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Creating The Habitat For Hospitality

May 18, 2011

by Kit Cassingham

Inns have been the venue of hospitality for generations, for thousands of years even. But it seems to me that in the past decade or two, hospitality has gotten lost in the business of innkeeping. Can you re-insert it into your bed and breakfast business? Can you make this part of your marketing plan?

Hospitality is the key to successful B&B innkeeping. And by hospitality I am referring to the art of making your guests feel happy, welcome and taken care of. Employees benefit from this same attitude. And your marketing is real with this habit of hospitality.

You can do lots of things wrong in running your business, like not being sparkling clean or perfectly maintained, and if your guests are happy with you they will overlook those items. And the opposite is true: even if you have the most perfectly cleaned and maintained bed and breakfast, your guests won't give an inch on any tiny error or disappointment if they don't feel taken care of or welcome. Note: I'm not advocating you slack on cleaning and maintenance, only to point out you can slip occasionally and be forgiven, if you provide fabulous hospitality.

My first B&B employer gave me the absolute best training in hospitality. She had the right attitude about the guest being important. She understood guests were the reason she was in business. Add her southern upbringing to that and you had some of the most pampered, cared for guests around.

I still remember the morning one of my regular guests pulled me aside to point out we could make so much more money if we didn't have so many employees around all of the time. That statement came the morning after he told me how much he loved coming to my B&B because he was so catered to, so pampered.

What was my secret? First, having the attitude of service and hospitality. Then, having one full-time employee for every two guestrooms. By being that fully staffed we were able to get the required work done through the day (cleaning, baking, reservations, preparing and serving breakfast, etc). We then had enough staff around to serve a tea tray anytime a guest asked, recommend a restaurant, or make reservations for them at their restaurant choice or for a performance. We were in business to take care of our guests, so we did.

This discussion came to mind after watching Chip Conley, CEO of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain, talk about The Happiness Emotional Equation. I recognized his message as a key to real hospitality.



Here's what I gleaned from Chip's talk.

Most business people count tangible items, like how much money they have on the bottom line, the number of widgets in stock, and what the utility, staff, and marketing costs are. What we count truly counts. Are business people counting the right things? Are innkeepers counting the right things, and remembering their primary purposes of being in business?

That reminds me of an innkeeper who forgot what his primary business was. He ran his inn by the books, not by the guests. To save money he wouldn't turn lights on at night but only kept those little night lights burning so guests could at least find their way to their rooms. When the front door combination lock quit working he told guests to just walk around to the back door and let themselves in -- of course there weren't any outdoor lights to help at night. I heard from many guests they'd never be back because they didn't feel welcome or wanted.

What about your joy in taking care of your guests? Do you count the ways you give joy and make your guests feel welcome? Your joy doesn't come from cooking breakfast, making beds, or cleaning rooms and toilets, but from the emotional connection made with people at the inn -- the employees and guests. And the vendors, if you want to get right down to it. Serving with joy is what helps make that connection.

When you instill in your staff that their job is more than the work of running an inn, it's the joy of serving, you instill the spirit of hospitality. Your job is to make your guests happy, and help your staff find that same spirit. That creates a hospitality attitude.

My challenge to you is to find the metrics you can use to evaluate your connection to your guests and employees. Find those attitudes supported by action that generate warmth, loyalty, and a solid connection. That creates the habitat for hospitality that you'll succeed with.

When Chip undertook that challenge, during the recession of the late 1990s and the aftermath of 9/11, he asked himself what emotional connection he had with the people involved in his business. By addressing those connections he seemed to address people's transformational needs, and his business tripled. Let me remind you he grew his business during a bad economic downturn, the one following the ".com" bust and 9/11.

Great hospitality is also the best marketing you can do as an innkeeper. When your guests are happy they tell lots of people about their great experience. You can't buy that kind of marketing. Make it part of your daily operations, part of your daily marketing activity.

How are you creating the habitat for hospitality?




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