What should I blog about? (part 2)…

The Old Vicarage Hotel

Dave and Cindy West are the owners of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Camberton, a small village close to Cambridge. While the business is staying afloat, Dave and Cindy are painfully aware that they need to increase takings in order to provide a better financial basis from which to plan the much-needed repairs to the building and work towards retirement. The Vicarage is a large Victorian home boasting extensive gardens leading to the river, individual and characterful rooms, and several function rooms of varying sizes.

Most of the Old Vicarage tkings are as a result of wedding parties which happen most weekends, due to the picturesque setting of the building. This is profitable business, but leaves much of the hotel empty. Dave and Cindy would like to capture some of the vibrant tourist trade which provides Cambridge with much of its income. In fact, Dave has often found visitors from overseas in the Vicarage garden who express dismay that they weren’t aware of the hotel and so are booked into one of the other more nondescript guesthouses in the town. It’s clear that something needs to be done, and Cindy is convinced that a website is the answer.

However a website by itself isn’t going to solve all their problems. Search engines are notoriously difficult to get high rankings on, and the Old Vicarage has neither the time nor the money to pay for too much specialist help. What’s needed is a quick but effective solution.

An answer is at hand. Approaching a local website designer and telling him of their very limited budget, Dave and Cindy discover WordPress, easy to use free website publishing software. It sounded ideal, and the designer was able to charge them a one-time fee for buying a suitable domain name, designing a custom-made template for the hotel and setting up the website. Using WordPress they could update the website whenever they wanted. So now they had the tool, how should they use it? At first they just wrote a few pages about the hotel, it’s history, their prices and the details of the function rooms. But that was, in a word, boring. The website needed something else as well.

Time to do some research, so they talked to the people that matter: the customers. One of the main attractions of the hotel, according to the regular visitors they had, was that it felt like home. They said there was an attention to detail that was missing from most hotels, and Dave and Cindy became friends to the guests at the hotel. That was something that many of the wedding party guests also said, and it was rare that the mother of the bride wasn’t in tears at how beautifully Dave and Cindy and their staff had looked after her daughter. This led the couple to realise Website Rule No. 1:

Be real: Speak with a natural voice, about the things that are happening where you are. Remember you’re writing to friends.

They realised they had a fantastic opportunity to use Dave’s skills as a photographer. He was already taking photos for many of the wedding parties at the hotel, wich provided some additional income, and a series of photos taken around Camberton at different times of year hung in almost every room of the hotel. The village was beautiful, as were the hotel gardens, and Dave loved his new job of photographing for the website. In fact it was one of his photos that the website designer used to create their website design. Most days Dave would put a picture up, and his “Portraits of Camberly” section (available online and in the hotel reception area) became quite a hit with visitors to the hotel who regularly asked for prints. This gave them Website Rule No. 2:

Use your talents: If you do something that you’re passionate about it, people will want to know about it. Share your talents, or you’ll waste them.

Cindy had limited IT skills, but even she began to enjoy writing about the comings and going at the hotel. Discussions about the wedding parties with photos taken by Dave (permission always granted by the bride and groom, of course) were a chance to show off her latest flower arrangement. The owner of the wedding cake shop in Cambridge who regularly visited the hotel saw that his cakes were appearing online, and this prompted him to not only get a website of his own (the local website designer was glad of the referral) but trade links with the hotel. Their websites complemented each other, and caused several other local businessmen to reflect on the buzz they were generating.

During the summer the banks of the river were always full of tourists and ramblers, and Cindy realised with their prime position they could provide refreshments to people. And with every glass of lemonade or cup of tea that was served, the napkin proudly displayed the website address. Cindy realised this was Website Rule No. 3 in action:

Don’t be afraid of promotion: You’re in business, so tell people about yourself.

Before long, through links from local businesses and individuals and the regular articles and pictures being added to the website, the Old Vicarage Hotel began to get enquiries by email. Moving a computer from the office to the reception desk allowed the staff to quickly respond to enquiries, and a little bit of IT training (including how to use a spell checker and respond to emails politely and in a friendly manner) soon had the hotel staff up to speed. In fact the Wests’ son, Jack, worked out how to automatically put emails with different subjects into different folders. That allowed them to filter people wanting overnight, weekend or longer breaks, saving a bit of time. Dave even bit the bullet and offered a 5% discount when booking online.

So the bookings started coming in more regularly, and search engines showed the hotel website in the top few results when searching for “Camberly”. Dave and Cindys vision, passion and hard work had paid off, and takings nearly doubled by Christmas. Most weekends they now had two wedding parties, and the hotel was also being used mid-week for small conferences and business meetings, and the required repairs had been done to the building. They had even extended the garden terrace slightly to accomodate more tourists during the summer months.

Dave and Cindy were busy. They started updating the website less often, and sometimes a week or two would go by without any new pictures being added. Rankings in search engines began to slip, and bookings started to slowly fall. Luckily, the wedding cake man reminded them of Website Rule No. 4:

Keep up the momentum: Once you’ve got a website running, don’t let it grind to a halt. Websites are like plants; they require constant tending to flourish.

So most days Dave handed the reins over to his deputy manager and got his camera out again. Cindy realised one of the reception girls had a knack for writing in an engaging style, and appointed her Official Website Person. Dave and Cindy still write regularly on their website even though they are thinking of retiring, and every time they do, their readers remember that the Old Vicarage Hotel is a home from home. And when they think that, they click that friendly little “Book now” button…

Of course, this is all completely fictional. However it’s a nice story, wouldn’t you agree? If you own a hotel, or even of you don’t, this could be your story. Contact your local friendly website designer for more information.