by Sue White, Carol Matos and Sparks Rejent Moeller
As a bed and breakfast owner you have many choices on where to spend your advertising dollars. The internet and the websites soliciting your property and your money are growing by leaps and bounds. Every day when you open your e-mail someone is launching a new site which will direct hordes of guests to your doors. Some do, but many do not. It may be time to revisit one of the tried and true resources for putting heads in the beds.
The use of a Reservation Service Agency (RSA) offers innkeepers a way to promote their properties, have guests screened, and have phone coverage when they aren’t home to answer the phone. Best of all, you only pay when you actually have confirmed guests. The RSA staff know your property and are able to describe your unique attributes to potential guests. Websites are great but most bedrooms look pretty much the same. How will the traveler be able to ascertain those unique and special things that will make your property their best choice? Your RSA can help the guest arrive at that decision. The guest has the comfort that the information they are getting about your place comes from first hand knowledge. A good RSA inspects all member homes looking not only at the lovely lace curtains but also at those more practical things like is there adequate lighting at the sink to shave by.
Establishing a relationship with an RSA is an opportunity to take advantage of the vast knowledge base your RSA has about the B&B industry. Most RSA keep themselves abreast of new regulations governing the industry. They belong to and participate in travel and tourism organizations, speak at conferences and conventions, and are resources to the public about the business of innkeeping. RSA’s were the pioneers of the industry here in the US. They encouraged their friends and neighbors to explore the idea of becoming hosts. They advocated for community support of the idea and got the word out to the traveling public about this brave new concept of hospitality. They educated the American public that the personal attention of devoted hosts was truly an experience they should try. As the industry thrived, the need for more education was apparent.
The RSA’s are on the front lines providing hosts with information affecting the industry. Staying informed about new regulations, advising hosts about upgrading their properties, which amenities guests are asking for most, what types of services are requested most often by guests, and helping hosts to set room rates. Guests were not only educated with information about specific properties but also with helping them to be “better” guests. For the novice B&Bers it was extremely important to know that with the personal service comes responsibilities. Arriving approximately as stated, respecting the property and their fellow guests. After all, you will see each other around the breakfast table in the morning.
For most small properties, deciding where to spend your promotion dollars is a challenge. Your RSA can pool the resources of many properties for the promotion of all. Most RSA’s publish directories and other materials distributed to guests, at tourists venues, and at public events like trade shows. An RSA who books in several geographic areas and promotes all their areas to all guests thus broadening the possibility that the guest will call again when planning another trip. RSAs have websites which promote the properties they represent. Many feature photos and provide a one stop shopping experience for the traveler. RSAs have toll free phone numbers and e-mail. These resources all encourage the guest to contact the RSA.
RSA’s have established office hours so the guest speaks with a real live voice. Experience shows that if a guest does not get a prompt response from the host, they simply look elsewhere. The reservation service answers inquiries and describes the properties most likely to meet the guests needs and desires. This screening function is very important. When a new host opens their doors they sometimes are too anxious to book guests. For example, if they fail to explain adequately that they are an adults only property and children, even an infant that will sleep in the parents bed end eat no breakfast, are not a welcomed guest, they may face the dilemma of what to do when the guest arrives child in tow. It is very easy to be persuaded to bend the rules when you want guests and you want to be perceived as a gracious host. The RSA can screen guests and find them accommodations that meet their needs. This is just one example of the many questions that need to be asked and assessed in the reservation process. Policies governing smoking, pets, and cancellations need to be discussed. Guests also need to be screened for dietary restrictions, problems with climbing stairs, or pet allergies.
Many of the less glamorous tasks it takes to put the heads in the beds can be provided by a RSA. The paperwork of confirmations, deposit processing, and credit card charges are all handled by the RSA, leaving the hosts with those tasks necessary for a clean, comfortable and enjoyable stay. The feedback and quality control a RSA can provide after the stay is a valuable tool for any innkeeper. Response cards can be sent anonymously back to the RSA. Guest most likely will not point out to a host problems or concerns but will provide this feedback to the RSA. This is an important way to learn how to improve. Other services that an RSA can provide a member host include phone coverage while the host takes a much deserved vacation, credit card processing of deposits, and consulting regarding zoning and regulatory issues. During the home visit, the RSA owner or staff can provide assistance to make your guest rooms more inviting, share time management tips and help you organize your reservation process. Every long time host has a story about the guest who arrived expecting a room only to find that the host was not expecting them.
The function of a RSA is to help you fill your rooms but more importantly, they are there to help you fill those rooms with guests who will arrive knowing what you and your property has to offer. No surprises. For a listing of RSA members of The National Network (TNN) visit www.go-lodging.com.
Authors: Susan White founded Anna’s Victorian Connection, a reservation service for RI, in 1979. Carol Matos owns and operates the American Country Collection of Bed and Breakfast in eastern New York as well as her own B&B. “Sparks” Rejent Moeller owns the design firm “Second Opinion Interiors” and has done residential and commercial design for six years.
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