Survey Says: Recap of May, June, October Innkeeper
© Sandy Soule,
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 getaways
– a 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?
|Increase in international
|Increase in return guests
|Search engine optimization
|Couples looking for short
|Families looking for short getaway
|New niche guests (gay/senior/single)
|Added exposure: BedandBreakfast.com online
|BedandBreakfast.com Featured Property Auctions
|BedandBreakfast.com Inn of the Month Auctions
|BedandBreakfast.com Gift Cards
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?
|Unstable economy; people not spending
|My rates increased
|Change in area attractions
|Wedding/event not repeated
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
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
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
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