Michigan Lake – An international industry insight
Little Hotelier conducted a very interesting interview with Michigan Lake to Lake Bed and Breakfast Association to find out how they grow the industry overseas and the problems they face. There are lots of tips we can take from how they operate.
There’s nothing more insightful than learning about the biggest challenges facing the bed and breakfast industry, straight from an expert who focuses on growing it.
That’s why we were lucky to have a chat with the Executive Director Michigan Lake to Lake Bed and Breakfast Association, Linda Singer.
Read on to learn more about the association and the challenges she perceives as facing bed and breakfasts in the state of Michigan.
So, tell us about your destination. What makes it unique? Why are you proud of it?
I’ve lived in Michigan all my life and although I’ve traveled and gone to wonderful places, I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else. I think the reason is no matter how bad things get anywhere else, Michigan stays pretty much on an even keel.
The winters aren’t too bitter, the summers aren’t too hot, and the summer and fall are better than everything. If you want to live somewhere year-round, this is where to be.
Michigan has everything – from great expanses of rugged wilderness in the Upper Peninsula, to beautiful rolling hills and lakes which are predominant in the northern part of Michigan.
And of course we’re surrounded by the Great Lakes, uniquely surrounded by water. You can travel for miles and see nothing but sand dunes and water – salt free and shark free.
What are your association’s goals?
We have a very specific mission that the association has adopted and really says it all.
The mission itself is that we exist as a body of like-minded innkeepers to promote bed and breakfasts as a preferred accommodation for business and leisure travel.
That’s our goal but how we do it is we:
Market bed and breakfasts as an industry
The concept of a bed and breakfast as opposed to a hotel or any other type of lodging – that B&Bs are a unique industry unto themselves. We also market our individual member B&Bs.
- Educate our innkeepers
We feel it’s our responsibility to educate our innkeepers – there’s no real school that says, ‘this is how to be a bed and breakfast innkeeper’.
So one of our primary goals is to educate our innkeeper members on all aspects of innkeeping. We share best practices in all areas.
- Advocate for our members
We are constantly advocating for our members in terms of state legislation and local ordinances – laws that are going to impact the ability of B&Bs to operate freely, simply and profitably.
- Provide networking opportunities to our members
One of the loneliest jobs in the world is to be an innkeeper, no one knows what you go through.
It’s a one-person job you do day after day, over and over.
You wash the linens, clean the house, change the beds, do the cooking, and it never ends. It’s 24/7 and 365 days a year.
So providing that opportunity for innkeepers to meet and interact with each other and realize that they’re not alone is a huge goal in the association.
We want to make sure that there’s a next generation of innkeepers coming to establish bed and breakfast businesses in the United States.
That first innkeepers who started 25 or 30 years ago – they’re aging, they want to retire and get out, so there have to be people to come along and take their place.
Who are your members? What are they like?
We basically have 3 categories of members:
These are the crux and purpose of the organization. And they are the nicest people to work for. They are a total delight, always friendly and want to talk.
I learned early on that when I call innkeepers on the phone I might be talking for 20 minutes because they’re so warm, caring, and open.
- Aspiring Innkeepers
We need to help to ensure the sustainability of the industry as a whole, educating aspiring innkeepers and keeping them interested, identifying those in it for the romance versus those who appreciate they’re going to work harder than at any other job, make sure they understand that and how to do it in efficient ways when they’re ready to open their inns.
Finally we have vendors who serve innkeepers with products and services.
It becomes like one big family – the linen companies, mattress sellers, the reservation systems, the insurance providers, those who build beautiful websites, who take photographs for those websites.
All of these vendors are part of our industry and our association as well.
How do you help your members reach their ideal guests?
We have very specific ways we help members put heads in beds.
Obviously the biggest one is their own websites. Our job is to make sure they understand what they need and how to make those websites attract the attention of the visitor who is looking at hundreds of competitors.
Secondly, we provide a portal website, through which all of our members can be seen and viewed. It has a lot of popularity and a lot of visitors because it has a lot of bed and breakfasts. People can come to one place and find what they’re looking for on one single website.
We also are big into social media and i think probably one of the most important areas of social media is our blog.
Every time you add a blog post with good search engine optimization (SEO), you’re really adding a page to your website. That keeps the search engines interested and it also puts us, our brand and our knowledge out where other people can find it.
It helps to build our reputability as a visitor resource in the industry. That’s something we can give our members that they cannot get on their own.
Besides blogging, we are very big into Facebook. We have a wonderful group of nearly 4,000 fans. We’re doing more tweeting too – I’m not sure i will ever fully appreciate the world of Twitter, but we do it. So those are the ways in which we help get guests in their beds.
What is your main tip on how small accommodation providers can stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive marketplace?
There’s only one way – that’s to be themselves. A little mom and pop bed and breakfast with 4-6 guest rooms has no hope of being able to compete with a Hilton. They’re way too different and their financial resources are so different.
For me the way a B&B stands out is by being unfailingly gracious and generous in their hospitality, to be always mindful of best practices and to be obsessed with cleanliness.
By providing a product that people walk away from feeling like it was a wonderful experience and can’t wait to go back – by that kind of hospitality, that’s our key.
That’s what makes us different, unique and competitive, and that’s why people prefer to stay in a bed and breakfast.
What is the best way for small accommodation providers to compete against large hotels?
Just be themselves number one – very personal, very distinctive, customer oriented, and more friend oriented.
When you step over threshold of a bed and breakfast, you’re welcomed as friend, not a customer – and I think that’s a huge difference and that difference has to remain paramount.
Because in terms of promotion, all of which takes money, many of our bed and breakfasts simply cannot compete on a financial level.
Invest in their websitesI encourage our innkeeper members to keep their website up to date – they need a leading-edge website – and they can do it nowadays for a fraction of what it used to cost.
The photography that innkeepers can create using own iPhones is so superior to 5 years ago with a digital camera or even 10 years ago with film.
To me, it’s just a matter of logic and being a rational thinker. If you go to any B&B website and it has little pictures and hasn’t been updated for 8 years, if the type is difficult to read and there’s a lot of it – visitors just look it at and go, ‘meh’.
Then they go to the next one with a beautiful cover shot and it sets a mood and a feeling, it tells a story that says ‘here’s where you could come’ – it’s going to do better.
Keep in touch with guests
Bed and breakfast owners should also be sending out newsletters to keep in touch with customers and prospective customers, letting them know what’s going on, what’s new and wonderful that they have to offer.
They can also send out personal notes saying ‘wonderful to have you here’ – that’s something you would never get from a hotel.
Use social media
I can’t say enough that innkeepers need to be active on social media to engage with their customers in their own worlds.
The B&Bs doing really well in our association are those that have a great website and are active on social media – on Facebook, they have a blog, Instagram, or they tweet and they have a following. They talk to their customers.
Where do you think the industry is headed – any trend predictions for the future?
Well, if we cannot reverse the bank lending policies on a fairly wide scale I think we’re going to be struggling to survive as an industry.
I think that travellers, visitors, people who want to travel and get away are always going to see the value of a bed and breakfast. They’re always going to prefer it over any other lodging venue.
But we have to be able to keep those bed and breakfast innkeepers in business, making money, being able to borrow money, being able to spend the money necessary to keep the technology up to date so that they can be competitive.
I think it’s a hard business and a hard road – if anyone can do it it’s innkeepers because it’s just the kind of people they are – they’re persistent, but it’s going to be a tough haul to keep this business growing.
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