By Maxine Pinson
It is past dinner time. Instead of preparing a meal, I surf the Internet in search of a B & B for a forthcoming trip. Visiting Web sites of inns is the venue I prefer when seeking a B & B inn for business or pleasure. Statistics reveal I am not alone. I avoid the kitchen and ignore the clock, but a scrolling message squelches diligent attempts to tune out thoughts of food. Dancing letters create a message evoking fantasies of a breakfast table laden with a morning feast ready to be featured in Bon Appetit. Beneath the tantalizing eye-catcher, a reinforcing statement reads: “Award-winning chef on staff.” Glancing down the page, I note the inn has been “voted the best place to stay” in its locale for four consecutive years. I am oblivious to the fact it is the only B & B in the town and self-proclaimed “the best place to stay.” I am seduced by slick marketing tactics, even though tell-tale signs scream out for recognition.
“Don’t become side-tracked by visions of epicurean delights,” I chide myself. “Check out the rest of the Web site: the guest rooms, common areas, amenities, unique features, years in business, association with established bed and breakfast organizations, the concentration and focus of the inn, authentication of claims made, professionalism and attention-to-detail conveyed by the Web site itself.”
Considering the information I have available, I decide to stay at the inn with the sure-to-be-fantastic breakfast. I print-out the inn’s home page, highlight the telephone number, call for reservations. My intuition cautions me: “This inn’s Web site reveals indications of a B & B less spectacular than professed.” I acknowledge what I sense, especially after hearing the answering machine message. “But,” I rationalize, “the inn is new, and the innkeeper is still learning. I bet the award-winning chef will create a breakfast negating anything I assess less than ideal.”
I recall an inn I contemplated featuring earlier which also places emphasis upon their breakfasts extraordinaire. A topnotch Web site showcases the inn, and I accept the invitation of the smiling innkeepers to take a virtual tour. As I wind my way through the site, the host and hostess smile at me from each page. They look warm and hospitable—a principle I consider paramount in the hospitality business.
The property reflects decorator taste and attention-to-detail; amenities and concierge services promise pampering; the credentials of one innkeeper’s culinary background are provided, and a collection of photographed breakfast dishes would impress the most discerning gourmand. The inn is a member of all the “right” organizations and boasts a high rating by AAA. According to the Web site, the innkeepers try to be “unobtrusive” and place a “heavy emphasis on comfort.” The criteria for inclusion in The INNside Scoop’s “Editor’s Favorites” appears in place. I am ready to go.
I discover a recently opened inn while, once again, B and B-hopping over the Internet. Everything about it convinces me it needs to be featured on the cover of the next INNside Scoop. I delight in finding new favorites and sharing my discovery with others. I call for reservations without hesitation. This time my intuition almost shouts an audible “Yes!” When I call, the innkeeper says, “We’re not an historic inn, nor are we a formal inn. We serve good breakfasts, but I do not consider them gourmet meals.” Her approach is by no means a negative one. Rather, I sense a keen sense of honesty from her and feel she simply wants to be candid with me. She does not want me to arrive with inflated expectations which could lead to dissatisfaction. I appreciate and respect her frankness. However, this time I have examined the inn’s Web site microscopically. I feel confident it will become one of my all-time favorites. I am excited about my visit.
The innkeeper at the first B & B is affable, obliging, gracious. The inn is clean, comfortable, attractive. The staff consists solely of the innkeeper. When I ask about the awards she has received as a chef, she chuckles. She has been a finalist in a recipe contest I am unfamiliar with. I am not amused; rather, I feel misled. My breakfasts at the inn are tasty and well-prepared. However, the fare resembles what I would order from a neighborhood IHOP. It is nothing unusual, and I am terribly disappointed. If there were not such focus on the B & B having “an award-winning chef,” the inn would receive my top rating. But it does not. I feel the inn’s marketing is incongruent with the reality I find.
“Effective inn marketing dictates accentuating an inn’s attributes. However, it is imperative that inns project only what guests will actually see and experience during their stay. Tout only what guests may expect, and they will join your marketing campaign when they leave.”
When I call the smiling innkeeper’s inn, the hostess sounds as though she is smiling as she speaks. Her inn’s Web site represents her personality well. However, when I speak with the host, he projects a frowning voice. I consider his tone obtrusive and his manner unprofessional. In spite of the “heavy emphasis on comfort” promoted by the inn, I do not feel I would feel comfortable there in spite of all the niceties. I cancel my visit and review of the inn. Since that time, I have heard similar stories from others concerning this particular innkeeper’s curt attitude.
My gut feeling is on-target concerning the inn I select for a cover review. The decor is A-one, breakfast and its presentation is superb, and the innkeepers are two of the most charming individuals one could hope to meet. I arrive at their inn with high expectations; what I experience is more than I ever hoped for. What a rare and welcomed surprise! “WYSIWYG” is an acronym for: “What You See is What You Get.” It is worth remembering when innkeepers plan their marketing strategies. Winning guests is more important than initially wooing them–and the benefits prove rewarding and longer lasting.
Maxine Pinson is Publisher/Editor of The INNside Scoop B&B newsletter (www.innsidescoop.com), author of INNside Scoop—“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About B&B Inns,” and co-author of Lowcountry Delights Cookbook and Travel Guide. Maxine lives in Savannah“Georgia’s B&B Capitol,” and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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