The B&B industry is a wonderful community that I’ve been part of one way or another for almost 20 years. Through this community I have had first class mentors who have taught me hospitality, have had helpful brainstorming sessions to solve problems, have learned valuable business and marketing tips, made special friends, had sympathetic ears for venting to, and had supportive friends to crow my successes and awards to. As the industry has matured and the community has grown, there have been even more opportunities for these experiences. PAII had its first bi-annual B&B convention in Philadelphia in 1998, and the changes that have happened since then are exciting and invigorating.
As with every community, opportunities come and go. Yellow Brick Road started publishing articles for B&B travelers in 1984 and slowly morphed into a newsletter for aspiring innkeepers). B&B magazines, reservation system companies, and insurance providers have come and gone “since the beginning”, and there will be more to follow suit. Early bed and breakfasts had shared baths and double beds, their market niche was being a B&B, and the best marketing tool was getting into the various B&B books. Times have changed. Being part of the community involves you in the changes that are taking place, keeping you on the forefront of this evolving industry. On the flip side, if you don’t keep active in this evolving process, you’ll suddenly discover it has moved on without you.
One of the community building options that has developed as the internet has evolved is an internet-based discussion group called a forum. I used to think of forums, or bulletin boards as they were called initially, as a time waster. I don’t any more. Now I think of them as valuable tools and venues for sharing. The same things I got in my early days from the B&B community, when it was small, are again readily available through participation in a forum.
I said that I had mentors who taught me hospitality. They also were available when I had questions. A forum can introduce you to people you might not have otherwise met, people who can be your mentors, or proteges, and answer questions for you. And both of you can be comfortable in your own homes or inns as you interact.
Problem solving brainstorm sessions typically happen on the phone or face-to-face. In our busy lives that’s not always possible, unless you have a forum to connect with in your “spare” time and those brainstorming with you can connect in their “spare” time.
I also consider forums part of your continuing education, something I think is a requirement for any successful business. A forum is a free place to get a significant portion of that education — to learn new things, things you may not have ever considered before. You hear different perspectives on old and new ideas too. Think of a forum as a meeting, but in this meeting you can move from conversation to conversation without fear of disturbing others with your movement, and you can schedule that meeting time for your own convenience. Furthermore, there are no time limits for this meeting so the information is there when you are ready for it, the pool of information growing and changing with time.
Making friends was never easier than with the internet. Innkeepers lead busy lives and don’t get out to socialize often enough. But to get online, jump into a forum to share with others in your line of work is a great way to make friends. It’s like going to a B&B conference, only cheaper and faster. And the friends you make online may be at a conference you will personally attend someday, making the conference that much more valuable someday, which adds value to both the conference and the forum.
At times, innkeeping has its frustrating moments, and who can better understand those frustrations than other innkeepers? A forum gives you the opportunity to vent your frustrations and be understood. You might even get some insights that will help you resolve the frustrating situation. And aspiring innkeepers need to know about possible frustrations so they can be better prepared should they be faced with a similar situation.
And just as important as venting is crowing. Sharing your successes, victories, and awards is important and a forum is a great place to crow. This is where you have made friends and connections, where you can share your joy and be understood on a different level. Lots of people in your life will be glad to celebrate with you, but innkeepers are the most understanding of all. They know what you went through to reach your success and will crow with you better than anyone. That’s the kind of support we all need in life, but especially innkeepers who give so much of themselves nourishing guests.
Forums satisfy diverse and abundant needs. They don’t replace B&B conventions but they do fill in the gap between conferences. They don’t replace the face-to-face interactions and the hugs found from the innkeepers you meet and know at B&B conferences. Why not have both options at your disposal? A forum for everyday sharing and learning and B&B conventions for more intense sharing and learning sounds like a good balance to me.