and renovated the Wall Street Suites, a top-rated boutique property in Bend, Oregon.

There are several lessons that we took away from our discussion with Wendy and the story she told us.  Here are some that we hope will help and inspire you on your journey toward lodging success:

  • A vision is essential: Before you take any journey, you have to know where you want to go.  You don’t have to have all of the details but you have to have a vision of what you want your property to be in the future.  Without it, you won’t know how to get there or be able to persevere when you face the many challenges along the way.
  • Where do you start?: I remember seeing a business documentary where Wally Amos, the founder of Famous Amos cookies, was being interviewed about his entrepreneurial success.  The interviewer wanted to get his advice for people starting out with a new business idea, so he was asked “Where do you start?” and I thought his reply was brilliantly simple: “You start from where you are.  You start from right here, right now.” In other words, the current situation is what it is, so get with it and work with what you have.  It’s the only way to determine how to overcome the obstacles in the way of executing your vision.
  • Process makes perfect: You can’t do it all yourself and the only way you can have others do things the way you want them to be done is to create processes and make them an integral part of your business.  In talking with Wendy, it became apparent that she is very process-oriented and that mindset has contributed greatly to her ability to build a successful organization.
  • Make incremental changes: You want to create a property fitting of your own unique vision but you don’t need to reinvent the lodging industry.  As you “start from where you are”, make incremental changes and keep improving over time.  Start with industry norms and tweak them according to your vision of how you want to manage your property.
  • Pay attention to the details: You have to prioritize and work on what’s most important first, rather than getting weighed down by the details of insignificant things.  As the “7 Habits” author, Stephen R. Covey, once suggested, don’t get  mired “in the thick of thin things.”  On the other hand, you can’t forget the old adage that “the devil is in the details.” If you implement processes that fit your vision, paying attention to the details allows you to incrementally improve them and get you closer to your vision.
  • Hire people based upon “soft skills”: Many of the people working for Wendy’s properties were like her – they started without any experience in the hospitality industry.  While experience is sometimes necessary based upon the position, a service-oriented and wanting-to-learn mindset is essential.  When hiring at my organization, we call these “soft skills” and have found them to be one of the most important factors in hiring successful people.
  • Keep the faith and persevere: Nothing of any real value in life comes easily.  But if you stay faithful to your vision, you’ll be willing to persevere when the challenges sometimes seem insurmountable. 

Wherever you are in your journey to make your vision a reality, learning the stories of people like Wendy Kelly can help inspire you during the toughest of times.  Have a vision, start from where you are NOW, build detailed processes, hire caring people, and keep the faith.

Good luck!

Thanks to Wendy Kelly, the owner of the Wall Street Suites and the Agate Beach Motel – two independent/boutique properties in Oregon – for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP during a Frictionless Innkeeper podcast.

Frictionless TIP #10: Creative Ways to Differentiate Your Property

Frictionless TIP #10: Creative Ways to Differentiate Your Property

It is often the most challenging times that spark a creative movement. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to heavily impact the lodging industry, it presents the opportunity for innkeepers and boutique hotel owners to develop new ways to differentiate their properties.

In late 2020, we published a series of COVID re-opening stories that provided tips and insights from innkeepers on how they have pivoted their businesses during the pandemic in order to survive and oftentimes thrive.

In addition to these insights, Christa Freeland of the Founder House Austin provided some creative tips for property owners in a recent podcast interview we did with her.

“Now is the time to shine,” says Christa. “It’s amazing that we have this golden opportunity to be more creative and different, and redefine hospitality.”

Here are some ideas provided by Christa, as well as some other innkeepers we’ve interviewed, intended to help you get creative and try to differentiate your property:

  • Find the one thing that makes your property special, and fully leverage that to current and prospective guests.
  • Host live music events.
  • Hold socially distanced spin classes outside.
  • Project creative visuals on your property to draw attention to it.
  • Find your passion and focus your property’s offering around it. For example, Dan Tatarka loves to brew beer, so he and his wife Terri have made beer the central attraction to the guests they host at WildManDan’s Beercentric B&B.
  • Hire video jockeys to hold socially distanced electronic music/art events.
  • If historic sites are close by, host a knowledgeable tour guide for breakfast with your guests and have them talk about it.
  • Partner with local crafts people and have them hold exclusive classes for your guests.

Thanks to  Christa Freeland, an entrepreneur, former tech venture studio executive, and the manager of the Founder House Austin, for contributing to this Frictionless Innkeeper TIP. Be sure to also listen to our first podcast with Christa where she discusses how the Founder House Austin shifted from solely being a Bed and Breakfast to being part of a co-working and co-living space for entrepreneurs.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

2021 ALP Virtual Conference & Marketplace for Lodging Professionals: February 22-23!

2021 ALP Virtual Conference & Marketplace for Lodging Professionals: February 22-23!

Don’t Miss “While You’re Here … Putting on Your Concierge Hat and Knowing Your Partners”

This year, the Association of Lodging Professionals (ALP) is holding their annual Conference & Marketplace as a virtual event, with the Lodging Professionals portion happening on Monday and Tuesday, February 22-23.  ALP is the premier organization for independent innkeeping and they do a great job of providing information that is incredibly useful to innkeepers, especially at their annual conference.  So, if you are not already attending, make sure you register for the 2021 ALP Virtual Conference & Marketplace here!

Along with the many insightful presentations being given by hospitality leaders during the event, Steve Short, Founder and CEO of the Frictionless Guest App will present “While You’re Here … Putting on Your Concierge Hat and Knowing Your Partners”.  It takes place at 4pm on Tuesday, February 23, and focuses on how innkeepers can partner with local businesses to provide their guests with incredible experiences during their stay.

Today’s travelers want more than just a place to stay. They want to truly connect with a destination, and feel like a true local, with more integrated and authentic experiences.  This means that innkeepers should consider identifying and developing mutually beneficial offerings with local businesses to provide guests with high-quality local experiences.

Steve is fortunate to have interviewed several lodging professionals who have a very successful track record of providing guests with partner experiences and their insights will be shared during his presentation.  They include:

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about how you can leverage local partnerships for enhancing the guest experience and revenue generation. Go here to register for the 2021 ALP Virtual Conference & Marketplace!

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

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

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

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.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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.”