Although the Internet has certainly leveled the playing field and helped B&B’s compete with larger establishments in the lodging market, I have to wonder – at what point will the competition cause them to go over to the other side?
When Glenn and I stayed at a bed and breakfast, we found a comforting feeling in the personal nature of the experience. Each establishment and owner had a personality and style all their own which provided an additional dimension to our travel experiences that couldn’t be found in a hotel or motel, or even a larger Inn. The environments were less sterile and more relaxed, which seemed to set a tone that made our transition from a busy work day to our relaxing vacation days that much easier. The welcoming feeling we got from our hosts when we arrived was so much warmer than standing in line at a front desk for a business transaction. And although I know B&B owners are business people, that’s not the side of them we saw as guests, unless of course we had specifically asked them to share the business side with us as aspiring innkeepers.
Selecting that special place to stay based on it’s unique personality was part of the experience. Whether we were attracted to the architecture or history of the building itself, it’s location and surroundings, the decor of the inside and guest rooms, or the breakfast offerings, it certainly wasn’t an impulse purchase! And once we arrived and met the innkeepers and other guests, we found we had mutual interests, no doubt the reason we were all drawn to the same type of B&B.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion in our industry about B&B’s winning over the younger guest and the typical hotel guest by becoming more like hotels. One example is the suggestion that Innkeepers realize that their home is not their home, it’s a business and should be treated as such. To me that suggests a less personal experience for the guest and the innkeeper – isn’t that why people choose B&B’s? I know that’s why I chose this business over working as a manager in a hotel.
Another suggestion is to use hotel discount programs and impulse buying discount programs and to forget about personalized discounts. Sure, the statistics show most people don’t return to your business, and yes, what you have to pay for offering those discounts will water down your bottom line, but you want to reach the masses don’t you? I would contend that whenever you water down the bottom line you end up watering down quality, and whenever you introduce impulse to a purchase, you have a greater chance of it not being what the person wants.
As I mentioned before – viva la difference! If an Innkeeper’s business model fits the bill, so be it, but to suggest that those of us who came into the business with the traditional bed and breakfast model to be unique and different, and offer a more personalized service give it up to get volume, is suggesting we take away the social experience of going to a B&B, exactly what some travelers are looking for! I think this is a dangerous generality that could hurt more businesses than help. After all, there can be a combination of the two, which is what Glenn and I strive for – a balance of offering the comforting feeling of staying somewhere with a more personal touch, that also allows you to have your personal space.
I tend to think, now, more than ever, the more personal, warm, comforting feeling B&B’s can provide a guest is becoming more, rather than less, popular in a world that is becoming more and more impersonal.
Our guest demographics include all age groups, and first time and regular B&B travelers (and our first timers return!). So although we will always stay on top of industry trends and experts’ opinions, for now, we’re going to continue to let our guests tell us what they want. After all, shouldn’t any business’ goal be to meet their customers needs, and not theirs?