Tips for marketing your guest house or B&B

South Africa was considered one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destination and still offers many opportunities for entrepreneurs. The challenge, of course, is not to get lost in the general clutter that confronts both local and foreign tourists when planning a trip here.

This is particularly true for guest houses and B&Bs run by entrepreneurs who can’t match the advertising and promotional budgets of the big hotel chains. The good news is that there are lots of easy ways to promote a small establishment – one just has to keep close to the needs of the market and be creative.

Business Partners Limited, South Africa’s leading investment group for small and medium enterprises, has over 20 years of experience in the tourism sector. Over the years, the group has distilled its knowledge of this sector and has some valuable tips to offer guest house and B&B proprietors:

Know your guests

It’s important to know exactly what your guests need and to cater for those needs. If you own a youth hostel for divers, they’ll probably be looking for simple, affordable accommodation providing hearty breakfasts, storage space for dive equipment, information about local dives and details of the best value-for-money night-time entertainment.

If, however, you own an exclusive boutique hotel on the Atlantic seaboard, you’ll be catering for a completely different kind of guest, one who is looking for luxury décor, gourmet meals, special features and lots of pampering.

Here are a few questions guest house and B&B owners can ask themselves in order to provide the best possible accommodation and service for the market:

  • Exactly what kind of accommodation do existing and potential guests require? Do they need double rooms, single rooms, en-suite facilities, business facilities, special features and so on?
  • What kind of meals do they need and do you cater for special dietary requirements?
  • Do our guests have any specific or special needs? Do they need safe, off-street parking, en-suite bathroom facilities, separate rooms for children or customised features for the physically-challenged?
  • Is our location unique in any way? Can we offer a sea view, is there a nature walk right outside the door or are we perhaps at the heart of an unusual historical area?
  • Is there anything unique about our service, something that we do and no-one else does, even if it's something small? Do we welcome guests with outlandish cocktails, do we offer a fresh fish braai for those tired divers in the evening, do we offer a free aromatherapy massage with every booking of three days or more?
  • Do we offer any special benefits or conveniences to our guests? For example, do we have a shuttle service to the airport, do we provide game drives, do we accommodate pet owners or do we offer guided tours of local attractions?
  • What are our strengths and weaknesses? Be honest – then concentrate on your strengths and get your weaknesses up to an acceptable standard.

Find your unique selling point/proposition

The good news is that every business has something unique to offer, no matter how many other operators there are in the market. It’s up to you to find that unique selling point, market it and deliver on it, making it a desirable feature of your business. This is what will make visitors seek you out and return again and again.

For example, your establishment could be located somewhere scenic, close to a tourist attraction or provide unique services. Whatever your unique selling point may be, identify it, define it and use it to full advantage in all aspects of your business.

Be smart with your advertising

Advertising of some kind is important for every business and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve huge expense, it just needs to be carefully thought out. If you don’t advertise, it’s a bit like having a bath in the dark – you get a warm feeling, but nobody else knows what’s going on.

The first choice for many guest houses and B&Bs in South Africa is the classified section in publications like Getaway and the Sunday Times Magazine. Relatively affordable, these reach a wide audience. Establishments aimed exclusively at business travellers should advertise similarly in appropriate industry and trade publications and/or newsletters.

The Internet is also a relatively low cost avenue for advertising, and has the added advantage of reaching beyond borders. Do some research and find sites targeting your potential customers.

If you’re watching your budget, advertise at specific times of the year at which you’ll have the best chance of success – before school holidays, a local festival or an upcoming conference.

Harness the Power of e-Business

More and more people are organising their holidays and business trips using the Internet and e-mail, so it’s important not to get left behind on this score.

  1. Consider a listing on one of the country’s trade-specific web portals. All of these sites come up on the Google search engine when using the words “B&B, South Africa”, so have a wide reach.
  2. Try and support your listing with a web site of your own, even if it’s a small one. Publish information about rates, location and accommodation type on-line and show pictures of the establishment, as well as its unique features.
  3. Also, keep a list of the e-mail addresses of people who send enquiries from the site or of guests who come to stay. This is a valuable source of repeat business and you can use this list (sparingly and by permission only!) to send out promotional information.

Develop Seasonal and Special Promotions

Promotions are a stalwart of any marketing programme and there’s lots of scope for creativity here. If you have a B&B in Johannesburg and Fashion Week is coming up, develop a special offer for the fashion buyers, local designers and design colleges. Promote it in trade publications or by e-mail and make that particular audience feel you are catering to its specific needs.

Spring, summer, autumn and winter promotions work well too, if you give them a good creative spin. If your establishment is in an historically or naturally significant area, like Hermanus, promote seasonal attractions like whale watching.

Be aware of out-of-season attractions too and promote these in a similar way to raise occupation during traditionally quiet periods. Cape Tourism’s “green season” winter promotion is a good example of this kind of marketing.

Also, consider offering promotional rates or benefits for guests booking for five nights or more too – this will encourage them to book for a longer stay than they may, at first, have considered.

Be efficient and consistent

Answer queries by telephone or e-mail as quickly as possible and, if you can’t meet a guest’s specified needs, offer possible alternatives. There are lots of guest houses and B&Bs that offer similar facilities and services to what you do and it’s always the early bird that gets the worm. Quick, friendly and individualised service wins hands-down ever time.

Be consistent – this encourages return visits from guests and prompts them to tell their friends and colleagues about your establishment. If you put gingerbread men on the pillows to welcome guests, do it every time. If you have a special theme, like the Post House does, apply the theme to everything you do. Find that unique selling point and deliver on it consistently.

And finally, have fun.

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