Thursday, May 28, 2009

Top Five Reasons to Love Online Reviews

A recent bed and breakfast guest and subsequent reviewer on TripAdvisor.com posted this photo of Nelson House B & B and captioned the pic: "It-looks-like-this".

His review went on to call us a "gem" and with a wonderful turn of phrase summed us up as "Not for the faint-hearted but anyone with a joie de vivre will love this place - highly recommended."

That got me thinking about the pros and cons of online reviews. Our business predates the internet but reviews themselves are old news. Think of the "blurbs" that authors solicited from other authors. Think of the power and celebrity of old-time theatre and movie critics, whose every bitchy turn of phrase was analysed and agonized over by producers, directors and actors. Now, in this online world, even the humble, homespun B & B experience is open to a worldwide thumbs up or thumbs down.

Here are my top five reasons why you should embrace online reviews:

1. Reviews are human nature. They have been around and are not going away. They are just another form of gossip and face it, two types of individuals gossip, I mean review. You have guests who are so genuinely pleased with their experience that their true nature is to pass along the good news. Gosh - the world needs good news. Then, there is the bane of innkeepers, the guest who may have been very pleased by their stay, but whose nature tempts them to judge, criticize and revel in the authority of telling everyone just how it should be.

2. The proliferation of online review sites is due to those websites' realizing that we all love to read this stuff. The review websites tell hotels and guesthouses that the power lies in the fact that these reviews are by guests for guests. Sort of like reality TV. Yeah - right. I think the enormous draw lies in you reviewing the reviewer. Readers are searching for credibility. Depending on your analysis of the writer, you might take their recommendation of a B & B as valid or just know that the reviewer was having a headache day or tension with the spouse. Those things, we all read between the lines.

3. So I say to innkeepers, don't fear reviews. While the online review sites may wash their hands of the "personal opinion of the reviewer", they also have legal and policy protections in place against reviews posted by non-guests, outright lies and slander. The websites almost always permit the hotel or B & B to post a response to try and balance a particularly nasty slice. Don't worry over your inn's ranking. It's just a number. A highly competitive innkeeper who tries to hardsell guests into becoming instant authors of glowingly positive reviews will eventually face a comeuppance. For what it's worth, even a so-so review is bringing a link and precious eyes to your B & B website. In the long-term, it is far better to put your energy into providing every guest, even difficult ones, with a quality experience.

4. To review readers, I repeat the old adage that you can't please all the people all the time. A top-ranked bed and breakfast might not be the best choice for you. The variables are enormous. Do you want a quiet, adult, even romantic atmosphere(like us -hint-hint)? Then, it would be a mistake to go to the family-oriented establishment with twin beds and cots for the kids. Do you want to be within easy walking distance of downtown attractions, amenities & entertainment(again - that is us!). Then, the place across the bridge and twenty minutes by car from downtown would be best to avoid. Life is all about making the right choices.

5. To reviewers, I love you. I started off this post with quotes from a guest who recently surprised us with a kind and discerning look at our establishment. He got us. His stay was not without incident. A plumbing regulator device got jammed so that he was getting little or no hot water in the shower. Not good. He immediately mentioned it to Matthew, our Manager, and voila, it was fixed! Here is his review in full. So you trip advisors out there, just ask your innkeeper. We are here for you. We care and want you to be happy while under our roof. We promise you that we will listen to your concerns and questions. Life is not perfect but life in a bed and breakfast is as nice as we can make it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gay Diplomacy

The New York Times and others carried news this week that Hillary Clinton was changing State Dept. rules to grant full and equal benefits to the spouses, partners and children of the United States' gay diplomats. Some eyebrows might have been raised for readers just realizing that the United States knew it employed "gay diplomats". I was surprised that it took the US almost twenty years longer than Canada to recognize, as Hillary said, that it was "the right thing to do".

In the fifteen years that I was a gay diplomat, I saw Canada's Foreign Service policies swing from the crude paranoia of the Cold War - full of dubious notions of being "compromised" by Soviet agents - to a defacto recognition of same-sex families and the practicalities of paying for a partner's travel and health requirements, supporting all families to help ensure job stability, personal & career development and new recruitment.

Foreign Service is military in it's stresses on individuals and families. Think of being posted every few years just as you are beginning to feel at home somewhere. Does the family separate or try to stay together? Think of living in a foreign setting - not of your own choosing - foreign language, foreign culture, immigration regulations and labour market conditions and trying to help your loved one find satisfactory employment and perhaps find a satisfactory school for your child.

Diplomats serve and represent their country - sometimes under harsh and even dangerous conditions. Like every other form of employment, gays have always been there, working equally, sharing the same risks and benefits - finally, long overdue, the benefits.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Memoriam - Arthur Erickson, 1924-2009



Arthur Erickson, Vancouver's legendary architect died yesterday at the age of 84. This is my photo of his Evergreen Building, circa 1978.

Mr. Erickson's aesthetic exploration of concrete and glass made him an artist among architects. He was influenced by nature, zen simplicity, the horizontal planes of landscape and water. Visionary to the end, his later works push the limits of skyscraper verticality. Each floor of the The Erickson, now under construction on the shores of False Creek, is slightly askew and twisted from the one below. The 72 story condo/Ritz-Carlton, that was started on downtown West Georgia and then shelved due to recessionary pressures, would have carried this pleasing, natural spinal twist to new heights.

For his official biography and portfolio of his worldwide work, please see his website.

For colourful commentary on a life well and truly lived, and more pics of his latest "twisty" buildings, I recommend the forum discussion at the skyscraperpage.com. This website is a treasurehouse for those who care about modern architecture.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Under the lilacs...


French lilacs flank the front gate and overhang the fountain. I believe I spotted a fairy in the garden yesterday. They are said to be attracted by the sound of running water but I believe they might like the scent of lilacs. Our guests certainly do.

Except sometimes after a rain, those romantic, hanging blooms can give you a sweet, wet slap across the face! Duck & cover.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Truth about Flu in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

This is for the people of Mexico, whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by media hysteria, much more than by the H1N1 influenza.

A friend, living in Puerto Vallarta, forwarded me this YouTube video that was filmed this week, May, 2009. FULL DISCLOSURE: My partner & I own, rent and very much enjoy a one bedroom condo for vacations in this beautiful resort city. We LOVE this place and these people. Every foreign amigo, knows that PV really is the friendliest place on earth.

Have a look - there is nothing to fear but fear itself. There is not a single case of this new flu anywhere in the whole state of Jalisco!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Surfs Up/Back from Tofino


About 5 & a half hours travel time from Vancouver, Tofino and the surrounding area are extraordinarily beautiful. It is not by accident that Pacific Rim National Park and the Clayaquot UNESCO Biosphere Reserve have been created as examples of British Columbia's great temperate rainforests. The geography showcases a series of sweeping ocean beaches and offshore rocky islands, magnificent coastal forests, first nations's people and their ancient culture. Add in migratory grey whales, sea lions, bears, cougars and wolves and you have the place for a wild getaway.


At either end of the series of Pacific beaches lie the lively small towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. The former has become a tree-hugging, eco-everything base camp for whalewatching, ocean kayaking, wilderness education and exploration. Bed and breakfasts, gift shops, gourmet restaurants and multi-million dollar homes rub shoulders with hostels, youth culture and surf schools. In fact, the tides, winds & coldwater waves of Long Beach and Chesterman Beach draw surfer dudes from Australia and Hawaii to test their skills against BC's rip and curl.

Wetsuits, boots and gloves are required year round. Winter storms are so ferocious along this coast that they have become a selling point for winter tourism. No snow here - simply enormous waves and the awesome force of nature.


When we were not running with Ozzie, our Cairn Terrier, on the wet and spring-rainy beaches, we stayed warm and woodsy in a comfortable vacation cottage, called "Shipwreck", at the Gold Coast Retreat. We especially loved the Finnish-style sauna and yes, since it's been a very long time, the sound of frogs every evening. Fresh air, exercise and sweet rest.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's Tofino Time...



Off in the morning - bound for the west coast of Vancouver Island, to a cottage named "Shipwreck" near Chesterman's Beach, the Pacific Rim National Park and that lovely, end of the road town of Tofino.