In a recent blog I pointed out that local charities and civic groups train a sharp eye on bed and breakfasts, looking for a free room night to raise money for their worthy cause. Our own B&B is no exception. But after we gave rooms to nearly everyone that asked, we began to limit our largesse to weekdays and then, eventually, to off-season weekdays, and eventually we closed the tap on free rooms altogether. So in a blog I asked innkeepers if they still donate free room nights – and why? Does it increase their profile or lower their perceived value? The answers were across the board and may provide some smart answers when responding to those repeated requests.
The phrase “charity begins at home” rings true for Tina, an innkeeper who donates rooms – but only to local charities andwith restrictions. She learned early on that recipients of free room nights booked their one night on popular holiday and college weekends.
Innkeeper Linda Nolte is adamant that “we never nevergive away free nights.” Why not? Nolte explains that guests who’ve received a free night are suspiciously tight. “We get nothing out of it -- not even a tip for cleaning,” she says. The solution? Well, Nolte has guests pony up by giving a $50 donation to stay at her inn; the rationale being that if the person reallywants to stay there they’ll pay the difference.
• Like many new innkeepers, Bon Bou hoped that free gift certificates would generate paid room nights. “Were we wrong!” she states. “And a lot of recipients of free night certificates never use them.” Adjusting her approach, Bon Bou’s B&B offers a handful to select organizations, but none to local charities which do not provide any returns.
When the innkeepers of the Cottonwood B&B opened in January, they were inundated with requests for free rooms. Like Bon Bou, they gave several room nights away and, like Bon Bout, saw little return. So they adopted a new approach: a free evening, but only if those guests purchase two evenings in advance to generate income for food, utilities, and housekeeping. Lesson learned.“Going forward I will discuss discounts, I will not give any nights free.”
Personally, I think these are pretty smart approaches. But what if you’re a soft touch?
Buddy Marcum,an innkeeper in the Portland, Maine, area, admits “it’s hard to say no.” To that end, they’ll choose just a handful of local recipients and donate a weekday room – no weekends or holidays. The weekdays-only rule and local angle is essential to Pam Thorsen who sees that her donation builds goodwill. What’s more, if she believes in the cause, a free room night is what she can offer to let the volunteers know that she cares. For causes that fall into a gray area, Thorsen has a solution.
“If we do not feel a connection, we suggest they buy a vacation package from us and have a local bank or insurance company or large corporation in their town connected to the cause sponsor it and we will package it beautifully for them.
“Do you realize how many large companies who can well afford to donate are never asked?,” she continues. “They get the exposure for a unique one of a kind vacation package and we make a sale and the cause gets a nice donation usually a weekend package with dinner and spa. Win, win, win.”
Let’s think outside the box. Or room.
After fielding a flurry of free room requests, Helen Chapman King came up with a less expensive but, perhaps, equally impactful way to keep her inn in front of the community. Twenty-five years ago she began offering local groups only the second half of her B&B: Breakfast. Like Linda Nolte, she learned that locals who won a free night often gave it away to people who had no investment (ie: appreciation) for the experience.
“I found that offering a breakfast at the inn for two or four, or even six is just as much appreciated and gets the same publicity in programs and mailings. It is less costly and you don’t lose the income from a room you might otherwise rent.
"And breakfast guests are gone in a hour!”