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March 2006

Business Traveler Do's and Don'ts

Top Doís and Doníts from an American Road Warrior Who Loves B&Bs

As a professional speaker and entrepreneur who travels often, I love everything B&B owners represent. Iíd much rather write you checks then give my dollars to a faceless corporate hotel chain. Many of you provide comforts and amenities not available at most hotels. At its best, a B&B truly feels like a home away from home.

Unfortunately, when Iím on the road 100-plus days a year, more often than not Iíve chosen to stay in the local chain hotel. Many B&B owners want to cater to business travelers but donít have a clear sense of our needs and what things make us run away screaming. Fortunately, itís preventable. Hereís how:

The Golden Rule does not always apply
ďDo unto others as you would have them do onto youĒ is not always applicable to business travelers. Many innkeepers assume that what makes them tick is also what makes us business travelers tick, when often the reverse is true. Generally speaking, you enjoy decorating your house to appeal to visitors, serving delicious food, and entertaining guests. I enjoy all of those things, but for better or worse, Iím in town to work.

You take pride in your breakfasts; often we business travelers have no time to eat them. You are eager to share your knowledge of local tourist attractions; we want directions to the nearest Kinkoís. You take pride in your antiques; we need an adjustable office chair and a useable table or desk. Instead of the golden rule, apply the platinum rule: Do unto others as they want to be done unto. How well do you apply the platinum rule? Here is a list of questions to ask.

Flexibility

  1. Do I allow late arrivals and early departures? How about early arrivals and late departures?
  2. If I offer one of those, can I deliver on that promise? I once called a B&B to ask whether a midnight arrival after a late speaking engagement would be OK. The host said not a problem. Upon arrival, I rang the doorbell, and no one answered. I knocked on the door with the same results. I walked around the back of the house and tried the kitchen door with no success either. I would have called, but it was a rural area without pay phones or cell phone coverage. I finally flagged down a passing car and asked them to call the B&B for me. Luckily, that worked, and the bed-headed owner appeared at the door in his pajamas a few minutes later.
  3. How flexible is my cancellation policy? Most hotels allow cancellations up until 6 p.m. the day of arrival, with no penalty or fee. That may not be realistic for B&Bs, but the closer you can get to this, the better.


Privacy and Boundaries

  1. Does each guest room have an exterior door lock? Honeymooners arenít the only ones who want a little privacy. Just as I lock the door to my office, I want to be able to lock the door to my room.
  2. Do I offer ďdo not disturbĒ signs for guests to hang on their doorknobs? The option of a sign is a very good indicator of your willingness to respect my privacy.
  3. If my parking situation requires cars to block each other in, is it clear that I will never move a guestís car unless absolutely necessary? It should go without saying that you should not drive a guestís cars unless the guest is literally sound asleep or in the shower, and his or her car is blocking another car.


Time Management

  1. Do I allow guests the option of eating alone? For many business travelers, flexibility with breakfast is more important that eating a specially prepared meal. Sometimes being able to eat cereal, a bagel, or a muffin at an early or late hour is more valued than your best recipe.
  2. Do I allow guests the option of eating a cold breakfast on their own schedule (within reason)? Time is money for business travelers, so make everything as efficient as possible, unless your guests have made very clear they have some downtime and would be happy to be entertained.
  3. When a guest arrives, how long does the check-in procedure take? Make the check-in process as smooth and short as possible. Ask guests if they have time for the house tour and history. You can easily include this information in your room folder so that guests can read it on their schedule.


Rooms built for work, as well as rest and play

  1. Do guestrooms have a desk or table? Is it at a comfortable height for typing on a computer?
  2. Are the lights adequate for reading? How well-lit is the desk and the area around it?
  3. Do you offer wireless Internet access? If so, how reliable is it? Have you tested the strength of the signal in each room?
     

Many B&B owners have put a tremendous amount of time and money into making guestrooms appealing to couples looking for romantic getaways (king-sized bed, double whirlpool, in-room fireplace, leisurely multi-course breakfasts), but donít have a clear sense of what business travelers want.

Please
, save your knickknacks for the common areas of the house, where your doll collection can be appreciated by all. Your guestrooms should have ample space for business travelers to work. Figure out the sources of noise, and reduce or eliminate them. Maybe that creaky floorboard has been creaky so long you donít even hear it anymore, but we will. If possible, have a king-size bed. I know they are expensive and take up space, but thereís a reason why they are standard in most hotel rooms. While youíre at it, stay at a hotel and make a checklist of the standard amenities. Iím continually surprised at how many B&Bs miss the most basic things: hand towels, wash cloths, adequate towel bars, extra toilet paper.

Speaking of hotels, think about ways you can distinguish yourself
Innkeepers can excel in some areas that arenít an option for hotels; here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Scent-free rooms and windows that open. Iíve never stayed in a B&B in which I couldnít open the windows for fresh air. Thatís wonderful: a lot of hotels reek of cleaning chemicals and seal their windows. Please donít make the mistake of putting air fresheners, potpourri, or other artificial scents in the room; these make many of us quite ill (that includes all types of guests, not just business travelers).
  2. Competitive pricing: Discounts for business travelers are a great way to bring your prices in line with your hotel competitors, particularly during weekday or off-season times when occupancies are low.
  3. Local knowledge: When I stayed at the Marianna Stoltz house in Spokane, WA, the innkeeper heard we were headed south to Washington State University and warned about speeding through the town of Coalfax. Sure enough, were stunned to see cars crawling through the town, fully aware of its reputation for being a speed trap. Without her advice, we would have blown through, obliviousĖĖand probably would have been nailed with a hefty speeding ticket.
  4. Bicycles and other perks: One of my favorite leisure activities is bicycling, so any B&B that offers bicycles for guests to ride is adding a major perk for me. Favorites for others might include saunas and hot tubs; libraries with magazines and books to read (and even take); wine and cheese hour; and late-night snacks.
  5. Dare to be different. When I looked at lodging in the Madison, WI, area, the Arbor House stood apart from its peers because of its environmentally friendly theme. In Pennsboro, WV, the fact that the Rose Hill Inn is actually on the bike trail was a big bonus for me (not to mention the free bikes offered to guests). Figure out what makes your place unique and interesting -- particularly compared to others lodging options in your area -- and build on that.


Most importantly, ask for feedback. Provide comment cards and other ways for your guests to tell you anonymously what they liked about their stay and what they didnít. This one move could literally be worth tens of thousands of dollars Ė if not more Ė to your business. Many guests will encounter something that could have been improved about their stay but will be too polite to tell you if you ask them face to face. Instead, make clear that you want their opinion and that youíll act on their suggestions. Think of the comment cards as free consulting, and use the advice they contain to improve your business. In addition to hosting more low-maintenance, happy business travelers, youíll probably increase your occupancy rates overall.

When Marshall Miller isnít traveling, he lives in Albany, New York, with his partner, Dorian, and cat, Allegra. Marshall and Dorian are sex educators who speak at colleges and universities around the country.

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