I was a marketing and entrepreneurial studies major in college. You would think I would have had a clue as to how to design a winning marketing plan. I didn’t. Instead, James and I put our heads together and decided common sense was the way to go. We had three months until we closed on the Carriage House – I used any free time I could steal to research website designers, internet marketing avenues, learn about Google rankings and Pay Per Click advertising, and design brochures and rate cards. Ultimately, our marketing plan was: KISS (keep it simple stupid). We decided the key was to get people in the door, deliver a high quality and memorable experience, and entice them back again and again. Basically, we did four things:
1. While the guest rooms were in little need of cosmetic improvement, they were in need of modernization. We perused the circulars in the paper for deals on TV’s, DVD players, a computer for the common area, coffee makers, hair dryers, and ironing boards and when we found good deals we bought six of everything. In addition, we dropped our rates slightly thereby enhancing our product and creating value.
2. We spent the bulk of our advertising dollars on creating a user friendly website. We paid for professional photographs of the guestrooms and implemented an invaluable online booking tool Basically, for way less money than print advertising, we were reaching potential guests all over the world at any time of day and saving man hours by allowing them to book online or at the very least educating guests before they call.
3. An informative website is great but it’s useless if nobody can find it. We educated ourselves on internet marketing and took a three prong approach: creating a pay per click campaign, having our web designer properly design our site to rank high in organic searches, and joining pay per inclusion websites like bedandbreakfast, bbonline, lanierbb, and virtualcapecod where you basically pay to be part of their site and then they do the marketing for you. Over the years, we have found Acorn Internet Services to be a particularly good marketing resource for innkeepers.
4. We designed a $20 coupon mailer and distributed it to our guest list. The coupon was good for a $20 discount per night to be used by a certain date. It didn’t work and was the last mass mailing we ever did. Aside from a handful of publications, we rarely do print advertising as our internet plan has paid for itself over and over.
While we did not rely on a professional consultant to help with our marketing and financial plan, there are professionals out there who specialize in helping aspiring and new innkeepers get up and running. With my marketing education, and James’ years spent in the hotel business, we didn’t outsource in this area, but for anyone starting from scratch, it might not be a bad investment.
In 2.5 years at the Carriage House, we tripled the occupancy rate but not without some struggles, lessons, and of course, laughs along the way…