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May 2005

Does Your Image Represent Your Inn?

Sandy Soule

You have poured enormous amounts of work, money, and emotion into creating and maintaining your inn.

You see it as a place unlike any other, special and distinct.

But….having overheard the breakfast conversation of your guests, you know that they rarely remember the names of inns they’ve visited, and often mix up the memory of one B&B with another.


To overcome this, be sure to create, clarify, strengthen and extend the image of your inn as a way to attract new guests, and to increase repeat and referral business.


Clarify the image of your inn 


Does your inn have a single primary image, as a luxury getaway, a family resort, an urban refuge, a seaside escape or a mountain adventure lodge?


Perhaps your B&B has multiple images, experienced by different markets -- a romantic escape for weekenders, a business travelers’ haven and executive conference setting midweek?


Are the perceptions of your potential guests in line with your own?  You think of your inn as a distinctive experience—but do your guests share that perception? Your luxury guestrooms may be no different from your guests’ master bedrooms and baths at home. Marble bathrooms with whirlpool tubs are becoming standard in upscale new construction; queen and king-size beds are the norm, not the exception. Your cherished collectibles may be perceived as annoying clutter.


How does your image balance intangibles and tangibles?  Is genuine hospitality and guest-focused service central to your image, or do specific objects like silk flower arrangements and mounds of decorative pillows take center stage?  Do guests feel like they come first, or do they feel like they’re a secondary part of your inn’s image?


Answering the questions above will help you with the following steps.


Creating the image—a multi-layered process


Block One Great Photography:  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  In the age of the Internet, potential guests demand good photography. Without it, you risk hearing those dreaded words:  “Oh, your inn is so much nicer than it looks in the photos.”  Why dreaded?  Because for every guest who booked despite poor quality photos, there are probably several who reserved elsewhere.  Great photos are the key to sharing your inn’s image with the world, through your website, print materials, and to attract media coverage.  Good shots evoke your inn’s image without cataloguing every item in your rooms, and showing every inch of bedding.


Block Two—Inter-related Design: Great photos need to be integrated with your overall design for maximum effect.  A website with tacky scrawls, waving flags, and cutesy icons will detract, not enhance your photography. Think, for example, how a beautiful painting is made more so by a lovely frame and ideal lighting. If your primary image is one of luxury, these qualities need to include all elements of your inn, both external (the elements that get you reservations) and internal (the elements that keep guests happy and encourage them to return and refer).  Never over-promise and under-deliver.


Block Three—the Inn Environment: Your inn’s external image should synchronize with its internal one, so that the perception matches the reality.  True beauty is not skin deep. Multiple touchpoints for branding your inn’s image may begin with an initial referral from a past guest to a visit to your website; from making a reservation through arrival; from the actual stay at your inn through checkout; and last but not least, to a return home with souvenir mugs and follow-up mailings to assure guest satisfaction and repeat and referral business.


Reservation confirmations should start with the basic information, but go on to offer assistance with dinner reservations and sightseeing attractions. A pre-arrival phone call to arriving guests is an ideal way to emphasize the hospitality element of your image, while also helping you confirm arrival times and possible special needs, while giving you a chance to upsell your add-ons. Do all facets of your image convey the high quality concierge services that are the hall-mark of the B&B and inn experience?  Well-kept lawns, fresh flowers inside and outside the inn, crisply ironed pillowcases and immaculate duvet covers will ensure that your perceived image matches the reality.


Your image should project the fact that your inn is a special place. To ensure that the image matches the reality, make sure that the intangibles and the tangible elements of your inn combine to make every person who comes to your inn feel equally special.


So why bother?  Successful innkeepers have to go beyond putting heads in beds.  In a price-driven market where everyone has been conditioned to look for the best deal, your image is central to your value proposition: that your inn is a special place, worth every penny because of the overall experience.




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