CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Kit Cassingham: Internet Entrepreneur and International B&B Authority shares her secrets
This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Kit Cassingham.
Kit was the first consultant to move her operations online in a big way (www.TheBAndBLady.com). A former B&B innkeeper and broker, Kit helped numerous people buy and sell B&Bs, and still consults with buyers and sellers. She also offers seminars -- face-to-face and online, consulting, and eBooks. Part of her online services includes monthly industry articles and an inn-keeping forum.
Kitís new venture, "Greening of the Hospitality Industry", adds to her work in the B&B world. The very nature of lodging properties causes wastefulness, and Kit is striving to educate hotel owners and operators that reducing the waste not only helps the environment, but saves money and increases their bottom line.
Toward that goal she has two new sites: www.ECOnomicallySound.com has practical articles and a forum which show that by reducing waste, it makes a more hospitable business which attracts people wanting to support green ventures. The second site is www.BestGreenHotels.com, a database of hotels, resorts and other hospitality properties to help travelers find new places which meet their "green" needs.
Q: Kit, with a commanding 16 years of experience, you are the top online consultant, trainer, and expert to the bed and breakfast industry. Prior to 9/11, your clients flew in from all over the world to get the best training and advice from you, the leading authority in the field. Then it all changed with 9/11. Describe the events that unfolded in your life at that time and the changes you made.
A: The phone quit ringing. Emails slowed to a trickle of future-innkeeper questions. Initially I didnít do anything, thinking everyone would be back as soon as the 9/11 newscasts sputtered out. But the newscasts didnít go away and people didnít come back so I spent my time trying to polish my website to help attract clients.
Q: What have you learned from your collaboration with Randy (Cassingham) of considerable online fame? [Ed. note: audience, just do a search]
A: Randy has been an irreplaceable resource for me. Iíve learned most of my online knowledge from him and lots of email tips. Iíve learned quite a bit about publishing ebooks from him too. Heís been instrumental in teaching me new business approaches and ways of thinking about my business. I guess what Iíve learned most is how important it is to have associates to talk with and brainstorm ideas with. When you work for yourself you have to find ways to replace the coffee-break sessions you had at the office.
Q: You have transformed the B&B consulting industry through your online presence. From your history of accomplishments, what are your ten favoured recommendations for online success?
A: In no particular order:
1)† Hire professional help for site design and implementation.
2)† Create your presence, or personality, for site users to gravitate toward, to relate to.
3)† Be a resource for those using your site.
4)† Create new and fresh content frequently.
5)† Work with what you know and love.
6)† Partner with others: in the sense that you have people you can talk to about issues and angles, and who can cross-promote with you.
7)† Create multiple income streams so that you arenít reliant on just one.
8)† Be creative in your marketing so that you keep the word about your business spreading and growing.
9)† Create income and a legacy, not just a job.
10) Be flexible in your business approach and expansion ideas.
Q: Tell us more about Best Green Hotels and the evolution of your personal vision, mission, goals, and values. How is this expressed through your web sites and forums?
A: The idea for BGH came almost three years ago when I received yet another phone call from a chemically sensitive traveler who wanted to know if I knew of many lodging properties that catered to the chemically sensitive. I approached the owner of the Green Hotels Association about creating a grid of her members to show what green actions they took in their hotels. She felt it would be a nightmare and declined to participate.
The idea stayed with me though, waiting for a time to blossom. It was at the February 2003 conference, ďGreening of the Hospitality IndustryĒ, that my flood gates for how to combine my hospitality and environmental interests and backgrounds opened. The ideas came as a slow trickle initially, but have increased in volume and speed since then.
The first thing I did was add a ďgreen pageĒ to my B&B site, sharing ideas for the why and how of becoming a green hotel. I understand that one of the biggest hurdles in getting the hospitality industry to adopt green business practices is the economics of it. Too many people think that itís expensive to be a green hotel and donít see the financial savings in conserving. With that knowledge in mind I created ECOnomically Sound. I naively thought I could whip out an article a day to populate it with interesting, informative and persuasive features about the wisdom of being green Ė or ECOnomically Sound. (The word ECOnomically is a blend of economically and ecologically.) I quickly realized that I couldnít whip out a feature a day.
Once I had that site underway I decide to add a Forum so that dialogue could happen among people with similar interests, concerns, questions, and experience, in regards to greening of the hospitality industry. It turns out to be a Catch 22; without the articles on ECOSound to attract traffic, Iím not attracting traffic to the Forum either. At least on the forum I can post quick thoughts and challenges without too much strain, but itís still not getting sufficient traffic.
My passion for creating a database of green hotels just wouldnít be held down any longer. Though lots of my online associates told me it wasnít a viable idea I just had to do it. Itís been a smashing success! It took lots longer to create than I anticipated; database programming Ė done by my programmer Ė is slower than I had expected. But when I unveiled it I had 700 green hotels around the world listed. And I havenít even scratched the surface of possibilities in my research. People love having the database, and are using it gratefully.
The B&B Forum happened at the same time my Green Forum did, just because I felt the innkeeping industry needed another outlet of communication. There are at least two other forums; membership is required there, but not on mine. Itís been slow growth, but the energy is starting to build and interesting conversations are starting to take place Ė without my assistance.
Q: Since you use both web sites and online forums extensively, where do you see these vehicles evolving in the future? How can others implement and maintain what you have [done], in their particular market segments?
A:† I see my websites continuing to disseminate information, addressing the hot topics of the day and my passions. The forums are new enough to me that Iím not sure whatís going to happen with them. Iím not sure if they have caught on with the general public yet or if they will continue to be of value to others. Forums
seem like great resources and platforms for people, but weíll see if the general public thinks so and participate.
There are lots of resources available to help people create and maintain websites and forums. Peopleís personal needs, technical abilities, and support systems will guide them to the resources best for them. I think people should have a topic or field of interest and go for it!† Meaty content and covering the topic in depth are important, most of the time, but I have friends who are having fun with hobbies that they make websites and forums around and are earning a bit of income from.
Q: Your link, http://www.thebandblady.com/reading.html, provides a valuable resource for those interested in B&B. Summarize the most important elements and then describe your research process; how you went about collecting the information?
A:† I generally recommend books Iíve read and benefited from. Occasionally I recommend books others rave about that I havenít had time to read. I discover books at conventions, as recommendations from friends, and by accident. I want others to benefit from the knowledge I received from these books, so share with anyone who has interest in expanding their foundation. When I have a book I want to recommend I go to Amazon, get their links and post them on that page. Itís very easy and makes shopping that much easier for my site visitors to buy the books.
Q: You have seen more than your share of challenges and yet you have mastered them all. Can you share four major challenges you have experienced in the last two years and how you overcame them?
Iím not sure I canít honestly say Iíve mastered them, but they didnít beat me.
A: 1)† Challenge: Not being readily seen on the internet.† Solution: Expand what I share with people coming to my site Ė adding content.
2)† Challenge: Not having enough vehicles to offer people for their education.† Solution: Write ebooks on the B&B industry, the getting in and staying in aspects, as well as buying wisely.
3)† Challenge: Not feeling I was sharing enough of my passions with the world.† Solution: Start my environmental websites.
4)† Challenge:† Not feeling I had the presence or recognition I wanted to have for the work I do.† Solution: Partner with others in the industries I wanted to be more present in so that we have a cross-promotion going on Ė I mention them, they mention me.
Q: You have an enviable reputation for quality training and advising. What ten attributes contributed to your worldwide celebrity in this area?
This is B&B oriented since my ďgreenĒ sites are too new to have let me develop celebrity status yet.
A: 1)† Continuing education Ė Iím an information junky, in a wide variety of fields, giving me a breadth and depth for teaching others about being successful.
2)† I have a passion for first class hospitality, customer service, and staying abreast of trends, and sharing that passion with othersí helps their success.
3)† Being the only woman in the field.
4)† My niche and perspective are unique: I believe that you have to approach innkeeping as a business but your left and right brains must balance each other Ė you make business and passion decisions along the way because either on their own will lead to bad business decisions.
5)† Iím the first B&B consultant with ebooks.
6)† I have a broad, diverse work and education background, giving me more personal experiences to share with my clients and students.
7)† Marching to my own drummer in my presentation and business styles.
8)† I have a stronger online presence than the other B&B consultants, treating my website as an extension of me, not just a sales tool.
9)† Promoting my attitude that there isnít just one way to be successful in this business helps me stand apart from the others.
10) The knowledge I share isnít merely my own experience, itís a blend of what I have seen work and fail from innkeepers of all types from all over the country and in various parts of the world.
Q: Out of all your activities, which do you enjoy the most and why?
A:† Consulting is my favourite activity because I feel Iím helping people attain their dreams with solid foundations under them. That gives them great chances of success and pleasure in their work. Itís exciting to watch the faces as clients ďget itĒ and see how they can create a successful B&B from their dreams (and reality) with their style and personality as the core of their focus.
Q: This is a staple in all my interviews. Pick five topic areas of your choosing and provide commentary.
A: Area 1: Why is greening of the hospitality industry important?
By its very nature, hospitality is a wasteful industry. Hotels have to have heat, lights, and hot water available at all times, so they are prepared for their guests (whether they have guests or not). Restaurants have to have their ovens on and ice made, regardless of the number of people who come to dine with them in a given day or meal. Thatís a huge waste of natural resources. Let me share one statistic Iíve heard that sheds light on just how wasteful the industry is: the average 150 room hotel purchases more products/resources in one week than 100 families do in one year. Thatís a lot of consumption of resources and landfill to dispose of the refuse.
I see the importance lying in the areas of saving money in both purchase and disposal, attracting guests because of the propertyís heightened awareness about their guests concerns, and avoidance of government regulation. Itís not uncommon for me to hear that properties shy away from becoming green because they perceive it as being an expensive direction for them to go. In reality, greening a property can be initially done with from no to low investment on the propertyís part. By conserving energy and water they save money with no investment. Implementing a recycling program saves a hotel money in both disposal fees as well as by retrieving hotel property that inadvertently entered the waste stream. There are many ways hospitality venues can be green that will make a difference to their bottom line and keep the property maintained and operating smoothly.
There is a huge percentage of travelers who are seeking green hotels, and even claim to be willing to pay a bit more for their room if the hotel were taking green actions. Towel and sheet reuse programs are popular steps for hotels to take. Sadly the programs arenít supervised sufficiently and housekeeping too often ignores the guestsí requests to reuse their towels and sheets, and the public has become cynical about the reality of a hotel being green. The traveling public wants a hotel to be green by doing more than towel/sheet reuse programs; they want to see recycling, bulk amenity dispensers, energy conservation, xeric landscaping, and non-disposable tableware (or if disposables are necessary on occasion, then recyclable or compostable tableware should be used over foam products). And when hotels develop green programs, itís in their best interest to promote it obviously and specifically on their websites so that their actions are visible and clear.
Government regulation happens when an industry is perceived to get out of control with their waste. I believe itís not the governmentís job to regulate business unless itís to protect the consumer. Typically government regulation costs the industry more than if the industry regulated and managed itself. By the government getting involved, the hospitality industry will suffer regulations that may not apply to all properties, with standards that could hurt some properties, and deadlines that may be impractical. I see that if the hospitality industry proactively reduced its waste, the government would not get involved and money would be saved sooner.
Area 2: Is there economic sense in being environmentally sensitive?
Absolutely! There is always sense in not throwing money away, and that is a lot of what being environmentally sensitive is about. By conserving time and resources, a hospitality venue saves money. Government incentives can save on purchases and taxes. Attracting more guests increases income, another aspect of the economic sense in being green.
Area 3: What are some of the income pillars for innkeepers besides rooms?
Area 4: Is technology important for B&B innkeepers important to stay abreast of?
Definitely. For example, if technology werenít important, hotels would still have outhouses rather than indoor plumbing.† Todayís travelers want the options of TV, movies, music, telephone, and high speed internet Ė all for the cost of the room, not for extra fees. Having technology present encourages, even allows business people and entrepreneurs to stay at hotels for work and pleasure trips. Technology lets people stay connected with family and work while they travel. People want to make those connections from the privacy of their own rooms, though pool-side can be a refreshing option. The properties that stay abreast of technology will be the properties that maintain their business standing and succeed.
Area 5: How has the lodging business changed this century?
Not all of the data is in yet, but there seem to be lots of changes for the business side of lodging. First there was the recession, slowing business, making innkeepers sit up and take note that income was less than before. Then came 9/11 and for some lodging properties business stopped for months, while for others it stopped briefly and then started to pick up. But the recession lasted awhile longer, keeping business down.
The result of all of this slow business is that travelers have started reassessing their priorities and staying at the properties that fit the bill. Travelers want value, not necessarily the lowest price Ė though there are those who want that Ė but value. They want customer service, to be taken care of, to matter. Travelers want clean rooms.† They donít want to be ďnickled and dimedĒ over energy surcharges, technology, snacks, or parking. They want to be treated honestly and fairly. When they find a propertyís website they want to be able to understand what is offered by the property and included in the room rate. Guests want to be able to check availability online, not via an email Ė they want the answer ďnowĒ.
The ďeasyĒ business of the pre-21st century is over. Innkeepers have to be creative in their marketing to attract guests. And once the guest has been attracted, the propertyís market niche needs to be honed and polished to keep the guests, and keep them coming back and telling their friends and associates. Lodging properties have to keep their business and building modern and up-to-date. If guests donít get the value they seek, theyíll move on, and spread the word.
Q: Can you share a story or two--something amusing, amazing, surprising?
A: 1)† As a new innkeeper, I was talking to my chef one day comparing our respective inn stories Ė he from the chefís perspective, me from the guestís perspective. He was talking about an inn where heíd worked years earlier that had one guestroom right off the dining room. This room reflected a common approach to renovation that I advise my clients against - not walling over doors that arenít functional anymore. This particular roomís bathroom had a 1Ē gap under the former door, the one into the hall, allowing noise to flow both ways between the inn and the bathroom. One night during dinner the couple occupying that room decided to have an amorous exchange in the oversized claw foot tub; the entire dining room was party to the noises emanating from under the hall door. The room sounded like a room Iíd had a few years earlier so we compared notes; and it was indeed the very room Iíd rented one night. I appreciated his story that much more, since Iíd been subject to the loud dining room noises in my room.
As a B&B broker, I always asked my selling clients for their books and tax returns so that I can verify the cash flow of the property Iím listing. I was dumbfounded that one innkeeper asked me which set of books I wanted. This innkeeper kept two sets Ė one for buyers and one for taxes. What a dumb way to run a business! The little bit of money a business person saves by hiding income doesnít compare to the money they lose by having a lower sale price for their business. My advice to my buying clients is believe only the numbers provided for tax returns; if someone is willing to lie to Uncle Sam, they are just as likely to lie to you, so be on the safe side and believe the lower numbers. My operating clients are advised to not be creative with their income statements on their taxes, but to feel free to be creative on their expenses for their tax returns; Uncle Sam has no sense of humour when it comes to income statements, but can be somewhat forgiving for creative accounting Ė you may pay back taxes and penalties but not fines or worse.
Q: Kit, you have shared so much with our audience from your long history of successes. Thank you for taking the time and we hope you will agree to do another interview.
A: Stephen, this has been a delightful interview. Thanks for your probing questions and attention to detail. Iím looking forward to future interviews with you.