Spread your net wide and thrive
by David Weston
Chief Executive of the
Bed & Breakfast Association
Where do your bookings come from? I mean geographically – what countries are your guests booking from? I’d be surprised if they are all from within the UK. When my wife and I ran our four-star townhouse B&B in Sherborne, Dorset I was surprised at how many guests we had from the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan – and many European countries.
When we had a large family from Azerbaijan, the communications were very challenging because we did not share more than a couple of words of our respective languages! We resorted to a very useful “universal dictionary” which had pages of small pictures of everyday things: we would point to pictures of coffee, or a fried egg, and our guests would nod or shake their head (gestures which luckily seem to be almost universal).
The internet has brought many benefits to B&Bs – including extending the “reach” of your marketing worldwide. As one of a handful of B&Bs in a tiny historic town, we were lucky that a Google search for “accommodation in Sherborne” would have us at or near the top – so we got those bookings. In the few years since, search results have been swamped by global online travel agencies (OTAs), so now for your “fair share” of global bookings you may well have to swallow hard and pay the hefty commission, and work with an OTA. The principle remains that the online world has brought more of the real world to our doors.
It has moved a stage further on though – ten years ago, our bookings came from our website and Google. Now for that same share of international business we would have a property management system taking online bookings though OTAs as well as directly.
Why seek international business? Well, it often books further ahead and for longer stays than domestic bookings, and it can have a different seasonality, helping you fill weaker periods. And it adds to your more local clientele, giving incremental revenue and increasing your occupancy levels. It does come with challenges, though – those language issues being one – such as the necessity to take deposits from those paying in other currencies. The good news is that even for the smallest B&B, that is now easy with services like PayPal.
New figures out last month show that 2015 set a new record for inbound tourism to the UK with 35.8 million visits, 4% up on 2014 and the sixth consecutive year of growth.
Just yesterday, I was interviewed by a TV crew from China Central TV’s Channel 2, who were making a news feature about British B&Bs – which I was happy to tell them were rated (by TripAdvisor’s global travellers) best in the world: “Britain is B&B royalty” says TripAdvisor – “no other country even comes close to as many winners”. Nine of the world’s top 25 B&Bs, and four of the top ten, are British. Their TV report will be seen not by millions, but by hundreds of millions, in a country keen to travel and who seem to have a taste for all things British. (It is nice to be able to fly the flag!)
The world is shrinking, so when planning your marketing, do ‘think global”.
The Bed & Breakfast Association is the UK trade association for B&B and guest house owners, and exists to inform, support & represent owners. Membership costs £60 a year.