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Family business

September 5, 2013
By: 
Amy Dove

At the Villa Motel, it comes down to knowing your customer and letting your customer get to know you.

The approach makes sense for BA International Hotel Management grads Frank and Emily Shin, who took over management of the Nelson, B.C. motel in 2012, from Frank’s father. With the Kootenay mountain range serving as a backdrop, the family-owned and operated motel is seeing a resurgence of guests thanks to the Shins approach to people and strong focus on their online presence.

Nelson is a tourist town and historically it wasn’t hard to fill the rooms in the summer. A few years ago that changed as the economy dipped, says Frank, who is now enrolled in Royal Roads' MBA program. When they took over, they devoted new focus to the motel’s online systems – making it easier to find the motel and book online. Taking what they learned in the classroom, and their internships, they are applying lessons from other businesses. They started using Booking.com and earned a No. 1 ranking for motels, hotels and B&Bs in Nelson due to the number of reviews and sales. They are also part of Booking.com’s preferred hotels program. “For us that was a very prestigious invite and we are very proud of the program,” he says.

With bookings coming in, the focus turns to people. There the approach is simple – make the customer’s happy. It can be as simple as a friendly check in, providing them with an overview of the area or if it’s a hot day, offering cold cups of pink lemonade in the lobby. “People really enjoy that,” Frank says. “Especially those big biker dudes. They always have a laugh when I offer it. We are trying to get in touch with the original spirit of the Villa Motel. It’s a very relaxing place in a natural setting.”

It’s clearly working as guests take to TripAdvisor to rave about the quiet location, comfortable beds and clean rooms. The majority of posts glow with comments about the fantastic service from the Shins and their staff.

Operating a motel in a small community is not without challenges. The couple have taken note on how the industry is changing in their town and catered accordingly.

It comes down to reputation and being seen more than your competitors, Frank says. “You have to analyze your competitors very carefully to see what other guests like and don’t like,” he says. “Then you incorporate those strengths into your own business.”

“People are pre-travelling online first. They are looking at photos of the area and property and seeing what there is to do,” Emily notes. “People read reviews about everything. It is very important that we encourage our guests to participate on review sites like TripAdvisor and to respond to feedback.” 

For the Villa, that means upgrading the motel and taking a personal approach to customer relations. Doors and windows were upgraded, and new duvets brought in. The bathroom amenities – such as shampoo and soap – have been upgraded too. The work is ongoing and always tie back to the motel’s social media presence.

“Now people know that we are an old motel, but we are renovating. It’s out duty to keep showing online our progress,” says Frank, noting they use social media for that. “We want to be really transparent with that.”