Email Marketing is One of the Key Marketing Options that B&Bs need to Own

@ Sign sitting in a shopping cartMost Bed and Breakfasts don’t do email marketing, or they do it sporadically with no rhyme or reason behind content, consistency or branding.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post, Email Marketing for Bed and Breakfasts and I find myself over and over again when asked by B&Bs, what are some things that B&Bs need to do for marketing and over and over again I recommend email marketing, so I thought it was time to revisit this.

Why do I say B&Bs need to Own email marketing? Because until they own up to the fact that it’s one of the best ways to retain past guests and convert lookers to bookers, they will continue to spend time, and money on non-targeted marketing that brings them a fraction of the return on both time and money investment.

Yes, I teach social media for a living, so yes I am a big fan of social media marketing, but I also help create and assist with email marketing campaigns for B&Bs and other businesses and I know without a shadow of a doubt that email marketing is one of the very best investments in time and money that innkeepers can spend time on online doing.

Yes, it can be time-consuming (but so is changing sheets and cooking breakfasts).

Yes, it’s a pain to be coming up with new ideas and content (but so is coming up with the same for social media including blog posts).

Yes, there can be a learning curve learning the online channels for email distribution like Mail Chimp and Constant Contact among many others (but it’s not a huge one and all of the online offerings have extensive help pages many including videos).

Yes, starting from scratch can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a base of legitimately sourced emails to start with, (but with so many places to get emails, asking guests if they would like to be added, adding an email subscription form to social media and to your website/blog among other things it doesn’t take much time to build up a decent list).

Yes there can be an expense, (but even using paid offerings (Mailchimp is free for 2,000 Contacts and 10,000 email sends per month, Constant Contact $20.00 on up per month to start as examples) the cost and return of email marketing far outweigh Facebook ads and Boosted posts and pretty much any other social media advertising as well as Google PPC ads).

Having the mindset (and the time) to sit down and tackle doing email for a B&B is what most innkeepers tell me is the biggest challenge. And so they don’t do them. They almost always say, “we know we should be doing them”, but they don’t do them.

I say this to Innkeepers, put a price tag on your time. If you start out with an email list of only 200 people, if you title the email subject line enticingly and put some decent content in, the odds that someone will book a room or an upcoming vacation is exponentially higher than putting some posts out on Facebook to your page with 600 likes (of which under 3% of the people who have liked your page will see the post unless you pay to play, i.e. Boost a post).

If it takes you an hour to write and distribute your email blast and your time is worth to you $50.00 an hour, even $100.00 per hour, and you get 2 bookings for it isn’t it worth it? Once you are comfortable sending emails out, the time it takes decreases dramatically. Once your email list grows, the amount of bookers you get from hooking them in from an email also increases dramatically. This is your time = incoming reservations.

If you haven’t done email marketing before and you have just dabbled, before you jump in headfirst, do some ground laying.

Looking for ideas? Start subscribing to other email newsletters, not just other B&Bs, hotels have some terrific ones they put out (remember they have huge marketing teams working on them), so do other lodging types as well as many other types of businesses. I’ve seen some excellent emails and subject lines from online retailers, similar to hotels, these guys have huge marketing teams as well working on them, lurk and learn, lurk and learn, and stalk thy competition (if they do email marketing),

When you start getting emails in (and yes I know it’s more email) but it’s also market research so well worth it. Make sure you eyeball these on a smartphone as well, some emails look dandy on a desktop but not so good when you are trying to read it in 3 X 6 format, even mobile-friendly templates sometimes don’t render well if photos or text is too small to read easily.

Step one is categorizing them. In Gmail for example, I have a folder for B&B’s newsletters, I have another for Associations, another for restaurants, another for misc. interesting email newsletters and quite a few more. Pretty much all email programs hosted online and off (Outlook etc.) let you put in emails in folders or categories, but these doesn’t get utilized much for marketing research purposes.

Step two is making some notes. Do you like the layouts, do you like the color schemes, what color schemes and layouts can you do that will be in line with your already developed online branding. Don’t read them one by one as they come in, as they come in, just stick them in the folders and look at when you have more then a few to review. You will start to see some trends, some good, some bad, learn from both.

Step three is writing down and bookmarking Subject lines, they don’t have to be B&B related, start keeping track of the emails you get, especially ones from businesses and jot down “why” the subject line got you to open it if it was a marketing email. Did it pique your interest? Did it make you go, “I want to learn more?” Did it make you want to agree (or disagree) with something? Keep track of articles and blog posts too. Bookmark them. A local spa’s email titled last year, “The Secret to the Best Massage You Will Ever Have,” can easily be revamped and re-tweaked. “The Secret to the Best Vacation You Will Ever Have”.

The subject line and pre-header are the keys to a good marketing email and to good open rates. You can spend hours, nay days on perfecting the perfect content for your email newsletter but if you can’t get someone to open the email in the first place, then all was for naught.

Step four is deciding the content, and by deciding content, figure out what things you are going to touch on, don’t write the content itself for it. Decide whether you are going to feature three topics (maybe four if you wrote a recent blog article you want to draw attention to) or more, I wouldn’t suggest too many more. So an example would be, One: your special offer for the month or a special for an upcoming holiday. Two would be a local event that gets a big draw (coinciding with the special offer you have) and three, a recipe (or another topic). Fini.

Once you have your categories in place, figure out your marketing schedule. 3 weeks to once per month sends seems to work well for B&Bs, 6 weeks between at the very most. Quarterly emails seem to have a much higher rate of unsubscribes because people actually forgot they were subscribed. I’d be cautious with sending out too many emails per month unless they are extremely targeted emails as people get email fatigue and it also leads to high unsubscribe rates unless you have truly excellent, useful content to share every single time. Get out your calendar and make a commitment.

Give yourself a week lead time to put it in your schedule so you can start working on your selected content and portion it out.

The Monday before the date you have scheduled to do the email blast, take 10 minutes and write up your special offer (it may already be written and posted on your website or blog). Make sure you have a good eye catching, legally sourced (or your own or your pbotographer’s) picture ready to go with it.

Tuesday, spend 5 minutes researching that event you are going to include (you may have already gotten the information for your website or blog as well, so you are already done with that aspect), Make sure you have a good eye catching, legally sourced (or your own or your photographer’s) picture ready to go with it, I always recommend buying photos from a legitimate stock photo site is recommended if you don’t have your own to use. I happen to like If you are going to use a photo from the event page, make sure you get permission, preferably in writing.

Wednesday, make sure your recipe (with a photo) is good to go, or whatever other topic you pick. This can change but make sure you have a list of ideas for them in advance (as alternatives) that you can cherry-pick from, sometimes garnering that last idea for an email is what sinks many of them ever getting done.

Thursday, set up your email in a draft and spellcheck it, make sure the links work and send a test draft to yourself, also check the test draft on mobile as many people will be reading it on their smartphones.

Photos with too much detail don’t look great on smartphones so sending a room photo or food photo with too much small detail in it will not get the impact that a simple, clear well lit, uncluttered photo will gather.

Friday, gear up for a busy booked weekend and not have to worry about spending lots of time over the weekend (when you need to spend important time with guests and the actual physical running of your B&B) and be ready to send it out at the day and time of your choosing the following week stress free.

What’s the perfect time to send out a B&B newsletter? That’s a great question I don’t have a perfect answer for, it depends on your guest demographic and geographic bases. If you are an East Coast innkeeper and the majority of your guests (and email addresses) are from drastically different time zones, sending it out on Tuesday at 10 AM may land your email in busy email boxes of people who have not yet started the workday or perhaps arrived in the middle of the night.

A tip when asking for email addresses, get some location information from guests or signup forms (make sure you have a GDPR policy in place too) and segment your mailings.

  • A few lodging email titles I’ve bookmarked over years that I just love:
    How to Have an Awesome Vacation in 5 Easy Steps
    Relaxation Trends for 2020
    Tips for Choosing the Right B&B for Your Next Romantic Getaway
    Breakfasts that We Love and Why You Will Love Them Too!
    Ways to Get Away and Relax Without Breaking the Bank
    Wrong Ways to Book a Room and How to Book it the Right Way
    Key Benefits of Taking a Vacation in New England
    3 Rules For the Making the Most of Your Vacation
    10 Point Checklist for Getting Away and Getting Away from it ALL!
    B&B or Airbnb, 10 Reasons why to stay at a REAL B&B
    How to Create the Perfect Vacation and Remember it Forever
    How to Save Yourself from a Terrible Vacation
    How to Take Control of Your Time Off
    Why REAL B&Bs Beat Airbnbs every time
    How a Fabulous Breakfast can Inspire You To Embrace Life
    How Our B&B Could Save Your Relationship (this was a hotel originally ?
    What No One Tells You About about Vacation Rentals
    Where to Find the Secret to Relax and Refresh Your Body, Mind, and Spirit.
    Why Not All Vacation Getaways Are Created Equal
    The Ultimate Vacation Cheat Sheet

Please innkeepers, go start a regular email blast to past-guests and new ones, you will find the return on it is well worth it.

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).