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B&B Market Niche Definition

July 25, 2000

by Kit Cassingham

For years I've talked about market niches for B&Bs using examples like B&B inns with literary market niches or cat or farm animal market niches. The times of just being a B&B as a sufficient market niche are long gone. Now you have to focus on the guest experience and what you offer that sets you apart from other bed and breakfasts in your area. It may require some bed and breakfast market research to help you fine tune your niche definition, but having a niche is critical to your success. Read about the advantages of creating a narrow, well defined market niche.

In reading an article on marketing, I saw a statement that got me to thinking about market niche and its value to B&B innkeepers. The statement, made by Peter Yesawich of Yesawich, Pepperdine, and Brown, who does market research for the travel industry, was that consumer activism has risen to an all-time high.

The result of that development is that travelers believe that they should get what they want when they travel and won't sacrifice their wants and needs. More travelers are researching and booking their travel through the Internet, meaning you not only need a presence on the Internet but that presence needs to be a quick and accurate reflection of your B&B so the traveler can recognize if you are a match with their travel needs. Market niche definition is the way to communicate who you are and what you are offering so that the traveler recognizes your B&B as a possible destination.

I've been saying for years that a carefully defined, narrow market niche is the secret of success for bed and breakfast properties. I believe an innkeeper can experience more success, faster, by identifying not only the guest experience that they are going to offer but who wants that experience.

Some prospective innkeepers cry out that they want to take care of as many guests as they can get in the door and don't want to turn away guests by defining a narrow niche. My response to that concern is three-fold. First, you can only cater to as many guests/couples as you have rooms, so you can be somewhat selective about who you try to attract. Second, why not strive to attract people you will be more comfortable with and who will enjoy the hospitality you want to offer? Third, you can't please everyone so you might as well choose those you will want to please. It seems you might as well pre-screen your guests to attract those who will enjoy your service rather than find out at the door that they don't want what you are offering.

Travelers are busy and don't want to spend much time or energy looking for their destination so are more likely to choose a known location and brand with its familiarity and convenience. In my opinion, a B&B's strength lies in the fact it is unique from brand hotels. So, how do you tie the travelers' needs with your reality of difference? Without being overstated you describe the guest experience in such a way that you seem familiar and comfortable to the traveler.

For years B&Bs have "gotten by" without defining their market niche. That worked fine when there weren't many B&Bs to choose from and the novelty was sufficient to keep the innkeepers busy. But now the market competition is stiff and travelers select from their choices by opting for the experience they feel like having on that trip. Having the niche of skiing in a ski town just doesn't cut it anymore. What distinguishes one inn from another? That's the message you first must identify for yourself and then clearly communicate to your target clientele.

My analogy is to look at the way restaurants market themselves. The most successful restaurants have a narrow market niche because the owners understand that "you can't please all the people" so they offer the food and experience they are familiar with and love. They may lose some diners who either don't like that type of food or who don't feel like that experience for that evening. But they will attract those who want that food and experience, many of whom will be loyal and frequent diners. That's the way B&Bs need to approach their niche definition. What does the innkeeper know and love? That's what should be offered their guests.

Some of the benefits of defining a narrow niche are that most of your decisions are made for you; the inn's location, colors, prices, the food you serve, and where you advertise. If you are going to run the inn for star gazers who like fly tying you aren't going to be located in the city and offer only an early breakfast. You will be located in an area that's dark at night (no ambient glow from the city) and you'll have the proper space and lighting so they can tie flies when they aren't gazing at stars. Your ad copy, used in brochures and web sites too, practically writes itself. Your target guest sees the ad/brochure/site and recognizes whether or not that's the inn for them.

The disadvantages of not defining a narrow niche are that your decisions are never made completely because you are trying to find the angle that will suit most of the people. There are so many details to cover that many are only half implemented, if they even get that far in the planning process. If you don't have a strong, clear identity, it's difficult to convey to potential guests what experience they can expect from a stay with you. Your ad copy is harder to write, so vague imagery is used which ends up "tricking" guests into coming to stay with you. Those are the guests we end up labeling troublesome guests; they are dissatisfied because they aren't getting the experience they thought they were getting. And, needless to say, they will not be repeat guests or give you positive word-of-mouth!

Once you determine your niche, carry it through in all details. The decorating touches, the choice of music and food, the service and amenities you offer, the hours you keep (check-in and -out, breakfast, housekeeping, special events) and even the packages you put together should be a reflection of your niche. Not all guests will recognize the extra efforts and touches you have put into your B&B experience, but they will appreciate the cohesive feeling and that translates to money in the bank with return guests and referrals.




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