I had some questions for her about her experience as a hospitality owner. She was kind enough to share her story, as well as marketing tips, with the Boostly blog. Enjoy!
Boostly: How many years have you owned your property, Lorien House?
Lin: Nearly 2 years! We moved to Fort Augustus from Lancashire on April 21st, 2016.
It is my first experience working in the hospitality world. I have had many jobs where I have worked and dealt with people, though. Tom, my partner, had worked in a hotel as a night porter and had done some bar work. We had talked about buying a B&B for the last 10 years but never thought it would be possible. Then we saw an opportunity and went for it, taking the leap of faith and leaving our well-paid secure jobs!
If you want something bad enough, anything’s possible!
Boostly: What do you love about being a hospitality owner?
Lin: Meeting people from all over the world and learning about their cultures. I love listening to their reasons for travelling to the UK, where they have been, and where else they are going. We find that guests enjoy talking about their lives, their families, and experiences and I am genuinely interested (or am I just nosey ?).
I feel a real sense of achievement when I can see that guests feel relaxed and comfortable in our B&B especially when they tell us its like home away from home and wish they could stay longer. I enjoy providing the pleasant surroundings and am always looking for ways to improve their experience by adding little extras in their rooms such as boot trays, a pack of playing cards, a torch, or a wee book of Nessie!
It’s hard work, but the reward of seeing guests happy and enjoying themselves is worth it.
Boostly: What is your favourite thing to do in the local area?
Lin: We are so lucky to live and work in the beautiful Scottish Highlands in the pretty village of Fort Augustus. It is situated on the south end of Loch Ness.
The area is full of nature. There are so many lovely walks, waterfalls, and other Lochs in the area. A favourite is going on the north side of Loch Ness. The road climbs quickly, and very soon you are looking down on the picturesque village. Up there you’re never far away from the wildlife.
My most favourite thing to do is sit at the side of the Caledonian Canal, which is located behind our B&B, and watch boats navigate through the five locks that run through the centre of the village. There’s nothing more fulfilling than having lunch on the canal side on a lovely summer’s day. The village is packed, and with up to 100 boats coming through daily at the height of the season, there’s a real buzz about the place. The swing bridge at the foot of the locks always attracts a crowd as it regularly opens throughout the day.
We are just a hop, skip, and jump away from castles steeped in history and other famous places, such as the Isle of Skye and Fort William with Ben Nevis and a ride on the Hogwarts Express over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Boostly: You are one of the brave hospitality owners who does not list your property on any of the online travel agents. Why did you make this decision?
Lin: Before moving into our B&B, we always thought we would be listing with Booking.com. We had already started looking into it, as we had only got 5 advanced bookings passed over from the previous owner for the whole season. When we opened for business, the doorbell starting ringing within a week and didn’t really stop until October.
I don’t consider us brave, it just happened. We chose to see how the year panned out before listing with any of them and everything fell together. Had we taken over earlier in the low season, we may just have signed up with online travel agent. I just think that we are fortunate to be located in a trendy area – everyone wants to come and see Nessie! Fort Augustus is a place where people visit on the way to or from Skye or the North Coast 500 road route. We are also on the 73 mile Great Glen Way, which is extremely popular with walkers and cyclists. The leading tour companies bring their coaches to the village on route to other places, often stopping overnight.
Boostly: How do you encourage guests to book directly with you?
Lin: One of the first things we did was offer an online booking system on our website through FreetoBook. We also updated our website to make it look more appealing and started a Facebook page.
We joined the local website Enjoy Loch Ness to advertise our B&B. This was the only site we paid for because we got a web listing and an appearance on the village map. This is given out to visitors who go into the tourist office. We also have a poster advertising our B&B which is displayed in a noticeboard again by the carpark.
We listed on every free advertising website we could find. To name a few…
I think the big ones for us were being listed in the Lonely Planet Guide (and all the translated versions) and a mention in some international guidebooks. Last year, travel journalists stayed from the French Guide du Routard and gave us a mention in their handbook. We also appear in a German handbook which we were shown last year. These outlets have given us great exposure and possibly why 90% of our guests are from overseas.
I contacted all the big UK adventure tour companies to tell them all about us and what we have to offer. We now work with at least 7 of them that regularly give us bookings from April to November for mainly walkers and cyclists.
More recently, I started putting up photos of our B&B on Pinterest and plan to expand on that to catch viewers’ eyes if they search for Fort Augustus. Ideally, Pinterest will send more customers to our website.
We consciously decided not to be a designer B&B with hi-tech rooms and we created a homely, comfortable, relaxing place where guests walk in with boots and wet clothes and know they are welcome and catered for.
We ask guests to leave reviews as we really appreciate their feedback. It helps others decide if ours is the right place to stay by reading others experiences. When we started trading, we were 28th on Trip Advisor, and now we are one of the top recommended places in the area!
Boostly: If you could give ONE bit of advice to someone who is thinking about coming off the online travel agents, what would that be?
Lin: Dip your toes in the water and see what happens. In our case, it just worked out for us because of our situation.
Think about the market you want to target. Take into account your location. Is it popular with walkers, cyclists, theatregoers, near conference venues, colleges, hospitals, racecourses? Also, do some research on where you could have free marketing or small fee marketing. Websites, noticeboards by local carparks, local group advertising, specific magazines are great examples. Don’t be afraid to approach companies directly.
We have a few wind farm projects in the area, so I contacted all the companies that send contract workers to the site. Those workers often need overnight or longer accommodation. Build a rapport with a specific contact within the company. It always helps, and they’ll think of you first.
Keep your Facebook page current. I like to have “out and about” posts where every time we go anywhere not too far away from the B&B, I take photos and post them with a short description on Facebook. It shows prospective guests where they also could visit.
Talk to other local hospitality providers who do not use online travel agents. See where they advertise in your local area.
Oops, that was more than one, sorry!
Thank you very much to Lin for taking time out to answer my questions about online travel agents. If you would like to go and find out more about Lorien House, visit www.lorien_house.co.uk
Lorien House’s Facebook page is here.