Posts Tagged ‘Jay Karen’

Why the belle has no clothes at the rental marketplace ball

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Why the belle has no clothes at the rental marketplace ball

Posted by Special Nodes USA on 16 August 2011

NB: This is a guest article by Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

Airbnb and the fast-growing number of rental marketplaces seem like the belles of the ball among travel-related web sites this year.

Some have grabbed the support of big hitters like Ashton Kutcher and there is clearly a lot of money kicking about with nine-figure cash investments.

But let’s take a moment and turn the lights on in the ballroom and take a closer look at some of these belles. After all, if we’re going to dance with the belle, we better know what we’re dealing with.

mask

Propagating illegal activity

I’m not sure why the internet police haven’t been blaring the sirens on this one.

Nevertheless, there is no question many (if not most) of the lodging options that can be found on such websites are not complying with local laws.

Towns and cities across the country and around the world have local laws that prohibit homeowners – especially in residential areas – from using their properties as transient lodging for travelers of less than, say, 30 days.

In other words, it is permissible to be a landlord to a longer-term tenant, but it’s not okay to rent your house, apartment or room to folks night after night after night.

In many cases, such nightly tourism activity can disrupt the culture and atmosphere of a residential area or building (in the case of a condo building, where most of the occupants are homeowners).

It’s no secret that all kinds of questionable activity happens across the web, and the web companies do not bear full responsibility for the activity that happens on or on account of their sites.

In the US, the Communications Decency Act of 1996 does a good job holding websites harmless from the content that gets posted on their sites by site visitors or customers (look at Section 230).

But even a site like Craigslist came around to remove a section of their classifieds that was conspicuously advertising illegal activity. That only happened, though, after much public and legal pressure from a lot of powerful people around the country.

Getting back to rental marketplaces, why isn’t anyone crying foul on this one? Should a homeowner be required to show proof of compliance with the law before being allowed to list a room for rent (it might be happening on Oahu)?

Sure, but the inventory on such sites would likely fall to less than one-tenth of its current inventory. Who would pour hundreds of millions into a site with little inventory?

Licenses, inspections and taxation – oh my

Local authorities everywhere are in the business of ensuring the public’s safety. Regardless of your position on the “government-is-good or government-is-bad” spectrum, few will argue against making sure places of business that are open to the public deserve some kind of inspection or review process.

  • Do you like the fact that restaurants must be inspected? I do!
  • Do you like to know that hotels and B&Bs must follow local fire safety rules? I do!

But…

  • How many of the properties on marketplace rental sites, which mostly appear to be in residential situations, have been inspected by fire officials?
  • How many have the proper business licenses to be offering over-night accommodations to the traveling public?

Many online reviews indicate hosts are offering food to their travelers too, as part of the overnight stay. Do you think the local health inspector checked out their kitchen or sanitary food-handling skills?

Now, let’s talk taxes for a moment. Some rental marketplaces are not collecting taxes on behalf of their hosts, and the host is not likely collecting taxes either.

I know some readers are thinking the following:

“Does Uncle Sam need to grab something from EVERYTHING people earn? So what if some guy is making a little coin on the side by renting a spare room and not collecting taxes?”

Short-term lodging is usually subject to both a sales tax and occupancy tax. Oftentimes, the occupancy tax is levied to help support all kinds of initiatives to stimulate more travel to the area. Is it fair that a host gets to benefit from the traveler’s dollars, but not put in his fair share?

Safety

I already addressed the safety risks involved in not being inspected by local health or fire inspectors.

But ever since the likes of Airbnb and others materialised a couple of years ago, I’ve been telling people that I am just waiting for a tragedy to happen at one of the places rented on their site.

Some creep is going to rent his apartment to an unwitting young lady, and something terrible will happen. It happened with Couchsurfing.

Little did I know it would be the other way around!  The traveler, in this case, recently vandalized an Airbnb property, triggering reams of publicity.

Now, I do not think it is fair to hold Airbnb, in this case, fully culpable for such a transgression. Crimes occur at hotels all the time, but should the hotel always be blamed, let alone the online booking engine where a perpetrator might have booked a room?

No. But, reasonable measures, policies and the law of large numbers exist to try and minimize the likelihood of crimes taking place.

I get the allure of these rental marketplaces from many angles. To the traveler, “staying at an Airbnb”, for example, might be seen as something different and exciting.

The photos on the various homepages are nothing short of amazing, so it is quite seductive. Hosts see it as a cool way to make money and meet interesting people, although this Slate writer certainly differs.

Investors see a new product in the pretty traditional market of lodging. Heck, I represent an industry that perfected the “stay in someone’s home” experience!

But, the tens of thousands of hardworking innkeepers over the years worked WITH local authorities to gain proper recognition as legitimate businesses, have paid our taxes, have gone through inspections, etc.

This isn’t sour grapes about an imposter trying to co-opt our bed-and-breakfast brand (can you see the furrow on my forehead?). It’s bigger than that.

The bottom line, for me, can be explained in an analogy: do you think it would be ok for any one person or any family to start inviting random travelers and locals into their homes for a homemade supper…charge for it…not collect any taxes…and never get inspected by the health department?

Sure, you could just say “Caveat Emptor!”, let the online reviews handle the inspection process and not care about safety or a level playing field.

Would you feel the same way if a friend or loved one bought into this and got incredibly (or deathly) ill from an unfortunate event?

There is not much any of us can do to prevent bad or ignorant people from committing awful acts, but we can support reasonable policies and practices to try and minimize it.  Allowing such sites to propagate possibly illegal and potentially unsafe situations is nothing short of enablement.

Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at internet law and start holding web sites more responsible for what gets posted or what kinds of transactions take place on their sites.

Holding sites completely harmless has in turn caused a great deal of harm to many others (anyone want to talk about the proliferation of libel within online reviews, but the absence of any recourse for justice?), but no one in the travel industry really seems to be talking about that.

Maybe rental marketplace sites that actually collect the room revenue should be required to ensure the legality of their host properties.

Short of that, the rental marketplaces is not much more than pimps for illegal lodging.  Anyone want to propose a new Communications GREATER Decency Act of 2012?

NB: Airbnb, for example, has consistently stated it complies with local laws in the areas in which it operates.

NB2: This is a guest article by Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

When Good Photographs are Bad for Your Business

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

#On My Mind – When Good Photographs are Bad for Your Business
By Jay Karen, PAII CEO
Last week I saw one too many bad attempts at good photography on B&B web sites, and I just have to write something about it.  Too many innkeepers think they have good photography on their web sites, when in fact so many shots are bad, not appropriate for marketing or over-manipulated.

In my opinion, good photographs capture your B&B, rooms and food in a flattering way.  Realism with a touch of artistry is what you should aim for.  When I say artistry, I don’t mean taking artistic license by altering the photo in a way that it doesn’t resemble the subject.  I mean understanding the artistry of photography through good lighting and arrangement.  Take the photos of the orange slices below – three ways of portraying basically the same subject.

But, the effects are very different.  The first photo appears to be a true amateur, homemade shot of orange slices.  No attempt to utilize good lighting.  Little attempt to arrange or frame the subject in an appealing way.  What you see is what you get, but not necessarily flattering.  The second photo reveals an attempt to arrange the subject in a flattering way, but misses the mark.  The culprit is poor lighting, so the photo can be considered just “ok” for marketing.  Not great, but not terrible.  The third photo hits the nail on the head.  The subjects were arranged artistically, the lighting was fantastic, and the photographer knew how to use the lens for proper focus and artistry.  The fourth photo looks as though the photographer was trying too hard to be artistic, and the result is simply a poor shot.

These same results are seen all across our industry on B&B web sites.  Too many innkeepers took the photos of the rooms, food and the B&B themselves thinking they were “good enough” for marketing.  They might be good enough for a property appraisal, but not good enough to sell rooms.  Other innkeepers hire professional photographers who don’t quite understand the science of photographing rooms, buildings, building features or food.  They don’t bring proper lighting equipment.  They don’t understand staging.  But their photos are decent enough to get by for marketing.  The problem is they don’t “wow” enough to truly capture the potential guest.  They don’t flatter the subject in the right ways.  And yet other photographers (either on their own or at the behest of the innkeepers) manipulate photos too much and distort reality.  The most common transgression I see is when wide-angle lenses are used to embellish way too much.  “Fisheye” lenses are way out of bounds, but they are used at some B&Bs.  This type of lens is used either to mask how small something might be – like a bathroom – or to give a wide field of view, much like a peep-hole in a door.  The result is the guest having to use their imagination to figure out what the room might REALLY be like, because the distortion is so great.  See below for a great example of fisheye lens photography:

Then there is the over-use of the wide-angle lens.  The attempt is to either innocently capture as much of the room as possible or to possibly make a smaller room look bigger – either way, the effect can be detrimental.  A guest might check into the room only to be immediately disappointed, because he remembered the room appearing larger on the web site.  Disappointment is not a good way to start a 3-night stay at a B&B!  You can tell wide-angle has gone overboard when straight-lined objects are at funny angles.  Just look at the framed pictures and door frames in the photos below (no offense meant to the innkeeper of these rooms – sorry.)  My immediate reaction – and I’m sure that of many others – is “ehgh…why did they have to do that?”  The space between the foot of the brown bed and the piece of furniture looks like it could be three feet in the first photo – but it might actually be 18 inches.  Who knows, right?  The photo is too distorted to tell what reality is going to be like.

Hearing a guest say “Oh, your web site doesn’t do your place justice!” is a dubious compliment.  If you are under-portraying the beauty of your place, then you could be losing out on bookings.  Marketing is no time to be under-selling and over-promising.  As I’ve pointed out, it’s not the time to be over-promising and under-delivering.  The best comment to hear would be “Your place is just as fantastic as your web site shows.”

We have highly qualified B&B photographers in our industry who know how to do it just right – even wide-angle photography.  Look to them first, because your local photographer or friend who’s pretty good with the ole camera – but not familiar with B&B web marketing – might not quite get that the impact of the distorted image and could actually hurt your business.  Below are a few examples of photography done right.  I’ve been to these places and the photos are good representations of what you will see, but flattering perspectives.

In the end, your photography should be as good as your inn, and your inn should be as good as your photography.  If you have a gorgeous place, your photos should be gorgeous.  If you have a nice, modest place, the photography should reveal the modesty, but be flattering.  If the photography hits the nail on the head, you don’t need to worry if they “over sell” the place.  Most reasonable people expect your marketing photography to be flattering, taken on a day when everything was set up perfectly.  It’s no different than photographs of people.  Take the photos below of my daughter.  While I am biased, I think she is gorgeous every day of the year, but some photos are just better than others when staged appropriately at the right angles with the right lighting.  I know that any day of the week, people who see my daughter will likely see the person on the left.  But I know on a good day, they’ll see the person on the right.  The flattering photo is not distortion of reality.  It’s just a better photo of the same person.

Let your photos show what your place looks like on a good day.  Use a B&B photographer to capture it perfectly.


Jay

PAII CEO Elected to U.S. Travel Association Board

Monday, April 18th, 2011

For Immediate Release – April 6, 2011
Contact:  Marti Mayne, 207-846-6331, info@maynelymarketing.com

Haddon Heights, NJ – Jay Karen, president and chief executive officer of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII), was elected by peers in the travel industry to serve a two-year term as an at-large member of the U.S. Travel Association board of directors.  This will be the first time a representative from the bed and breakfast industry will serve the organization in this capacity.

“U.S. Travel is pleased to welcome Jay to our board,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.  ”Jay is a champion for the travel sector, and our board will benefit by having a voice for the bed and breakfast industry,” finished Dow.

Jay has fifteen years of experience in organizational and association management and leadership, fourteen of which has been in the hospitality and leisure market.  Since 2007, Jay has served the bed and breakfast industry as president and CEO of PAII.  For ten years prior to that, he served in senior staff positions with the National Golf Course Owners Association, representing and promoting the business interests of golf course operators worldwide.

“I have long admired the work of the U.S. Travel Association, especially over the past few years, during which they have made incredible public policy strides,” said Karen.  “I am honored to contribute to the strategic discussions and mission of the organization.  Inns and B&Bs are among the smallest businesses in the travel industry, and yet contribute to tourism and historic preservation in meaningful ways in every corner of the nation. I look forward to amplifying their voices.”

About PAII: The Professional Association of Innkeepers International, founded in 1988, is the innkeeping industry’s largest trade association. PAII provides education, communications, public relations, advocacy, networking, and research services to its membership and the greater industry. In addition, PAII has created and is spearheading “Better Way To Stay”, a groundbreaking, industry-wide campaign to help travelers discover today’s inns and B&B experience. For more information, visit www.innkeeping.org.

About U.S. Travel: The U.S. Travel Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $704 billion travel industry. U.S. Travel’s mission is to increase travel to and within the United States. For more information, visit www.ustravel.org.

B&B or Big-Box? from Hotel Interactive

Friday, March 4th, 2011

B&B or Big-Box?
Social media is stirring this sleeping micro-giant of the Lodging Industry. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Friday, March 04, 2011
Daniel Edward Craig

“I have no doubt we will be stealing some market share.” – Jay Karen, President & CEO, Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII).

Social media, the great equalizer, has allowed bed-and-breakfasts and independent boutiques to compete for the attention of travelers online with big-box, chain hotels. And when it comes to creative content and compelling stories, small, independents properties have emerged with some of the strongest voices.

Recently, the Professional Association of Innkeepers launched a campaign called “A Better Way to Stay” to convince travelers—especially Gen X and Y—to choose inns and B&Bs over hotels. PAII’s President & CEO Jay Karen calls it “a true grassroots campaign” that will feature “fresh and edgy content—perfect for social media—never seen from our industry.”

To find out more, I caught up with Jay. Here’s a condensed version of our Q A session.

Some wear boxers, others brief; some prefer B&Bs, others hotels. Convince us: Why choose a B&B over a hotel?

That’s easy! Do you prefer your breakfast made from food off a Sysco truck or hand-picked by an innkeeper (most likely sourced locally)? Do you like never having to pay for wi-fi? How do you feel about free parking? Historical settings? Beautiful properties? Afternoon or 24-hour free snacks? Sometimes wine and cheese hours or afternoon tea? Local knowledge of the best places for recreation and dining? Also, B&Bs are considered by many women business travelers as safer than hotels.

Guests at B&Bs aren’t just a room number and a stat that adds to the RevPAR and occupancy charts – they’re people looking for more than just a room, and innkeepers enjoy delivering more than an electronic key card.

Do B&Bs compete more against hotels or other B&Bs? Should hotels be worried?

When someone chooses a B&B, it’s safe to say they likely chose that B&B over another B&B, not a Hilton or Marriott. We compete with hotels every day of the week. I firmly believe that the loyalty index among B&B guests is much higher than hotel guests. And in the new world of social media, more and more loyal guests will be telling their friends and families about their fantastic experiences.

I’m not saying hotels should be shivering with fear, because our total room volume is incredibly modest by comparison, but the playing field has certainly been leveled in this new age of connectivity. I have no doubt we will be stealing some market share.

Lately there’s been a lot of controversy over the authenticity of online reviews. What’s your position on this?

My belief is that the vast majority of online reviews on travel sites are legitimate – at least in our neck of the woods. Travel websites that do not authenticate reviews by verifying that reviewers actually stayed at the properties in question have an inherent weakness. But the concept they rely on is that the law of large numbers will overcome that weakness … the wisdom of the crowds. There’s going to be the occasional fool or fake in the crowd, but the thought is they will be drowned out.

There is a problem with that in the B&B world – we don’t have the large numbers that hotels do. A good B&B that is actively soliciting reviews from guests will still only have a few dozen reviews over the course of a year – not a few hundred. A few bad apples can spoil things a hell of a lot faster for a B&B with 5 rooms than a hotel with 500 rooms.

To me, the bigger problem is review sites claim little or no responsibility when it comes to the details within the review and won’t get involved in the veracity of the reviews. When it comes to negative reviews that have been embellished or falsified, the property owners have everything to lose. Joe Schmoe Reviewer has nothing to lose, and that’s still very troublesome at times.

TripAdvisor: friend or foe of innkeepers?

On balance? Definitely a friend. While we still suffer from second-class-citizenship on the site (we’re mostly found behind the “hotels” moniker instead of beside them, like vacation rentals, in the most visible areas of the site), the site allows the smallest of inns to compete with the largest of hotels in the same city. TripAdvisor is a great site for those who love doing their homework when deciding where to stay.

TripAdvisor reviews can work really well for local, independent players. The rest of the commerce on the site, i.e. banner ads, booking, etc., is no friend to the innkeeper. Nine out of ten B&Bs do not participate in the GDS system, so when someone is searching for availability, we are left out almost completely. It would be good to build a bridge with the off-GDS platforms that most B&Bs use and the TripAdvisor availability search tool.

Over the past few years, we have gained a good bit of attention through our high-profile discussions with TripAdvisor. I believe we have been the only lodging organization that is persistently meeting with their senior staff about parity, fairness and responsiveness with their very powerful system. I’ve been blogging about it since 2008.

Do B&B’s play the OTA game?

B&Bs generally do not play the OTA game for a few reasons. Those who do play the game, though, are generally pleased. The reasons for opting out include not being able to afford the commission structure (25-30%), the lack of good information on the guests that gets passed between the OTAs and the innkeepers, and the lack of supply with which to play in the yield management game. It’s a bit of a hassle to contribute only one or two rooms to the system and have to manage that.

Companies like BedandBreakfast.com have done a good job building that bridge between an innkeeper’s PMS system, booking engine and the OTAs, but it takes a lot of hands-on management on the innkeeper’s part to make it all work. Oh, and then they have to go turn three rooms, shop for tomorrow’s breakfast and respond to the latest online review.

The major search engines are still the biggest players for B&Bs. Google Places (and various iterations of Google Maps and Google Local) have always been an influential player, and even more so if they keep stepping up their game in the travel space.

Given such limited resources, which social media tools and resources if any do you recommend B&B owners engage in?

Facebook – no doubt. There is no better tool that allows a happy B&B guest to tell their hundreds of friends and family what a wonderful time they had. We haven’t even seen the beginning of the fruits Facebook will produce for innkeepers. I’m encouraged greatly by the social buying sites out there – especially LivingSocial. Twitter is great, but only if you’re posting content that is relevant to Twitter users, and if you look at it as a search engine.

How is 2011 looking for the innkeeping industry?

The only weak point in our industry as a result of this recession has been the transaction market. Our RevPAR, occupancy and revenue numbers have remained steady. Changes in travel preferences have benefited our industry – the desire to stay closer to home, long weekend trips, smaller, boutique properties (duh), etc. Therefore, we are generally poised for strong performance in the coming months and years, as long as the economy doesn’t tank again.

Our biggest challenge seems to be that more and more gets added to the plate of innkeepers each year, but nothing gets taken off. Innkeepers pine for the days when SEO was the only internet-related marketing game they had to keep up with. Keeping all the plates spinning in an ever-more-complex world is a big challenge. But that’s where PAII comes in, right Daniel?

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel consultant specializing in social media strategy, storytelling, and reputation management for the lodging industry. He is the author of three hotel-based novels, a popular blog, and various articles about issues in the hotel industry. His new e-book, The Hotelier’s Guide to Online Reputation Management, is now available. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email dec@danieledwardcraig.com. Twitter: dcraig.

Copyright © 2011 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved.



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