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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, and the summer season is upon us, many innkeepers are developing strategies for re-opening their properties.
In addition to properly disinfecting your property (see our recent podcast), the right digital marketing efforts can help to expand awareness and drive future bookings for guests.
According to Kent Schnepp, CEO of Odysys, while there is no silver-bullet marketing campaign that will restore your business to the pre-COVID levels, there are three key areas that innkeepers should focus on right now as they reopen their properties:
1)Foundational Marketing: Focus on understanding your ideal guest, and then market to them based on what originally attracted them to your property. Once you understand the guest, the next step is implementing SEO, local search marketing, email marketing and content development efforts.
2)Co-Marketing Strategies: Now is also the ideal time to seek out co-marketing partnerships with businesses in your area – such as joint podcasts and other content marketing efforts with local wineries, restaurants or regional associations. This allows for these partner organizations to jointly market your destination and region first, and then you can focus on marketing your property.
3)Learning New Digital Marketing Skills/Tools: While innkeepers are most likely busier now than they were two months ago, it is still recommended to use any remaining COVID-19 related downtime to learn new marketing skills. This can include focusing on learning how to best leverage Google Analytics, MailChimp, and even do a complete website refresh.
Odysys offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing and technology platform that helps innkeepers and independent hotels to significantly reduce their guest acquisition costs. The company also hosts the InnSpeak Podcast.
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.
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.
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:
The Frictionless Innkeeper TIP series is intended to provide practical suggestions to innkeepers. Oftentimes these ideas are provided by our guests on the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series.
If Bono was right in claiming that “music can change the world because it can change people,” then it seems reasonable that hosting live music at your property can enhance the experience of your guests.
With the rise of house concerts, where musical artists perform in an intimate setting, innkeepers are now presented with an opportunity to differentiate themselves by bringing live music to their properties. And while the idea of hosting musical events may seem difficult to coordinate or impossible due to limited space, it’s probably easier to make happen than you might imagine.
Wendy Collins, co-owner of The Mission Inn in Cape May, NJ, hosts a monthly concert series from October through April to offer her guests specialized experiences and gain more marketing visibility during the slower winter months. She invites singer-songwriters from the local area, as well as Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, to perform in the property’s common space, and offers desert and great food during intermissions.
Both the community and guests are invited to attend the performances, and she uses social media to promote the musical events. This has also created a “ripple effect” where the performers and attendees all share their experiences on their social media sites.
And it’s really paid off. Wendy has had guests return over and over again during the offseason to see the performances.
As both music lovers and supporters of independent innkeepers, we thought this was an excellent win-win idea that was worth sharing!
The Frictionless Innkeeper TIP series is intended to provide practical strategic or tactical suggestions to innkeepers. Oftentimes these ideas are provided by our guests on the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series.
Serving breakfast has been such an integral part of what innkeepers provide their guests since the earliest inception of the independent lodging genre that it’s literally infused into the name “Bed & Breakfast.” And while no one would logically suggest that innkeepers stop serving breakfast, it is worth reassessing the offering from the perspective of today’s guests.
Here are some questions that seems reasonable if you put yourself in the shoes of the guest: Why serve guests a one-size-fits-all breakfast, knowing that some of them prefer a much smaller version? And if a guest asks for a continental breakfast-sized meal, why should they pay the same amount as another guest who gorges themselves at the breakfast table? Finally, what if I don’t want breakfast at all?
Jim Belote, the owner of The Beall Mansion in the St. Louis region, considered these questions and has adjusted the B&B’s offerings accordingly. “We discovered that many Americans don’t eat full breakfasts,” said Jim. “As such, we developed a variety of packages for breakfast including a discounted continental option that allows guests to help themselves during a three-hour period. It’s all about the guest and providing the right experiences for them.”
It also comes down to the basic principles of choice and being fair. If a guest doesn’t want a big breakfast, then it seems reasonable to offer them other items that are less filling. And if they choose less or none, why not be fair and cut them a break with a discount to their overall stay?
This approach isn’t something that all innkeepers will consider taking but we thought it was an excellent idea worth sharing.