Dear Journalists, please learn the difference between an Airbnb and a REAL B&B

Yes, this is a bit of a rant and I won’t apologize for it because this makes me quite angry, actually, it totally fries me. I work with REAL B&Bs, and yes we do encourage B&Bs to list on Airbnb, know and utilize thy frenemy so to speak. It takes less of a commission then the OTAs (Booking.com, Expedia, etc.) among other things. A REAL B&B is one that is licensed, insured and yes inspected (at least in the US) to serve breakfast, many having to take Servsafe Courses as well as having many other business licenses to operate as a legitimate business.

I have a Google alert set up for Bed and Breakfasts daily for new Bed and Breakfasts opening, B&Bs in the news, new ideas on specials and packages that I can suggest to other B&Bs, B&Bs closing, a write up about them and other things B&B related. Pretty much every damn day in my alerts, I get at least one “New B&B opening in XXX”, “Bed and Breakfast offers Unique Package to Visitors”, “Bed and Breakfast Burns to the Ground, people barely escape,” “B&B fights new zoning rules”, “Man dies at B&B when using swing, branch falls and kills him,” “Kitten B&B open in New Jersey” and on and on. I have to admit that the last one was super cute but I digress. All of these headlines are NOT about REAL B&Bs, they are about Airbnbs, which many journalists synonymously interchange these words throughout the articles as if it were the same thing.

I have nothing personally against Airbnb or the average person running a small-scale Airbnb, but the industry I work with, REAL B&Bs, are most definitely affected by it. I know way too many B&Bs that have gone out of business because they can’t compete with market and lodging saturation from local Airbnbs.

Why would someone stay at a REAL B&B if they can stay at an Airbnb for cheaper? AH HA, So they think anyway. If one adds up the costs of staying at an Airbnb, plus Airbnb fees, plus cleaning fees, it is generally comparable to what the local B&B costs for the same type of room, but a real B&Bs costs already include those cleaning fees and amenities built-in, plus you get breakfast. AND if you break a leg going down those pocket stairs in the back, they do have liability insurance to cover it (Unlike most Airbnbs).

Not even going there about Airbnbs serving food, aside from the fact that you go to an Airbnb and get deathly ill, do you think their insurance will cover it? Probably not. Enough said (for now). From a long history of food service on my end, I’d get up in arms if a local place opened up its door and called itself a café, but had no inspections, no visits from “the Man”, no legal venue to serve food at. I’d have a cow.

Grandma renting out her spare room because she needs to supplement her Social Security, good for her! Parents renting out their son’s room to help pay off college tuition, I get it! Landlords taking whole rental properties off the regular housing market, in Seattle for instance, I found one apartment building with over 50 units, all renting them out on Airbnb. No, definitely no! For those out there that think Airbnb is the next best thing after sliced bread, ever have a discussion with someone looking for a long-term house rental in New Orleans or Toronto? Please do! It’s very enlightening.

I could go on about the unfairness of REAL B&Bs having to pay all of the things that a regular business has to pay, regular taxes, inspection fees, liability insurance, advertising, having to pay for business taxes including a an actual website to advertise, commissions to the OTAs, ridiculous website accessibility lawsuits, etc, but that’s not the point, it’s that many journalists are helping blur the line and spread the misconception that an Airbnb is the same exact thing as a REAL B&B.

It springs to mind a conversation I had with a friend fairly recently, she had just come back from traveling to the Hudson Valley in New York state. “Oh we stayed at this lovely Bed and Breakfast in the Upper Valley! It was so cute, the lady had a couple of small children who were really sweet and she made this fantastic sausage frittata for us the day we left”. “Which B&B?” I asked, as I know many of them there but none sprang to mind where the innkeeper’s small children were underfoot. “Oh I don’t know, she didn’t have a name, we found her on Airbnb.” It was (after looking it up because I was curious) an actual Airbnb, not a B&B, but my friend didn’t know it wasn’t the same thing, we had a rather lengthy conversation after that about the differences.

Ironically she went on to say that as they were driving back to Pennsylvania, both she and her husband got quite sick in the afternoon (remember that frittata?), she blamed it on the restaurant they ate at the night before. On average food poisoning takes two to six hours to affect someone and while eating contaminated food occasionally can take a few days to affect someone, I’d venture to guess it wasn’t the restaurant food that got her and her hubbie both having to make pit stops every ½ hour on the way home, a 5 hour trip, apparently it was not a fun drive back, can’t imagine why. No comment from the peanut gallery on that one because nothing is needed……..

And people wonder why there is so much confusion about is it an Airbnb or a REAL B&B, journalists are not helping. I am not going to cry fake news, because it’s not fake, it’s uneducated. I’ve had over a dozen conversations with journalists doing articles in the past year about B&Bs, the state of the industry and other topics, and to almost every one of them I had to explain the difference between an Airbnb and a REAL actually living and breathing B&B, and it’s sad that it takes that to have to open their eyes. For those that think I have a hard on for Airbnb, please re-read the 6th paragraph down, I don’t but I do have an issue with them not being differentiated from REAL B&Bs, and for large landlords making money at the expensive of people in tight housing markets.

Please, dear Journalists, read up on the difference between an Airbnb and a REAL B&B, talk to some Airbnbs and REAL B&Bs and educate yourself on the difference so you can help educate others, look into some of the state and regional B&B associations many of which have inspection and other standards for their members, confusing the masses is quite frankly not helping anyone and it’s certainly not helping innkeepers who can actually claim the title of innkeeper legally. ☹

What do you get when you stay at a B&B and how to choose one properly

Last week a rather nasty article got published online by Country Living Magazine, 6 Reasons Why I Will Never Stay at a Bed and Breakfast Again.  I am not even going to go there in terms of what I think about the article or the author, read it yourself and draw your own conclusions, aside from wondering why it would take 2 years to write a snarky snippy article about a B&B you stayed at. There is always Tripadvisor to vent your wrath on (and no review there at that time mind you.)

 

There have been some great rebuttal articles on this; Dear Country Living Magazine: Point and Counterpoint and What a Bed and Breakfast Owner Wants You to Know About Staying at Small Inns, and I am sure there will be more as it hit a rather big nerve with the industry as a whole.

 

The article hit a nerve with me as well, as I work with and within the industry, I work with PAII which has been around for a long time, but mostly it hit a nerve because many of my personal clients are B&Bs, and very many of my friends are innkeepers, and that article portrays ALL B&Bs in a bad light, painting a very broad brush stroke across an industry that makes itself unique through it’s individuality. Plus using horrible Getty stock images to illustrate the article (and realistically people may think they were actual pictures of the inn) is pretty darn insulting. (unlike the stock photos in that piece, the photos in this are from real B&Bs, the top is from the 1896 House in Williamstown, MA, the others are from the Glynn House Inn in Ashland, NH and the Highland Lake Inn in Andover, NH, and I took them so I know they are realistic and true images of the B&Bs).

 

B&Bs are all unique, a few can remind one of an elderly auntie’s house, but others are art deco, to mid-century mod, to Victorian and some are much more modern. I’ve stayed in hundreds and hundreds of B&Bs over the years, and every single one is different.

 

In all of those stays I only have had two not so great experiences, one was at an inn someone else booked for me (and it would not have been my first choice based on their website, and looking at their reviews, and it was not horrible, just not my cuppa tea) and the second was the upstairs room above ours ended up being inhabited by a couple of drunken revelers who were practicing the art of gliding hotel (or B&B) furniture for most of the night, this was no fault of the B&B itself, just bad guests.

 

The quote from Terri Petrovits commentary, “Some people aren’t ‘B&B people,” is entirely true. People who like to stay at B&Bs, like to stay at them for a reason, because they are all unique, and you can find one or two, or a dozen to suit, where ever you like all over the world. Horsefarm B&Bs, stately historic homes filled with antiques, pet friendly B&Bs, Nautical B&Bs, upscale Lux B&Bs, Rustic B&Bs, B&Bs filled with knickknacks, Romantic B&Bs, Themed B&Bs and B&Bs filled with carefully chosen décor that is clean, sleek and modern. You name it, there is a B&B out there to suit, and if none of them do, then stay in a cold, boring hotel, and or a unregulated unsafe Airbnb, your just not a B&B person and that’s ok ?

 

I’d just like to counterpoint some things from the article “6 Reasons Why I Will Never Stay at a Bed and Breakfast Again” so that when you are looking for a B&B to stay at, you know what to expect when you stay and book at one.

 

First “The early bird gets the scones”. B&Bs have set hours for a reason for breakfast, most will be very accommodating if you need to leave early, or miss breakfast, but you do need to try to let them know prior. Innkeepers work pretty much 24/7, when they are done with breakfast, they have to clean up, make beds, clean rooms, take reservations, engage with guests, and all the rest of the million things one has to do to run a business full time, they can’t just sit around in the kitchen all day waiting for stragglers. Running a real B&B bears absolutely no relation to the Newhart TV show.

 

In the couple of instances, I’ve missed breakfast, (i.e. staying up very late the night before working on a presentation) the innkeepers have gone out of the way to rummage me up some homebaked muffins and fresh fruit. This is more than you would ever get at a restaurant (or a hotel) if you showed up after service was over.

 

Awkward conversations over breakfast”. B&Bs are all different, some have communal dining tables, some have individual tables within a dining room (how this is terribly different from sitting in a hotel restaurant, aside from B&Bs having much better food and better service etc. is beyond me.) But if sitting at a communal table is not your fancy, find out first, most B&Bs have dining room photos on their websites, and you can always ask. My husband refuses to stay at a B&B with me that has a communal table, because he doesn’t want to socialize, I personally love it. Ask. It’s YOUR vacation.

 

Where’s my coffee?” I like strong coffee; my favorite is the kind where the spoon can stand up in it. But not everyone does. Every B&B I have ever visited serves a different brand of coffee, and a different strength of brew.

 

Ok, coffee too strong, or coffee too weak? How about you ask the innkeeper for something else, or another cup of differently brewed coffee. I’ve been in several B&Bs where I considered the coffee a bit on the weak side, but it appeared most of the other guests were sucking it down happily, so I asked nicely and guess what? The innkeepers made me another pot! Perfection! And by the way, many B&Bs have self-service Keurig machines, so you can get your caffeine fix at any time.

 

The rooms are from another decade”. Now this one is VERY broad generalization of the industry, and quite frankly downright wrong. While some B&Bs are old fashioned and have antiques in every room, and yes, a few do still have doilies, many of them do not. Of the 2 dozen B&Bs I’ve stayed at in the last year, only one would I call a doily inn, and I don’t mean that as a sarcastic or nasty statement. The inn was decorated with 50s chic, and I adored it. It was quaint, it was comfortable, the bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in, the pillows were to die for, the rosemary hand soap was so lovely smelling I wanted to eat it, the innkeepers adorable (they were in their early 70s) and the breakfast incredible. I usually prefer more modern B&Bs and many B&Bs are. I stayed in a B&B last month that was luxury defined; soaking tubs, Molton Brown Amenities, Ceccotti furniture, Silk-bamboo bathrobes and truffled eggs for breakfast, and Innkeepers in their mid 40s. Innkeepers run the gamut of ages from 30s to 70s, and their B&Bs run the gamut of tastes and styles. That’s part of the appeal of B&Bs. Uniqueness.

 

There are few modern amenities” Another VERY broad generalization of the industry. Most B&Bs have TVs and many of them are quite large (but generally tastefully staged), rooms may also include smart phone docks, and other modern electronics, and did I mention WIFI? Most B&Bs have free WIFI, vs hotels where you have to pay through the nose for it, and most times it’s horrible, or an Airbnb where WIFI may be totally nonexistent.

 

Yes, there are B&Bs with no TVs or small TVs, but some people want to go on vacation and turn technology off, the tiny TVs are there for those that “have” to get their fix. If having cable access is so important to you, that you need to have it on while on vacation in the first place, maybe you need to rethink that just a little, and maybe you should check out the website, look at the room photos and read the descriptions. If you can’t see or read online that they have or have not 100 inch screen TVs, and it’s that important to you, Ask!

 

The referenced electric fireplace you probably won’t run into in most B&Bs, and if you do and have an issue with it, please save yourself a second bad night of sleep (unlike this lady) and enquire about it with the innkeepers after the first night, instead of bemoaning two nights of it. Or 2 years later……..

 

They’re overpriced”. Yet another VERY broad generalization of the industry. Yes, there are pricey B&Bs out there, but most are quite affordable for what you get, they are generally cheaper than hotels and while you may say, “stay at an Airbnb, it’s cheaper!” Look carefully at the comparable rates, Airbnb rentals are generally equivalent in price, if not more money than a B&B, when all the costs associated with it add up. Fees to Airbnb, plus base rate, plus most have cleaning fees. So, your $99 per night Airbnb rental gets a $50 dollar per night cleaning fee tacked on, plus the 6% – 12% fee that Airbnb tacks on, that’s a bit more expensive than a local B&B at a $130 per night for example (read the fine print in the Airbnb listing). And B&Bs have things that most Airbnbs do not, they are inspected and insured, and their fire alarms work for example, add delicious homemade gourmet breakfasts (or you can have your Cheerios in an Airbnb). And in case of an accident a real B&B has liability insurance, ask the next Airbnb host you go to if they have it, and consider what would happen to you and your family in case of a fire, or an accident at the rental for example.

 

I have yet to stay at hotel aside from several very expensive ones that match the amenities that a B&B has to offer, plus I’ve never stayed at a B&B where you get tagged for using the bottled water in a room at $5 a pop, or a bag of M&Ms for $3.50 unlike at a hotel. Instead at a B&B there are usually beverages available all the time, and free homemade cookies as well. I have yet to stay at a hotel where I have ever had a decent breakfast. Chefs don’t work breakfast at a hotel (I’ve worked in a few so I know the skinny), lowly paid line cooks do, so if you want rubbery scrambled eggs, stay at a hotel instead of a B&B. Even the luxury hotel I stayed in last month in Massachusetts had a horrible breakfast, and I had to pay separately for it to boot.

 

If you want an ideal B&B stay, do a little homework in advance. Look at the website, look at the pictures, read the descriptions, I have yet to see a B&B website that doesn’t state what size bed is in the room. Take a few minutes and go to Tripadvisor, Google and Yelp and read the reviews first. Are there management responses? Check out their social media! If you buy a new car or new stove hopefully you check out the reviews and reliability first before you spend money. If you are going on vacation and you want it to be nice, take a few minutes and do your homework first.

 

If you have questions that are not answered on the website, Ask! Pick up the phone or send an email.

 

If you have an issue at the time of your stay, please mention it to the innkeepers at the time, please don’t wait two years to blindside them with the fact you had some issues with your stay (Or you “think” you had some issues with your stay, and perhaps two years later these were a little confabulated? Or perhaps memory has played fast and lose with a few details for the sake of a snarky article?).

 

The very biggest and most oft repeated complaint I get from innkeepers when I help them figure out how to respond to online reviews properly, is that guests who may have had an issue with something, didn’t mention it at the time of their stay, so it could be corrected or fixed at the time.

 

I have never stayed at a B&B where I had a small (or even large) problem and I mentioned it to the innkeepers and they didn’t try to fix it right away. If you don’t even try to say something, then don’t assume they just “know”, and don’t assume right off they won’t try to fix it.

 

B&Bs and their innkeepers pride themselves on service and hospitality. Innkeepers are not hotel front desk clerks who generally don’t care, innkeepers take pride in their B&Bs because it’s their livelihood.

 

It reminds me of people who used to come eat at my restaurants who would lick the plates clean, tell the waitstaff everything was fine and dandy, “Just lovely!”, and then leave a scathing review about how they didn’t get enough herb butter for their ciabatta rolls, and the salad dressing had way too much garlic in it, so it was almost inedible (funny since they ate it all). Thankfully I only ever had a couple of those, but I feel the innkeepers pain on this point.  If your room is too cold or hot or whatever, mention it, give the innkeepers a chance to at least make it right. While innkeepers are excellent hospitality hosts, I have not yet met any of them that could mind read.

 

Bed and Breakfasts are unique, they are all different, the innkeepers are all different, it’s one of the pleasures of staying at a B&B, because they are not cookie cutter. (But they always have excellent homemade cookies :).

 

I prefer staying at a B&B vs a hotel for a million reasons, food and comfort are key, to name a couple of big points. I will never stay at an Airbnb, because I for one am concerned about things like; does the smoke alarm work? What happens if the host’s dog bites me? What happens if I get food poisoning from food they have made me, or food that’s been improperly stored in the house? Am I covered? Is it safe?

 

Inns and B&Bs are insured and inspected, and that makes additional reasons to stay at them in addition to the great food and hospitality that most B&Bs offer.

 

Please don’t take one unhappy person’s snark at a B&B she stayed at years ago as a representation of our industry as whole, it’s an opinion article and she had her own opinion, not every B&B is perfect, but the vast majority of B&Bs out there try. Do your home work before you stay, whether it be at a hotel, motel, Airbnb or real B&B, and say something if you have an issue no matter where you stay, while you stay, not after. I challenge you to form your own opinions about the B&B industry, and love it as much as I do.

Gaming Airbnb for Innkeepers

Gaming the System

We recently did a VERY well received webinar at PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International) on how to “game” Airbnb, “Airbnb is the frenemy of the legal B&B / Inn world. And while we won’t say, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, we will say, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” If you look at Airbnb as an opportunity because it is cheaper to deal with than most OTAs, take advantage of it and we mean “take advantage” in the purest sense of the word. The non-legal, non-inspected properties are using it, and while we here at PAII are working hard with AHLA to level the playing field so that Airbnb hosts are paying their fair share, let’s not miss an opportunity while we fight. Learn how to leverage an Airbnb listing properly to be able to compete – and beat – those Airbnb illegal rentals stealing business from your property. Learn what pictures, text and additional information to include to make a stand-out Airbnb listing over those that are not legal, while educating the public about why staying at a legal B&B has a lot of benefits over the non-legal listings.” 

The recording is available in the member’s section of the PAII website.

Here are notes from the webinar, gleaned from talking to many B&Bs who are listing, including inn clients who I help manage their listings, and also talking to many very successful Airbnb hosts as well.

Gaming the Algorithm

  • Respond Quickly to every inquiry, Airbnb gives preference to hosts that respond within an hour of email, Even a quick “we will get back to soon with more information” stops the clock.
  • Actively manage your availability calendar, make a few small changes at least once a week.
  • Link your account to social media, Twitter and Facebook.
  • SEO your listing, Create a Headline that’s SEO friendly “Hudson Valley Romantic Suite”, Not “Charming Victorian Mansion in the Heart of the Valley”.
  • Be location and accommodation specific, don’t use catchy phrases or jargon.
  • Do a Google search for relevance, when you label photos of the area, Google Search your description.
  • Share your listing online, FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ etc. often.
  • Review the calendars for each competitor properties, see what their actual prices ranges are, Do a spreadsheet of your competition, high rates, low rates, specials.
  • Link your account to social media, Twitter and Facebook.
  • You have fifty words to get the basics across, look at the area competition and focus on what they DON’T offer.
  • What are your five best selling points?
  • In the end of your description add a call to action. “We book up fast for the weekends, Email us now to guarantee your reservation” or offer a deal, don’t forget if you have specials or offers you can mention them here.
  • Make sure your profile photo is SMILING!
  • Fill out your personal profile giving as much background as possible, the more professional and hospitality related the better.
  • Don’t put your lowest price and lowest price room on, you get the deal seekers and the ones who want to negotiate.
  • Remember use this as a directory that’s good for SEO, don’t expect to get a lot of business from it, but you can if you leverage it correctly.
  • Don’t forget to highlight the legal aspects of the B&B, licensed, insured, plus no room cleaning fees (it is included), Repeat guests won’t book through Airbnb again, they will book direct to avoid having to pay the service fee. Make sure you capture their email address when they come to stay.

Photo Tips

  • 12-15 photos, min. of 5 to show up in mobile search results.
  • 1024 x 683 pixels is the best sizing for listings.
  • Your most important photo is your primary photo, if it’s not interesting enough to click through people won’t, put your best photos first in the listings.
  • Bathroom photos are important.
  • Add text and annotations to your photos to highlight certain aspects.
  • Take your photos in landscape format: Vertical photos won’t showcase your space as well.
  • Use catchy captions on photos, instead of “This is the dining room” jazz it up a bit like “Awake after a good night’s sleep to a delicious homemade breakfast, our Pecan Waffles are a signature recipe!”
  • Non-cluttered rooms get the most bookings.
  • The biggest mistake B&Bs do on is just show just the room that’s available, add area photos and photos of the rest of the house and exterior including some highlights of things to do in the area.
  • Add screenshots of some of your reviews from Tripadvisor, make sure you highlight unique things at your B&B and in your area.

Airbnb resources:

Winning the Battle with Airbnb

Jack North, Mayhurst Inn https://paii.wildapricot.org/resources/Pictures/GET%20A%20VICTORY%20IN%20THE%20WAR%20AGAINST%20AIRBNB.pdf

Online Photo editors

Use composite/collage photos to show multiple aspects of your neighborhood around your B&B in one picture

Showcase your high speed WiFi network by doing a speedtest and adding a screenshot of the results to your listing

A good Internet connection speed varies depending generally in the number of users and the functions of the connection, however, 8 megabits per second is usually considered decent. Connection speeds less than 8 megabits per second are considered slow. There are cable broadband speeds capable of moving at 100 megabits per second.

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