Getting Good Reviews for your B&B, Inn or Hotel – Chat With An Innkeeper

Greeting from inside the SEOigloo!

After getting such a fine response to my recent Search Engine Guide list of 34 sources from which Google is pulling user review data, I thought it would be nice to follow up with a second article and some tips on getting good reviews for your hospitality industry business. We’re in great good luck to have retired Wine Country innkeeper, Donna Swain, chatting with us today.

Donna ran a small, elegant and successful B&B for a number of years, and she is also one of the valued moderators at Cre8asite Forums. Her graciousness makes it easy to imagine just how beautifully she cared for her guests’ needs, and I hope that innkeepers and their SEOs will make the most of Donna’s insights.

Miriam: Donna, before the Internet, innkeepers really only needed to concern themselves with professional reviews that would be written up in guidebooks. What were the most important guidebooks a B&B, inn or hotel could be listed in?

Donna: Triple AAA, Fodors and Frommer’s, Travel Guide and Michelin Guide.

Miriam: Clearly, what the pros said about a business would have a good deal of impact on a business’ profile, and yet, perhaps not as much as what is now happening online with user-generated reviews. The sheer visibility and number of these review sites really puts the data in the public eye – no need to buy a guidebook. If you were still operating your B&B, where would you be hoping to get user reviews from?

Donna: Definitely Trip Advisor and Bedandbreakfast.com. I also believe that certain accommodation directories have more “juice” than others thus being reviewed by, or even just being listed with them, might be placing your listing more prominently but I have not proven that theory.

Miriam: It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Google valued some sources more than others. That’s a good theory, and one for innkeepers and their SEOs to start researching. Now, obviously, one of the things we are starting to hear a lot about is the fear that a typical citizen reviewer (not a professional critic) might be apt to write an unfair review, thus damaging an inn’s reputation. In your experience, how would you say that the average citizen compares to the pro?

Donna: In general, perhaps a professional reviewer might be a bit harder to please as they see many more lodgings than one couple does and they compare you to the best ones they have seen of your type of lodging. Hopefully reviewers are not comparing apples to oranges / hotels to B&Bs. I’m guessing that professional reviewers are trained to be objective and might have a list of points they have to cover.

The average citizen might be more subjective about their experience compared to a professional reviewer. However, guests might have certain expectations/questions that they do not clearly ask or forget to ask the innkeeper and then become disappointed and annoyed after arrival. The guests’ satisfaction level also depends on good communications. Have the guests asked the innkeeper to address all the issues that are important to them? Has the innkeeper made all details available, answered questions that might not have occurred to the guest? To cover that base, an inn might want to reiterate the details in their confirmation follow up. You do not want a disappointed guest period and you especially do not want a bad review.

Miriam: That’s making sense to me. Likely, a person who stays in lodgings and reviews them for a living would be very skilled at detailing their express wishes to the innkeeper, but a failure on the part of the average guest to make their needs known BEFORE they arrive, could lead to an unhappy situation, and potentially, a bad review that wasn’t really earned. And, of course, the most frustrating part about that is that the review will hang around for years and years for all subsequent potential guests to read. That being said, do you have any tips for avoiding getting bad reviews from guests?

Donna: If you are soliciting a review, obviously ask only satisfied guests for reviews. If unsolicited, you had better love the business, be friendly to all of your guests, try to accommodate their requests and pay attention to the details of your establishment. Remember, guests are on vacation. It’s a special event for them. You are the emissary of your area. You should want to provide them with a wonderful experience while staying at your establishment and in your area. As an innkeeper, you are part of the tourism community. I feel you have a responsibility to your community as well, to make their stay a positive experience for them. If you do not like people and do not like to extend yourself to people, you should not be an innkeeper/dealing with the public. I have read some pretty scathing reviews of a few B&Bs in my area, on Google Maps and TripAdvisor. Ouch.

A suggestion I have is to answer the phones yourself if you are a small inn. I did not use an online booking service specifically because I wanted to speak to the potential guest in person. You can tell a lot about someone in a phone conversation. If I thought the person sounded odd in any way, I could choose not to book them. This discriminating procedure would keep some bad or unfair reviews at a minimum as does thorough communications. I would rather play down my inn and have the guests pleasantly surprised than over state my B&B and have a disappointed guest. It’s best to be clear and manage expectations.

Miriam: That’s excellent advice! The voice of experience talking. And, a point well taken that an innkeeper should be selective in asking for a review. Though it obviously wouldn’t prevent a guest from leaving an unsolicited review, I like the concept of being proactive about asking for reviews when you are positive your guests have had a wonderful time. Smart. Last, I’d like to ask if you have any advice to travelers about reading through the vast review data that is now available to them.

Donna: Be aware that sabotage is a possibility, though I’d like to hope it’s not – one B&B writing bad things about another and you writing rave reviews about your own place disguised as a real visitor. It’s the opinion of one current innkeeper I know that most people they have spoken to realize that you need to disregard the worst and the best reviews and pay attention to the rest. I would only hope this is true. Once a bad review is online it is impossible to remove it.

Miriam: Which is exactly why I would urge travelers to be really fair when they write reviews. Make sure a bad review is really deserved, and don’t write when you are angry. Well, you’ve given some super advice here, Donna. If I boiled it down into a short list, it would look like this:

  • Good communication, prior to check-in, is essential in order to avoid disappointments.
  • Never over-promise.
  • Actively solicit reviews from guests only when you’re confident they’ve loved their stay with you.
  • The hospitality profession requires a special kind of person. You must really enjoy taking care of people and see yourself as a representative of your locale.

Any last advice for us, Donna?

Donna: If you are positive that your guests enjoyed their stay, you can ask them, if they have time, would they write a review on Trip Advisor or you could give them a card upon check out with the site address with that request on it as a reminder.

All the members of my old association know the importance of an online presence, a well designed website and the value of optimization. Internet reviews are much easier to access than going to a book for a review. I quote a current innkeeper -”Those who are actively pursuing a new lodging business need to take TripAdvisor seriously, as the younger traveler relies on it. Knowing many of the innkeepers in town, I think the reviews on Tripadivisor are quite accurate.”

Miriam: Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Donna, and if any innkeepers would like to add their tips for getting good reviews and avoiding bad ones, I invite you to comment here.

8 Responses to “Getting Good Reviews for your B&B, Inn or Hotel – Chat With An Innkeeper”

  1. on 05 Feb 2008 at 10:32 am Tim

    Great article! Thanks for posting this! I’m the Director of Online Reservations for BedandBreakfast.com and have nearly nine years of experience working within the online travel field. I agree with everything except the part about not taking online reservations. Online Reservations have become an integral component of many successful B&Bs. Successful minded innkeepers embrace online reservations as much as online peer reviews. I think that many innkeepers would agree that the potential drawback of the very small percentage of online reservations that may result in a “substandard B&B guest” or a bad review is far far far outweighed by the number of wonderful B&B guests and potentially glowing reviews that can be found through Online Reservations programs whether through a property’s website or through an onward distribution channel like Expedia or hotels.com. This idea can easily be overshadowed by the ability of online reservation programs to help properties fill rooms that may otherwise sit empty. A room is a perishable commodity. If a property doesn’t sell a room today, they can’t recapture that lost revenue another day.

    One generally accepted statistic used by PAII (The Professional Association of Innkeepers International) is that only 4% of U.S. travelers have stayed at a B&B. This is a big industry problem, and one that we are trying very hard to change. BedandBreakfast.com has partnered with Expedia and hotels.com to help bring B&Bs mainstream so as to attempt to reach out to that other 96% of travelers. This is one of many things we are doing to try to build awareness and get more travelers staying at B&Bs. Many innkeepers like to be able to talk to their guests before taking a reservation. However, the problem with this is that there are many travelers who simply don’t need to talk or don’t have the time to talk to the innkeeper prior to booking their reservation. This should not be translated as saying that these will be substandard B&B guests as they may likely be the perfect guest! We’ve actually heard from some highly successful (read profitable) innkeepers that they prefer the guests that book online because they feel that that person has taken the time to read over the property’s website and research exactly what is included with their stay prior to making their purchase decision online. On the flip side to this, guests that book over the phone can tend to take up too much of an innkeeper’s valuable time by asking all the questions that can typically be answered by visiting a property’s website. These are just some of the many reasons we feel innkeepers should absolutely embrace online reservations along with peer reviews.

    I would be very happy to discuss any of this and can answer any questions about any of the services BedandBreakfast.com provides. I can be reached by dialing 1-800-462-2632 ext 2712 or via email at Tim.Wilson@BedandBreakfast.com.

    Thanks again for posting this article.

  2. on 05 Feb 2008 at 3:51 pm admin

    Dear Tim,
    What a pleasure to have you comment here, particularly with such an informative and interesting reply.

    I am really amazed by the 4% statistic. It certainly seems like there is a whole world of people for B&B owners to reach out to, with numbers like that.

    Your points about online reservations are really very good ones. One of the areas in which I can imagine this being especially helpful is for larger B&Bs. Donna Swain’s establishment was quite small, no doubt, giving her the time to deal personally with the inquiries of any guests, but I’m betting with a 4+ room establishment, taking bookings starts to get time consuming for the innkeeper.

    I’d like to ask, Tim, for you to list a couple of services you are feeling are doing a good job of taking online reservations right now. That would be valuable information for any readers who are thinking of adopting this technology.

    Thanks, again, for taking the time to stop by and comment here. Your expertise in this area is quite helpful.

    Miriam

  3. on 05 Feb 2008 at 5:08 pm Donna

    Hi Tim,

    Glad to see you here sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I found your site very valualbe while I was in the business.

    Yes, I do agree with you that online bookings for the larger inns are easiest. We innkeepers are busy people and the phone doesn’t stop ringing “in season” so I do understand your point of view. And they may very well be digging into the site and reading the details.

    I should clarify my statement. I had only two cottages and they were on our very private property so we did want to know who we were inviting into our “home”. That is different from most inns, hotels and multi unit b&b’s.

    I find the PAII figures amazing also, that only 4% are staying in small inns & b&b’s.

    After speaking with the Visitors Bureau in my area, they feel it is 50/50 (half book hotels while the other half book small inns,cottages and b&b’s here in the Wine Country. Those national percentages may look differently when applied locally.

    I do know that small inns, cottages and b&b’s are having to compete with full service inns. More so nowadays. With everyone using the web, comparing inns amentities and pricing is very easy. It’s gotten a bit more competitive out there. Thus some of our local b&b’s are offering in house massage/spa treatments and such to draw guests.
    Hope this adds a bit more in(n)sight. No pun intended. ; )
    Donna

  4. on 05 Feb 2008 at 7:01 pm admin

    Heh heh,
    Nice to have folks who are so ‘inn’ the know on this topic sharing their experience!

    Thanks for the additional information, Donna.

    For my own part, my husband and I have tended to stay at motel-type lodgings rather than B&Bs because we’re vegans, and that’s not something most B&Bs are prepared to handle. So, when we look for lodgings, my searches are always along the lines of location+lodging+kitchenette because we need to be able to cook for our own special dietary needs on the road.

    Vegans are a whole class of travelers certain regions of the world would do well to start thinking about catering to. My feeling is that this would particularly be the case in locations where natural beauty is the main draw…for example, the Yosemite/Sierras area. Folks who take a shine to this lifestyle are often very into nature, and I know there’s nothing they’d like better than a B&B who knows how to start the day with a tofu scramble, olive oil-fried potatoes, fresh fruit and french bread toast.

    One of these days…I’m going to have to start selling my recipes to the hospitality industry. Until then, the B&B experience isn’t likely to be our typical choice for travel.

    I wonder, though, why it would be, Donna, that folks with a more typical American diet would choose an inn over a B&B. Is it price, different kinds of services, reputation? I’m curious about this.
    Miriam


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  6. on 06 Feb 2008 at 2:43 pm Donna

    Hi Miriam,

    Inns tend to have more rooms than a b&b. They may also have a restaurant and spa. B&B’s, cottages and vacation rentals tend to have more privacy and a quieter atmosphere. And they also tend to have cooking facilities and some allow pets. This would be a more private experience compared to an inn.

  7. on 06 Feb 2008 at 7:15 pm admin

    Hi Donna,
    Those are interesting distinctions. I’m not much of a traveler…we maybe get to get away 2-3 times a year for quick trips, and my bet would be that this is average for Americans. It may be that the categorization you just described is not completely understood by many folks, but that really seasoned vacationers understand exactly what they are looking for in terms of amenities.

    My guess is that selection of desired lodgings must come down to some equation like:

    price
    location
    availability
    amenities

    Thanks for the clarification, Donna!
    Miriam


  8. [...] in the hospitality industry, TripAdvisor.com and BedandBreakfast.com can help you a ton (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo + Mary Bowling, Blizzard Internet [...]

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