8 top tips for marketing your B&B
David Weston, Chairman of the award-winning B&B Association, and Louise Weston share their top tips for marketing your B&B.
- Define your target audience and put yourself in their shoes
- Local contacts and networking
- The star rating scheme
- Newspaper and magazine advertising
- Public Relations
- Online marketing
- Using Google to market your B&B
- Your clients are your best salespeople!
1. Define your target audience and put yourself in their shoes
From families on a budget to older couples on a cultural break, it's important to identify the people you want to cater for and how you can reach them.
For example, if your B&B overlooks a surfing beach in Cornwall and your market includes surfers, then surfing websites and magazines, local surf shops and surfing clubs would all be worth looking at for collaboration or advertising.
2. Local contacts and networking
Think about the reasons people stay in the area and the other places they might visit. We thought about this when we opened The Pheasants in Sherborne. People come to Sherborne for weddings at the Abbey or the Castle, for functions at the boarding schools, and to explore the historic architecture.
We contacted the Castle so that couples planning to marry there could include The Pheasants on their list of local accommodation for wedding guests; we did the same with the Abbey. We contacted the schools and got added to the information they send to parents. We made sure we were listed on the official town website, and we established friendly relationships with other B&Bs and hotels in town. We then got bookings referred by them when they were full. In return, we referred enquiries to them when we were full.
That is the best kind of marketing: simple, effective, permanent and costs nothing!
3. The star rating scheme
The official classification scheme for B&Bs in the UK is based on inspections by the AA, who now run the assessment scheme for VisitBritain, as well as the AA's own.
B&Bs are rated from one star to five stars according to detailed criteria agreed by the assessment body and the tourism authorities. The fact that a B&B has been independently inspected and assessed to official criteria is a great reassurance to potential guests and gives the B&B valuable credibility. Tourist authorities often only list B&Bs that have been independently inspected. So, if your B&B isn't rated, you could you miss out on this promotional opportunity.
Alternative inspection schemes also exist, which are less prescriptive than star-rating and lower cost – see for instance: https://www.qualityintourism.com/
Quality assessment schemes are less important than they used to be, as user-review sites like TripAdvisor have now taken on much of their role, but an independent 'stamp of quality' still matters to many and gives prospective guests peace of mind.
4. Newspaper and magazine advertising
This has been very much eclipsed by internet advertising but can still be good value (and much less expensive than it was!) if you choose carefully and test. If you decide to advertise in a newspaper or magazine:
- keep the advert small to save money
- do a short test run to gauge response before committing to weeks or months
- think about seasonality and timing: save your money for key booking times
- pick the section your ad is going to feature in carefully: is "short breaks" or "luxury breaks" better than "lake district" for instance?
For small classified ads, with no graphics or frames, the first couple of words are vital. They will be printed in bold and need to attract the eye of your prospective guest. If your ad is going to feature in a section titled "Cornwall", for example, don't make "Cornwall" your first word – they know that already! Make your town or village your first word, e.g. "St Mawes", or make one of your USPs your first words, e.g. "Sea Views".
Make your advert informative but concise. Include your telephone number and website so people can find out more. For example:
St Mawes – friendly thatched cottage B&B. Generous Cornish breakfasts. Lovely sea views. All rooms en-suite. Prices from £35pp. RoseCottage.co.uk. 01326 123456
5. Public Relations
You don't need to hire a PR firm to promote your B&B. Write a press release about any special offers you have on (e.g. "third night free") and send it to the travel editors of all the national newspapers. You might get included in a travel section. PR is not a closed order – anyone can do it. If it costs little but might gain you a lot, it may be worth the time.
Don't forget PR in relation to special events locally – people might book your B&B to attend, and of course national ones like National B&B Week.
6. Online marketing
Online advertising has levelled the playing field between small B&Bs and large international hotel chains. Now potential customers from all over the world can find you through your own website and external booking websites like Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). Bookings are moving relentlessly online (49% or so now in the UK), and many younger people won't phone – they will only book what they can find online and book with a few clicks (typically now from their phone).
It's easy and relatively cheap to set up online booking for your B&B using "Property Management Systems" (PMSs) like eviivo or freetobook, so that anyone anywhere can book a room with you anytime – and you are liberated from the telephone!
The use of OTAs is a huge topic that needs more space than we have here, but do consider the pros and cons of selling online via the big global OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia (there are many others too).
Briefly, the pros include global reach and volume – these sites can certainly help fill your rooms – but you will need to understand the cons too. Those include commission (typically 15-18% of every booking from the OTA), loss of cashflow, higher cancellation rates, loss of contact with your customers, and some loss of what would have been direct bookings to the OTAs, who 'bid' on your name with Google and so come top of your customers' search results, even for your own name.
A good principle of marketing, as often in life, is "don't put all your eggs in one basket" – so our advice is to put effort into a balanced distribution strategy, using OTAs for volume and to help fill weak dates, whilst also maximising your direct and repeat bookings, especially off-peak dates. Of course, this is easier said than done – so get good advice!
David's Ten Website Dos & Don'ts
- DO make sure your homepage clearly states what you're offering, how to book and how to find out more. (I am constantly amazed by sites - even for large and prestigious companies – that don't make this clear.)
- DO think carefully about imagery – customers want to know what your bedrooms (and bathrooms) look like and what scenery they can expect, they don't want to see stock photos that don't reflect reality.
- DO get unbiased, critical people whose judgement you trust to look at your site and tell you what they think. Be brave - and grateful!
- DO ensure your site's meta-tags reflect what your target audience is searching for on Google. E.g. if customers are searching for "cheap rooms", don't use "inexpensive accommodation". Check your search engine rankings regularly and let your web team know if you're not appearing on the first page.
- DO promote your site with a well-planned e-marketing campaign.
- DON'T use small, unreadable font, don't overlay images with copy and don't use white copy on a dark background. Similarly, don't fill your site with neon colours and flashing banners. Your site should be easy and enjoyable to use.
- DON'T waffle, overuse clichés or pad out your copy: use concise, readable and relevant copy to convey your message with clarity.
- DON'T talk about yourself and your business, talk about your client and the experience you can offer them.
- DON'T boast, make overblown claims or exaggerate: your readers will see through this. Plus, if they don't receive the service you've sold them, they won't return and may give you a bad review.
- DON'T use slang, bad grammar or misspellings: your readers want to know they're staying at an establishment run by someone professional.
7. Using Google to market your B&B
With most online searches taking place on Google, it's important to optimise your website accordingly.
- Work out what words and phrases your potential customers are searching for and then include them in your headings and body copy.
- Make sure every picture has a relevant caption as "alternative text" (this is part of HTML code), and that at least one has your B&B name and location as its caption. E.g. Rose Cottage B&B, St Mawes, Cornwall, UK.
- Use the meta-tag descriptions within the HTML code for each web page.
- Get other popular and relevant websites (like tourist authorities) to add a link to your website.
Google "AdWords" advertising
You can also pay Google to promote your B&B through Google's AdWords pay-per-click programme. Every time a user sees your sponsored link and clicks through to your website, you will pay Google a small sum of money.
The users that see your ads are determined by the keywords you set and how closely these correspond to the word or phrase that the user has Googled, and also by the budget you have set.
For example, if you pay for the keywords "St Mawes B&B", every time a person anywhere in the world (you can limit it to certain countries if you want) types "St Mawes B&B" into Google, your ad should be shown alongside the search results – provided your budget is sufficient.
To get started, visit: https://ads.google.com/home/
8. Your clients are your best salespeople!
Praise from guests (either on websites such as TripAdvisor and Booking.com or in your Guest Book) is the most persuasive kind of salesmanship, and better than anything you can say yourself.
As guests are leaving, invite them to write in your Guest Book if they would like to. We have been constantly surprised and delighted at the lovely comments we get, and many guests find it reassuring and interesting to read.
Put nice quotes in your brochure and website. Be careful to quote accurately and ask for permission (or anonymise the quote). You can also ask guests to leave reviews online. If someone is on a booking website, searching for similar B&Bs in the area, they'll likely be swayed one way or the other by the testimonials.
David Weston, Chairman of the award-winning Bed & Breakfast Association, has over 30 years' experience in travel and tourism, is a Fellow of the Tourism Society (FTS) and sits on the Government's Tourism Industry Council. David and Louise co-authored the book 'How to Start and Run a B&B'.
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