Innkeeper Industry Blogposts
(This was adapted from Legume Loyalist, Flower Patch Farmgirl and Ezra Pound Cake)
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips (one 12-ounce bag)
8 ounces thin pretzel sticks, broken into smaller pieces
Preheat oven to 375.
Line an 11X17 jelly roll pan with parchment paper (or aluminum
foil). Set aside.
Cover the pan in a layer of broken pretzels.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar.
When the mixture starts to gently simmer and bubble, let it cook that way for 3 minutes (don't stir).
Pour the butter and sugar mixture over the pretzels.
Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. Wait about 2 minutes until the chocolate melts.
Grab a spatula and spread the chocolate over the toffee. (At this point, I had turned off the oven but put the rack in for 45 seconds to help melt the chocolate chips).
Sprinkle with sea salt.
Let the toffee cool completely. It's okay to place in fridge or freezer to help speed up the process!
The William Henry Miller Inn
Proud to be the Ithaca Broad
5 cups sweet potatoes "flesh" (about 4-5 potatoes)
1/2 cut butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter
1 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on a parchment lined baking sheet and cook until the potatoes are done. (When gently squeezing the potato, it will give and feel soft). Let the potatoes cool until you are able to handle them. Cut potatoes in half, and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Mash the potatoes. Discard skins.
Spray a 9 x 9 baking dish with non-stick spray.
Add 1/2 cup butter, milk, eggs and vanilla to the potatoes. Stir until well mixed. Spread into prepared baking dish.
To make the topping: In a small bowl, whisk the 1 cup brown sugar and flour. Using a fork, cut in the butter until mixture is crumbly. Stir in the pecans. Spread this mixture over the sweet potatoes.
Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly and golden brown.
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn
Proud to be the Arkansas Broad
When I say “Tis the Season” around the PAII office, I’m not referring to the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I’m referring to conference season! The Innkeeping Conference & Trade Show is five and a half weeks away, and the registrations are pacing a full 30% better than Las Vegas. We are thrilled! This is the time when we are all pulling long hours getting all the details squared away for our main event.
And in the midst of this, I am able to fulfill a commitment to one spectacular innkeeper, Lynnette Scofield of the William Henry Miller Inn in Ithaca, NY. Today I am washing dishes at the Miller Inn, since Lynette “won” me at the raffle at the 2013 Innkeeping Show. And I’m telling you, having the opportunity like this to be at a great inn, among the staff, watching them do their thing, is the perfect reminder why I love being at PAII.
At the PAII office we focus so much on the tactics and daily “blocking and tackling” of running an association. It’s the kind of work you’d see happening at any association headquarters, really. It is enormously helpful for me to get out of the office, stay at an inn as a guest would, observe the behind-the-scenes operations, and chat with the innkeeper. While here in Ithaca, I also visited with leaders at the Chamber of Commerce and tourism office. Getting a sense of how destination marketing organizations (DMOs) work with the B&B community informs the work I do with many DMO leaders from coast-to-coast. It was great to hear how the Tompkins County tourism folks really embrace the B&Bs, especially Lynnette! They understand the concept of “quid pro quo.”
While here, I couldn’t pass up a visit to the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. The dean’s executive assistant gave me a wonderful tour of the Statler Hotel and the academic facilities. Safe to say that the hotel industry is well-supported and thinks highly if its future generation of hoteliers. My objective now is to get on their speaker’s list, so that the Cornell students can learn about the B&B industry.
So, for nearly seven years I’ve made it a point to really be out and among PAII’s members, and even the greater travel and tourism industry. Nothing has helped me in this job quite like seeing things from the eyes of my customers and my peers.
As innkeepers, how are YOU seeing things from the eyes of your guests and your neighbors in the community? Are you out and about? If so, share what you do to make sure that you are 1. grounded and in touch with what the guests see and what they want, and 2. keeping your horizons broad by networking and learning beyond the walls of your inn?
Happy holidays, PAII!
There have been several interesting signs that the B&B industry is being viewed quite differently today than in years past. I often hear references to the television shows, “Fawlty Towers” and “Newhart,” which I’m told (these aired when I was in elementary school) depicted inns and innkeepers in a light-hearted, casual way. Needless to say, I don’t think the world saw owning a B&B as something incredibly serious (although my readers here have always known differently).
So, what happened recently to make me pause and think we may have turned an interesting corner?
Within the past few weeks, I’ve received calls from both a huge, multinational investment firm and a firm that does analysis work for investment groups about TripAdvisor’s TripConnect program. It so happens they saw my testimonial TripAdvisor recorded recently, and wanted my two cents on the prospect of TripConnect, bringing B&Bs into metasearch, the role of OTAs in our industry, etc. Let me first say, I stand by my testimonial that TripConnect (if it works as designed) could be a really big deal for innkeepers. The jury is still out, because we don’t have a good handle on what the net costs of participation will really end up being. Nevertheless, the fact that TripAdvisor has invested in a system with the B&B market in the center of their scope, and that big banks are calling the B&B industry to get our professional opinion on this – to me it shows we are a true force in the travel industry.
Also, the PAII office gets calls every month from television production studios (small and Hollywood-large), asking for our help in finding innkepeers who might be great for their television show concepts. I think people are “getting it” that running B&Bs of all shapes and sizes is something pretty serious – and good. I mean, check out this VERY COOL episode of “Start Up” on PBS, featuring one of my all-time favorite PAII members, Monique Greenwood, owner of Akwaaba B&B in Brooklyn (among other B&Bs and businesses).
And just last week, the Wall Street Journal called about a story they plan to run about people getting into the business of buying mansions and trying their hands at being innkeepers. Every time I speak with writers of such publications, I think they are a bit surprised at how much we know our stuff. While they are approaching our industry in a serious fashion, they get schooled a bit on how serious innkeepers are and how they approach their lives and businesses. I like that PAII elevates the perception of our industry in these little ways.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in New York, NY, meeting with two of PAII’s Key Supporters (American Express and Booking.com) and was able to also meet with the Director of Travel and a Senior Editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. They came down to meet with us, because we pitched a story idea. I call it, “The Coming of Age of the B&B.” Together we talked about many travel issues and the B&B industry, but their presence alone was proof that they believe our industry and the B&B experience is indeed a formidable one. No promises on this story, but we made some fantastic in-roads with one of the best travel brands in the world.
In all my keynote presentations this summer and fall, I’ve been telling innkeepers that I firmly believe the B&B is in the sweet spot of the travel experience – right now. Travelers want local…authentic…independent…organic…anti-corporate…unique. And yet many of them want a reliable and good product. Millions of travelers are flocking to vacation rentals for these same reasons, which is great. And yet B&Bs are run by professional hosts. We offer the best of all worlds. We should celebrate this, leverage it and keep caring about our guests better than anyone. It all adds up folks. Innkeepers doing amazing jobs. Guests loving what we do. The business aspect continues to get better and more professional. And the world wants a piece of us.
Onward and upward!
Is it really October? Where has the year gone? It seems that just a few months ago so many of us were in Las Vegas at the Innkeeping Show – learning together…growing together…and yes, partying together. The night of our big party opened my eyes to how very badly our members needed to let their hair down and just have a good time! You toil all year long taking care of guests, worrying about and working on your marketing, fixing the big and little things that break at the B&B, managing the support you may have (whether it is one part-time housekeeper or fifty staff in high season), and whatever other curve balls get thrown your way.
I worry about innkeepers and if they are taking care of themselves. It’s like how the flight attendant says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before anyone else who may need it. I tend to think many innkeepers don’t put that mask on first. In many ways, it’s part of your nature – to take care of others first. And that is what makes our industry and our product, well, superior to others. So, today I am wondering – how DO innkeepers take care of themselves? How do they avoid burnout? Frankly, burned-out innkeepers are no good to their guests, and by extension this is bad for our industry. I’ve been talking a lot more lately to innkeepers that, yes, I want to have successful innkeepers across the land. But even more than that, I want happy innkeepers.
I think it is important for all of us to have mechanisms in our lives that allow us to turn the pressure valve a bit…to have things that support long and short term health – both physical and mental health. When thinking about this, I turn inward and ponder what I do to stay balanced, happy and healthy. Here is my list of things I do to feel good at the moment (we all need immediate escape) and to support a balanced life:
I go and get something sweet to eat. Oh, I know that isn’t healthy. But sometimes health and happiness are mutually exclusive. Sometimes I just need to take my fingers off the keyboard and eyes off the screen, and walk down the street to get some milk and cookies, or an iced latte, a big ole ice cream sandwich. It makes me happy and I can go back and turn to the work again. This is my mini-escapism.
I exercise. I’m not one who really enjoys exercising early in the morning, and plus I am getting the kids ready for school. But either on my lunch break or right when I get home, I will do 15-30 minutes of intense exercise. This year, my exercise of choice has been to swing a 45 lb kettle bell about 100 times per day, and round it out with push ups, squats and may be a half-mile or mile run. For many years, I would jog between 2 and 5 miles as my choice of exercise. But I assessed this and realized that doesn’t really relieve my stress. It doesn’t clear my head like I pretended it did. When swinging a heavy kettle bell or doing other intense exercise, one has to pay attention to form and technique, or you’re just going to hurt yourself. I found that I really can’t think, “Did I email this person back? When is that report due?” and swing something that weighs as much as much as a 42-inch television.
I retreat. I have mini-retreats that could last two hours, and some that might last two days. If I have a writing assignment that Ingrid, my communications manager, is bugging me about (insert smiley face here) I have to go find a coffee shop and get into my own little world. Anything involving creative thinking or writing requires me to get away from my normal environment. Once or twice a year, I will take all my files, papers, notes and electronic devices and stay at an inn and disappear for two days. I organize, prioritize, let things go that have been collecting dust, cross things off the list and get my arms around those things that have been unwieldy for months.
I play ping pong. Ok, you can stop laughing now. On Thursday nights, about eight guys in my neighborhood get together and play some old school games like ping pong, foosball and billiards at one guy’s house. The doubles ping pong can get intense! We have a lot of laughs and just kick back, drink some beer and catch up on the week’s happenings. Getting away from my dear wife and kids and having some old fashioned fun with the boys is a good thing.
I vacation. And when I say I vacation, I mean I relax. Yes, I take those family trips where we see family or pack in five things to do or see every day. But those are not vacations. Hopefully at least once a year, my wife and I will get away to a remote location and have no agenda, except to enjoy the quietude. This February (following with my 40th birthday), we are going to Villa Temenos in Costa Rica, which is owned by our friends and PAII members, Dean Carlson and Paul Hayes. Those in Vegas may recall that Dean and Paul offered this wonderful home up for auction and raffle for the Innkeeping Foundation fundraiser.
I love. I spend a lot of time with my wife and two kids. With my kids, after ample snuggle time around 7 am (one in front and one behind me), I help them get ready for school. I sometimes lunch with my wife and four-year old son. I put the pencil down usually no later than 5:00 or 5:30 and go home. Having meals together is very important to us. I bathe them, read their good-night books and have some pillow talk until they’re ready to fall asleep. We reserve all of our weekend time to be with each other. This is the soul food I need to keep my life in balance, and the reason I work as hard as I do.
I’ve actually had innkeepers come up to me and say they worry about me too. Yes, running PAII is a stressful job. We have many, many challenges and obstacles, and a lot of people to keep happy and engaged. Some are afraid I will up and leave, simply on account of the challenges I face each week. I remember Eric Goldreyer of BedandBreakfast.com fame and glory, after I had been with PAII for about five years, said to me he was surprised I was still around! I had to chuckle at that one. But I know – like I hope innkeepers do – that life is not just the work you do. And because I keep a good balance in my life, when I am focused on work, I can dive into it, enjoy it and try to make things happen. Plus, I just love the people in this industry. But I know when to step away and enjoy my family, and do things for me that have nothing to do with work or family. I hope you do too. You deserve it, and so do the people in your lives – including the guests!
So, how DO you keep balance in your life? Share with us! Remember, we’re all in this together.
A few weeks back I flew to Boston and visited with some of the key lieutenants at TripAdvisor to go over my list of “things.” When I say “things,” I usually mean suggestions for ways B&Bs can be pulled out of the shadows on their site, the perennial lobbying for verification of reviewers, troubleshooting on issues that seem to cause innkeepers problems with their listings, etc. I’ve been doing this every year since September 2008 (here is the original post following my first meeting with their leadership, including CEO Steve Kaufer).
As always, our friends at TripAdvisor are always eager to listen to what I bring to the table and approach any problems with the right attitude – that proprietors of small, independent properties are indeed important to TripAdvisor. We may not agree on everything, but I give them credit for being available, accessible and open-minded. Some important “things” on my list have indeed been addressed satisfactorily over the years.
Here is a sampling of what we discussed recently, all with the intent on fixing problems and getting equitable treatment for B&Bs. And remember, my goal is to work WITH TripAdvisor to find win-win situations, even if the list below seems like I’m beating them up. That’s not my style. I want to help TripAdvisor and innkeepers at the same time, if possible. A better site for both parties means that travelers win too.
Many B&Bs were once on the big OTA sites (i.e. Hotels.com, Expedia, etc.) and got off these platforms at some point. But because of their former connection to these OTAs, misinformation often appears on their TripAdvisor listing. These OTAs push data to TripAdvisor as a way to encourage bookings on their site (i.e. room pricing , availability information, etc.). But it seems some amount of old or legacy information is retained in the data sharing, even years after B&Bs leave the OTAs. For example, in the past there was a problem with inaccurate rates showing up on TripAdvisor listings. Another example is that OTA ex-pats may indicate on TripAdvisor that their inns are “open” to being searched by check-in and check-out dates. That cannot happen if you’re not giving live availability data to an OTA, which is in turn being pushed over to TripAdvisor. Thus, if a visitor puts in some dates for the OTA ex-pat with these problems, the resulting message makes it seem as though there is no availability at that inn – when in fact there very well may be. Big problem. When the site shows there is in fact no availability, it at the same time encourages the visitor to check other dates or other properties. It’s a bad bait-and-switch, even if it is inadvertent. Other properties that were never with OTAs show a message and link to reach out directly to the innkeeper, as there might be availability.
It seems that when innkeepers have reached out to TripAdvisor about these problems, they were told to take it up with the former OTA, since the data is being fed by the OTAs. This solution isn’t good enough, because the problem is on their TripAdvisor listing – TripAdvisor should help solve the problem by breaking the link between the property and some old piece of data that apparently still shows them as an active participant with the OTA. How can we fix this perennial problem once and for all? For now, it was shared with me that innkeepers who are experiencing “OTA ex-pat problems can contact TripAdvisor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, it was advised that innkeepers should reach out to regional reps of those OTAs (if you can find them), as I am told those folks have the ability to solve problems more quickly than TripAdvisor. But I’ve also heard horror stories about trying to get satisfaction from players like Expedia. Anyone remember this horror story? Next time I see a big OTA rep at the US Travel Association board meeting, I will bend their ear about our unique problem.
Here is an example, in which Abbeymore Manor (Ian MacPhee and Anne Mosher, PAII Advocate Members in Victoria, British Columbia) is on neither Hotels.com nor Expedia.com, but look closely at their listing. And see the image below it if you went ahead and tried checking for availability.
In the Shadows:
The TripAdvisor iPad app is the third most popular travel app in the US and the second most popular in the UK. It’s slick and easy to get around, but the app design makes it very difficult to search for B&Bs. We are literally hidden behind hotels. The search feature only allows you to search for hotels from the get-go. Only after the hotels are showing in the results set can you find the “filter” to change the search to B&Bs. Notice how inconspicuous it is on the right side of this screen shot. And that assumes you know that this filter is what allows you to change property type.
I have some suggestions on how to improve this. I suggest they design the lodging search just like the restaurant and attraction searches – allow the app user to select B&Bs at the very beginning of the search, just like the app allows users to choose cuisine or attraction type at the outset. The good news is that the iPhone app, while still defaults only to hotels for the original search, has a very conspicuous tab that can be pressed to change it to B&Bs. The TripAdvisor team advises that their upcoming iPad app changes will satisfy our needs. Anything to put us on more equal footing with the hotels, in my book, is the right thing to do.
“Best of…” Content
It was brought to my attention by an innkeeper that emails like the one below are going out to TripAdvisor “members” (travelers, essentially), which highlight top-rated attractions and accommodations in certain cities. In this instance, Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a city peppered with fantastic, highly-rated B&Bs – most (especially when considering the size of the properties) out perform hotels on TripAdvisor. So, why aren’t B&Bs promoted here instead of hotels, or at least alongside hotels? That was the question I brought to TripAdvisor. In areas with high concentration of B&Bs, it makes sense to promote those B&Bs – they’re what travelers want to see anyway, right? Or do you think the unique content they are looking for in a cool location like Hot Springs is going to be the Comfort Inn, Embassy Suites and Baymont Inn & Suites? (insert smiley face here) The folks at TripAdvisor tell me that these emails are dynamically created for the users who receive them, so it’s hard to tell exactly which traveler might be seeing what content in these emails. Nevertheless, my point was clearly made – if B&Bs are as popular or highly rated as hotels in any destination, they should be featured in the “Best of…” emails.
Business Listings and TripConnect:
If you look back at that 2008 blog post after my very first visit to TripAdvisor, you’ll see that I suggested TripAdvisor look into providing links back to B&Bs pages. At the time there was no such option, but all restaurants on TripAdvisor had free links back to their web sites. I suggested they do this at no charge for B&Bs as well, but suggested that innkeepers might pay a fair price for such links. A year or so later, Business Listings is launched. Now I’m not saying I gave them the idea for this multi-million dollar idea (insert another smiley face here), but our conversations over the years have assisted with their development and launch of the successful program in our industry. In fact, Steve Kaufer was at our New England Innkeeping Show a few years ago, where he announced Business Listings for the first time publicly.
Fast forward to 2013, and they have thousands of B&Bs on the platform and have added features and value over time. But recently they announced a new integration being offered to B&B reservation systems, called TripConnect, that will allow B&B availability data to transfer through to listings on TripAdvisor – but only for Business Listings customers. This is a very big deal for our industry, as B&Bs have essentially been left out of any searches that involve check-in and check-out dates, except for the very small percentage of B&Bs on the OTAs. And after all, their availability search is front and center on their home page, and with tens of millions of visitors each month, I’d say this will allow B&Bs to fish where the fish are. Kudos to TripAdvisor for developing this. The obvious question is – what will this cost the innkeeper, in addition to a Business Listings subscription? There’s a reason innkeepers have by and large avoided the OTAs, and much of it has to do with the high commission. I look forward to learning more about this as TripConnect continues to be fully developed. I’ve encouraged TripAdvisor to utilize PAII and our smart innkeepers in an advisory capacity, to ensure the program works as well as possible for our industry.
Defining B&Bs vs. AirBnBs and Vacation Rentals:
With more people getting into the hosting business through the new “share economy” (e.g. AirBnB), it becomes more important to distinguish the difference between an amateur host and a professionally-run B&B or inn. The question I brought to TripAdvisor was – how do we make sure only “real” B&Bs are listed in the B&B section? Currently, the criteria that distinguishes a B&B over what might be some guy renting a room in his apartment is whether or not there is daily housekeeping, and if there is more than one room available (although there are plenty of great one-room B&Bs in our industry, and I relayed that fact). If innkeepers see any problems with hotels, B&Bs or vacation rentals that are in the wrong category, please alert TripAdvisor at email@example.com and give any documentation that supports your claim.
TripAdvisor recently beta tested a feature that provides a phone number on innkeepers’ listings (it’s not the real number for the business), which dials directly to your inn should a potential guest want to call you – but the call starts with a quick automated message that the call is coming from a TripAdvisor web site visitor. In concept, the idea has merit. You will know that your TripAdvisor listing was the source of that lead. Innkeepers appreciate knowing exactly where their traffic is coming from. But in this case, they ran the pilot without inns knowing there was a pseudo number on their listing page. Innkeepers started getting these calls without knowing they would be coming, and some did not like having a phone number other than their real number posted on their TripAdvisor listing. My TripAdvisor friends offered a “mea culpa” with regard to not having innkeepers opt in to the beta. I venture to guess they will at some point let us know if the phone number program gets the green light.
There continues to be a perennial punch list of other issues brought to me by PAII members, and we do our best to forward those to our contacts at TripAdvisor. With a site as complex and big as TripAdvisor, there will always be issues to address. I could list another 10 issues that we’ve been discussing over the past 5 years, but I’ll save those for another day. For now, I want to thank Brian Payea, TripAdvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, for our discussions by email, phone and in-person over the years. It’s always helpful to have a go-to guy, and Brian has been that for PAII. If you want to speak in person with TripAdvisor representatives, be sure to join us at our New England Innkeeping Show (November 12-14, Mt. Snow, VT) and/or our Innkeeping Show (Jan 13-16, Charleston, SC).
Members of PAII should note that I will be conducting my next “Innkeeping Live” CEO Chat on September 24 at 2 pm EST with Steve Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s CEO. It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Steve at a PAII event, and we look forward to bringing this to you virtually. Click here to check it out and to register (remember these Innkeeping Live webinars are every Tuesday for PAII members only). We are thankful to all the members of PAII who allow us to bring this to you. Not a member? Click here to scan the benefits of membership.
Note: I am reviving my old “Innkeeping Blog” this week. I had migrated most of my musings over to Facebook over the past 2 years. My plan is to continue posting on Facebook, Twitter, my blog, in our monthly Member’s Minute and the PAII forum. Boy, my typing fingers can’t catch a break, can they? :)