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December 2008/January 2009

Survey Says: Recap of May, June, October Innkeeper Surveys

© Sandy Soule, BedandBreakfast.com

We’ve been through a tumultuous six months, with skyrocketing gas prices and an uncertain economy, followed by an October crash of the financial markets, major lay-offs, and gas prices that have plummeted from record highs to 2005 levels. During this time, we sent three surveys to BedandBreakfast.com members in the United States: one before the Memorial Day weekend in May, one in late June before the July 4th weekend, and the last in mid-October. We’ll send another in January for a year-end recap and 2009 forecast, and will also do a separate survey of international properties.

Survey summary and forecast: Survey over 5,000 innkeepers and you’ll get at least 5,000 opinions (maybe more)! It’s hard to generalize when goals and objectives vary so widely from one property to the next. Some innkeepers are “as busy as they want to be” with occupancy rates under 30% because they are still working full-time outside the inn, or because they are more or less retired and want to go slow. For others, their inn is a major source of income, and maximizing return on investment (ROI) with strong ADR and RevPar is a top priority. Here’s what we recommend for all innkeepers who want to keep revenues ahead (or at least flat) for 2009:
  1. Affordable getaways. Your marketing should stress that a one-tank trip means more time to relax, and less time in transit. Lower travel costs mean more money to enjoy an affordable, but still pampering B&B escape. Stress the value (great breakfasts, afternoon treats, free water/soda/snacks; the concierge-level expertise innkeepers provide for free; plus all the wonderful activities found in your area.) Test affordable getaway packages that include several components (like dinners, massages, tours) so that people can enjoy a fabulous all-inclusive weekend package for a reasonable set price. People will continue to travel, but are definitely shopping around, so be sure to message that a B&B stay is a great deal because you get so much for your money, including a priceless experience!
  2. Online travelers want online reservations. Innkeepers who offer online reservations have better occupancies that those who do not. For best results, sign up for BedandBreakfast.com Online Reservations and the RezOvation Booking Engine, but even the smallest property will see an immediate ROI with the easy and affordable Webervations Availability Calendar, which now includes free links from your BedandBreakfast.com listing (Silver level and up) to your calendar. Although you may prefer to talk to potential guests, about half of them don’t want to talk to you – which is great if you’re as busy as you want to be – but not so good if your reservations are down.
  3. Update your marketing. Respondents were pleased overall with the results produced by investments in updated websites, improved photography, better PR, more reviews, improved amenities, niche marketing, and so on. Many experts will tell you that a recession is the worst time to cut back on marketing – but then the experts aren’t trying to pay your bills. Focus on marketing opportunities where your investment is satisfaction guaranteed; where your costs are paid monthly and are more than covered by your cash flow; and/or where you incur a cost only when you’ve actually taken a reservation. Make the time to truly study your traffic stats so that you can accurately evaluate not only the clicks to your website but the revenue produced.
  4. Cater to niche markets. Many innkeepers attributed increased occupancies to the fact that they are pet friendly, green, host midweek business travelers, and/or host weddings. If your location, property, and/or personal preferences make any of these specialties appealing, adapt your property and market accordingly by promoting the factors that make your property distinctive.
  5. Put the guest first. WIIFM (what’s in it for me) always rules. Stressed-out potential guests want to feel confident that their visit with you will be a positive experience. From their initial search for lodgings, to check-in through departure, you can keep repeat and referral business high by the professionalism and accuracy of your online presence; the warm welcome they’ll receive on arrival; the quality of their stay; and the follow-up mailings they receive from you. The surveys clearly indicated that folks like to return to B&Bs where they had a great stay.


Overall, it appears that most of our member B&Bs had exceptionally good summer and fall seasons, probably the result of popular one-tank getawaysa notable achievement in an unstable economy.

  • In May, more than 29% of respondents reported that Memorial Day bookings were ahead of last year, while over 37% noted that they were even with last year's bookings. We emailed about 5,200 innkeepers and received 1,380 responses for a 26% response rate.
  • In June, nearly 28% of respondents reported that July 4 bookings increased year over year, while nearly 42% noted that they were even with last year's reservations. We emailed about 5,200 innkeepers and received 1,346 responses for a 25% response rate.
  • In October, a total of 58% of respondents reported that their summer reservations had increased compared to the summer of 2007, while 14% stayed even with the previous summer. We emailed about 5,500 innkeepers and received 898 responses for a 16% response rate.


The chart below compares responses to the same question asked in our July and October surveys; we asked different questions in our May survey; you can view the responses here, but a direct comparison is not possible. We have highlighted responses that changed significantly during the summer.

If bookings were ahead or even with last year, what factors have contributed to changes in bookings for the summer?

  July October
Increase in international guests 19.8% 44.9%
Increase in return guests 43.2 58.2
Summer packages/promotions 9.4 16.2
Area activities/attractions 38.9 32.1
Discount rates 7.7 10.5
New website 13.9 16.6
Search engine optimization 16.6 18.6
New photography 11.8 14.8
Other marketing 14.5 15.8
One-tank getaway 23.6 27.1
Couples looking for short getaway 32.9 46.4
Families looking for short getaway 9.8 11.3
New niche guests (gay/senior/single) 3.3 4.4
Newly opened 7.6 9.5
Added exposure: BedandBreakfast.com online reservations NA 11.8
BedandBreakfast.com Featured Property Auctions NA 5.6
BedandBreakfast.com Inn of the Month Auctions NA 5.6
BedandBreakfast.com Gift Cards NA 6.6
Online reviews NA 34.2
Other 23.1 15.6


In looking at the comparison chart above, several factors are worth noting:

  • The dramatic 127% increase in the number of innkeepers who attributed increased occupancy rates to international guests can be attributed to the weak state of the U.S. dollar compared to the Canadian dollar, the British pound, and the Euro through the summer and most of the fall. The price of gas in the U.S. was not a travel deterrent for these guests, because gas is so much more expensive in these travelers’ countries of origin. The recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar and the weakened European economies indicates that this increase will probably decline.
  • While we don’t have any specific data to explain the 35% increase in return guests, it’s likely that the causes are two-fold: 1) inns are more likely to market special promotions to past guests, and 2) in an uncertain economy, guests are more likely return to an inn they know they’ll enjoy rather than risk a special getaway weekend on the unknown. Similarly, the 41% increase in couples looking for short getaways indicates how travelers are balancing limited time and funds with the need for relaxing escapes.
  • The smaller but steady increases in reservations attributed to Internet marketing tactics like new websites, search engine optimization, and new photography indicates that the return on investment (ROI) is there for improved marketing.
  • So many innkeepers mentioned reviews as a source of additional reservations in our earlier surveys that we added it as a question to the October survey; 34.2% of respondents credited reviews as a source of new bookings. Although effort is required to increase reviews (both in terms of running a first-rate inn and also in encouraging guests to post reviews), this is one way to increase reservations that doesn’t require extra marketing costs. In addition, in the current economy, travelers want to be extra sure that a much-anticipated getaway will live up to expectations, and reviews are a good way to ensure that. Several innkeepers noted that they were nervous about requesting reviews, but ended up being delighted with the results, both in terms of reservations as well as suggested improvements to their properties.
  • Last but not least, extra benefits of BedandBreakfast.com membership like online reservations on Expedia, hotels.com et al, Featured Property and Inn of the Month auctions, and gift cards are useful supplements to the reservation total.


May: Innkeepers' comments explaining the reasons for increased reservations ranged from proximity to scenic attractions to travelers' preferences for one-tank getaways. Additional explanations for positive B&B travel trends included savvy marketing, an increase in Canadian and other international visitors, use of economic stimulus checks for travel, and proximity to public transportation. The majority of American B&Bs are within a one-tank drive from a major city, making them an excellent getaway choice for Memorial Day and beyond.

July: Innkeepers' comments explaining the reasons for increased reservations ranged from an increase in return guests, to proximity to scenic attractions, to more couples looking for shorter, one-tank getaways. In fact, one in three innkeepers cited the increase in shorter getaways as the reason for strong July 4 bookings.

October: Similar comments to those in earlier surveys, plus emphasis on the importance of good reviews, online reservations, favorable media coverage, as well as comments related to specific weather and local events.

For inns whose business was off, gas prices and the economy continued to be the major factors, although their impact lessened as the season progressed.

If bookings were behind, which of these factors contributed?

  July October
Gas prices 80.0 63.3
Unstable economy; people not spending on travel 77.7 68.5
Last-minute bookings 38.4 13.8
My rates increased 5.0 4.2
Change in area attractions 0.2 1.3
Weather 13.9 20.9
Wedding/event not repeated 4.5 8.0
New inn 11.1 4.2
Other 14.4 14.5


Interestingly, gas prices and the economy, while still major deterrents, affected a smaller number of innkeepers as the summer continued.

Looking to the end of the year, here’s what innkeepers project for the last quarter, when they were asked this question on October 16, 2008:


Many innkeepers commented that although many enjoyed great business in October, and that lower gas prices may help, that they were worried about November and December reservations, and that negative economic news is making people hesitant to spend money.

Looking ahead to 2009, nearly 50% of innkeepers have plans to increase marketing – a smart move in a highly competitive environment—and smaller numbers plan to add online reservations, redesign their websites, and get new photos.


The final questions in the survey covered online reservations, website design, and tracking software.





Comments in response to this question varied widely, with many noting that they were constantly updating and improving their websites, while others explaining that other than rate information, their sites had not been updated in five or more years. Several noted that they were delighted with the results of newly designed sites.

Several commented that they use Google Analytics, while many noted that they rarely check their traffic statistics because of lack of time and/or technical know-how.

We hope you’ll find this recap to be useful, and hope that you’ll be equally as responsive to our year-end survey which we’ll be sending in early January 2009. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Support@BedandBreakfast.com.

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