Case Study: Boosting bed & breakfast bookings
As one of the U.K.’s most popular tourist destinations the Lake District has its fair share of hotels B&Bs inns, self catering cottages and just about every other type of indoor and outdoor accommodation you can think of. Many places run at full or nearly full capacity for most of the year, yet competition to attract guest bookings remains high. And competition to attract direct bookings is even higher, given the huge popularity of online travel agents who charge property owners commission for every room booking they generate. This presents a challenge for smaller property owners where profit margins per room are small.
At the start of 2019 we were approached by local bed and breakfast owner having been recommended by another client. Most of their bookings came from phone calls and through online travel agents, however they were wanting to maximise bookings through their own website, whilst improving the overall online visibility of their bed and breakfast and profitability of the business.
Over the following weeks we worked with the B&B owners to develop a digital marketing strategy that would address the following areas:
- Create a new website that included new photography, engaging content and a positive booking experience for guests
- Create an incentive for guest to book directly through the website
- Develop an outreach plan to promote the incentive program
- Create an effective communication plan to engage new and returning visitors
Development of a new website
For the first few months of 2019 our web design and development team built a website that incorporated all of the new photography and new content that included separate pages for each room, detailed pages about the breakfast experience, diary entries from the owners, local events, things to do around the Lake District and an easy to use calendar availability search which would then link through to their third-party booking system where guests could then complete their room booking. The website was built using a robust content management system that enabled the owners to update content across the website and include new diary entries.
Launching a guest rewards program
Once the new website was launched, we then set about brainstorming ideas for incentives that would entice guests to book directly with the B&B. Together, we launched Riverside rewards, a guest rewards program offering discounts on room bookings and a range of offers and money off local attractions and services. We reached out to a dozen businesses locally in the Lake District and agreed that the B&B would sell advance tickets or bookings in advance for a small discount. This included things like cruises on Windermere, adventure playgrounds in Grizedale Forest, railway tours, gym passes, and food and drink outlets.
We added a page on the website for Riverside rewards which clearly explained the benefits of the program and a full list of incentives. All users had to do to signup to Riverside awards was entered their name and an email address, at which point they would be directed to a welcome page that included a set of discount codes to be used in the booking system.
At this point they would also be sent a welcome email with the discount codes and reminding them of the benefits of booking directly. A follow-up email would be sent seven days later, using email automation to reiterate the benefits of Riverside Rewards, and gently move interested guests closer to making a booking.
Promoting Riverside Rewards on the website
To start promoting Riverside rewards, we identified several areas across the website where we could promote the program. We added a promo code box within the availability calendar search with a prompt at the side of this that when clicked would open up a pop-up box where users could signup, gain instant access to the promo codes, and then proceed to search for rooms based on their selected dates.
We also added an announcement bar at the top of the website that users would say as soon as they landed on the site with a link through to the Riverside rewards page.
In addition, we also added a small pop-up that appears in the bottom right corner of the website as the user scrolls down the page telling them how many people had signed up to Riverside rewards in the last 30 days.
At this point we started to see the first signups on the website, but what we really needed was a proper promotion plan to bring new visitors to the website.
Developing a wider digital marketing plan
We then started to promote Riverside rewards away from the website which included setting up, branding the social media profiles for the B&B and creating a weekly content plan that engaged followers with interesting posts.
We also created a press release about the launch of Riverside rewards and distributed it out to local and regional news outlets and industry publications. A few of these ran the press release and we were able to gain some wider exposure.
In terms of promoting the website and Riverside rewards in Google, we always knew it was going to be difficult to compete with large travel agents in Google search results. However our approach was to identify longtail searches relevant to the local area that we may be able to capitalise on strategically through niche pieces of content on the website. We also followed a range of best practices for search engine optimisation to allow the website to stand the best chance of ranking in organic Google search results and attract new visitors looking to stay in the area.
One of the main communication tools that we wanted to develop was the use of an email newsletter schedule that enabled the B&B to send out seasonal messages. This would be to include latest news at the B&B, local upcoming events, diary entries from the B&B owners, conversational pieces and of course the promotion of Riverside rewards with links back to the website. We segmented the mailing lists depending on how somebody subscribed to the newsletters, which could be when making the booking through signing up to Riverside rewards are using the newsletter signup form in the footer of the website.
So with the launch of a new website, the creation of a guest rewards program to entice people to book directly, and a range of digital marketing activities that was starting to gain momentum. By summer 2019 we started to attract more visitors to the website, daily signups to Riverside rewards, and more bookings.
The first improvement we saw was that we were generating followers across the different social media profiles we were posting on including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Not only this but we were also achieving good engagement rates with a range of different contents and posts developed by ourselves and the bed and breakfast owners.
Once the website and the Riverside rewards guest incentive scheme was launched, we immediately started to see positive results. The graph below shows the number of signups on the website for the Riverside rewards and from then until today we have seen signups on a daily basis to a total of around 1200 signups
With all the digital marketing activities, we saw an immediate jump in visitors to the website and important website metrics improve such as a lower bounce rate, people spending more time on the site, viewing more pages and people signing up to the Riverside rewards incentive scheme.
Ultimately what we have been able to achieve working with the B&B is an increase in people booking directly with the owners and we have seen more bookings through the website and also over the phone.