I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how important repeat guests were to many B&Bs. This week I wanted to go into a bit more detail on how to turn first time guests into loyal repeat fans!
I welcome many repeat guests to my own B&B, so I have a good idea of what it takes to get guests to come back. But I decided to go out to the Facebook Group of Past Course Attendees and asked them what THEY do to persuade guests to return.
I think this post, and all of the ideas generated by an amazing bunch of B&B owners, shows the power of community and shared ideas. Community is at the heart of my new B&B Marketing Club membership. Check out my 5 steps to marketing a B&B webinar to find out more.
I do rather go on about this at length in my courses. But the most important thing you need to do, when you’re setting up, or buying, a B&B, is to be very clear on who your customers are and what it is they want from a Bed and Breakfast.
If you create a B&B that meets the wants and needs of your guests, you’re well on the way to getting them to return for more visits.
Many people are scared of focussing on just one or two target markets. But it’s very true that:
“When you try to attract everyone, you end up attracting no one”
As Mary- Elizabeth O’Neill of Abbots Leigh Guest house in Glastonbury https://www.facebook.com/abbotsleighhouse/ says
“I would say really focus on your USP and market, especially for your location. We focus on breakfast and being upmarket, one of the few in our area. So we have had a lot of Glastonbury regular visitors become new regulars at ours. Been in business less than a year and have had loads of rebookings, often at the end of their first stay”
Ken Skinner of the Townhouse Exeter http://www.townhouseexeter.co.uk/
“Our main repeat trade is from the parents of university kids. We try to snag them early in their kids’ education when visiting for open days and other university events. We don't give them a hard sell, but we do make sure we're presenting ourselves and the “non-student” aspects Exeter in the best light. We want them to see us as both a base to visit their children but also a jumping off point for a mini-break.
We decided early on to invest in top quality "hotel-style" beds, mattresses, superb duvets and pillow selections and to promote them to make guests aware that we were putting their comfort first. We quickly started getting a reputation as the place to stay for a great night’s sleep and a fantastic breakfast. We often get reviews saying “now that we’ve found Townhouse, we’re never staying anywhere else in Exeter.”
Ken and Tim have understood their market’s needs and created a B&B that meets them. Their job in a busy city like Exeter is to show potential customers how they are different to the surrounding B&Bs and hotels.
One of the main advantages of buying an existing B&B is, if it’s an established business with a good number of repeat guests, you can continue to benefit from that repeat business.
However, you do need to ensure that you continue to provide at least the same level of service and guest experience that they’ve enjoyed in the past.
Melanie Nunn of Longmead House in Lynton https://www.longmeadhouse.co.uk/ tells us about the importance of maintaining the high standards that keep repeat guests coming back.
“We have quite a few repeat guests. Some of whom we ‘inherited’ and have been coming for years and others have returned , during our stewardship. I think partly the charm and beauty of the area and partly the good , reliable and consistent service they have come to expect.
I see them in two categories: long standing repeats ( over several generations of owners) and new repeats that we have generated. Both sets of repeats are lovely and rewarding as it reflects the high standards that have been maintained ... and the long term repeaters come with the added joy of long standing history and memories of the place and their holidays here, which is always a privilege to listen to...
Having created a B&B that meets your guest’ needs, the most important factor in getting a guest to return to you is how they are made to feel during their stay. No matter how amazing your B&B rooms are, if they aren’t looked after well during their stay, they’re unlikely to return.
Lynne Fisher of St Johns Guest in Weymouth https://stjohnsguesthouse.co.uk/ says
“For us encouraging the repeat guests isn’t about offering discounts or any incentive. It’s more about us and the relationship that we develop with our guests, professional yet friendly.
It’s all about that “know, like and trust” factor. If guests like you they are more likely to return"
Whilst some guests may become friends, I believe the key to good customer service is about being friendly whilst maintaining a professional distance.
My most repeat guests have been visiting my B&B for 16 years, several times a year. We always have a chat at breakfast. I know a bit about their lives and they know something of mine. I’m able to be more relaxed around them. But I always stay professional and ensure they’re getting the same respect and customer service as any other guest. And at the end of their stay, they pay the same amount as anyone else!
Those repeat guests I just mentioned have been visiting Hopton House for 16 years. Their first visit was just after we opened the B&B and they visited us 8 times in 2019. So I’m unlikely to forget them, but it’s always important to remember your repeat guests.
Julia of La Vielle Maison d’Aurin https://www.bedbreakfastlimousin.com/ in France emphasises a very simple but important factor - that B&B owners need to remember guests
“We are just second year in business, but we have had a lot of repeat guests and referrals from people who have stayed with us. We have allowed one night stays and we are halfway for many travelers North & South but next year we will not be offering one night in peak season which is fine with a lot of people who have stayed previously.
We haven’t done much on the promotional side but one thing we do very well is to remember guests, make a couple of notes etc. We stayed for years in a B&B visiting my son and they never once remembered our name or the fact we had been there before! Used to drive me wild!”
And Steph Hollier of the Spurwing Guesthouse in Wareham http://www.spurwing.info/ agrees!
“I agree with Julia about the importance of remembering the names of guests. Starting when laying the breakfast down in front of them even! I believe this personal service goes a long way to welcoming them back as repeat guests.
We are lucky also that in August 2019 we purchased an already established b&b in a popular location close to a train station and local attractions so many of our repeat customers have been returning for years, well before we took on the business, hence we kept the name Spurwing Guest House UK.
If you are considering purchasing a b&b I would highly recommend finding one which is already established, and keep smiling at those repeat guests!😃”
I agree with both Julia and Steph about remembering your guests. We’ve been staying at a small hotel for years. We’ve stayed more times than we can remember but every time we arrive they ask if we’ve stayed before.
I appreciate they have lots of staff but it’s not difficult in this day and age to have a system that can remind you that guests have visited before. Compare that to a similar hotel we visit. We are always greeted with “Welcome back” no matter who is on reception and a small box of chocolates and hand written “welcome back” note in the room.
At this point you’re probably saying, well if you’re not happy with the welcome, why do you keep going back. In this case they are in a location we visit frequently and there are no other B&Bs or hotels that are of the standard we want in the area. But if one did start up, we would have no loyalty to this one and be happy to jump ship!
Lucy Cullen of Hir Kemmyns B&B in Cornwall https://www.hir-kemmyns.com/ also believes it’s very important to offer a personal service.
“Having just 2 rooms, and only me doing everything, means guests get a very personal service. I remember (I write down!) what they like for breakfast, and other particular things about them so the conversation can resume every time they come back”
One of the most frequent comments about my own B&B is about the attention to detail and the little extras. I’ve considered very carefully what I’ve liked and haven’t liked in our travels over the years and tried to create a B&B that I would want to stay at.
Guests are welcomed in their rooms with a whole homemade lemon drizzle cake and shortbread biscuits. There’s a silent mini fridge with fresh milk and mineral water. In the bathroom all the toiletries they need, enough toilet roll and a box of items they may have forgotten such as toothbrushes.
They’re all just small inexpensive things but they add up to an experience that guests remember.
Fiona Potts of Gwaenynog Farmhouse and Campsite offer a lot for guests, including evening meals:
“We've a growing list of repeats, especially the campers - mainly as we offer such a lot for them onsite (bar, takeaway food, fire pits, etc.) which we know helps.
The evening meals are a big draw for our main B&B clientele, as often they love the area, but are not fond of the little lanes to reach us - especially in the dark! - so that's been a boon. We also offer an extensive menu - the draft ales also work for that group of guests too! ;-)
Often the pull for returning guests is the peace and quiet. The phrase often used in reviews is "home from home" that they feel comfortable here and are happy to spend a few days relaxing”
I’ve used social media for many years to attract new guests to my B&B. But one of the most important advantages of it is to stay connected with existing guests.
By using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and encouraging guests to follow you, you have the opportunity to be constantly reminding them how much they enjoyed their stay with you
I make sure my social media handles are in every email I send to guests. I also give them a postcard on departure with details of my recipe blog, asking them for a review and listing my social media details
Lucy of Hir Kemmyns https://www.hir-kemmyns.com/ uses instagram very effectively to both attract new guests and to remind them to return
“Social media. I try to encourage all our guests to follow me on Instagram. That way they get constant reminders of what a beautiful area the Roseland is. I often get emails saying “we just need to come back and go to that new beach you found”.
Whilst I love social media and its ability to connect instantly with people, your email list is still your most important marketing tool. So, if you don’t already, I’d encourage you to collect guest email addresses ( with their permission in a GDPR compliant way) and send them a regular newsletter with useful information and special offers.
Sending emails and staying connected with guests is something we’ll be covering at depth in the marketing membership. Click here to find out more
When I first opened my B&B I had 2000 tri fold leaflets printed off. It was what B&Bs always did. I often joke that I still have 1997 leaflets sitting in a drawer.
Whilst printed materials aren’t as popular as they used to be, it can still be really useful to have something to give to guests when they leave. Guests often ask me if I have a leaflet or a business card that they can pass onto friends who they think would enjoy staying.
I often have guests comment on something they’ve eaten at the B&B and ask for the recipe; my lemon drizzle cake and bircher muesli recipes are requested most often.
You could just direct them to a recipe you’ve written on a blog, but one thing I’ve done in the past is to give them a recipe postcard to take away. They can then take these away, stick them on their fridge and it’s a constant reminder of their stay with you!
Another technique I’ve used in the past is to leave a blank postcard with the B&B details in the room with a stamp on. This encourages them to write a postcard to friends who might also enjoy staying with you.
I wouldn’t recommend having thousands of postcards, business cards or leaflets printed off. Or you could well end up with a drawer full of unused leaflets like me! It’s easy to get postcards printed in small batches these days using an online service like Vistaprint or Moo.
If you struggle with design, I recommend CANVA.COM. There are a lot of different design templates. You can then download your design and get it printed.
Gill of Stoneybridge B&B https://www.stoney-bridge.co.uk/ sends a Christmas card to guests each year with a voucher offering money off a return stay.
“Each Christmas we have a card printed and send it to guests who've visited that year and maybe the year before (those we'd like to see again obvs) in the card we offer a voucher for their return booking which is usually £25 off their next 2/3 night stay.
Our rates are at the higher end of the range so we feel we can offer this as a way of encouraging re-bookings. We don't normally discount our rates otherwise. It has worked really well for us over the last 4 years and guests who previously booked via an OTA become avid direct bookers which is a great result.
Guests also comment they are delighted to receive a card/voucher and feel special that we thought about them. Obvs you can only send to those who've allowed you to keep their data.”
Though, as Gill says, it’s really important that you have permission to contact the guests for marketing purposes if you intend to send them a card.
There was a B&B cited in a divorce case a few years ago, as they'd sent a Christmas card to the guest. Unfortunately when he stayed at the B&B it wasn't with his wife.
As Gill mentioned above, she sends repeat guests a voucher with money off a future stay. This can be a great way of making guests feel special and enticing them to come back.
I think that it’s not so much the money off that's the draw, rather the fact that the guests feel they are part of an exclusive club and feel valued.
Bea Hyde of Hammonds Farm B&B in the Cotswolds https://www.hammonds-farm.co.uk/ says this about her repeat guests. As well as offering a discount to her repeat guests, she also encourages them to pass this on to their friends, to encourage referrals
“We get quite a few repeats. We've had one this year who stayed for the first time at the beginning of August and has just had their second stay. Interestingly this year we have seen lots of referrals/recommendations, probably 6/7 from new guests this year telling their friends and them booking within a couple of weeks. It's been lovely.
When I manage it I'm going to send this years guests a 5٪ off and a 5٪ for friends and family who want to stay too.”
Personally, I love the idea of adding value to a repeat guests’ stay by offering them a little extra.
Anthony MCCabe of Little Redlands B&B in Lincolnshire https://www.littleredlands.co.uk/ offers his repeat guests a complimentary platter
“We have been up and running 2 years in November, and we have about 15 pairs of guests who have returned at least once. We concentrate on our niche of a high end romantic mini-break, and guests get the £30 bedroom platter complimentary when booking 2 or more nights direct, and a better price too”
One problem that faces a lot of B&B owners is persuading guests, who book with them through an Online Travel Agent, such as BOOKINGDOTCOM, to book direct for their next visit.
There are several reasons that guests may continue to book through an OTA:
So you can see it’s not as simple as saying to guests book direct next time to get a better price. You may need to think up some different tactics based on what you’ve read in this blog.
Julie Dell of Morlea B&B near Loch Ness https://morleabedandbreakfast.co.uk/about/
“One thing we do is to give every guest, as they leave, a business card and on the back is a book direct message with a discount code. We also have the cards dotted around the place in various holders and it’s quite surprising the number of guests who have already picked one up.
We also send them an automated message via Freetobook, our online booking system, after their stay”
Julie’s automated message asks for a review and offers a promo code to enter on their website to book direct.
Like Julie, you could send a message or an email, thanking them for staying, asking for a review and giving them a link on your website where they could put a promo code in for a repeat stay.
It’s also good practise to have a link direct to your booking page in all of your social media profiles and your email signature. So if guests keep your email, it’s easier for them to find the book direct link.
If a guest does leave a review, then responding to that review and thanking them is another way to build a connection with them.
As Anthony McCabe of Little Redlandshttps://www.littleredlands.co.uk/ says
"For us, direct bookings are the 1st aim, but repeat direct bookings the ultimate. We invest quite a lot of time and resources into our social media posts (still very much finding our way), pre-stay & post-stay communications, which are all reduced & easier for repeat guests.
We always reply to reviews and have been blessed with some great ones. Guests often mention that they were impressed by the reviews. As they say on Four In A Bed, “when your home is your business, it is personal.” So like positive reviews, guests who actually walk the walk and do return as so many often say they will, is very pleasing indeed.”
As you can see there are many elements that go together to improve your chances of attracting more repeat guests.
I think this post and all of the ideas generated by an amazing bunch of B&B owners, shows the power of community and shared ideas. Community is at the heart of my new B&B Marketing Club membership. Check out my 5 steps to marketing a B&B webinar to find out more.
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