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 Register.com 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