Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the water surfing the beaches of my childhood home, Hawaii. Often I would hear of surfers or swimmers that got into trouble. Many times the problem was riptides. Wind and waves will push water toward the shore, then sideways until the water finds an exit back to the ocean. The resulting column of water moving away from shore is called a riptide. A common misconception about riptides is that it will pull you under the water. In reality the current is generally strongest at the surface of a riptide. The real danger is in being carried out into open-ocean, or worse, toward the cliffs on the other side of the beach where a properly timed wave could suck you under a maze of caverns from which you have little hope of returning.
I suppose, at this point most people would be asking why anyone would participate in something so dangerous? The reason was simply that the fix was SO easy. All you have to do to stay safe from riptides is occasionally “check-in”. Here’s what I mean:
Happily, a riptide is usually only a relatively thin column of fast moving water that runs from the beach to the ocean. When you find yourself in a riptide all you need to do is swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of it. One problem is most people’s instinct is to swim back – toward the shore and against the current. Too many swimmers have drowned fighting a current with salvation only yards away on either side.
The biggest problem, however, is that often you don’t even know you’re caught in a riptide. If you spend too much time focused on the waves, you have no land-based reference to indicate that your position has changed. In other words, an extremely important part of surfing or swimming includes performing frequent bearing checks with the shore to see if you have moved – “check-in”. By checking in often you can easily tell if you’re caught in a riptide. If you are, simply swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of it – no problems.
More recently I had the opportunity to spend several days working with innkeepers and regional bed and breakfast association leaders from around the world. As we talked about the challenges of being an innkeeper, it became clear that all innkeepers face some common issues. Marketing, finance, staffing, customer service, decorating, cleaning, not to mention state and federal regulations are all common concerns for most innkeepers. As we discussed these issues during the week I watched something fascinating begin to happen. Innkeepers began sharing valuable ideas and real-world experiences with each other. Each person brought new experiences and resources to the table. Through the course of the conference I watched innkeepers take on roles of advisor and advisee. At the end of the conference I received feedback from several people who confirmed what I already knew – those interactions with their peers produced valuable insights they would take back and integrate into their own businesses.
That conference helped me to remember that one of the critical things associations provide are opportunities for us to occasionally “check-in” with the industry and with each other. Call it a “reality check” or “getting your bearings” – the fact is that innkeepers work in an ocean wrought with breaking waves and dangerous riptides. Many times innkeepers are unprepared for the complications inherent in running a business. The shifting political landscape can be a danger to your small business. Even veteran innkeepers can focus so intently on the storm waging around them that they forget to check-in occasionally.
I remember clearly the first time I violated that rule. I was surfing at a particularly hazardous beach known for its share of fast moving riptides and I hadn’t gotten my bearings for a while. When I finally did, I knew I was in trouble. Plan A was to swim parallel until I was out of the current. But I was already so far out that swimming parallel would only get me to the rock cliffs, not the beach. Plan B was to follow the riptide to its end, which I knew was the Molokai Express – a fast moving current of water that runs between the islands. If I went with Plan B my next stop would be Maui. Quickly scrapping Plan B, I began swimming towards the cliffs. I spent the next 45 minutes literally fighting for my life. It mostly consisted of me hanging on for dear life to keep from being sucked under the cliff, avoiding being crushed against the rocks by incoming waves, and climbing across sharp lava in nothing but a pair of surf shorts. When I finally rolled back onto the shore I was exhausted, cut up, happy to be alive, and a little bit wiser about respecting the ocean.
In the bed and breakfast industry the national organization that provides you with the biggest opportunities to check-in is the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII). PAII provides innkeepers with education and information on industry best practices. PAII is your industry’s national advocate for public policy, media relations, and the economic health of the industry as a whole. However, in my opinion the most important thing PAII provides is the ability for innkeepers to connect with each other. PAII’s vision statement reads in part, “PAII serves the innkeeping community by connecting people to share ideas, solve problems, build relationships and conduct business.”
At the end of this month PAII will present another opportunity for us to check-in with each other. PAII is hosting the 2012 New England Innkeeping Conference & Trade Show from April 30 through May 2 in Cape Cod, Hyannis, Massachusetts. One of the highlights of the conference will be Dianne Langeland, Executive Editor of Edible Cape Cod. She will lead a panel discussion on cooperative food-to-table relationships with local farmers.
PAII is also hosting the Southeast Innkeeping Conference & Show June 4th – 6th at the Greenville Hyatt Regency in Greenville, South Carolina. Rob Peck and Dr. Simon Hudson are two of the featured speakers who will be speaking about techniques to more effectively run your business and collaborating with today’s consumers to increase your business.
If you’re an innkeeper and not a member of PAII I hope you will reconsider that decision. PAII provides many benefits for your business – some are quantifiable and some are more difficult to quantify – though they represent benefits just the same. Ultimately the success of any association rests in its ability to harness the power inherent in its collective. That power comes from the experience, wisdom, and resources of its members. As members of PAII, we are given the opportunity to occasionally “check-in” with our peers and get our bearings. It gives us a chance to measure what we are doing alongside what others are doing. It also gives us a chance to gauge our efforts against industry standards that are measured and proven. Without these opportunities to check-in, your business runs the risk of being caught in a riptide – one you may not even know you’re in.