A few of you may have noticed that we seem to have taken a bit of a hiatus over the past several weeks. In fact, our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast had a very busy summer, and there wasn’t much time for About the Inn writing. Now that our busy summer and fall foliage seasons are behind us, it appears things will be back on a more even keel, and we hope to be able to publish more regularly.

How do you attract B&B guests? In the past several years, most smaller lodging properties have become aware of the importance of attracting guests through an online presence (oddly, though, some still seem to question the need – or maybe they question the long-term viability – of an internet presence). Gone, or nearly gone, are the days of buying print or television ads in huge volume, in hopes that a few visitors will be enticed to become guests.

For the smaller properties, in particular, this is a good thing, as few can afford the high prices charged for print advertising, let alone the several additional orders of magnitude for television campaigns – all for ads for which there is little hope of tracking their success, and for which industry analysts say the return on investment (ROI) is very small indeed.

So, then, all a small business needs to do is find a way to slap up a small website, and all the marketing is done, right? Unfortunately, many small properties seem to have adopted exactly that strategy, and are beginning to pay the price in reduced occupancy.

Print media (with the exception, to some degree, of direct mail), and for that matter television, tries to sell by sending an uninvited message to a large, but generally arbitrary, audience. The primary reason online marketing is more effective, is because the prospective guest is looking for you. They are, by definition, part of your target market. They are seeking exactly what you are offering: some type of lodging for a temporary purpose.

How do you reach the prospective guest?

It seems like an over simplification, but in order to get the prospective guest, seeking lodging like yours, to connect with your property and make a booking, you need to be found where they are looking. Which means that you need to know where they are looking, and be found there.

Where are they looking?

We usually begin by assuming that the guest has decided to come to your area, and needs to find lodging. This is because there are many, many different ways the prospective guest may decide to come to a region. However, you can play a role in this, by getting information about the area in front of the guest – either by more traditional means such as print or television, or by having that type of information on your web site.

Once the decision is made to come to an area, the question of lodging must arise.

According to WIHP, a hotel marketing firm, there are four distinct steps in the process of deciding on a lodging property: discovery or stimulus (where the guest learns of a hotel and gets interested), zero moment of truth (the guest begins to research the hotel), first moment of truth (guest finds the hotel website and begins to determine if this is what they want), and second moment of truth (guest arrives at the property and is either happy or disappointed). There is little doubt that these steps apply more or less exactly for smaller properties, as well.

Let’s look a bit more closely at these four steps:

1. Discovery or Stimulus

How does the prospective guest find out about a lodging property they may want to consider? WIHP’s data indicates that the most likely source of information is friends or family, followed by online travel agents (known as OTAs, including Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Booking.com, and the like), then TripAdvisor, and then, to a much lesser degree, other sources like Facebook, Travel Agents, Magazines, etc.

Because we’re interested in the smaller lodging properties, we would suggest that bed and breakfast directories could be included with the OTAs, at least for the guest who is interested in considering bed and breakfast lodging.

2. Zero Moment of Truth

How does the guest research the lodging property he/she is interested in? The data from WIHP indicates that nearly 73% will use search engines to find the hotel. Did you pick up on that? Most of our search engine optimization is around industry-specific keywords, but most of our prospective guests are searching by the name of the hotel!

Of the remaining 27% or so, guests will search map pages (9.6%), review sites (7.3%), travel guides (3.0%) and social media sites (0.8%) to find the lodging property.

3. First Moment of Truth

Once the guest arrives on the property’s website, you have between 3 and 7 seconds to help them decide to stay at the property. The average visitor will have looked at 10 other property websites, read reviews, checked rates, and verified the location on a map.

WIHP says the guest wants to know:

  • will this save me money?
  • will this save me time?
  • will this make my life better?

For the property, this translates to:

  • Is this the best value I can get?
  • Is this located near the points I am interested in?
  • Is the comfort going to live up to my standards?

How your website stacks up in answering these questions for the guest determines whether or not they will book.

4. Second Moment of Truth

When the guest arrives they will either be pleased with their selection of your property, or they will be disappointed. In either case, the results are likely to be posted on social media and review sites, and shared with friends and family. In exceptional cases, they may even appear in blog posts.

When you consider the likelihood of these results, whether positive or negative, being shared with friends and family, as well as the review sites and social media connections, you can see that these results will also become part of the Discovery or Stimulus phase of someone else’s search for lodging property. That makes it imperative that the experience be a positive one.

WIHP has provided a video infographic to illustrate these points clearly and concisely. The YouTube version is below.

In upcoming articles we’ll be looking at the ways we can reach the prospective guest in each of the decision-making phases of the booking process.


  • Great post Scott! The cycle you have laid out is great for helping to understand how potential guests make decisions.

    As you have noted, location is a prime motivator, as it can be construed as adding value to the room rate i.e. the closer someone is to the reason they are coming, makes it easier to access that location. I believe that B&B web sites should reflect location as part of their value, rather than providing a page to give directions.

  • Thanks Susan! I had started thinking about some of the details and quickly realized that it was likely to be more useful to step back and get a bigger perspective. Next week’s post will examine how to help enhance the discovery phase (something near and dear to all of us), then we’ll work through the others.

  • Very good and useful info, Scott. I very much look forward to next post. Thanks! I have had a very big research day today and this post was like icing on the cake.

Comments are closed.