Cheap Sleeps: Step Up Your Game

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As a budget traveler, I sometimes lament the loss of quality, affordable places to stay. Travel, even local travel, has gotten far more expensive than it used to be while at the same time, our wages have more or less stayed the same (if we managed to hold onto our jobs these past few years.) Maybe because of this, travelers have gotten more selective. (If you’re taking fewer getaways, you want to make sure they’re truly great, right?) And, tools like Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature have brought 4-5 star hotels down to cheap sleep levels for the crafty and tenacious negotiators out there (*waves hand*). So what does this mean for independent accommodations, fighting to stay alive in this economy? It’s time to step up your game.

A roadside motel sign in Central Oregon. Photo by Tony Case via Flickr.

I recently had a conversation with the proprietor of a clean, basic little inn in the Columbia River Gorge. Her rates are good, but her weekends aren’t booked up. Not even close. Yet the higher-priced B&B up the street is thriving. What gives?

I think the answer here is value.

A bedside lamp is a must. The champagne is optional.

Her inn is one of those affordable places with great… potential. One of those places that’s cheap enough for the average traveling family, but not quite a value. You walk in the room and you’re like, meh. It’s a $70 room, and it looks like a $70 room. You’re going to get your night of sleep and move on. You’re not going to remember it, and you’re not going to tell your friends about it.

Are you an inn owner stuck with vacancies?  Weeeelll, I have a little advice for ya. I don’t mean to be pushy, you know.  Remember, I’m only trying to be helpful 🙂

The truth is, travelers are a savvy bunch, and people expect more for their money these days.

Here’s how those meh accommodations can ratch it up a notch.

Put a lamp by the bed, already. Actually, make that two, a lamp on each side. Do they have a dimmer? Even better. But please, please don’t make me read in bed by the bright overhead light, nor by the light of my headlamp. There’s no excuse. You can get a decent lamp at IKEA for $20. Please, get some bedside lamps. OH, and a clock radio. Please have a clock radio. OK, moving on…

Be nice. I know, right? Obvious! But B&B proprietors are human, and they have bad days, too. The thing is, if there is one easy mistake that will sour your reviews on TripAdvisor, it is to appear irritated or cold to your guests. People want to feel welcome. People don’t want to know they just walked in on a big bad episode  of marital strife (this happened to me last year), or caught you in the middle of a meltdown. Awkward.

When your guests arrive, provide a friendly, warm welcome. Offer a quick tour of your inn, then show them to their room and ask if they need anything. Leave a handwritten note on the bed that says “Welcome!” and gives them your phone number in case they need to contact you. Kindness doesn’t cost you a thing, but a really warm first impression will go a long way.

Feed us. I think it’s such a nice gesture to enter a room and find a beverage or light snack by the bed. This is a very inexpensive thing for your to offer. Shop at Costco for snacks in bulk. Leave a bag of mixed nuts and a seltzer on the bedside table with a little post-it that says “enjoy your stay!” I won’t care that they’re cheap Costco nuts–I’m going to love them anyway! And I will love you, too, and tell all of my friends about you. All my friends on twitter.

Share your local knowledge. You are the expert on your town or city. We travelers appreciate it when you share the name of your favorite local restaurant or offer driving directions to the beach. Also, why not keep a local travel guidebook in all of your guest rooms and bookmark your favorite places? We love that.

Give your guests something to read. Speaking of books, it’s so nice to find a stash of good books or magazines upon arrival. One B&B we stayed at recently had a basket of children’s books in the main living room, which we were so grateful for. Another had a bookshelf full of books on guns and hunting and we are vegetarians, but hey- it’s the thought that counts! Board games and DVDs are nice, too.

Stock a basket of essentials in your guest bathroom. This is really going the extra mile, but your guests will appreciate it if they forgot their toothbrush. Chances are, the basket won’t be touched, but you will get major points for providing it, anyway. Consider stocking sample-sized toiletries, and put a box of Kleenex by the sink and bed, too.

Offer free wifi, and advertise this on your website. It’s a reality of our busy lives that some people never unplug, even when they’re on vacation. (Aside – it astounds me that many corporate hotels, the really posh high-priced ones, charge an additional fee for wifi.) Wifi is fast becoming an expected amenity. And if your motel or inn doesn’t provide wifi to guests, you should know that there are probably potential guests of yours that are passing your place up for another on this basis alone.

Go the extra mile. Some inns and motels make quite a name for themselves by doing one simple thing that sets them apart. The Jupiter Inn in Portland is known for it’s chalkboard doors and leaving condoms by the bed– a novelty and memorable gesture.  We once stayed at a very basic roadside motel after a long, dusty hike and found a bottle of champagne chilling by the bed with two flutes. It was $6 bubbly, probably cheaper if bought in bulk, but it made us so happy nonetheless and I will always remember that place. So, be known and memorable for doing something special for your guests, and it will come back to you.

Don’t ignore your pest problem. This one is a little gross, but it has to be said. If you’ve got mice, bedbugs or ants, you need to do something about it, immediately. I know this doesn’t mean your place is necessarily unsanitary because a pest problem can happen anywhere. But an ignored pest problem can kill your business. Yes, I have a story. We stayed at one of the most beautiful, astonishingly affordable-for-the-value places on one of my favorite islands a few years ago that I would just LOVE to tell you all about. But I can’t because of the carpenter ants that bit us the entire time we were there. The proprietor is a nature-loving treehugger (like me!) and was attempting, slowly, to fix the problem through non-lethal methods that weren’t taking care of the problem. I love nature and cedar cabins, but I’m not sharing my bed with carpenter ants.

What have I missed, savvy travelers? Got any advice to share? Tell us your story in the comments – I’d love to hear it.



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2 Responses

  1. I love these ideas, and I love that they’re easy to implement and won’t cost much but will make a big difference. I have one more idea — invest in one conversation starting item for the lobby. It doesn’t have to be a big investment but just one cool thing, be it a one-of-a-kind chair, an unusual lamp, an old table painted an interesting accent color. The Pod, a sometimes-budget hotel in New York, has a big-screen, interactive map of New York. In addition to being extremely helpful — you can zero in on streets and see everything, including the nearest subway stop — it looks great on the wall in the lobby. Even a large framed old-style map of the area can be helpful — and will look very Parisian.

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