PODCAST: Jim Belote, Owner of The Beall Mansion, Discusses Secrets to Running an Award-Winning Property
For Episode #3 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Jim Belote, the owner of The Beall Mansion in the St. Louis region, about what it takes to operate an award-winning B&B.
You can also listen to the podcast here.
Being named one of the top B&Bs in the U.S. is an accolade that most property owners strive to achieve. The Beall Mansion, an Elegant Bed & Breakfast Inn, is the prime example of a B&B that continually tops these types of annual lists.
Recently, HotelsCombined awarded the property the 2018 HotelsCombined Recognition of Excellence, which is based on achieving the highest rankings on customer satisfaction through customer opinions online.
Based on an analysis of more than 1,000,000 hotels worldwide, The Beall Mansion scored a 10 out of 10, representing the top 3 percent of accommodations worldwide for customer satisfaction.
Previous 2018 Beall Mansion honors and awards include the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, TripAdvisor Hall of Fame, 50 Best B&Bs in America, and the Best B&B in Illinois (according to The Daily Meal).
In this podcast, Jim Belote discusses the secret to running an award-winning property. Here are key highlights from this interview:
- The overall history of The Beall Mansion. (:45)
- The elegance of the property. (3:20)
- How The Beall Mansion was able to rank high with HotelsCombined. (5:00)
- The Beall Mansion’s secret for achieving high guest satisfaction. (7:00)
- How and why Jim and his wife Sandy made the shift to being innkeepers. (10:33)
- Jim’s joys and challenges of being a B&B owner. (19:20)
- Insights into the tourism landscape in the region. (20:50)
- The initial and ongoing restoration of the property. (21:54)
We would like to thank Jim for sharing his insights into the secrets of guest satisfaction. You can learn more about The Beall Mansion here.
PODCAST: Christine Boeke, Owner of Westcott House Bed & Breakfast, Shares Her Story of Becoming an Innkeeper After a High-Profile Media Career
For Episode #2 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Christine Boeke, the owner of the Westcott House Bed & Breakfast, who shares her story about leaving a high-profile media career to pursue the dream of being an innkeeper in Hudson, New York.
You can also listen to the podcast here.
Many innkeepers have backgrounds in the corporate world and make the leap to owning a B&B as a means to finding a more fulfilling way to make a living. The idea behind the 80s hit TV show Newhart follows this very premise.
Christine Boeke, the owner of the Westcott House B&B in Hudson, NY, fits this bill perfectly. Coming from a high-profile career in media and marketing with Newsweek and CBS, she decided to make a career-switch to being an innkeeper about four years ago. This has enabled Christine to follow her true passion, which is all about helping guests and travelers make memories in the Hudson region.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
- Christine’s background and how she became an innkeeper. (1:15)
- Insights into the history of the Westcott House. (2:30)
- More about Hudson and what drew Christine to the region. (4:27)
- Insights into other local businesses, and how Christine is a part of the Hudson Business Coalition. (8:25)
- Christine’s biggest joys and challenges of being an innkeeper. (10:25)
- How Christine creates truly positive experiences for guests. (12:20)
- How Christine has created a unique brand promise for her property. (16:03)
We would like to thank Christine for sharing her special story. You can learn more about the Westcott House B&B here.
A brand promise is simple yet it influences everything from how B&B guests experience their stay to how they describe it to their friends and colleagues to how they comment about it on social media review sites.
Although many innkeepers don’t think of themselves as having brands that are on par with the Marriotts of the world, guests do identify your property in a certain way. It’s not a slogan or a mission statement … it’s an impression, a personality, and an emotion that connects with the guest
The key is being able to identify and maximize this brand promise. The components of a brand promise are simple to construct, but it does require thinking about the following:
It must be easy and memorable: Your brand promise should be very simple, and describe the experience you deliver in a memorable way.
You must be able to measure it: Whether it’s through increased bookings or positive Yelp reviews that align with the brand promise, you should be able to measure the impact of the brand promise.
It should include a future state: Guests are always buying a future emotion of how they will feel — anticipating a delightful stay — when they come to your property.
Here are examples of brand promises for a B&B:
· To provide a delightful and memorable experience for each guest.
· Delighting guests with the most memorable experiences.
· Memorable travel experiences that last a lifetime.
As you read the examples above, they are simple, easy to remember, and place the guest in a future state. With this in mind, it’s critical for every employee to fully understand the brand promise, and work hard everyday to bring it to life for guests.
By reinforcing the guest experience, a B&B’s brand promise can have a strong impact on business results. Knowing what your brand stands for, and delivering on that promise can help enhance overall guest loyalty and increase bookings.
PODCAST: Michelle Heurung, Owner of the Lamberson Guest House, Tells Her Story of Tragedy and Triumph
For our premier Episode #1 of the Frictionless Innkeeper podcast series, we speak with Michelle Heurung, the owner and operator of the Lamberson Guest House in Galena Illinois, who shares her story of tragedy and triumph.
You can also listen to the podcast here.
Living the dream of opening and operating a B&B comes with many exciting challenging and life-changing opportunities – many that are completely unexpected.
As the owner of Lamberson Guest House, a bed and breakfast in Galena, Illinois, a historic town with 32 B&Bs and a large Main Street area that has a diverse offering of local restaurants, shops, and other attractions, Michelle’s story is truly remarkable.
Having opened her B&B about 18 months ago, Michelle is relatively new to the world of innkeeping. She and her husband, Brian, fulfilled their decades-long dream of owning a B&B in Galena when they purchased the home that ultimately became the Lamberson Guest House.
After a whirlwind renovation, they opened their doors to guests just 4 months after they bought it. Then, only 6 weeks later, Brian – Michelle’s husband, partner, and the love of her life – passed away unexpectedly. Her story is one of passion, tragedy, community support, perseverance, and triumph, which she has been kind enough to share in this podcast.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
- How Michelle got into the B&B business and purchased the Lamberson Guest House. (1:55)
- Some of the early challenges that Michelle faced when she purchased the property. (6:11)
- Insights into how Michelle handled the business in the wake of her husband’s death. (8:36)
- How she has tapped into other business owners and the community in Galena, who helped her get through this tough time in her life. (11:54)
- Her greatest joys and challenges of being a B&B owner today. (17:07)
- What Michelle would have done differently in hindsight during this challenging time. (20:11)
- How she got connected with the larger Galena business community. (38:50)
- How her connections with local businesses help enhance her guests’ stays. (41:11)
- How the Frictionless Guest App helps strengthen Michelle’s ties with area businesses. (43:51)
We would like to thank Michelle for sharing her special story. You can learn more about the Lamberson Guest House here.
Guest trust has always been one of the most important intangibles for Innkeepers. It’s not always easy to determine what factors into a guest’s trust equation, since it’s a totally individual assessment — one that is in the so-called “eyes of the beholder.”
A somewhat unique quality of trust may be that it is easier to determine when you have gained it than when it has been lost. Using the example of a car purchase … when a potential buyer walks out of a dealership because they lack trust, how likely are they to explain that is the reason they have decided to go elsewhere?
To continue with this example … a car buyer may lose trust if the dealership’s showroom isn’t clean and welcoming, or if a buyer doesn’t feel they can trust the salesperson giving them information about the cars they may be interested in purchasing.
Now, let’s shift this analogy to the Innkeeper. Guests tend to book their stays based on sound recommendations from friends and family, a previous enjoyable stay, or an intuitive sense of trust when researching and booking their rooms. So, when a guest books their stay, the Innkeeper already has a certain level of trust that has been established. What is essential from that point forward is how the Innkeeper will enhance and nurture the initial trust given to them by the guest.
It’s at this point that the car buyer analogy has meaning, though the goal for Innkeepers is not to sell, but to build guest trust — and ultimately, loyalty — by providing the best possible experience for all aspects of their stay, with the result being future bookings, recommendations to friends and family, and/or positive reviews.
With this goal comes the elusive question of what is important for an Innkeeper to gain guest trust and loyalty. And while our assumption is that every guest has their own unique way of assessing this during their stay experience, let’s attempt to identify some parameters by first breaking them down into two distinct parts — the On-Property and the Off-Property Experience.
For the On-Property Experience, some tangible parameters that play into the feeling of comfort and ultimately trust are the cleanliness of your rooms, quality of your property’s furnishings, and the details you provide such as soaps, towels, and linens. The more intangible parameters revolve around the personable interaction and service you provide throughout your guest’s stay. Both are essential to building guest trust, fully within the control of the Innkeeper, and core to their mission.
For the Off-Property Experience, the Innkeeper has less control. However, this needs to be a core focus, because guests inherently rely upon an Innkeeper’s indispensable knowledge to recommend the best local experiences, thereby making their stay so memorable that they return or recommend them among their social circle. Because no matter how delightful a guest’s On-Property Experience is, their Off-Property Experience is likely to resonate heavily with their overall stay.
Prior to the existence of the Internet, independent Innkeepers had an advantage over larger providers because they were the only source of local information guests could get, through word-of-mouth. This has changed, with the advent of sites like Yelp and Google, and larger hospitality providers offering guests mobile applications that recommend local experiences.
The reality is that Innkeepers still have the best knowledge of Off-Property Experiences for their guests, but how can they communicate them? Listing recommendations on their website isn’t sufficient, because guests need a mobile app that helps them easily choose and navigate to these places. Yet most Innkeepers don’t have the resources to build their own mobile app to compete with the larger players in today’s digital landscape.
Our solution is the Frictionless Guest App, to provide Innkeepers with a way that their guests can easily find the best local experiences and thereby gain their trust. Our hope is that Innkeepers share our vision that they are the best source for this information and want to improve the Off-Property Experience of their guests.
One of the goals of running an Inn or an independent hotel is to make guests fall in love with the region, recommend your property to others within their social circle, and keep coming back to the area.
For Oscar’s Bed & Breakfast in Buffalo, NY, this is a major part of its business plan, which is to promote the city’s reputation for being “an underrated gem for travelers.” As such, the property celebrates the city of Buffalo by naming each room after famous architects from the area – aiming to give guests a real sense of the local culture and lifestyle.
Their goal is to create raving fans of the property and the area, which is also the approach for another local Inn – the Inn Buffalo off Elmwood.
“My mission is to make ambassadors out of our guests,” said Joseph Lettieri, who owns and operates Inn Buffalo off Elmwood, in this recent Buffalo News article. “If you stay with us, my goal is that when you leave you tell your friends, family and colleagues, ‘What a time we had — this might be the best kept secret.’”
As most Innkeepers know, running a B&B comes with a world of both joys and challenges. It’s very easy to get tied up in the day-to-day management, which can take up any innkeeper’s time 24/7. However, taking the time to empower guests to become ambassadors for your region can pay major dividends in the long-run.
By providing unique experiences for travelers, it’s possible for them to leave your Inn with a strong sense of community, and a desire to promote your property (and region) to their friends and family.
This will ultimately translate into further bookings, and it will help your region prosper … where everyone wins in the end.
Many large hotel brands have been embracing the concept of training their staff to have a more personalized touch with guests through increased knowledge of their locale, as noted in this New York Times article. An integral part of this trend is the recognition that a hospitality provider and its workers can become an important part of the “local tourism landscape.”
While this strategy seems worthwhile – creating a more personalized experience by connecting guests with local offerings – it may prove to be a bit more challenging for larger hotel brands than independent innkeepers. For aside from the need to train and shift the cultural mindset, which is no easy task for a larger organization, a bigger problem is likely to arise with having staff learn and maintain their knowledge of the truly best local offerings.
For most independent hotels, Inns and Bed and Breakfasts, the challenge is much less one of knowledge – they are typically very aware of the local restaurants, events and other attractions that will delight their guests because they live in the community – than the ability to provide guests with the means to easily connect them to these local places. They often offer disparate online destinations where they make recommendations, such as their website and social media outlets like Facebook. Or they provide brochures, maps, and other printed materials once the guest has arrived for their stay.
Unfortunately, this approach will increasingly remove independent innkeepers from being a go-to source of knowledge when their guests want to find trusted local experiences during their stay. That’s because guests are shifting more and more toward the use of web and mobile sources of information for everything – especially when planning their travel or in the midst of it – yet smaller providers lack the resources to create a single mobile/web solution they can provide to their guests that makes it easy for them to find local experiences in their moment of need, regardless of time or place.
In the meantime, while larger brands may not have the inside knowledge of the local landscape, they have the resources to build mobile/web solutions that can connect guests to experiences. So, the inability of independent innkeepers to give their guests a useful mobile/web solution that communicates their recommendations heavily threatens one of the valuable services they have traditionally provided and used to build guest trust, community cohesion, and to differentiate their offering.
The Frictionless Guest App is a solution to this challenge. It’s a way for independent innkeepers to provide their guests with a mobile/web app that only shows the local places recommended by the innkeeper. It enables them to differentiate their offering by making their guests’ stay more memorable and also play a larger role in the local tourism landscape. The result is to build long-term loyalty with guests as well as with local businesses in the community.
For any innkeeper or bed and breakfast owner, your network of local places to eat, play, shop, etc. can provide immense value, which is passed on to your guests and your local community. But that value can also be realized by you in an indirect, less obvious way.
Most travelers come to stay at your inn, B&B or hotel to gain experiences they typically would not have in their hometowns. This includes taking advantage of area attractions, restaurants, cultural events, and the overall natural surroundings.
By having a direct connection with other local businesses, it’s possible to build a network within your community that provides a wide range of great eating and entertainment options you can recommend to your guests. And, once the word spreads throughout your network, you are likely to see more guests coming through your door, as those within your network reciprocates.
This can be achieved by creating relationships with local businesses, historic sites, universities, festival organizers, non-profit groups, summer camps, and even property owners associations. Once you’ve done so, the Frictionless Guest App makes it easy to recommend the best places to your guests which you trust to make their stay more memorable.
What will ultimately happen is that happy guests will refer your property to their friends and families, and local businesses will also help funnel new guests your way. It’s a win for everyone, especially since you are pointing travelers to the best local places in your area. In the end, the rising tide lifts all boats, which will help your property and your local community prosper in the long term.