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 -, Expedia, etc.). Our first foray into the wilderness of OTA's was trying to work in the world of (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 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. (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 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 reservations. I jumped on that, like a warm blanket on a baby. Our bookings increased immediately. Shortly after that they offered Expedia, and a whole host of the OTA's to work with us through 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

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 -, 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


Sunday, June 10, 2018

My, How Things Have Changed - Part 1

I've been thinking about how people find us, not how to get here, but how did and do they know about us, so they can make a reservation.

 In 2004 Cindy & I carried a little spiral notebook to take our reservations. We had a landline for our telephone and when we were out and about we used call forwarding to our Blackberry cell phone; as there was little reception in and around the foothills, but it was better than nothing. People heard about Lucinda's Country Inn from the Rack Cards we left at every winery who would let us, the Chamber of Commerce, and by driving by our cheap sign we had in the beginning. The public used Travel Guides to find lodging - AAA  travel books and many others like Fodor, Frommer and the Lannier Guides strictly about B&B's. You had to go to the libraries or AAA to get them. Maybe that's why we didn't need anything but our little blue note book; not many guests were coming to Lucinda's Country Inn the first couple of years. We heard about the B&B group in El Dorado County called the Historic Country Inns of El Dorado County. They had a brochure and a website listing all the members. We  knew we had to join to get those benefits. Our only problem was we built Lucinda's and it had no significant historic value, other than being the first new B&B built in the county. That was historic enough for the group to change its name to Bed & Breakfast Inns of El Dorado County (BBIEDC), just so we could join. (More about that in another post, someday.)

When we went to our first PAII (Professional Association of International Innkeepers) Conference in Chicago in 2004, just months before we opened Lucinda's Country Inn, there were two really hot topics in the seminars and at the trade show. At the trade show there were about a dozen vendors hawking the latest technology for the B&B owners to incorporate into their business. (Super Inn, Q4, Blizzard Technology, AT&T, Cellular Mobile, Verizon, to name a few. More about technology later.) The first was communications: telephones that were cordless so we could walk around the B&B and talk to our callers at the same time. Then the finest in cellular phones. The second, for those who had guts enough to get involved in computers was this thing called the internet. Hardly any B&B owner would ever dare turn over any information about their B&B guests to the "Internet" - that sacrilegious, spying apparatus. At several seminars the speakers were touting the best means of keeping in touch - "Call Forwarding". We laughed because we had used it for years. But most B&B's hadn't and if they did, where would they forward the calls to. They didn't have cell phones.

Our son, Sean, and I spent many hours discussing the ways to get involved with websites. I din't know how to set one up, but I knew a lot about what they provided. The California Franchise Tax Board used their website both internally (intranet) and for the public (internet), while I worked there. (In 1996, Governor Pete Wilson ordered all state agencies to become internet friendly, for public use.) I never worked on the IT side, so I never got the beginnings of what the Internet was, let alone how to set up and work with websites on the internet.  I had a desktop PC here at Lucinda's which I used primarily for word processing for our snail mail confirmations and for emails (Prodigy & AOL were the only options). I searched hundreds of websites for instructions on how to setup websites. Those vendors at the trade show wanted to setup, maintain and manage all aspects of any website they set up for us. Of course that would cost hundreds per month, which was a luxury Lucinda's could only dream about in 2004.

Sometime in 2005 I started gathering the email addresses of our reservations so I could send them their confirmation via email. It was a long letter detailing everything known to man and Lucinda's Country Inn. I wasn't very astute about the hospitality communications needed, so there were months of cumbersome letters and follow-up letters; where I was answering questions that I made people ask as a result of them reading their confirmation letter, "clearly explaining every detail they ever  needed". I finally developed a format of a confirmation letter; it was just as bad as the letters, but it sped things up getting the confirmations out. Over the years that has improved drastically. The confirmation process on both ends works very comfortably now. It probably could still use more improvement. We are still amazed at the number of people who never read their confirmations, let alone bring them so they would know where to park and find there room.

During that year we joined BBIEDC because that helped us get Lucinda's Country Inn out to the public way beyond what we were doing by ourselves, which wasn't much. I think subconsciously I really did believe in the "Field of Dreams".  We built it, but they weren't coming. We clearly needed a website of our own. I found that allowed, and even helped, me build our own website. It was functional, but not very attractive. Since I am a fairly decent photographer we started taking pictures for the website, but that was cumbersome and not very efficient. I didn't have a digital camera at that time so I had to scan the photos then uploaded them to our storage files, then transfer them to the website. After I got the digital camera all hell broke loose and technology exploded on the internet. Things began to change at rocket speed. Which meant I was able to go directly from the camera's flash card to the website. Our website improved drastically. It was looking good, but not much action from it. Google became the giant gorilla of search engines and dictated how websites were discovered when the public did a search for a B&B in El Dorado County. I learned about the front links, back links and secondary back links that helped get us higher in the organic search results. If this sounds gibberish to you. You're not alone. It took me years to understand the basics of Google's search engine results.

Of course we had our rack cards we placed in the Chamber of Commerce and the all the winerieries in El Dorado County including the eight here in Fair Play.

 Today things are light years different then when I felt like I was getting a handle on our website in 2007. I expanded, enhanced, glorified and modernized the website almost weekly. One component of search results remains the same today, new content gets you higher in the results. The big gorilla keeps changes their logarithms for searching the "net". That means about the time I get to know what is happening there's something different I have to know.  After being a member of BBIEDC for a few years we were at one of the monthly meetings when it was explained that there was a company named Webervations that had members of the group setup the Webervations booking engine, it cost about $100 a year. That meant we could now have people make reservations through our website. Yes they could still call, but if they were on the website they could book the room they wanted (thanks to all the great photos I took) without having to call us.

(There's more about the technological advances topic in the next post.)

....'Til Next Time


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Day Trips From Lucinda's - North-South Road

I’ve been thinking about what should be the next day trip  – Ala; the North-South Rd. 

The drive is easy and beautiful. My job here is to tell you how to get there, not what to see and do while enjoying the drive. I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is up the mountain a little (in the winter & spring it can and probably is not passable) and there is really nothing but forest vistas to look at. That ain’t bad. Its about a two-hour drive, unless you stop to hike some of the forest service roads. They named it North-South Rd.because it runs North and South between Mormon Emigrant Trail, on the north, and Omo Ranch Rd. on the south.

 The top photo is taken along Omo Ranch Rd. looking southeast over the valley towards Highway 88 and Jackson, down the hill. The bottom photo is the start of the North-South Rd., to the left of the pine tree, on Omo Ranch Rd. looking north to Highway 50 and Lake Tahoe to the right. 

Start by leaving Lucinda’s to Fair Play Rd, turn left and go to the dead end at Omo Ranch Rd. Turn left to head up the hill toward Highway 88 (That’s another day trip adventure). Slug Gulch Rd. joins Omo Ranch Rd. in Omo Ranch at Indian Diggins School and just before the road narrows to a single lane for about ¼ mile. Continue up Omo Ranch Rd., leaving El Dorado National Forest, until you get to the left turn onto North-South Rd.

 The top photos is just to let you know you are headed in the right direction when you see this sign. The bottom photos lets you know North-South Rd. is just ahead on the left.

Stay on this mountainous, snaking road for about 15 miles. This part is a challenge for those who get car sick or are very nervous driving hair pin curves and rough roads. Sometimes at the same curve. There are many forest service roads that you can hike.

 The top photo is North-South Rd. going into the forest. The middle is one of the forest service roads you can hike. There are many other roads and/or driveways, which are private property. (You ever see the Burt Reynolds movie Deliverance?) The bottom photo is the bottom of North-South Rd. at PiPi Valley, adjacent to the campgrounds

From here you start uphill and it is very similar to the downhill drive, expect the final five miles or so of road has a better surface. Then you will eventually dead-end into Mormon Emigrant Trail.

This road is a great road and you can literally coast most of the way down the hill to Sly Park Rd. at Jenkinson Lake. At the lake there are bunches and bunches of trails for hiking.

Mormon Emigrant Trail runs between Sly Park Rd. and Highway 88, just five miles west of Silver Lake.

Once you get to Sly Park Rd. (You'll pass over the Jenkinson Dam twice before you get to the road.) turn left and continue down the hill about 10 miles. At Mt. Aukum Rd. (Holiday Market is on the left corner) turn left on Mt. Aukum for eight miles to Fair Play Rd. (Grey's Mart/Corner with the gas station is at that corner.)

You just completed about a 70 mile drive in no time at all. Hope you enjoy your drive as much as I enjoy my drives.

...."Til Next Time