Saturday, June 16, 2018

My, How Things Have Changed - Part 2

I've been thinking how do I tie the last post and this one together. Then I realized it does it all by itself.

The greatest challenge we have had has been using the Online Travel Agents (OTA's - Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com etc.). Our first foray into the wilderness of OTA's was trying to work in the world of Booking.com (Owned by Priceline). We got indoctrinated at a conference about the great things they would do for us and we'd reap all the money from all their work. Things didn't quite work that way. Every single reservation we got through Booking.com over four months was screwed up in one way or another. We terminated our relationship with ill feelings on both sides. We didn't use any OTA's for a few years.

BedandBreakfast.com (Owned by Homeaway, which is owned by Expedia) has a program for upscale B&B's, like us, called the Diamond Collection. They allowed only a few hundred places, out of thousands of members in their directory in the country to receive that distinction. They give the Diamond Collection members preferential placement in their directory and used them for publicity. The return on our investment has been good.  In 2016 they offered their booking engine, Rezovation, for us to use in conjunction with the one we are using, Webervations - owned by the same company, Homeaway, for nothing if we agreed to having BedandBreakfast.com also take reservations for us. Let's see, a no cost booking engine, a free listing in their directory and they take reservations for us for only the cost of their commission on their BedandBreakfast.com reservations. I jumped on that, like a warm blanket on a baby. Our bookings increased immediately. Shortly after that they offered Expedia, Hotels.com and a whole host of the OTA's to work with us through BedandBreakfast.com for only the OTA's commission.  That has proved to be one of the better decisions we've made. Our bookings come rolling in, and we don't pay any credit card processing fees, credit card charge backs, and if there is a cancellation at short notice, the OTA fights with the potential guest and we keep the cancellation fee. Yes there are small glitches somewhere, but the OTA's have been a godsend for us. The beauty is, like a young couple said, just today (6/1/18), they would never have found us without using Hotels.com.

Speaking of the OTA's, they all promise the public their prices are the lowest available anywhere. Some say you get a big discount by booking through them. Here's a dirty little secret, all of them play their word games to entice people to use them, but you are paying the same price that the business offers to the public. Here at Lucinda's Country Inn, our Vineyard Suite currently has a weekend rate of $185 a night, plus tax. That is what you pay using an OTA and we pay them a commission for using their services. We gladly pay that for people staying their first time. When the guests check out we give them their receipt that explains they need to use our website to make their next reservation. That way they earn their credits for the Friends of Lucinda's program and get a free night faster than if they keep using their OTA.

I became quite proficient at managing our website, at least I thought I was. At the PAII Conference in Las Vegas in 2010, a website design company owned by a husband and wife team that previously owned a B{&B for 12 years, had a booth at the trade show and each did a seminar. Lisa explained to me, after scrutinizing our website at one of her seminars, our website lacked the necessary SEO (Search Engine Optimization) needed for a high ranking result. What that means is all the technical stuff web designers use to make their websites always look good and get great Google search results. And if the website has good Google results it has good results on all the other search engines (Yahoo, Bing, Altavista, etc.). At the same conference were several "Booking Engine" companies - Booking.com, Expedia, and others I can't remember.

I started using Constant Contact several years ago for Lucinda's emails/newsletters. I've never believed a B&B should email their guest list as often as retail places. Those emails have become a great way for people on our email list to know what is going on around Lucinda's and what to expect in the future. Email is still the most used means for people to know what a business is doing. The most immediate and most talked about communications is Social Media. Facebook is something I really don't like but it is now a business necessity. If Facebook did not require a personal page in order to have a business page I personally would not be there. It is a great tool to share information in a hurry. When I post something on Facebook and you share my post with folks I'm not friends with and then they share and so on. That is an exponentially wider viewing audience than if I did everything alone. When I say I, I mean my page and Lucinda's page at the same time. Then there are the other social platforms for reaching out to people, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, You Tube, Snap Chat, and you are right, I have not named them all. I don't know all their names and don't come close to using a third of them. Actually, Facebook, Instagram and Pintrest are my limit, and I don't really use it often enough. If I were to use social media the way the B&B industry social media experts expect, I'd be doing social media most of the time. I don't have time to do the reservations and confirmations, etc, our Constant Contact, work around the B&B when Cindy asks me, stay on top of the emails and post things to Facebook, LinkedIn, Pintrest, and Instagram. My head is spinning just writing that sentence.

From that little spiral notebook to being overwhelmed in Social Media. Who would have thunk a B&B Innkeeper would have to be a computer whiz to stay in business. When we started Lucinda's Country Inn, I knew websites and email were needed, but nothing like what is thrust upon us now. What does the future hold, AI, Virtual Reality, Holographic Imagery or some other "wonderful" extension of someone's imagination.

....'Til Next Time

Daryl