I think you have already figured out that being an innkeeper is not just about cooking breakfast and making beds. Although, that’s a very important part. As James and I like to say at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. “We only have to get two things right: Bed and Breakfast!” And for many innkeepers, getting those two things right is a reward in itself. One of our fellow Bed and Breakfast owners here in Asheville admits that she does it for that look of “Wow” on a guest’s face when she brings in a beautifully plated meal. And one of my favorite sounds is laughter and conversation coming from the dining room. But in order to reap those rewards, we need to get people to our B&B. That’s where the other side of innkeeping comes in.
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that advertising has changed drastically in the past thirty to forty years. While guide books like Fodor’s and the AAA still exist, the vast majority of travelers do their research online. Which means that as an innkeeper, one of the first new skills James and I had to learn was internet marketing. Terms like SEO, bounce rate, and Google Analytics have become part of our daily conversation. And while we welcome special mention in magazines like Southern Travel & Lifestyle (look for us as one of their favorite Southern Inns in North Carolina in the June 2012 issue), our focus is on putting our website online at the top of the page where the traveler is looking. With more than 60 Bed and Breakfasts in the greater Asheville area, you can believe that competition is tough for guests. Add to that mix more than 58 hotels, from grand behemoths like the Grove Park down to the more ordinary Day’s Inn and you can imagine what’s involved in grabbing a visitor’s attention. Finally, there is the fact that for many people a Bed & Breakfast doesn’t even cross their minds as a lodging choice.
Enter the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association.
When James and I bought the Carolina the previous owners were already members of the Association and it seemed like a natural step to continue with the group. And it turns out to have been one of our best decisions. The Association was created to help innkeepers market their inns collectively while at the same time providing support to each other. There are currently 16 inns in the Association. One small, six room, inn like ours is of little importance to a restaurant owner or vendor. But our 16 inns together have more than 125 rooms, making it the same size as some of the hotels in town. By pooling our money and resources, we can do together things which we can’t do apart.
For the past year, James and I have been working with the marketing committee to revamp our website, redesign our logo and, finally, to develop and place in the Asheville Visitor’s Center its first interactive kiosk.Every year more than 7000 of the many visitors to Asheville arrive in our town without having booked accommodations. At the Visitor’s Center they are confronted with a static “Accommodations Board” where hotels and B&B’s compete for their attention. We wanted something which would catch their eye and make them consider booking with one of our Bed and Breakfasts. Our kiosk is designed to call the visitor over to look at it and then to allow them to book right there, either online or by telephone. We worked with a local design company to create an “attract screen”. Jaime Sparks and Chris King of Sparking Design also created our logo and “dressed” the kiosk in our green and red colors. At the same time all of this was going on, we also redesigned the Association website!Let me tell you something about Bed and Breakfast owners: like their inns, they are each very unique, very different, and have a very distinct points of view. In addition, innkeepers like to talk and like to socialize. In sum, it’s kind of amazing that we got this all accomplished in a year!But there were a few things we were all clear on. We wanted to present visitors with a choice. We wanted people to consider a bed & breakfast as a viable accommodation option and to understand that just because our businesses are in historic homes, it doesn’t mean they aren’t as up-to-date, if not more so, than a modern hotel. We have WiFi (free!) throughout the house. We have comfortable beds with some of the finest mattresses money can buy. Our bathrooms feature jacuzzi tubs and have a full range of amenities for our guests, including soft fluffy robes. In addition, many of our rooms have fireplaces, our inns have lovely porches and gardens. As the Professional Innkeepers Association of America keeps telling us: A B&B is truly “A Better Way to Stay.” And everyone in the Association agrees that what is important is making sure our guests are in the right Bed and Breakfast for them. If I don’t have the room you need or want, then I will help you find an inn in the Association which does.The kiosk has completed its testing and has been moved to its permanent site in the Asheville Visitor’s Center on Montford Avenue and we will be holding a ribbon cutting and demonstration this Tuesday at noon. While I hope you will have already booked with us, you should stop by and take a look at it the next time you are here. We think it’s pretty neat!