"Can B&B Associations Survive?"
By Scott and Allison Crumpton

"Can B&B associations survive?" The quick and dirty answer you'll hear from most everyone is, "of course." But as we delve deeper, we find a more important question, "can B&B associations thrive?" Unlike surviving, this outcome is less certain.

It is our belief that B&B associations not only can survive but they can also thrive. However, there is a distinct difference between "can survive" and "will survive."

For over a decade, B&B associations have done well for their members. However, during the last year we have seen changes in the industry, which have caused us to look critically upon associations and contemplate their future. Associations have many inherent strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, it is their weaknesses, which have become more prevalent of late and their strengths, which have been ignored.

There are many reasons why B&B associations were created: strength in numbers, camaraderie, quality standards, shared information/education, lobbying efforts, industry recognition and most importantly, cooperative marketing. All of these strengths have served the industry well to one degree or another. From the small local associations to the formal state associations and all the way up to national organizations such as PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International) and Select Registry, each enjoys one or more of these strengths.

Strengths aside, over the last year the weaknesses of B&B associations has risen to the surface and caused waves. Managing these weaknesses can easily mean the difference between thriving and simply surviving. Unless steps are taken to rectify the problems, associations will swiftly slide into mediocrity.

Traditionally, associations were quick to adopt cooperative marketing especially in the form of printed member brochures and directories. Over the years, these directories became the centerpiece of their marketing efforts and were continuously updated and improved. Eventually, many of them were made full color, put together by professionals and some even included advertising. Unfortunately, many associations have not followed the same path with regard to Internet marketing. While individual innkeepers were some of the early adopters of web advertising, associations have lagged behind. This is not to say that associations do not have web sites; they certainly do. The problem is that they have not followed the same successful evolutionary path as their printed directory.

Specifically, many state associations spend upwards of $10,000 annually on their printed brochure but rely on volunteer webmasters for their web site. The printed brochure is carefully scrutinized and professionally put together and printed while the web site is put together by an amateur. Even when a professional is hired for either design or promotion of the web site, the budget for Internet marketing does not come near that of the printed guide. Often, it is under budgeted. When you consider that many innkeepers claim over 80% of their reservations come from the Internet you have to wonder at the lack of vision. Print isn't dead yet but it's certainly not doing nearly as well when you consider the bang for the buck (take it from me - a former B&B Guide Print Publisher!). Print is expensive, time consuming, out-of-date when it hits the street, nearly impossible to update and used less and less frequently with every passing day.

Once the benefits of a proper Internet marketing campaign for an association is understood, it's hard to argue against. However, some innkeepers simply haven't caught the vision and are choosing to do things the way they always have. If not corrected, this attitude can do the association great harm in the long run.

So, let's quickly discuss a plan of action which leads to success for associations.

1. Hold a meeting and allocate a budget. The budget should be at least $3,000 for a state association and $1,000 for a local association. Note, I said "at least" not "at most" as these are bare minimums. When you nickel and dime, all you get is small change and quite frankly, big change is usually necessary! If you can double these numbers, you'll see a much greater return. Steal the funds from the printed guidebook - you won't be sorry you did.

2. Form a committee of the top three Internet marketers in your association and put one of the three in charge. This individual will act as the liaison with all vendors. Please, please, please - do not pick people who do everything themselves as this does not make them experts. As a matter of fact, this will be counter-productive. The people you're looking for are those who have knowledge of all the issues and then hire professionals to do their work.

3. Hire an expert in B&B Internet marketing either as a consultant or to handle the entire project. This person or company should have at least 100 clients to their name. If they don't, then this probably isn't their primary line of work.

4. Take their advice.

5. Use the web site not as a place for every member to have their own web page but as a tool, which serves to drive potential guests back to each member's individual web site. In other words, keep it simple and direct.

6. Once a professional designs the site, promote it through the paid search engines. This is where the majority of association web sites are having trouble - they still think promotion on the Internet is free which is why traffic to their web site is dropping off. If you want visitors - you have to pay to get them.

7. If you are having trouble finding qualified officers, hire a management company. Lois Cleveland of Association Management Services (http://www.association-management.com) currently takes care of roughly six state associations and does a wonderful job. If your state association is struggling, this is one very good solution to the problem.

B&B associations will most likely always survive. However, we would personally like to see them thrive. Internet marketing can do for associations today what print advertising did for them over the last twenty years if association leaders will see this, take action and quickly evolve their organizations. This is not an expensive proposition and the pay offs will be incredible both now and in the future.

Moriah Mountain Internet Marketing    |     P.O. Box 1283     |     Grants Pass, Oregon 97528
Toll Free: 800-841-5448     |     Fax: 541-479-5879     |        www.moriah.com