First effort at liveblogging -coffee: check; power plug: check; table: sort of…
This is the Thursday morning, March 11, “Challenge the Experts” session with PAII’s Executive Director Jay Karen, Eric Goldreyer (former owner of BedAndBreakfast.com), Carol Edmondson or Innkeeping Specialists, Tim Brady(introduced as internet guru) of 40 Putney Road B&B, and Ellen Grinsfelder of the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, moderated by Dave Hiler of Hiler Hospitality.
First, we start with announcements and a story about a horse dying (it’s Texas).
Ready to Challenge the Experts. Questions were submitted in advance, but they’ll take questions from the floor as well.
First question: What is the criteria for listing on a directory as a B&B or Inn, as some are not that type of property.
Eric answers – we publish criteria, but aren’t an enforcement officer. Must include breakfast in rate and can’t be a chain or franchise. They know that some stretch it a bit (some are 70 rooms), but they don’t really police it unless someone complains. They pull them off the site if they don’t serve breakfast.
Jay adds that this is a tough issue because standards vary from location to location and the definitions aren’t consistent. This will always be a moving target. PAII takes about the same view as BB.com.
Moderator: only Jay has “peeked” at the questions in advance. These experts aren’t prepped.
Question 2: Is social media worth doing if I don’t have time.
Tim answers that these are tools. You have to have a goal and choose the tool that is appropriate to accomplish the goal. Don’t just jump in because people say to do it. Sign up, secure your name and identity, but just play around. Research what is appropriate. Ask guests what they use. [Good advice!]. You have to make the choice that is best for you. If you don’t have time it won’t work. It is a conversation, so don’t just fill time with meaningless tweets. Tweets or posts that answer questions are the ones that are successful. If you’re not making money doing this, it isn’t worth it.
Jay asks about Twitter’s search functionality. Is that becoming valuable? The internet guru says that will help you make money, but he doesn’t have time to explain it here. [Really?]. He explains that the importance is that it is real time and that it is local (searching for tweets within a distance from you).
Ellen says if you don’t have time, hire someone to tweet for you at $8-9 per hour. She’s done this and thinks it works well. Tim says this is a touchy-feely business, so don’t farm it out, do it yourself. He says 10 minutes a day will add 10% to your bottom line.
Eric asks about data to back up that claim, as his experience indicates little measurable return, that reviews are more valuable. Tim says you have to have all the fundamentals, grabbing the audience you don’t have and getting them to come.
Moderator makes dead horse joke. There’s a theme emerging. He asks Carol about her results. She says don’t judge too quickly. ROI may come later.
Moderator asks Eric if they validate reviewers as staying at the property. Eric says they require validation on negative reviews. This happens daily.
Jay adds that he asked TripAdvisor this question onstage (at the PAII NE conference). He uses example of booking through the site you review on, so there is verification. Similarly you can be indicated as a verified reviewer (like NFL.com) so they know you’re a real person, but they can’t verify the purchase. TA waffled on the point. Jay acknowledges that TA has trouble verifying the stay. The European Union is looking at requiring verification.
Eric says this is not a perfect system, and the viewer weighs credibility when reading the reviews. They help the business more than they hurt. They’ve pulled people from the directory where the reviews are problems. He thinks a bad review (along with a lot of good ones) helps you because you can provide a helpful response.
Carol adds that some innkeepers have received business because of the response to a bad review.
Question from the floor: Two questions. One – how much should we expect by joining the global network – exposure or cash flow? Two: There are a lot of requests for couple massages – is that an economic advantage?
Ellen says couples massage is the #1 thing they do at their spa. It is huge.
Eric replies to the global distribution question. It unequivocally increases your bottom line if you use it correctly. At 70% occupancy, you should use the program to sell the other rooms. Sell all you can yourself, as this is your most cost-effective, then sell the others through a more expensive channel.
Jay asks if it is so obvious, why are 90% of innkeepers not on GDS? Eric says it is fear of double-booking. People need to be educated on this. People are confused about the different booking methods. Another issue is the cost – innkeepers don’t want to give up 25-30%, but independent research shows that it pays off, because for every reservation on the GDS you are also getting at least 1-2 more directly because of the visibility. Eric points out that the rate paid by the consumer is full price, even though you get the net rate, so you are not discounting.
The questioner follows up by asking how much time it takes to manage GDS correctly? Eric says don’t use all the rooms, but only put the ones you don’t think you can sell yourself. It doesn’t take long to set up, and once set up, the inventory is automatically updated with RezOvation GT.
Comment from the floor: I put all my inventory on GDS that I couldn’t sell, but they say I’m full when my inventory is not available, but I’m not full. Eric says you could do a session on this. It doesn’t work great for everyone. The fact that you’re on the program, at least they see your property on the channel.
New Question from the floor: What were the 5 alternatives to discounting?
Eric: Position well against hotels, selling value. Yield management, revenue management and cancellation policies, max/min stays, etc. Decreasing and raising prices. Online reservations. Can’t remember the fifth one.
Question: What is the next big thing?
Jay says he never tries to predict the future. No one could have foreseen some of the big things that have come in the past few years. He says economists predict, and they make weathermen look good. He doesn’t want to make the weathermen look good. Chuckle.
Ellen says vacation properties, rentals, condos will be a big challenge for our industry.
Jay sees unlicensed B&B’s as a challenge.
Carol says some things won’t change. She can’t predict, but says we know there are things that don’t change, like guests are looking for the same thing they always have: to be treated well, as an individual. Hospitality won’t change.
Tim says from a tech standpoint, geolocation data is where things are going. Last minute bookings are in, because of the ability to make informed last minute decisions. This gives the ability to find lodging at that moment. He wants to see that technology incorporated into the directories and software for B&B’s.
Jay points to his recent IQ column on GenX and GenY guests. He asks the baby boomers to raise their hands (most go up). He says lower your hand if your children have different tastes than you do. All go down. His point is that your tastes are not the tastes of your guests. You need to make changes that guests want. He suggests you take some down times and invite your kids and their friends to stay at your property to use them as a focus group to see what they like and don’t.
Eric says you can change your property to suit the guests. He also says that vendors need to provide more rate management in the software.
Question from the floor: What about geocaching for extra income?
Tim says do it if you like it. You have to be true to your own interests. He describes geocaching and seems to enjoy it. He must do it. 🙂
Question from the floor: How do we get more people aware of staying at B&Bs?
Jay says they did a survey with TripAdvisor on why people don’t stay at B&Bs. The #1 answer was it didn’t cross their mind to stay at one. BB.com has been at the forefront of promoting B&Bs. PAII wants to do more to promote B&Bs with a campaign called “A Better Way to Stay”. They’ll be working on this. This is a tough thing to do, in changing peoples attitudes. This is very expensive, so we all need to do a good job individually.
Ellen says they (Select Registry) are trying to do the same thing.
Jay says we all need to get our guests to post reviews and put things on their Facebook pages.
Carol says this is the reason to embrace technology. The price is affordable.
Tim says big corporations will never be able to do this as well as we can.
Eric says BB.com has made inroads into getting visibility, but now the new company has the resources to help promote the industry as an alternative to the hotels.
Question from the floor: How would you handle cancellation inside the cancel time, and threatens bad reviews and Facebook posts if you don’t allow it?
Jay says you can’t think that you’ll be able to control this. Don’t lose sleep over it. If it happens on TripAdvisor or other review site, contact them and let them know to look out for a false review. They may be able to help. You don’t want them back, so don’t bend over backwards to please them. Just draw the line where you are comfortable, and get on with things. You can’t control it, but it is rare, and respond where you can in a positive way.
Question from the floor: This seems to be a good time to lock in commercial loans. Could PAII get presentations on how to get good rates?
Carol says they’ve looked into this extensively in her business. They’re seeing some business happening, so are encouraged. They have been to seminars and feel SBA would like to do presentations for us. Show of hands for interest? Positive.
Comment from the floor: In final stages with Angel Investors, who are helping her get her funding for an inn purchase.
Question from the floor: This is 3rd and best conference – most value. Thanks to PAII and staff. A Better Way to Stay is good. Working with other groups like BB.com and Select Registry is great. Where are PAII’s numbers now? Discounted rate is good, but where does PAII need to be, and how can we help?
Jay says he didn’t plant the question. Laughter. Membership model changed. Number of members is up 10%. Cash flow is risky. Need 2.5 for each one previously. Now 2200 members, but wants to be 5-6,000. Forming new partnerships. Including Ohio B&B assn with discounted PAII memberships. Working with TripAdvisor to package PAII membership with business listing. BBCanada joint membership. Tim Brady is helping make a video for innkeepers to help them see the value of membership.
Question from the floor: Is the association doing anything to educate innkeepers to avoid PCI compliance issues?
Jay: Doing workshops, etc., but people don’t attend.
One last question: Need to bring in more small innkeepers.
OK one more: Is lowering prices stupid?
Take a different question. Covered that already.
One more: How far are we from having a GPS-able directory of PAII members?
Jay: Should PAII have a directory? We don’t want to compete with directories or innkeepers. We want to provide a way to find PAII members through the Better Way to Stay campaign. ABetterWayToStay.com.
Dave thanks everyone for coming.
Thanks to all the panel.