I have visited many bed and breakfasts around the world, and have had the opportunity to speak with many innkeepers about their marketing efforts. Not that there’s any competition from one region to the next, but I’ve seen a definite advancement in Europe in the use of online marketing techniques over the U.S., or North America for that matter. Of course there are no favorites in the online marketing game, but I’m seeing is that innkeepers in Europe have been willing to embrace internet technology more openly than in North America.
For North America’s $3.5 billion bed and breakfast industry, there is a tremendous opportunity. True, the number of B&Bs in the U.S. has increased 20-fold in the last twenty years. But the opportunity for growth in marketing capability, especially on the internet, is overwhelming. European bed and breakfast owners have been more than willing to take risks, and embrace online marketing technology. While 95% of all U.S. B&Bs have their own website domain, only a small percentage take advantage of the latest online booking capabilities. In Europe, a much smaller percentage of B&B owners have their own domains. But, they have taken advantage of using regional and global online reservation services. They have begun to use marketing through subdomains offered from many ISPs like AOL, and they are in the lead with regard to offering online booking directly on their own websites (where they own their own domains).
European B&B’s are hungry to take part in the growth in travel and tourism that their countries have experienced in recent years, particularly in Eastern Europe. To share in this growth, they are most interested in exploring any and all ideas about enhancing their marketing strategies online. Let’s take for example the concept of online booking. In today’s online B&B marketing world, online booking means taking advantage of a service provider that offers online availability calendar capability and instant confirmed bookings 24/7.
However, let’s recall that a significant portion of online travel industry marketing still reverts to 1980’s style technology. This is why most bed and breakfasts in the U.S. that grew up since this period still use online booking services that do NOT offer instant confirmation or online availability checks. To be clear, online booking does not include any service that doesn’t offer the capability to maintain availability online, offer real-time availability checks to guests, and instant confirmed reservations 24/7. Some services pretend to offer real online booking, and are used by many B&Bs in the U.S. But what these services offer is really just a glorified form of request-service. Some offer the guise of instant confirmation, only to prompt the innkeeper to check their availability within 24 hours to provide a real confirmation. This is not real-time instant confirmation. This is just a step above email or telephone.
Bed and Breakfast owners in Europe have realized that travelers searching for reservations on the internet do so precisely because they can book in real-time. Online purchases are frequently quick and impulsive. Travelers booking online demand instant gratification. Because of this they have embraced much of the latest online technology offered for such purposes, including online credit card processing. It seems like we are now in the perfect environment for American innkeepers to play catch-up, and to embrace the latest online technology that can now lead to increased profits. Many innkeepers have convinced themselves that their guests don’t want them to delve into new technologies, and expect them to stay in the backward days of manual bookkeeping. This is a fallacy that some have repeated to themselves, only to sacrifice profits. Travelers are staying closer to home, gas prices are up, Euro currency rates are up. There is a big opportunity for B&Bs and small hotels and hostels of all kinds to gain a bigger slice of the tourism pie.
For the foreseeable future, I look forward to seeing how Europe’s bed and breakfasts continue to innovate and use the internet to advance their businesses. But, equally, I look to see how North American B&Bs can take advantage of the huge opportunity lying before them.