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February 2005

Top Ten Marketing Goals for 2005

Sandy Soule

From ADR to SE0, PPC to RevPar, today’s Internet-driven market requires more than piles of pillows and mounds of muffins to get heads in your beds. In other words, the success or failure of your inn depends on how effectively you use the Internet as a marketing tool. Focus on these top ten Internet marketing goals to ensure you get your fair share:

1.  Effective marketing presence in major online B&B directories and DMO websites: Signing up for top-producing Internet inn directories like BedandBreakfast.com is a beginning -- not an end -- to your marketing efforts.  Log in  to your home base at least weekly to update your listing, check the message boards and publicity leads, post specials and hot deals, monitor featured property and inn of the month advertising, and last but not least, to get ideas and inspiration from innkeepers in other regions. As detailed in #6 below, great photos are the key to good results.  Make sure that your content is equally appealing, accurate, and up-to-date on websites maintained by your area’s destination marketing organizations (DMOs), including your local, county, and state tourism offices, and that you are taking advantage of all special events and promotions.

 

2.  Tune-up or overhaul your website for effective design and search engine optimization. Internet years are like dog years — one year in real time is like seven years in Internet time. If your website was designed three years ago, that makes it 21 years old in Internet time. Old enough to enjoy a glass of wine, but then again, wine ages better than websites.

 

a.      Remember the KISS method. Does the top half of your home page clearly state your location and phone number? Are there obvious links to an availability calendar or online reservation option or do folks have to navigate several screens to find this out? Are your rates and room descriptions on the same page, or do prospective guests have to toggle back and forth to learn that the weekend rate for the Honeymoon Suite is $229? If the home page is unclear, uninformative, and/or slow to load, very few folks will click through to the inside pages, and you won’t get the “look-to-book” ratio you want.

b.     Work with your webmaster to ensure that your site is search engine optimized (SEO), so that you have a chance of coming up well on the organic (free) search results that can bring you significant traffic.

c.     Invest in effective software to track your website statistics so you’ll know what search terms folks are using to find you, and which sites produce significant traffic. 

d.     Does your website reflect your inn?  If you have a mid-priced, four-guestroom B&B, your website should meet the criteria mentioned above. If you have a larger and/or more luxurious property, you’ve probably invested enormous amounts of money in building/renovating/decorating your inn.  Don’t cheap out when it comes to creating a first-class website. Properties that upgrade to a state-of-the-art professionally designed and marketed website typically see an immediate and significant boost in occupancy rates.

 

3.  Attract qualified leads via pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.  Google and its competitors are not charitable organizations. They are in business to make a profit, and their profit comes from pay-per-click advertising, not free searches. Search engines change their algorithms frequently, and even the savviest of web marketers can’t guarantee that you’ll come out on top on the free search results. Pay-per-click advertising is the only guaranteed way to drive traffic to your website. For best results, select your keyword phrases carefully, to minimize costs and maximize effectiveness. Although www.Inns.com is not even a year old, it is set up to produce the most highly qualified leads at a modest cost and a minimum of effort on your part.  Through this easy-to-use PPC website, prospective guests get a lot of information on your inn, and will only click through when they’re definitely interested in your B&B.  Since all bidding is geographic, there’s no need to stress about keywords and phrases.

 

4.  Facilitate online reservations.  Study after study makes it clear -- consumers want to book online:
  • In 2005, 25% of all hospitality revenues will be generated by the Internet. (Hospitality eBusiness Strategies)
  • In2006, online sales will grow to nearly one-third of all hotel sales. (PhocusWright)
  • A record 32.1 million Americans will use the Web to book travel in 2005. (Forrester Research)
  • In 2004, over $11.6 billion in lodging revenues were booked online by consumers. (JupiterResearch)

 

 Although many potential guests will telephone you, an increasing number want to reserve rooms online at their convenience, not yours. At a minimum, post an availability calendar; even better, offer real-time online reservations with instant confirmations (just like an airline reservation), so that potential guests can reserve rooms while you are fast asleep, off at the supermarket, or best of all, having a massage. Ignore the issue and you can be sure of losing business to another inn that does offer online reservations.

 

5.   Increase your RevPar by fine-tuning your ADR.  Your RevPAR ( Revenue Per Available Room) is calculated by multiplying the average daily room rate (ADR) by the occupancy rate and so reflects a combination of price and volume; your ADR (Average Daily Rate)  is calculated by dividing the gross room revenue by the number of occupied room nights sold during a specified period.  Analyze your slow periods to see how different marketing strategies for your ADR can boost your overall RevPar.  For example, if you are sold out nearly every weekend, give serious consideration to raising your rates; if midweek and/or off-season occupancy barely breaks 20%, reduce rates and/or increase your marketing reach by using online reservations and midweek promotions.

 

6.  Replace or refine all your photography. If guests tell you that your inn is “much nicer than it looks on your website,” you are losing business every day.  If your photos are scanned prints, reshoot them as digital photos for maximum clarity.  Photographs need to balance the “sizzle” with the ”steak.”  A picture of a guest room, for example, doesn’t need to show every inch of the bed, but should rather convey that this is a relaxing, comfortable, romantic place to spend the night.  Spend some time looking at photos of other inns, especially those of your competition, and see how your shots stack up. If you don’t have individual guest room photos, travelers will assume the worst.

 

7.  Maintain regular email contact with potential and past guests.  Missed email marketing opportunities are extremely common, but fortunately among the easiest to fix:

 

a.      Each and every email from your B&B should include a complete signature file with your name, inn name, postal address, email address, telephone numbers, and URL.

b.      Typos and bad grammar are just as unprofessional in an email as they are in a printed letter.  Create templates for you and your staff to use to save time yet ensure a professional and welcoming tone.

c.       Answer email promptly. You would never wait a day to return a phone call from a guest; email is equally urgent.

d.      The content of your emails should express the same warm hospitality guests feel when they arrive at your property.  Offer to help with restaurant and theater reservations, provide directions, advice on activities, etc.

e.      Create email mailing lists via your website and registration books, and stay in touch with guests, so you can tell them about special events, last-minute cancellations, and keep your property on guests’ radar screens for their next getaway.

 

8.  Micro-brand from check-in to check-out and beyond.  How many times have you heard guests say, “Oh, we stayed at this great B&B in such-and-such a town, but I can’t remember its name.”  Avoid this fate by adding the name of your inn and its logo wherever appropriate, from the coffee mugs to the soap to the plastic bags you give guests for leftovers or damp bathing suits.

 

9.  Reach niche markets via the Internet.  From birding to quilting, fly-fishing to scrapbooking, lighthouses to covered bridges, gay travelers to seniors, business travelers to honeymooners, don’t forget the many ways you can reach special interest groups via Internet newsletters, message boards, and websites.  Convert inquiries into reservations by catering to their distinct needs.  For example, quilters and scrapbookers need lots of well-lit table space, business travelers need usable desks and high-speed Internet connections, and honeymooners want privacy and breakfast in their rooms.  Arrange for these special services, then promote them wherever appropriate.

 

10.   Let WIIFM be your guide.   What’s in it for me (WIIFM) is the question you need to ask again and again.  Of course, the “me” here is the potential guest.   Is a traveler looking for a romantic getaway more interested in knowing that the “Lily Suite” is named after your great-aunt Lily, or that this suite has a king-size bed, double whirlpool tub, and a hand-painted mural to highlight the décor?  WIIFM means photos that allow prospective guests to imagine themselves in those comfy porch rocking chairs, overlooking the water or mountains beyond. WIIFM means clear and easy to follow directions to your B&B—ones that can be read while bouncing over country roads in the dark.  WIIFM means making it easy for guests to make a reservation, either via a toll-free phone number or via online reservations. If you’re having a hard time understanding the guests’ point of view, there’s an easy cure—go stay at a few B&Bs yourself.  You’ll have a great time, you’ll learn a lot, and hey, you can even deduct it as a business expense!  

 

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