The most effective Internet lodging guides
By Scott and Allison Crumpton
Determining where to wisely spend your advertising dollars can be a big mystery. Solicited daily by Internet lodging directories, sleazy marketing outfits and amateur webmasters, innkeepers are forced to endure a variety of sales pitches. Sifting through the valid and invalid offers is often a waste of time and money. Even worse, many solicitations are nothing but scams created to separate you from your hard earned cash.
Since internet lodging guides represent roughly a third of all visits to your website and a good percentage of your reservations, knowing where to list is vital to your inn's success. But don't despair as help is on the way. We've spelled out where to be listed and provided information on companies who can take care of this time consuming task.
There are four principal ways to measure the effectiveness of an internet lodging guide. The first two methods are for determining a guide's value before you buy. The second two methods are valuable after you have ordered the service or in determining whether to renew your listing.
1. Free trial offers are a surefire way to try before you buy. The next time a lodging guide contacts you, be sure to ask for a free trial period. It's a great way to turn annoying sales calls into potential reservations. If they are unwilling to put their product to the test, why should you?
2. Personal Referrals from other innkeepers are another way to ascertain the value of a lodging guide especially if they don't offer free trials. If a lodging guide brings an innkeeper business, they'll certainly know about it. Be sure to ask several different innkeepers as very few are signed up for more than a handful of lodging guides.
3. Stats programs are by far the most reliable source of information in evaluating the source of traffic to your site. If you don't have access to your website stats, be sure to ask your webmaster for assistance. If your host does not provide a statistics package, you can install the popular and free Extreme Tracker (www.extreme-dm.com) or the more accurate and exhaustive Web Trends Live (www.webtrendslive.com). A stats program is essential in determining the best marketing plan for your inn and whether a certain guide delivers the hits.
4. The problem with stats programs is not all lodging guides are designed to simply drive traffic to your website. Many of the top guides provide all the information and photos necessary for potential guests to make a decision. For these guides, you will have to rely on your own written logs or memory to determine their value and effectiveness.
For the last six years, we have been reading web stats for hundreds of B&B websites and consistently ask innkeepers what lodging guides are working for them. The following is a compilation of some of these results and our recommendations.
The following nationwide internet directories have proven themselves over time. They provide a page or more of photos and information on your inn rather than just a link back to your website. This is usually enough information for the traveler to make a reservation which is why these guides "might" not rank highly in your stats report. In the case of VirtualCities, they do not allow links to your website but are listed here due to their effectiveness.
2. BedandBreakfast.com (Silver Package)
3. VirtualCities.com (aka 1st Travelers' Choice)
The simplest way to determine whether a lodging guide is effective is by checking your stats. Having done so for hundreds of B&B sites, the following top performers are bringing plenty of hits to innkeepers' websites. Please note, the first five are generic types of sites but the principal holds true no matter where you're located.
1. Your local B&B association website
2. Your local chamber or visitors center website
3. A regional B&B directory (if one exists)
4. Your state B&B association website
5. Various local city links for major attractions in your town. For example, skihood.com is a great one for the Mt. Hood/Hood River B&B's.
There are hundreds of lodging guides on the net but due to their lack of consistent performance we did not list them here. Thankfully, the plethora of lodging guides is decreasing as the true performers break away from the pack.
There are only a handful of internet lodging guides which consistently either directly provide reservations to your inn or visitors to your website. We have detailed our top picks based on years of research. While not simple to implement, listings with these guides are necessary and effective. If you're the type of innkeeper who is web savvy, you shouldn't have too much trouble signing up for these services. For the rest of you, help is only a phone call away.
Generic internet promotion companies are a dime a dozen and can be expensive and ineffective in the lodging industry. Thankfully, there are a few specialized companies for Bed and Breakfasts who provide promotion in addition to web design and hosting services. If you're looking for a firm to quickly and expertly handle increasing your reservations, several companies already provide such plans. You shouldn't have to look far for the help you need.