CHAPTER 3: HOW WE DEVELOPED OUR BUSINESS TRAVELER MARKET
An inn’s location drives its potential for hosting business travelers.
At our first inn–near downtown Atlanta–we could stand in the street and see the state capitol. The nearby subway traveled under three miles to the World Congress Center (conventions) and CNN Center.
While we went blindly into open our first B&B, we shortly learned that it attracted business travelers because of its price and convenient location. Opening our second inn just down the street from the county courthouse, in a town with not-so-great motels, also brought us business travelers. But they would not have flocked to us without some work.
OUR FIRST GUEST
Thinking back, our very first guest was a college friend's brother from Seattle. HE was in town for a job-related meeting at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. After opening, we very shortly got into the AAA book. This may well have been the best 1990s source of business travelers. At that time (1992) there was no internet. Even when we rented housing for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 there was still not a strong online presence, although we did try a few ads and directories.
We didn't have a plan. At first, it was who was calling. In Atlanta, I also worked 20 hours/week as a reporter for the daily newspaper and belonged to the local merchant associations. Through that work and those contacts I knew the local live theater managers, the administrative assistants at several newspapers, the key real estate developers and so on. I also happened to have a small ad agency and was familiar with the local neighborhood newsletters so I was able to quickly inform nearby residents of our property.
Here at Prospect Hill Bed & Breakfast Inn, in Mountain City, TN, we sought them out by working our way into the first-ever Leadership Johnson County program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Through that eight-week intro to the key economic and political and social entities in the county, I met the school superintendent, the head of the hospital, the judge, the current and future town mayors, the county executive, the prison warden, the police chief, the golf pro (course manager) and several managers of industrial complexes in the area. The key person in our welcome center was married to the key purchasing manager at the prison.
The chamber participation also lead to my joining an economic development committee where I met the key players at the electric coop, headquartered in town. I volunteered for then served as representative for the county on the regional tourism committee where I met our state representative who is now lieutenant governor and a key player in developing a very important state park which happens to be right out my back door. DOE MOUNTAIN DESTINATION My husband serves on the renovation committee for the local theater building. HERITAGE HALL http://heritagehalltheatreorg
I also did some leg work and invited ALL the business owners up and down the highway in town to an open house. No one came. In the end, word of mouth works. These days, business guests also find us online on their own.
NOT THE SAME AS 'TOURISTS'
Innkeepers accustomed to hosting leisure and getaway travelers have to learn to switch gears. Business travelers are in town to work in one form or another, not to socialize or enjoy time with their partners. They have schedules and they have tools which need to work (such as lap tops and cell phones). You need to understand them, embrace their needs and offer them hospitality in the form they require.
In our first inn, Oakwood House (now a private home), the guest rooms were nearly identical. We got away with not having a whirlpool tub or fireplaces at the Atlanta inn (85% business travelers). At Prospect Hill, female business travelers more often enjoy a tub; a whirlpool IS a nice perk to offer as an unexpected upgrade. On a whole, we place our business travelers in our "standard" rooms which have queen beds, private bath with either a large shower or a large shower plus a claw footed tub. We reserve the right to select a room for them. When we have a larger group, such as the planners for DOE MOUNTAIN PARK, someone does get a whirlpool tub room (we have three).
This week's gentleman is typical. He travels 45+ weeks per year. He has lots of frequent flyer points, flies first class, knows how to use a GPS well and has the sense to rent a 4x4 vehicle if a snow storm is predicted. He plans in advance and has a schedule. Since he is doing a week long training session he has to be at work shortly after his client opens each morning and he is gone until well past 5 pm. He is by himself, he is not focused on a leisurely breakfast or the needs of a partner (he's working solo). He often does homework or classwork in the evening.
PRICING IS DIFFERENT
A leisure guest has a price point he or she would like to meet but rarely a carved-in-stone budget. A business traveler often has his company paying his way or an expense account or per diem or some sort of set budget. Once the basic criteria--clean room, privacy, and budget--are met, he likes you!
Business travelers rarely spend hours agonizing over "which room" or "did I find the best place??" They also understand checking in means paying up-
regulars "belly up to the bar"--to the counter-
next to my office, credit card in hand. No pulling it out of them. We offer a flexible cancellation policy for business travelers and rarely see abuse (they are supposed to tell us as soon as their plans change, whether early on or last minute).
CONTRAST WITH LEISURE GUESTS
A leisure guest, especially these days, is looking for good value in an exceptional experience which they are personally paying for. They are interested in a large, leisurely breakfast. They have activities they plan to participate in but might not have specifics or a schedule (wedding guests excluded here). They have a number of choices in our region with many kinds of architecture, many price points and many different sorts of amenities--log cabins, whirlpool tubs, views, proximity to shopping, hiking or skiing. They care about the bathtub, a fireplace and how big the bed is. They may want to check in early and stay late. They may not be experienced travelers so they need help with directions, suggestions for places to go and what to see--they rely on the innkeeper for some of this or their research. They have many choices to make and lots of free time to fill.
Meanwhile the business traveler is work-oriented, generally well-traveled, and busy with his own concerns.
ARE THEY EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT AS GUESTS?
Business travelers, I think, are far easier for the hosts. For one, there are rarely couples. They generally show up when they say they will or at least rarely get sidetracked on their way to check in.
They like a friendly face and a brief chat but mostly they have their "stuff to do." They appreciate the assistance but they don't need to be lead by the hand. On a whole they are self sufficient. They really do like it when lodging is very nice, their needs are met in a superior way and they don't have to "make do" or "improvise.”
To that end, we have WiFi throughout the inn, televisions in the rooms with CNN, Weather Channel and ESPN essential, always a shower (and perhaps a tub), coffee and tea kettle 24/7, guest refrigerator, a desk if need (folding table at ready), flexible check in times and cancellation policies, take American Express, including third party payment (which is not cheap). We issue folio/confirmation numbers and can electronically submit receipts. We print zeroed out receipts and carefully staple the credit card slip to them.
We know where all the local restaurants are, their open times along with the locations and driving times for all local corporations, medical and educational facilities. We print boarding passes and provide an iron and ironing board as needed.
We accept state per diem rates (sans breakfast) which is sometimes 50% of leisure rates–for Sunday through Thursdays. We negotiate long term rates, being careful to front load the payments in the event they leave early. We rarely charge cancellation fees and we always provide receipts. We do charge an up-fee for tag-along spouses and bill that separately.
We love our business guests. If you want to locate your inn in an urban area or one so far from your state government state workers MUST stay over night, be prepared to welcome business guests.