Tips On How To Get And Keep Guests for a Small Hotel or B&B
Last update: 26th February 2018
The first part was about how to setup and improve the facility you will be running. The second part was about promotion and what needs to be considered. In this third part we will talk about how to get and keep happy guests.
How To Build Reputation With Guests And Start Gathering Reviews
While as a long term strategy it’s not suitable I recommend to start with people you already have some sort of connection – do reach out to them, offer them a weekend stay at your property and politely ask them at the end to write a review for you on TripAdvisor and Booking.com. To make it professional and really a contract I would recommend to point them to Booking.com place a special offer and off you go. Once they book and finish their stay they will be asked by Booking.com to write a review – you know them for a while so I suppose they will not disappoint you. Even if you loose some money on these stays (and in fees to Booking.com) think of it as very cheap promotion, not as a loss – no business can operate nowadays without any sort of promotion.
You Got Some Reviews Now Start Hunting Guests
Your promotion offer is finished, you got your reviews and now it’s time to make some money. The single most important and difficult thing is to get a lead (lead = incoming email inquiry or a phone call) – while at Booking.com there are few people out there asking questions in advance – most of them just book and it’s done those who book with you directly will appreciate the communication, in the end we developed a pre-written templates for the customers placing an order for a single, double room or suite but don’t stop there – read carefully what they wrote in the notes of your booking form and make sure you address all the additional questions. Always be polite and encourage them to ask more questions if they feel like it. Remember you are not Intercontinental hotel or Hilton – people expect personal touch, if they didn’t they would have gone with a large hotel chain.
In that pre-written template don’t forget to address them by name, you can express the price in their local currency if you feel like it and don’t forget to mention what is included (ie. wifi, breakfast, parking, …). Also I suggest mentioning that you can arrange for them taxi pickup from the Airport or Train/Bus Station, tell them upfront what the price is going to be (range is enough) for the transportation and how long is it going to take, also you can mention to offer them directions how to get to you. Arrange this with a friendly taxi driver that he/she will pick them up for you and awaiting for them with a sign – people always appreciate this when they land in a foreign country and it does make them feel special. Taxi drivers are usually very eager to arrange the airport pickup as typically the airport is in a remote location they make some decent money off it, drivers know they will get regular customers from you and they can drive without the meter if the price is pre-arranged upfront – everybody wins. If you feel like it you can try take a small fee from the driver (but not more than 20 %) for getting them the customer but we never did this – we rather appreciated that the driver showed up on time and charged our guests what was arranged. Sometimes we even put the taxi service on their bill – making it super convenient for them so they don’t have to get local currency straight away. Also I recommend to ask the guest about their flight number and pass it to the taxi driver so if the flight is delayed (or early) they can check it online while waiting for them and make arrangements.
Before you dismiss this taxi service arrangement – think about the costs-benefit for you, it really does pay off and guests will remember that you offered them a reasonably priced very premium service (driver waiting for them with a sign). Large hotels are sneaky – they will arrange this for you but it will cost you arm and leg, if you tell your guests upfront that you will charge them on the market level they will be incredibly happy.
Booking.com is straight booking – you have their credit card and you can charge them in case of a no-show, however as we discussed earlier we are trying to get as much direct bookings as possible with very little potential downside of a no-show – that being said I suggest to take a small deposit – typically we charged one night upfront unless it’s super peak season – then maybe charging two or more nights makes sense. If it was very low season we asked for no deposit upfront.
I suggest to do the upfront deposits via PayPal.com – it will cost you a small fee (approx. 4 %) but it’s easier to use than generating an invoice and then asking them to do a bank wire which is incredibly slow, difficult to do right and in total usually more expensive (especially on those small transactions). If you already have a Credit Card processing machine you can charge the credit card but most guests are not comfortable sending the credit card details over email and keying it into the machine while they are on the phone is not exactly convenient either, PayPal is really the way to go here.
Btw. PayPal is sometimes unpredictable and in past they used to freeze accounts at random – I suggest to withdraw the deposits from that account regularly – you can ask them to deposit it to your bank account every 1-3 months or whatever you think makes sense or you are willing to risk.
Once The Guest Arrives At Your Doorstep
Once the guest arrives at your doorstep you do need to treat them with respect and give them your attention – if you see an older couple or people traveling with lots of luggage you really should offer them help with their luggage especially if some of the rooms are upstairs or a bit far away from the reception. Once you deliver the luggage and you hand them the key I recommend explaining them about the keys if there is more than one key and about the room facilities – ie. show them where the remote for the TV is, what is the WIFI password (or where can they find it), where the minibar is and show them the pricelist for the minibar. Explain what is included and what is charged extra. Once this is all done wish them a nice stay and offer them to come back to reception (or lobby) after they settle in for a complimentary refreshment and that you can provide them with some instructions how to navigate around the city.
This is again incredibly cheap – you just hand them a glass of cold water or if they paid a lot you can offer a coffee/tea (still incredibly cheap to buy) and explain them about things to see. I recommend something nearby – it’s their first day after travels and do tell them about the public transport, unless your establishment is in the very downtown, that being said I suggest to have in stock some public transportation tickets or public transport system card that you can sell them at face value – this is not about making money this is about providing a service. Maybe having one local not activated simcard makes sense – again incredible value for someone who just “landed” in a foreign country. Before they walk out of the door for the first time hand them your business card and tell them they can call you at any time if they are lost or need to show the address to the taxi driver – in those 11 years or so we got less than 10 calls in total – but again it shows that you do care about the guest convenience.
During the stay when you see the guest coming back from the outside ask them how is everything and how was their day – do not hold them for more than couple seconds – just show them you are on top of the things and that you do care about their well-being. Sometimes this turned into a conversation for a few minutes or even a night drink with them but that’s rather rare and should not be forced, however such guest is a very good candidate for a very positive review :).
Guest Is About To Depart
Once the guest has 24-48 hours till their departure do ask them if they need to arrange a taxi pickup to take them to the airport or a bus/train station. Don’t forget to prepare the bill and unless you check the minibar consumption regularly make sure you check what they consumed. Some guests unfortunately have either very bad memory or are outright liars and are ready to deny any consumption being made – send the maid to check the room and the minibar before they leave. If you just hope for the best you will loose money on this and end up with three choices – raise prices for everyone (unfair and wrong), take the loss (why should you?) or remove/empty the minibar so there is nothing to consume without paying – essentially offering a free fridge.
Guest Is Departing
When the guest is departing make sure everything is already paid off (really double check) and also hand them your business card with a small piece of paper attached containing URL redirect to TripAdvisor so once they open it they will land on the TripAdvisor review site for your establishment. This URL needs to be very short and easy to type examples: www.myhotel.com/tripadvisor or www.myhotel.com/review while the www might be redundant it makes it clear that it’s a website. Besides this we recommend to followup after 1-2 weeks via email regarding their feedback and to ask for a honest review on TripAdvisor. Booking.com does this automatically if they book through them so no need to ask them, it sends out the request 4 weeks after the stay. That being said if they have a trip in multiple locations (a lot of our guests actually did) they might not even clearly remember you; we believe it’s way too late – hence the 1-2 weeks wait.
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Some Final Thoughts
In those three parts we covered a lot of tricks and tips on how to run a small hotel or B&B but we were unable to cover all, as such we encourage you to reach out to us and ask anything that interests you – we are more than happy to followup and maybe add the feedback to the post.
- You need reviews so your establishment takes off but you can’t get reviews without people staying in your establishment, it’s kind of vicious cycle. Reach out to people you already know and offer them stay at your place at a very good rate and ask for honest reviews.
- Communication with the potential guests is very, very important – this is something I actually really enjoyed doing and once the customer send in an email we seldom let them off the hook and they usually ended up booking (90+ % of cases).
- Offer airport (bus/train station) pickup and don’t charge above market price – guests really appreciate if you are solid with them.
- Be polite at all times and communicate with the guests during their stay but don’t be nosy.
- Don’t forget to followup with the business card with the review link attached and later via email – you want to get as many reviews as possible.
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