In Part 2 of our interview, I chatted to Susan about TripAdvisor, business travellers, how she became a B&B owner herself and how she supports people who already run their own property. (You can read Part 1 here.)
theBandBer: You’ve said that it took you 5 years to open a B&B from making the initial decision. Why was this?
Susan Poole: The first couple of years were spent on research: trying to find reliable information. I needed to work out what kind of revenue I had to aim for if I was going to earn a proper income and whether or not a single person could do it on her own. I was also waiting for the point when both my kids left home. The next three years were spent searching for appropriate property: one that balanced what I wanted vs what I needed to make enough money to live on.
theBandBer: You also coach people who already run a B&B. How do you aim to help them?
Susan Poole: Initially I ask them to fill out a questionnaire, judging themselves in different categories. If they rate themselves 6/10 or above in all categories, they probably don’t want to run a B&B anymore and should do something different. If they do want to be helped, I try to help them figure out who their guests really are and what they want. (Remember, it’s always about what the guest wants, not what you want.) I also encourage them to look closely at what they’re really spending money on – often it isn’t what they imagine.
theBandBer: I notice that your B&B is #1 on TripAdvisor for Parry Sound. What do you think of TripAdvisor in general?
Susan Poole: I think that a lot of B&B owners underestimate the power of the internet overall and TripAdvisor in particular. But the influence of TripAdvisor may alter over next few years now that Google is no longer streaming in reviews from it. Indeed Google Places now exclusively highlights its own content, as opposed to relying on any third party information. So, if you Google “hotels Toronto,” the top results will be linked to Google Maps, with most individual hotel carrying reviews written by Google users.
The fact remains, however, that it doesn’t really matter what B&B owner thinks of the review sites – it’s what our potential guests think of the sites. I think review sites offers B&B owners three great opportunities – if they are willing to work at it:
- You have limited control over the reviews, so unmediated guest reviews validate what you say about your B&B on your web site.
- Reviews helps identify what people really like about your B&B, providing you with opportunities to sell based on those criteria, and to do more of what your guests like.
- Reviews allow you to determine issues/problems. My B&B is located close to a train trestle. It does state this clearly on the website. But I’ve been living here so long that I barely hear the passing trains anymore, so I sometimes forget that the noise can bother guests. When I realised that quite a few of them were mentioning it on TripAdvisor, I took actions to minimise the problem, e.g. complimentary ear plugs, ceiling fans, air conditioning, quality windows.
theBandBer: In the UK there’s a growing trend of business travellers staying at B&Bs. Is it the same in Canada?
Susan Poole: Yes. In terms of North America I think recent economic downturn has offered B&Bs more opportunities to compete with hotels. Travel budgets are limited so business travellers are looking carefully at their options. B&Bs are now marketing themselves in a more focused way – through internet campaigns like “Better Way to Stay” (www.betterwaytostay.com) – as an alternative to chains. B&Bs themselves are also becoming more sophisticated and offering the same amenities as hotels, e.g. en-suite baths, WiFi, good location plus great service!
theBandBer: To what extent do you think social media is useful to B&B owners?
Susan Poole: They’re both really useful, but in different ways. I regard Twitter as primarily a business to business medium, bringing B&B owners together, and Facebook as a business to customer medium, which is great for PR and Special Offers.
theBandBer: Do you think B&B owners should focus more on a unique selling point for their property or on duplicating the experience guests would expect from a hotel?
Susan Poole: If people want the hotel experience, they won’t even think about a B&B. For those who are curious, you need to offer hotel amenities (en-suite baths, flexible check-in/out times, WIFI). Also, if they’ve never stayed at a B&B before, you need to provide them with a frame of reference that will help them feel comfortable about trying one out. This is really how your USP will work best. A good way to get started is to sit down and compare yourself against local hotels – what’s better about your B&B? Take a look at the reviews – what does your B&B scored consistently well on – how can your market that? Think about the different people who come to stay – why do they chose you?
What it really comes down to, as with any kind of effective marketing, is what you believe. For instance, you can’t sell a property on the basis of it having a great view if you don’t feel that a great view is important. The customer’s point of view always comes first, but you need to find a niche that works for your clientele and for you.