After attending the PAII conference in Austin, Texas in early March, we’ve been on a long road trip to see family and take care of some personal issues. In the course of those travels an interesting lesson arose for all of us.

No Vacancy SignWe were driving down the Interstate, with an approximate idea of our destination, and wanted to find a bed and breakfast for the night. However, our actual destination was a local attraction, with the area B&B’s scattered among a number of nearby small towns. Because this was short notice, we needed to find a B&B that would show its availability online, as it wasn’t feasible to drive from town to town, and sometimes in rural areas, just to see if we could find a room. An added problem was that, if we couldn’t find one, the hotels were all in the same small towns, or in a larger city about 20 miles away.

Searching for a B&B

Turning to our trusty smartphone, we searched for bed and breakfasts near the attraction. That brought up a list of properties and the usual collection of reviews, websites, photos and other information. Only a couple of the B&B’s looked inviting, so we selected the one that most appealed to us, and checked its website.

That’s when the fun began. The rates were reasonable, and the rooms attractive. However, there was no online availability or online booking. The only way to book a room was to call. In addition, the policies were contained in a pdf file, which my browser of choice doesn’t open nicely.  By comparison, the others had policies in web pages, but none that we were interested in had online availability or booking capability.

So what happened? We didn’t want to call the B&B during breakfast hours, of course, so we waited until we were farther down the road and it was later in the day. By then, we weren’t sure we’d be there by check-in time. Oh, yes, did I mention the check-in time? The policies (after I downloaded and opened the pdf file) included the statement (not listed on the website) that check-in time was at 4 p.m. Not from 4 until some later time, not starting at 4, but at 4 p.m. Eventually we realized that we wouldn’t make it until at least 6-7 p.m., and while the innkeepers indicated that you could arrange a late arrival (!), they suggested you not arrive after dark. Consequently, we found other accommodations, and the B&B lost a guest.

The Barriers to Booking

This property had put up at least two barriers to prevent a guest from staying with them, in addition to the “natural” barrier of being difficult to simply drive by when looking for a room. First, their lack of any online availability and booking information was probably enough to cost them the room. Had we been able to check availability we would have known if there was a room from the night before, and could have planned to arrive on time. Had there been online booking capability, we probably would have booked. Since those were not available, and our timing was not certain, this barrier prevented a room being sold.

The other barrier, in this case, was the check-in time. Perhaps the innkeepers didn’t intend for the check-in time to appear to be so limited, but that is how the policy was written. Putting the policy in a file that had to be downloaded to be viewed made it cumbersome, and if the policy is important, who could blame a guest for not knowing about it? But the real barrier was that the time appeared, at least, to be strictly limited to 4 p.m. When we realized we wouldn’t be there by that time, we simply made other arrangements.

All this has made us think, and I hope it does the same for you. Think about your policies and practices – not from your point of view, but from the point of view of someone trying to find a B&B. Have you created barriers to the guest’s ability to book a room? Have you made it more difficult for them to stay at your property? Is there anything you can do to remove the barriers (or relax the policies a bit) so the guest will find your property more appealing?