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B&B Marketer of the Year AwardGood businesspeople of all stripes work hard at customer retention, because they know it’s a lot more effective — and cheaper — to retain an existing customer than to go find a new one. That wisdom is especially relevant for innkeepers, whose ethic of hospitality creates personal as well as commercial connections for the people who stay with them. In fact, many innkeepers emphasize that their favorite part of the work comes in the friendships they make among their guests.

What can you do to build those connections between your guests and your inn? In other words, what keeps your visitors coming back for more?

Offering Financial Incentives for Repeat Visits

One of the easiest ways to attract guests and keep them is to give them a financial benefit for staying with you. One Hawaiin innkeeper worked with local tour companies and restaurants to create a loyalty card for his inn. His guests get discounts at those businesses, which he says creates “a one-stop shopping experience to the Big Island.”

Todd Allen, the 2014 Marketer of the Year award winner, does a direct mailing of gift cards during the holiday season to his top 100 guests, chosen according to spending and frequency of stays.

Creating Physical Reminders of Your B&B

You can also give your guests something of value that reminds them of your inn when they’re back home. Nicole Brayton of Brayton Bed and Breakfast in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has started giving out coasters, mugs, water bottles, and bathrobes bearing her inn’s logo to guests who accrue points by staying there. She says it’s her way of competing with the frequent-flier mileage programs used by many airlines.

Brayton promotes the program via Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, and says the rewards program has led to an increase in repeat business.

Promoting Warm Feelings about Your Inn

People of all types want to feel that they belong, and good innkeepers find ways to deepen those emotional connections for their guests. Photographs are one good way to do this: Many innkeepers will send guests a souvenir photo of their party at their inn. Some will also encourage families staying with them to use their inn’s parlor or garden as a backdrop for holiday-card photos.

Bev Davis and Rick Litchfield, who have been innkeepers for more than 35 years, go a step further with their frequent-visitor program at The Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport, Maine. As Litchfield explains, “We provide gifts of increasing value to each guest couple at every fifth visit to the inn. On their tenth visit to the inn, they are honored with an engraved [paving] brick in what we call our Memory Garden.”

The garden adjoins the guest entrance of the inn, and has a beautiful fountain with radiating walkways. Since inaugurating the program in 1996, the innkeepers have awarded more than 600 engraved bricks to returning guests, so that the walkways are now nearly filled with names of repeat visitors. “We have been amazed at how much of an inducement this program is for building repeat traffic,” Litchfield says. “Once guests have come to the inn several times, they really seem to strive for the brick!”

In 2014, the inn celebrated the 100th visit of a guest couple by naming the fountain itself for them. Many other couples have stayed at the inn 25 or more times. Litchfield says that the program “is the single most successful thing we have done in our 36 years as innkeepers.”

Think about the guests who come to your B&B and what might make them return. What could YOU do to promote more loyalty among them? Join the conversation on Google+

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