Email Marketing for Bed and Breakfasts

Email marketing is one of the key marketing tools that Bed and Breakfast owners should be using. While there are hundreds of email marketing services out there, each Bed and Breakfast should test several providers and see which works the best for them. All of them offer different options and a wide variety of pricing. Some services are free (and in some cases you get what you pay for, or don’t), some subscription based and some pay as you go.

Each B&B needs to decide which works the best for their own marketing needs, as well as evaluating which one they find the most user friendly. I mention this because I’ve had many discussions with B&Bs who have tried email marketing prior and gotten soured on it, as they had tried a service that was not user friendly. Try some demos, ask for feedback and recommendations from other B&Bs, and if they will let you, see what the back end looks like. I find most computer programs fairly easy to use, but if I try out a program that’s not user friendly, I will be the first one to not suggest it and not use it myself.  Marketing is painful in itself for most small businesses, having to use something that gives you a headache, and makes you frustrated, just isn’t worth it in the long run. There are dozens of different options out there, do a little legwork and save yourself the long term hassle.

Why use an email service solution for your marketing, instead of just sending emails out from your own email service?

First and most importantly, you need to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

The CAN-SPAM Act, a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.


Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email – for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line – must comply with the law. 

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly. But following the law isn’t complicated. Here’s a rundown of CAN-SPAM’s main requirements:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

Why should you have in your email marketing provider?

  • Most email providers including emails sent through your domain, have bulk limits on them, excessive use of ccing or bccing can cause your email provider, and/or ISP (Internet service provider) to label you as a spammer and blacklist your email address.
  • The ability to design an email that’s mobile friendly and attractive to the potential or repeat guest. Most email systems like Gmail or Outlook do not have email templates that you can be creative with to make an  attractive mailing. Most of the professional platforms offer mobile friendly templates to use.
  • The ability to manage and easily segment your mailing lists.
  • The ability to be able to track whether email was delivered, whether it was opened, and how many clicks or clickthroughs you received on the email.

Some notes from a recent seminar I did at the PAII Innkeeping Conference:

Where to get emails:

  • Newsletter Sign up on a website, blog, Facebook page
  • From your reservations system and emails *use a segmented list
  • Guest Books
  • Postcards in rooms asking*

Email Facts:

  • 33% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone
  • Newsletter Half Life: using the exact same subject line for each newsletter can decrease open rates
  • Subject Line Strength: keep your subject to 50 characters or less with the exception of highly targeted audiences
  • The average working professional receives 121 emails a day
  • 23% of emails are opened within 60 minutes after being sent, there are some who do not check email until a day or two later. To be safe, send out event/dated emails 3-5 days prior to an event.

Subject Lines:

Subject Line Don’ts:

  • Ask a yes/no question (Do you like Vacations?)
  • Are overly specific (Get a free room night)
  • Are too vague (We have some nice special offers……)
  • Sounds like a newsletter (Cape May’s March Newsletter)
  • Aren’t believable (Mindblowing Savings OFF our Special Packages!)
  • Sound familiar (Got Snow? Although in some cases if something is trending it can be utilized, i.e. Winter is coming”)

Subject Line Do’s:

  • Appealing (relevant to pain) (Do you need to renew your romance with your significant other?)
  • Useful (goal-oriented) (Leave your troubles behind and de-stress at our spa)
  • Specific yet also vague (Looking for free room nights? Want to know more?)
  • Believable (Some of the best savings you will probably find this year!)
  • As short as possible (2-4 words is best) (less than 8 is second best)

Some Clever Subject Line Ideas:

  • Be One of the The Inn Crowd
  • Snowed Inn with the One You Love
  • Check out a Suite Deal!
  • Yule adore this special offer
  • You’re missing out on points……
  • Can Your Vacation Be Saved?
  • Attention Workaholics Who Need a Vacation!
  • 10 Things you didn’t know about_____

When to mail:

  • Never mail on Monday’s
  • Best Mail Days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Best Mailing times are between 10 AM and 11:30 and 12:30-2:30, keep in mind Time Zones
  • Opens on Weekends are low
  • Friday emails (morning only) can be useful for last minute special offers

Delivery and Open Rate/Bounce Rates:

Hospitality Industry Averages

  • Delivery Rate 98%
  • Open Rate 19%
  • Click Rate 2.1-10.6% (Average 9-10%)

Emails to Potential Guests/Past Guests:

Must Haves

  • Good Pictures
  • High readability
  • Mobile Friendly

Whats Interesting

  • Upcoming events
  • Recipes (Must be easy, must have a photo) with a hook i.e. “Get this yummy recipe”
  • Offers over 30% Off or (Big) Upgrades (Credit + incentive)
  • Last Minute booking incentives
  • Gift Certificates, focus on anytime is a good time to buy, i.e. Birthdays, Anniversaries, Employee gifts, etc.
  • Why Stay at B&B articles

Don’t Do

  • Offers that are low in perceived value
  • Social Media, unless you have an incentive for readers to check out.
  • Recipes that are average or that sound difficult to make.
  • The B&B in the news, unless it’s unique and interesting, awards are not interesting as an example, neither is getting on a register of historic place, but something like they made the local news because Oprah stayed there is interesting.

Segmenting Lists:

  • New Subscribers
  • Past Guests
  • “Special” Guests, ie ones that have written great reviews, multi stayers, most pleasant, etc.
  • Anniversary, Special Occasion
  • Geographic/Seasonal
  • Targeted, LGBT, Kid Friendly, Pet Friendly, Antique Lovers, Outdoors lovers, Event Specific

Avoiding the Spam Filter: SPAM filters can be triggered for a variety of reasons, causing your email to skip recipients’ inboxes and land straight in their spam box. One of the easiest ways to avoid the filters is by carefully choosing the words you use in the email subject line. Here is a list of words or word phrases commonly found in B&B outgoing emails in their subject lines that are known to cause problems and increase the chances of your email getting caught in a spam trap.

Words to avoid: Affordable, Best price, Incredible deal, Satisfaction, Visit our website, 50% off, Cannot be combined with any other offer, The best rates, Weekend getaway, All new, Amazing, Outstanding values,  Promise you, Act Now!, Great offer, Offer expires, Now only, Special promotion, Limited time.

Email marketing is one of the best ROI (Return on Investment) and ROTI (Return on Time Investment) platforms that B&Bs to can use to promote their Bed and Breakfast, I highly encourage them to investigate email marketing and use a good service provider out there to help them manage their lists and email signups (plus they stay on the good side of CAN-SPAM).