How to Encourage Referrals

Referrals are a big part of any small business, but especially so for the lodging industry. Because of the huge number of options, sometimes it’s hard for people to decide on something they’ve never tried before or they’ve never heard anything about. Sometimes, a referral, whether personal or anonymous, can tip the scales in your direction.

No Vacancy SignTake TripAdvisor, for instance. A review site for lodgings around the world, from the biggest hotel chains to the smallest one-man cabin rentals, this site is the mecca for opinions, both good and bad. What it provides, however, is not actually reviews. It provides social proof, the concept that “if everyone likes it, it must be OK.” Social proof is what we all strive for in business, whether we’re in the lodging business, or the graphic design business, or any other business, for that matter. We want people to like us. If they like us, they’ll buy from us (or stay at our B&B, or use our services). TripAdvisor provides social proof in a place where everyone can find it.

This is not a post about adding your B&B to TripAdvisor, though if you haven’t already, you should. It’s a post about getting that social proof, in the form of referrals. A good review on TripAdvisor is an excellent referral, but it’s not the only kind.

First of all, you have to have a B&B worth referring. If guests hate staying at your place, they’re not going to talk you up to their friends. If that’s the issue, your problems are bigger than your referral plan. If, however, you do have a B&B worth referring, if you offer your guests a great experience and your services (and beds, facilities, breakfast, etc.) are worth talking about, you’ve got the first step covered, and the hardest part out of the way. Here are some more ideas for building up your social proof:

Sometimes, the simplest things lead to the biggest results. Ask for referrals; you’ll probably be surprised by what happens. Send out a thank-you email to your guests with a link to your TripAdvisor account. Make it easy for people to just click and recommend. Make sure all of your contact information is in the email, and ask your guests to forward it to friends or colleagues they think might be interested.

Send an email to past guests you had a connection with, asking them to write a testimonial for your website. Though it might seem counter-intuitive, ask them to include the doubts they had before booking, and how during their stay their doubts were overcome by the service, the facilities, the breakfast, or any combination thereof. Such testimonials—those that tell a story, and those that overcome objections—are actually more effective than gushing, over the top, “Jenny’s B&B is the best place to stay in the world!” reviews.

Ask your guests to sign your guest book, and ask them if it’s OK to put their reviews on your website. Add a “From Our Guest Book” page to your website and post their  witty musings or funny anecdotes. They can go a long way toward swinging the balance away from the generic hotel toward a B&B with personality.

Send past guests a postcard offering a discount. Tell them that if they give your postcard to a friend, you’ll give them both a discount on their next stay. Or, send an email offering a discount and have your past guest forward it to their friends.

You can also be a referrer. If you’re full, recommend another B&B in your area. They, in turn, can recommend you when they’re full. Get together with some other local B&B owners and form a mini-network, and recommend each other.

Form partnerships with other local businesses. Recommend a local tour company, and have that tour company recommend you, or that fishing guide or that quilting shop. Find other businesses that align with your goals and with your target market, and form mutually beneficial partnerships. If you’re the adventure oriented B&B, partner with the local kayaking or rafting company. If you’re the B&B for birders, partner with the local sightseeing charter company.

These are just a few ideas for getting and giving referrals, and therefore establishing the social proof that will allow more potential guests to trust you and book with you.