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Improvement of Web Presence in Local Bed and Breakfast a Chatham Case Study

Essay Topic: ,

ABSTRACT

A bed and breakfast (or B&B) is a small lodging establishment that offers overnight accommodation and breakfast, but usually does not offer other meals (Shklar L, and Rosen R. 2009). Typically, bed and breakfasts are private homes with fewer than 10 bedrooms available for commercial use.

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Bed and Breakfast can be operated either as a secondary source of income or a primary occupation. Usually the owners themselves prepare the breakfast and clean the rooms etc., but some bed and breakfasts hire staff for cleaning or cooking. Although, few bed and breakfast owners hire professional staff, such properties which hire professional management is usually no longer considered a bed and breakfast, but enters the category of inn or hotel. This study evaluated and highlighted the problems confronting the bed and breakfast online system in Chatham and also in general. The evaluation was carried out through data collection, which involved customers and individuals that participated in the questionnaire. The information was analysed to identify behavioural patterns of customers using the B&B, and their preferences with the online booking system. Some of the obvious problems identified are: Poor website development, which lacks dynamism and does not target customer preferences, Poor visual presentations or multimedia features, which are not tailored to meet specific information for customers (Lang M, 2002).Limited information about the bed and breakfast and other attractions that may be of interest to the customers and finally, some of the B&B does not have a web presence or an online booking system at all. Therefore a prototype website was designed in order to incorporate the following determinants of a successful online presence: Planning, usability, web duration and performance, web quality and management. In conclusion, the bed and breakfast with high customer preferences and satisfaction should have a strong web presence in order to be competitive and customer oriented.

CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION OF THE STUDY

1.1 THE PROBLEM

Web presence is not a new concept in the modern world, though it is not fully utilised and explored by owners of Bed and Breakfast. Since the start of trade, business owners also known as sellers have focused on satisfying their customers with different product and services (Anckar and Walden, 2001). However, globalization has brought about an increase in competition for customers; emphasis has now switched from customer acquisition to customer retention, it has been estimated that the cost of getting a new customer is 4 to 10 times higher than simply retaining one (Kumar and Kumar, 2002). Access to businesses worldwide via the Internet has resulted in a power shift from business to customer, with today’s consumer demanding a higher level of customer service than in the past (Broetzmann and Grainer, 2005). For organizations such as bed and breakfast, a well developed web system is essential (Balabanis et al., 2006). This is to enable customers get the goods and services they want without hassle, which shows an efficient organisation (Broetzmann and Grainer, 2005).

The ability for businesses to effectively satisfy a customer needs and wants should be a priority for organizations that care about increasing customer retention and reducing the costs associated with acquiring new customers( Harwood, S., 2010). A recent study noted that 72% of customers will return if their needs are met, while 46% of customers will not return if they are not satisfied with the services (Stone, 1999).

Based on the information given so far, it is clear that Bed and breakfast online system plays a very important role in customer satisfaction and retention. This study will examine the functions of a good web presence, and explore the determinants of a successful bed and breakfast booking system(Jun and Cai, 2001).

Many businesses have implemented the use of the internet as their primary means of reaching out to customers, with limited information on their website (Staples, et al., 2002). Since most of the transactions are conducted online, customers at times, do not have full and comprehensive access to the services that are been provided. This could lead to limited booking and possibly disappointment on arrival to the Bed and Breakfast (John F., 2011). Therefore, attitude, interest, empathy, and willingness must be considered and communicated through the system( Lin and Wang, 2006). This will assist by identifying the determinants of a successful web page. By looking for ways of getting positive customer feedback, bed and breakfast will be in a better position to improve. In other words, understanding why some businesses receive positive feedback for their web presence and why some have positively achieved customer satisfaction (Baloglu and Pekcan, 2006). Furthermore, the study shows the necessity for effective management of successful bed and breakfast online system.

1.2 SOME EXAMPLES

1. KEEP ON TREND

In the UK, there has been an increase in home improvement and changing trends in home furnishings (Bart et al., 2005). Customers will want a little extra in addition to the comforts that they have at home. Therefore, Bed and Breakfast establishments may have to go that little bit further to offer the ‘wow’ factor(Constantinides E, 2004). Trends to consider may be, for example, installing WiFi, or iPod docking stations and providing PlayStations. Decorations should be neutral but classy. Locally sourced food and drink may appeal to some customers: wherever such local produce is used, it should be clearly stated (on the breakfast menu for example).

2. NEW TECHNOLOGY

A web presence and good website is an essential part of marketing the Bed and Breakfast( Galletta et al., 2003). Visitors want to be able to see the rooms that they will be staying in and also get an idea of what other services, attractions, facilities and so on are available locally. User Generated Content (such as websites that allow consumers to provide feedback on their stay) is encouraged in order to provide potential visitors with recommendations from past users(John F., 2011). Recommendations (good and bad) from anonymous strangers on websites such as TripAdvisor are now more valuable and trusted by consumers than traditional marketing materials such as brochures, websites or recommendations from travel intermediaries (Northwest development agency2010).

Installation of high-speed wireless internet connections or a PC/laptop with internet access for visitor’s use may also be considered to remain competitive, particularly if you want to attract business visitors ( Sweeney et al., 2004). Online booking systems are also a helpful tool in converting an online enquiry to an online booking. However, some owners prefer bookings via phone or email( Hoxmeter and DiCeasare, 2000). This helps to retain the personal touch and the immediate interaction offered by phone between owner and prospective guest( Francis and White, 2002). It is more flexible and allows for alternatives to be discussed if dates / rooms are unavailable

3. BUDGET ACCOMODATION

One of the main sources of competition for Bed and Breakfast will come from budget accommodation such as Company B and company C (some rooms are available from as little as ?9.00)( Flavian et al., 2006).. While Bed and Breakfast providers cannot compete with the economies of scale offered by these large chains, small business can compete on quality, individuality and personal customer service ( Collier and Bienstock, 2006). Location of Bed and Breakfast can also be an important differentiator from the chains. (Northwest development agency, 2010).

4. SPECIALISATION

Visitors are increasingly looking for tailor made experiences which suit their needs – ‘one size’ does not fit all( Hall and Rusher, 2005). Specialisation can be a way of broadening the appeal to a wider audience by focusing on the particular requirements of different markets (Beaujean et al., 2006). Visit England outlines opportunities for becoming specialised through a number of schemes: such as National Accessible Scheme (NAS), Welcome Pets, Welcome Families, Welcome Cyclists, Welcome Walkers. (Northwest development agency, 2010).

5. MOVE TOWARDS LAST MINUTE BOOKINGS

Visitors are tending to make bookings later. Businesses are expected to reassess their cash flow, and offer incentives to fill last minute availability (Montoya-Weiss et al., 2003).

6. BUSINESS VISITORS

Business visitors may be a potential market for many establishments, because it is not typically affected by seasonal demand – visiting through the year but also during the week ( Paul and Earl, 2011). The requirements of the business visitor are very different from leisure visitors for example; they would expect WiFi, a workspace and the option of an early breakfast( Lituchy and Rail, 2000).

1.3 RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT

The Problem:

The focus will be on the new technology, having a web presence with a good website. This is the tool customers of this century are looking for. However, despite the economic benefits of doing so, there are multiple challenges of having a web presence, and most amongst them is the management of the Web system and the achievement of customer satisfaction.

The Purpose:

Attitude, technical expertise, and the ability of the bed and breakfast web presence to satisfy customers and resolve queries, all of which influence the customer service experience (Adria and Chowdhury, 2002). In an effort to identify possible reasons why some customers are not satisfied with the present online system. The study will examine the function of web sites and the various services they are expected to provide. It will also identify what makes a successful B& B business flourish based on their services they provide to their customers. In doing so, the study will uncover the key determinants of successful bed and breakfast web system management and ways of improvement.

Rationale:

Bed and breakfast having a web presence is a relatively new phenomenon; it represent one of the largest sectors of the tourism industry in the Chatham area, with massive potential for growth. Yet availability of scholarly studies on web system dynamics as they relate to improving the bed and breakfast business online is limited.

Fig 1.1: Showing a typical double bed room in a bed and breakfast (south east England development agency 2010)

Universally, a bed and breakfast is a private home or accessory structure in which the owner/operator resides and provides accommodation and breakfast to the travelling or vacationing public (Padget and, Barbera-Medina, 2002) . The number of rooms in a bed and breakfast has always been a matter of local decision in keeping with the needs and wishes of the community and not as defined by a higher level of government.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Bed and Breakfast as: “A private residence, several rooms of which are set aside for overnight guests whose paid accommodations include breakfast.”

The Travel Industry Dictionary defines Bed and Breakfast as: “…a private home that takes in guests, with breakfast included in the price of lodging. Bed and Breakfast can range from modest homes with one spare room to elaborately restored historic houses.”

Only in recent years has the term Bed and Breakfast been used to describe motels and hotels including breakfast in the tariff.

Research shows that communities have almost always provided commercial zoning, for hotels, motels and resorts, but have never taken any approach or action by creating this benefit for bed and breakfasts. Hence, in most communities bed and breakfast is permitted in residential zones.

Bed and breakfasts business owners intend to provide some sort of financial support for themselves from the business, but invariably also have strong emotional commitments which cause the occupation to be as much a lifestyle as it is a small business. Bed and breakfasts are highly demanding of the owner/operator and tend to be in operation for a relatively short span of years if not run properly. Two thirds of Bed and Breakfast surveyed has been operational for less than 10 years and over half have established their business to generate additional or alternative income streams.

Bed and Breakfast operators, look to their Visitor Information Centres (VICs) and Local Authority, as well as other tourism accommodation providers for help and support, both before and after setting up. The majority of Bed and Breakfasts rely heavily on VICs and word of mouth to promote their business.

The Internet is becoming an increasingly important mechanism for promotion and booking, with most Bed and Breakfast creating their own websites which are not tailored to satisfy a customer. This study intends to explore how a good web presence can achieve customer satisfaction.

1.4 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

The aim of the study is to improve the functionality of the online system of the Bed and Breakfast in Chatham area by designing and developing a prototype website to emphasise on efficiency and effectiveness of the web presence, which will be more competitive and possibly target potential customers.

As influenced by the aim of the study, the primary objective of this project is to examine and analyze the web-based problems that are commonly identified among Bed and Breakfast in Chatham and Kent Areas, which will be the focus of this research, are as follows:

1 Poor website development, which lacks dynamism and does not target customer preferences

2 Poor visual presentations or multimedia features, which are not tailored to meet specific information for customers (Lang M, 2002).

3 Limited information about the bed and breakfast and other attractions that may be of interest to the customers.

1.5 RESEARCH QUESTION

To what extent does Bed and Breakfast in Chatham and Kent area use information technology in their respective web designWhat type of IT knowledge is been employed by these Bed and Breakfast?

1.6 RESEARCH METHODS

A questionnaire is used as data collection tool, as part of the primary source of the literature review. Articles, books, journals, and online information will be used as a secondary source. All these methods will be focused on developing an online system that is better than the current system with the aim of targeting customer’s preferences.

1.7 LIMITATIONS OF WEB PRESENCE

In an economy witnessing explosive growth in consumer electronic commerce (Hoffman and Novak 2000), web site presence represents an issue of considerable importance for small and large businesses. An increasing number of businesses are choosing the web as an alternative channel for developing a brand reputation, or simply for transacting with and servicing customers (Subramaniam et al.2000).

Although the web, by virtue of its multimedia capabilities, provides an opportunity for a business to offer unique and satisfying experiences to its customers (Hoffman and Novak 1996), developing a web site has its risk and limitations.

Firstly, the design of the web site is a crucial determinant of whether visitors are likely to return to the site (Klein 1998)

Secondly, another challenge facing small businesses such as bed and breakfast, is the ability to develop a web presence that is not only compelling to the visitor, but is also able to serve his or her instrumental goals as well.

1.8 SUMMARY

The research is made up of five chapters; the first chapter covers the areas of interest and outlines the current system in terms of its limitations.

The second chapter comprises of the literature reviews on bed and breakfast web presence, its functions and capabilities. The third chapter, discusses the study’s methodological approach, the strategies employed for data collection, with the data collected a prototype design is achieved. The fourth chapter compares and contrast the study’s findings as regards to the data collected by the primary and secondary data and respond to the research questions in chapter one, and the analysis of the study. The fifth chapter summarises the research and present the study’s recommendations.

The study will focus on the improvement of the functionality and awareness of web presence of bed and breakfast in Chatham as explained in this chapter. Chapter two presents the literature reviewed for this study.

CHAPTER II: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

This chapter reviews the literature on the overview of bed and breakfast industry, its booking systems online and offline, online booking systems and customer preferences. In this literature, however, it does not focus explicitly on the improvement of the functionality of web presence. Instead, and as will be seen through this review, the majority of the study discusses the benefits and functions of having a good web presence at a local bed and breakfast.

2.1 OVERVIEW OF BED AND BREAKFAST INDUSTRY

Bed and Breakfast can be operated either as a secondary source of income or a primary occupation. Usually the owners themselves prepare the breakfast and clean the room etc., but some bed and breakfasts hire staff for cleaning or cooking. Although some bed and breakfast owners hire professional staff, a property which hires professional management is usually no longer considered a bed and breakfast, but enters the category of inn or hotel.

Some Bed and Breakfast operate in a niche market; floating bed and breakfasts for example are a concept originating in country where a boat or houseboat offers Bed and Breakfast accommodation.Furthermore, there are some statistics given comparing the current market of bed and breakfast in the UK. Bed & Breakfast trips in the UK are summarised from UKTS data (2006-2009) in the below table.

Table 2.1: The table shows that the sector has seen a decline from 2006 – 2009, -7.81% in England and -9.09% in the Northwest with a corresponding decrease in overall market share of tourism trips. This compares unfavourably to motel and hotel accommodation, for example, which has shown a growth other this period of 8.1% for England and 14% for the Northwest (Northwest development agency2010)

(By size)

Fig 2.1: The figures show room and bed occupancies for small serviced bed and breakfast establishments in the Northwest (data relates to 2009) and seasonality (based on room occupancy).Small serviced establishments are quite significant in Cheshire where they account for 51% of accommodation establishments (Northwest development agency2010).

According to a research carried out by Northwest Development Agency (2010),on a bed and breakfast in the south east that has an efficient customer retention strategy. It was discovered that there was no option for online booking in this bed and breakfast, because online booking is not sufficiently flexible for customers. Therefore, e-mail or phone is preferred because in the situation where there are no availability of dates chosen by the customer, an alternative can be discussed. Instead of investing in an online system they prefer to invest on providing a wow factor for visitors. For example, having PlayStations, Jacuzzis, TVs in the bathroom, remote lighting. Addition to the previous list, the owners keep ahead of guest requirements by tracking enquiries from visitors. At the moment, for example, they are tracking requests for in-room coffee machines. Once this has been requested three times they will look into acquiring this for the property. Similarly, trends which are going out of fashion are removed or adjusted to fit into the current trend. There used to be demand for four-poster beds, but this is no longer the case and rooms are more stream-lined, in line with current fashion. Profit is re-invested on the ongoing basis and rooms kept fresh and up to date. In the past, the main trend in Bed and Breakfast accommodation was the en suite bathroom, this service is now taken for granted and is expected by most visitors to Bed and Breakfast establishments as minimum requirement.

However, due to new trends apparent in the sector, customers now have individual preferences of which having a dynamic web system is a top priority.With the current digitalised age of communication, customers expect wherever they are in any part of the world to be able to have a clear view of the bed and breakfast, its surrounding places, landmarks etc to be able to know what they are paying for, is worth the value. This can be done only when the bed and breakfast, has a web presence.

2.2 BED AND BREAKFAST RESERVATION PROCESS

There are three main methods used by customers to reserve or book a place in the bed and breakfast business they are:

Face to face booking-This involves a customer going directly to the business to make a booking.
Telephone booking-This is done via the phone, a customer gets the information from the customer services and make a reservation, most of the time payment is done with a bank card or a cheque is sent to the company.
Online booking- This is done through the company’s website and enables the customers have a better view on what they are about to book, payment is mostly done with a bank card, a form is filled and necessary information is collected by the company.

Reservations are another area where bed and breakfast can outshine hotels. A hotel’s reservations approach tends to be a bit mechanical and impersonal (K. Cassingham 2011) compared to a bed and breakfast, bed and breakfast need to shine when it comes to their reservation process. Booking procedure is vital to the business success, as it is part of the marketing strategy of the company, and customers tend to remember bad reservation experiences than the good ones.

According to a research on customer reservation in company C bed and breakfast, the customer had a very bad experience, there was no provision for online booking, the customer sent an e-mail for information about availability for dates available there was no response after that a call was made to the innkeeper, fortunately the dates the customer wanted where available so they said they will send a letter confirming the booking, which was not delivered, a call was made again stating that the document for the confirmation has not been received and the company just gave verbal directions on the phone, but eventually the customer had to cancel the booking.

Situations like this tells a lot about the efficiency of the company ,and since some bed and breakfast rely on word of mouth, this incident is definitely a letdown of the business.

For a business reservation process to be successful the business must have a good web presence with clear directions on their website, and an online brochure for potential customers on how to make a reservation, information to include also are:

Availability dates
The reservation procedure
What form of payment accepted

Potential customers are also interested in information’s like

Where to send the cheque if not done online
Who to write the check to
Online payment confirmations
Review the business policies, including payment and cancellation, check-in and check-out times, smoking, kids, leisure services etc.

In recent times cheques are quite uncommon, most travellers prefer using credit or debit cards for their payments, which ever payment method to be used should be clearly stated to avoid confusions. Having a good online reservation system is very important in keeping track of customers and mostly repeat customers, it also ease in the handling of paper work and mismanaging of client details for example a client who is a vegetarian and wants a breakfast without meat, this can be indicated online but with paper work it can get mixed up, hence the purpose of the study to emphasize on the importance of web presence in the bed and breakfast industry.

2.3 ONLINE BOOKINGS SYSTEM

Online booking system is a computerized based system used to store and retrieve information about product, options or facilities and conduct transactions for booking it. There are different kinds of online booking system, two types will be reviewed in this study which are

Travel/tourism
Hospital

2.3.1 TRAVEL/TOURISM ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEM

Online reservation system was originally designed in the mid-1960 to handle ticket transactions by airlines; it was later extended for the use of travel agents. Airlines have divested most of their direct holdings to dedicated global distribution companies, who make their systems accessible to consumers through Internet gateways. Modern global distribution companies typically allow users to book hotel rooms and rental cars as well as airline tickets.However, the diversity and the specifics of the tourist products are mandatory by the definition of utilities used to offer and conduct such transactions. For example, sales of combined tours must be handled according to a different sale model than mass direction. Furthermore, small travel agencies and individual travel agents do not usually need the services provided by full scale booking systems in their entirety; they need functionality which is tailored to solve the purpose-specific demand of the customer.

With the advent of modern travel technology and e-tourism having a convenient mechanism for order, discount and commission, which is supported by dedicated online booking system provider, became an apparent prerequisite for development of locally rooted travel industries.

Patterns of booking

1. Travel portal features a number of offers from tour operators and travel agencies; usually, it provides accompanying regional and cultural information. Order is carried out on site of travel agency or tour operator.

2. Tour operator’s website offers a detailed search facility and online booking facilities.

3. Travel agency’s website contains suggestions for travel products and services in certain area provided by certain tour operator or service supplier. Typically, booking is carried out by the agency after order confirmation was sent.

Different methods of the online booking system in the Travel/Tourism sector
Step booking. Booking tour is performed incrementally. This booking model is useful for booking combined or complex tours, where the tour program is a good choice of alternatives.
Booking through a basket order. Typically, ready-made package tours are booked through this model, including individual services, i.e. car rental.
Booking through the dynamic price-list. This model is popular for high-volume destinations, as Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, etc.
Booking through the selection (search) and opting for the price, special offer, Bed and Breakfast, etc. With this model the reservation of the tour can be carried out, which is based on set of search criteria (i.e. the name of the resort, services, catering, the estimated range of prices, etc.).
Booking a cruise contains description of the cruise company and cruise ship, her timetable, the price of the cabin, a description of the cabins, penalties of cruise companies etc.
Booking bus tours typically contains tour description with complex routes to many cities and countries. It is important to display a real load of the vehicle – which seats are occupied, which are free, etc.
Dedicated booking systems for booking rehabilitation treatment or lodging facilities, the selection is carried out by an expert online booking system due to the amount of satellite information either about estimated time of treatment, or location, climate, etc.
2.3.2 HOSPITAL ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEM

The ‘Choose and Book’ system is an online booking service that provides primary care professionals the ability to book in real time or soon after a patient’s consultation. It aims to offer patients choice and improve outpatient clinic attendance, it has just been introduced to the National Health Service (NHS) in England. It also enables patients needing an outpatient appointment to choose which hospital they are referred to by their general practitioner (GP), and to book a convenient date and time for their appointment.

Choose and Book is a national electronic referral and booking service which was introduced in England in the summer of 2004, allowing patients a choice of place, date and time for their first outpatient appointment with a specialist in a hospital or clinic. One of the purported benefits of the ‘Choose and Book’ system is an improved attendance rate as it allows patients to plan their appointments at convenient times which fit around any existing appointments, work or home commitments and carers’ schedules. In the past, many appointments were also missed due to administrative delays and appointment letters being lost in the post. The ‘Choose and Book’ system should reduce the incidence of this as more communication and correspondence takes place through computers. An audit was carried out to compare the attendance rates of new patients booked into the audiological Medicine Clinic at Manchester Royal Infirmary via the Choose and Book’ system with those booked through the traditional booking system and to assess the effectiveness of the new system. The demographics of the two different populations were also analysed to determine if there was a difference in terms of age and sex of patients who attended and those who did not.

METHOD

The period from 1 April 2008 to 31 October 2008 was retrospectively analysed for new patient attendance at the department. Data collected included age and sex of the patients, method of appointment booking used and the attendance record. Data were collected on a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 (Microsoft Corp, Redmond, WA, USA) spreadsheet and the statistical package 14.0 for Windows (Chicago, IL, USA) was used for statistical analysis. The mean ages of the groups were compared by a t-test. The standard error of the difference between proportions was used to compare the data from the two groups.

RESULTS

During the seven-month period analysed, a total of 416 new patients had appointments to attend the clinic, of whose appointments 225 (54.1%) were traditionally booked and 191 (45.9%) were made by ‘Choose and Book’. A total of 314 (75.5%) patients attended and 102 (24.5%) patients did not. Of all the patients booked to attend the clinic, 216 (51.9%) were male and 200 (48.1%) were female. The patients varied in age from 3 months to 96 years. The median and mean ages of the patients were 48 years and 47 years, respectively.

Patients with traditionally booked appointments

Of the 225 patients due to attend, 157 attended (69.8%) and 68 (30.2%) did not. Of those that attended, 74 (47.1%) were female and 83 (52.9%) were male, and of those that did not attend, 41 were female (60.3%) and 27 (39.7%) were male. Whilst the mean age of the patients who attended was 46 years, it was 37 years for the patients who did not attend.

‘Choose and Book’ patients

Of the 191 patients due to attend, 157 (82.2%) attended and 34 (17.8%) did not. Of those that attended, 72(45.9%) were female and 85 (54.1%) were male, and of those that did not attend 13 (38.2%) were female and 21 (61.8%) were male. Whilst the mean age of the patients who attended was 52.9 years, it was 47.4 years for the patients who did not attend.

Table 2.2: Showing results of the demographic details and attendance rates at the Audio logical Medicine Clinic between 1 April 2008 and 31 October 2008(V.Parmar et al 2009)

Comparison between traditional appointment patients and ‘Choose and Book’ patients

Statistical analysis demonstrated that the ‘Choose and Book’ patients had a significantly better rate of attendance than traditional appointment patients, P < 0.01(95% CI 4.3, 20.5%). There was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of sex, P > 0.1 (95% CI –3.0, 16.2%). The ‘Choose and Book’ patients ,however, were significantly older than the traditional appointment patients, P < 0.001 (95% CI 4.35, 12.95).Overall, regardless of the method of booking, patients who attended were significantly older than patients who did not attend, P < 0.001 (95% CI 3.98, 13.96)(C Madden et al).

2.4CUSTOMER BEHAVIOURS IN ONLINE BOOKING SYSTEM

In the last years, the internet has become a major communication tool. A research done in January 2003, shows that the internet universe was estimated to be more to be than 399 million people with home internet access. The average internet user spends more than thirty minutes during one surfing session and views over 40 pages per session and almost 900 pages per month (Nelson, 2003).

Products and services have multiplied and customers have more choice than ever, the existence of the internet as a new distribution channel, even supported the extension of assortment in product line.

Online retailers tend to offer a wide variety of product to cover customers’ needs as there has been tremendous enlargement of information access through the internet. Due to increasing number of product available, information that is too complex, too much or similar can tend to confuse the customer (Mitchell et al.,1997;Mitchell et al.,1999;Rudolph et al.,2003;Turnbull et al.,2000;Walsh et al.,2000).Online customer reviews is an aspect of online platform that can affect a customer’s booking, a report shows that 70 percent of adults currently use product ratings and reviews (Forrester ,2006)more than 80% of web shoppers said they use other consumers reviews when making purchasing decisions(Forrester,2006).eMarketer(2007) reports that nearly six out of ten customers prefer web sites with reviews experiences. A study conducted by Bazaarvoice(2007) indicates that for about 75% of US shoppers it is extremely important to read customer reviews before making a purchase,(Smith et al.,2005) also found that recommendations provided by online are preferred over editorial recommendations. Customers tend to rely more on reviews when it involves purchasing a high involvement product or service (Park,Kim & Han,2007),since lodging in a bed and breakfast is a high involvement, extensive use of reviews for decision making should be expected. Clearly, online reviews are taking on an important role in customer decisions making.

Other factors that can affect customer behaviour to online bookings include perceived security risk in terms of bank details, personal information and lack of trust are barriers to online booking (Li and Suomi 2008). Also, usability issues of the websites can prevent website users from booking online and general dissatisfaction with the quality of the websites. Indeed, online booking are generally very high with numbers of online searchers and shoppers increasing daily.

2.5 WEB DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

There are processes to consider before developing a web site for a business such as the bed and breakfast;

Market research

Online market research must be done first, to view different businesses online and focus should be on other competitors of bed and breakfast in the area that already have a web presence, this will aid in information gathering and the development of the web page to better suit the business, and also flaws such as static, unimaginative, difficult to use websites which have long web duration can be avoided.

Web site Goal

The website should be focused on the goal of the business, to create or improve an already existing web presence that will be able to enhance profitability, creating of customer awareness, sell product and services and to offer online customer support.

Budget

The study intends to develop a prototype design showing what is intended, no amount of money will be involved but in the real sense the business as it is a small one, should set up a smart budget to save money, due to the changeability of website to meet the current needs of customers, businesses can overshoot budget, but with right planning over budgeting can be avoided.

Choosing and buying the Domain name

This factor is very important because a company’s domain name is a representative of the business online. A domain name tailored to the business enables the customer’s easy access to the company. The bed and breakfast can enquire to find a name suitable for the business through the online procedure.

Target market

Firstly the web presence will be developed aiming at the goals and objectives, additional content like room number etc which currently are not being used by most bed and breakfast, to give the website a little edge. Customer preferences gotten from the research surveys will also be incorporated in the website in other to meet the target market.

Currently 60% of adults between the age of 60 to 80 find it difficult using online services, especially when it’s complicated, a web design must be user friendly depending on the age group its aims to target.

2.6 CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION WITH BED AND BREAKFAST WEB ENVIRONMENT

According to Byrnes (2005), customer service is not measured by the customer experience; it is based on what the customer remembers about the experience and how that perception drives his/her future behaviour. For organizations, translating that customer experience into customer satisfaction is likely to result in higher customer retention, favourable word of mouth, or increased purchases (Keiningham, Goddard, Vavra, & Iaci, 1999, p. 57).

Organizations search for ways to achieve profitable growth; it is natural for them to consider seeking more services with the customers they presently serve. Customer management experts often propose that it is easier and less costly for firms to gain incremental sales from existing customers than to prospect for, and develop, customers with whom they currently do not do business. Yet, as Anderson and Narus (2003) argue, most firms struggle to devise or implement anything but the most sales-oriented growth strategies and tactics. Customer profitability is largely based on customer loyalty. Supporting arguments that have been advanced include loyal customers being less costly to serve, less price-sensitive and hence willing to pay higher prices, and more likely to be advocates who generate sales via positive word-of-mouth. Further, the widespread adoption of loyalty programs can only be assumed to be due in part to their (assumed) positive impact on profits (D. Bowman and D. Narayandas 2006).Customer loyalty, in turn, is driven by customer satisfaction. This relationship has a similar intuitive appeal; if customers are satisfied with a seller’s product and services, then it is only natural that loyalty should follow. Expectations have a central role in influencing satisfaction with services and these in turn are determined by a very wide range of factors. Through the SERVQUAL model, the role of perceptions and expectations will be operationalised.

SERVQUAL is a service quality measurement tool that assesses both service perceptions and expectations across a range of different service characteristics. The service quality literature usually attempts to categorise the factors that influence attitudes towards the service on a number of different levels. At the highest level this involves a small number of service quality dimensions. These can be disaggregated into a larger set of service quality factors or determinants, which are then developed into questions for measuring by means of a structured questionnaire. As with the models for measuring satisfaction and identifying priorities, there are also a number of different constructions of the service factors that are most important in influencing perceptions of the service. This model consisted of a 22-item survey instrument designed to measure customer perception of five dimensions of service quality: (1) tangibles: appearance of physical facilities, equipment, and staff; (2) reliability: ability to provide dependable and accurate service; (3) responsiveness: willingness to help the customer; (4) assurance: ability to inspire confidence and trust; and (5) empathy: extent of caring and individualized service. Berman (2005) attested to the popularity of using the SERVQUAL model to measure customer satisfaction and (Khatibi, Ismail, and Thyagarajan 2002) acknowledged the SERVQUAL as “the most comprehensive and frequently cited tool for measuring and managing service quality” (p. 35).

Bitner, Booms, and Tetreault (1990) observed that the majority of the service quality items from the SERVQUAL are directly related to the human interaction between the customer service representative and customers, thus lending support to the proposition that customer satisfaction is highly dependent upon the employee’s performance when providing customer service (Khatibi, Ismail, and Thyagarajan, 2002). Therefore, in order to provide the level of service quality that meets or exceeds customer expectations, organizations must determine what elements of service are important to customers by analyzing customer complaints, listening to feedback from front-line workers, and gathering customer satisfaction data from customer surveys (Berman, 2005).

B&B WEB ENVIRONMENT

Although each bed and breakfast business establishes its own measures of customer satisfaction and loyalty, common measures include web presence, industry expertise, unparallel customer service, the focus on this study will be on the web presence. Although some local bed and breakfast still rely on word of mouth, but an impressive percentage now have a web presence, due to the rate of increase of online consumers which is accompanied by a boom in website creation this has in turn intensified the battle for the consumers’ time and attention. Making it clear that most customers are online! Eighty percent of reservations are researched online and in the US over half of all reservations are made online.

In January 2003, the internet universe was estimated to be more than 399 million with home internet access (K. Matzler et al.).According to the research done by (britefire), it is expected that 17 million people in the UK will book all or part of their holidays online. This indicates that the numbers are going to keep rising with the current online trend. The bottom line is that an online presence that stands out will give the company an edge and this can be done by proper marketing the bed and breakfast online, understanding and taking control of the online marketing and the online customer (who is a demanding, sophisticated and empowered consumer) are key attitude to success. Marketing a Bed and Breakfast online consists of many things all of which are defined in an online marketing strategy. Creating a website is a starting point. But creating a website is not like creating a brochure. There are good websites and (many more) bad ones. The website needs to be different and spectacular from other bed and breakfast websites, and customers judge a company by the quality of experience they have on their website. A website is like the gateway of the company, it shows the customers a sample of the bed and breakfast online before they decide to book. The online customer will leave if they do not like the service, have a poor experience or dislike what they have sampled, and they will leave with a simple click of the mouse and visit another site until they get what they want. This happens time and time again. Once a well designed, content-rich and customer-centric website is achieved, there are a number of strategies to encourage customers to go to the site are to be employed and this include search engine marketing, online advertising campaigns, e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing, employing online PR and publications, and signing up with travel portals.
The main objective of these marketing efforts is to get customers to make a booking. Indeed when a customer decides that they will stay with the business, they expect to be able to book right there and then. The online consumer does not want to make (sometimes expensive long distance) calls (in working hours) to a reservation desk or Bed and Breakfast front desk, so the online booking process should be stress free in order to achieve customer satisfaction.

SUMMARY

The literature review was on the bed and breakfast web presence and booking processes. An overview of the industry was discussed and issues such as customer satisfaction and retention.

Chapter Three describes the methodology that was used for this study. A review of the study’s purpose and research questions was presented, followed by an outline of the research design. Next, identification of the target population, sampling procedures, and methods for conducting the study were described. Then, the survey instrument used for the study was evaluated. The procedures for data collection and analysis were presented.

CHAPTER: III METHODOLOGY

This chapter presents the study’s selected research methodology. As shall be seen, the methodology is influenced by the purpose of this study and is based on an assessment of the strategy for responding to the research questions. As such, the current chapter reviews the purpose of the study, presents the research questions and hypothesis, and discusses the data collection, data analysis procedures and the limitations of the research.

3.1 PURPOSE OF STUDY

Bed and Breakfast organisations presently in Chatham are not utilising the full internet potential and marketing strategies it can offer. Their web-based environment does not pose enough competitiveness in this vast and fast growing industry. The research will target to improve the functionality of the Bed and Breakfast online system by designing and developing a prototype website to emphasise on efficiency and effectiveness of the web presence, which will be more competitive and possibly target potential customers and so, it was important to explore customers expectations from bed and breakfast and their attitudes towards the online services. All of this was done with the aim of satisfying the primary purpose of the study which was the improvement of web presence in the local bed and breakfast in Chatham.

3.1.1 RESEARCH QUESTION

To what extent does Bed and Breakfast in Chatham and Kent area use information technology in their respective web designWhat type of IT knowledge is been employed by these Bed and Breakfast?

3.1.2 HYPOTHESIS

Every business aims at making profit and improving its market position and having a web presence is one main method of achieving that aim. Bed and breakfast currently in Chatham are not utilising their full internet potential. For a bed and breakfast to be successful it has to have not just a web presence but a good one that satisfy the needs of their customers, also continued monitoring of web development changes to fit into what the customers are looking for, can enhance profitability and lead to a successful web presence.

3.1.3 RESEARCH PROBLEM

The study, the research question, hypothesis and chapter one focuses on the importance of having a web presence. The problem is that some local bed and breakfast in Chatham does not have a web presence. They rely on word of mouth, some have a web presence but it does not meet the needs of the customers. Accordingly, the research points out the benefits of having a web presence, which is far greater that not having, considering the digitalised and competitive environment.

3.2 RESEARCH QUESTIONAIRRE

The questionnaire took the form of open-ended, closed-ended questionnaires which collected demographic data, job related information and experiences. The questionnaire was accompanied by a short cover letter which explained the purpose of the study and approved by the project supervisor. This study conducted a survey of business and customers, as in bed and breakfast in the local area and customers of different ages and occupations. The questionnaire as shown below was distributed amongst business and customers, each having different but similar questions. It was distributed amongst customers and handed out, the questionnaire sheet was short, to ensure that it does not exceed more than 5-7 minutes to answer and therefore, encourage participation. The questionnaire included a two line paragraph explaining the purpose of the study.

Two types of questionnaire were derived which were:

Business/Manager Questionnaire
Customer Questionnaire

Table3.1: Shows the business/manager questionnaire used for the research

3.3 RESEARCH SITE

The research site was based in Chatham Medway area. It was selected by the researcher because it has a history of having bed and breakfast and is a tourism area for centuries. Chatham area poses a great potential of achieving the goal in this study. However, it depends on the business if they are willing to make the changes to improve the quality of service.

3.3.1 POPULATION

The questionnaire was distributed among 20 customers, as participation was voluntary, it was not possible to get more responses, the business part was very difficult, because most of the time the managers are either busy or not available, just one business took part in the survey, even though the questionnaire was short, a large percentage of the potential respondents approached were not interested.

3.3.2 SAMPLE

The questionnaire was printed out to be able to get immediate responses and there was also online provision for those who want to fill it out on line, but much response was gotten from the printed copy because they were able to fill it out there and then. Example of questionnaire filled out by a customer

3.3.3 DATA COLLECTION

The study used the secondary data collection methods which was based on data obtained from electronic databases or libraries, articles or books, journals and which was scholarly, verifiable and well-referenced(Creswell, 2003). In addition to secondary data, primary data of two categories (business and customers) where collected, like explained above. The data collection method was questionnaires because, like Creswell (2003) explains, questionnaires allow the researcher to collect a large volume of information on a limited budget and in a short time.

The personal data which was collected through the questionnaire will be kept confidential. In fact, the participants were assured in the questionnaire that personal identifying information will not be revealed at all, except as part of the study’s results.

3.4 RESEARCH APPROACH

The research approach influences the design phase and gives opportunity to consider how each of the various approaches may contribute to, or limit, the study (Creswell2003).and is done by creating a prototype web online system.

3.5 DESIGN

This is to show the layout of the system under development. A prototype web page is designed using tools such as html and css, acting as a bench mark to the actual design intended to be customer targeted.

SUMMARY

In this chapter, the research methodology used where both primary and secondary data. The next chapter will present the results of the questionnaires handed out to both the customer and the business and present the study’s findings on the basis of these results.

CHAPTER IV: ANALYSIS OF RESULTS

The results of this study are based on a quantitative investigation of customer satisfaction ratings related to bed and breakfast online system. The results are further based on the bed and breakfast perceptions on the factors which influence operational success and their own ability to build their web presence in such a way as would enhance customer satisfaction levels.

As mentioned in Chapter III, the sample in the study looked at bed and breakfast online system in Chatham Medway and other local bed and breakfast. According to the research, the questionnaire filled out by company A, shows that having a web presence is very important, presently company A have a web presence that is not current but shows no sign of improving it, on the other hand other bed and breakfast do not even have a web presence.

Improving the services offered by a bed and breakfast is dependent upon identifying the key operational determinants of successful bed and breakfast. As earlier noted, therefore, the purpose of this study is to uncover the key operational determinants of successful bed and breakfast. In order to satisfy this purpose, the study focused on primary and secondary data. The secondary data was collected from academic journals, books and websites. The literature collected and reviewed overviewed the bed and breakfast industry and the factors which influence customer satisfaction and the ability of their online system to satisfy customers. As for the primary data, it was collected from two sample populations: Bed and breakfast business and customers. Both groups were required to fill out questionnaires. Completed questionnaires from 20 customers and 1 business form the basis of the results of this chapter.

This chapter presents a summary of the findings, followed by a discussion of the study’s results as related to the statement of the problem, purpose of the research, and the research question.

4.1 DISCUSSION OF RESULTS

As earlier noted, the questionnaire which was to be distributed was emailed to the project supervisor. A maximum of 40 each had been requested by the project supervisor to be completed by the researcher considering the time frame at which the project was to be completed. A period of two weeks was set for the completion of the questionnaires and returned. At the end of the two week period, 10 customer questionnaires were returned comprising of 2 males and 8 females. Another one week was added and 11 questionnaires returned comprising of 1 business, 5 males and 5 females. The results of the questionnaires will be presented below.

4.2 SUBJECT DEMOGRAPHICS

Demographic information was collected from the entire participant group using a survey questionnaire. Customers reported they had all participated in online activities (n = 20, 100%) Of the respondents, 7 males and 13 female customers participated in this study with age group between 18 and 60. As regards the customer group, only 9 had provided feedback regarding the bed and breakfast quality of services. The educational data reported that all of the respondents had completed their high school education. Within the customer group, 18 had university degrees, one had master degree and the other had earned their PhD. As pertains to the business, no educational data was recorded. The responses were as follows,

Although much information was not received from the business questionnaire, According to the secondary research, bed and breakfast business has seen the importance of a web presence and most of them are, moving towards the trend.

4.3 DETERMINANT OF SUCCESSFUL ONLINE PRESENCE

Creating a successful, cost-effective online presence appears to elude many bed and breakfast organisations. What many companies wind up with is often not much more than a static online advertisement. And while an online brochure website is arguably better than nothing, most organizations could achieve more benefit from having an online presence. The study tested the following determinants of successful online presence, all of which were derived from the literature reviewed during the research process and included in Chapter Two. These determinants are:

PLANNING

Extensive planning is important for a successful website. Understanding the needs of the customers, setting goals and anticipating future growth are all essential.

USABILITY

The website will serve as the first impression for many potential customers, partners, prospects, investors. It is therefore important that it is a positive one. This is accomplished through aesthetics (design, images, and colours), well positioned text, and the relevance of the site to the user to quote an Arthur Anderson study “more than 83 percent of Internet users are likely to leave a web site if they feel they have to make too many clicks to find what they are looking for.” Clear, well thought-out navigation is one of the best opportunities to create a good impression and keep people on the site.

Website that is difficult to use deters customers especially the inexperienced ones (lohse & spiller 1999; Montoya-weiss voss & Grewal 2000).

WEB DURATION AND PERFORMANCE

One of the most often-discussed complaints about the Web experience is the delay users frequently encounter while browsing. A delay occurs when a user clicks on a hyperlink and nothing seems to happen for several seconds. Several recent studies have determined that delay is one of the most important aspects of online quality (McKinney et al., 2002; Torkzadeh & Dhillon, 2002; Turban & Gehrke, 2000).

Slow downloading are likelihood that customers will abandon the site(Nielson, 2000;Dallart & Kahn, 1999)although delay can be caused by several factors (Nah, 2002)such as the connection speed, the browser speed and the internet itself. Web sites involve satisfaction because a user has a need that the site attempts to gratify or provide a path toward such gratification, it is intended to build positive attitudes and momentum toward making a purchase that will eventually satisfy the user’s need.

WEB QUALITY AND MANAGEMENT

Improvement in customer relations could be achieved by improving web quality and management, which are: incorporating a value-added search mechanism, dynamic navigation, and user-customized Web page, also providing price comparison, user-customized information, and multi-media contents, customized navigation, all these enhances the web quality. Time and resources needs to be invested when designing and operating Websites. If customers find an online retailing to be too difficult to navigate and use in making transactions, they will move to competitor sites. Customers who shop online consider the Website not merely as an information system but also as a virtual store that provides full service, a business that is conscious of that aspect of customer behaviour will be more likely to retain customer loyalty and marketing arena. Online customers are not purely utilitarian, valuing only efficiency; they also enjoy shopping online enough to make them return. Organizations can address quality and management through improved Website design, Web content management, and process integration. Thus, successful online retailing must provide a high level of system, information, and service quality, and consequently, entice customers to revisit their Website. The measures of Web quality constructs can be a useful diagnostic tool for assessing the perceived quality of an organization’s e-commerce capability and can be a benchmark against competitors.

4.4 FINDINGS

The real question to ask at this point and after the results of the survey have been discussed is what the previous information says about the research questions. In other words, what are the responses to the research question as can be inferred from both the survey and the literature reviewed?

The research question was: To what extent does Bed and Breakfast in Chatham and Kent area use information technology in their respective web designWhat type of IT knowledge is been employed by these Bed and BreakfastBoth the literature reviewed and the findings of the survey questionnaire provide a very good indication of the answer to this question. According to both the primary and the secondary data, the online presence of local bed and breakfast is limited, although some local bed and breakfast already have an online presence but it is does not target customer preferences.

SUMMARY

The findings of the primary and the secondary data provided responses for the research question and validated the study’s hypothesis. The next chapter will discuss the implications of these results and conclude the dissertation.

CHAPTER V: ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS

This chapter presents a summary of the findings, followed by a discussion of the study’s results as related to the statement of the problem, purpose of the research, and the research question. Based on the analysis of data from Chapter Four, specific conclusions are presented. Limitations of the research are then discussed, followed by recommendations for future research.

5.1 SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

For decades bed and breakfast industry has relied in word of mouth in promoting their business, due to changes in technology bed and breakfast are now moving towards the trend which is the web presence, some of which lacks dynamism and is not customer targeted. This study contributes to the body of scholarly knowledge by providing new findings that specifically outline the key operational determinants of successful bed and breakfast online presence from the viewpoint of customers and businesses.

In order to investigate the nature of these key determinants, the study proposed one research question and one hypothesis.

The research question is: To what extent does Bed and Breakfast in Chatham and Kent area use information technology in their respective web designWhat type of IT knowledge is been employed by these Bed and Breakfast?

The study’s hypothesis is: Every business aims at making profit and improving its market position and having a web presence is one main method of achieving that aim. Bed and breakfast currently in Chatham are not utilising their full internet potential. For a bed and breakfast to be successful it has to have not just a web presence but a good one that satisfy the needs of their customers, also continued monitoring of web development changes to fit into what the customers are looking for, can enhance profitability and lead to a successful web presence.

To reiterate these findings in more concise format, it can be said that this study offered insight into the relationship between customer satisfaction and the bed and breakfast web presence. By analyzing the nature of the relationship between the business, web system and customer satisfaction, this study found planning, usability, cost and management, web performance and quality, customer targeted, are the key determinants of a successful bed and breakfast web presence. Proceeding from the above, it is important to emphasise that the study mainly derived its findings regarding the determinants of successful bed and breakfast online system from the literature review. Within this context, the primary data served the purpose of testing these determinants in the sense of exploring their validity from the viewpoint of customers and business, on the one hand, and evaluating the present system in question from the current system. It was found that the determinants are valid and that through their responses, it is discovered that the bed and breakfast requires improvement in the current system.

5.2 LIMITATIONS

The limitation of this research was that collection of data took place at a particular point in time and at limited time frame. While this limitation is addressed in recommendations for future research, the findings do not support a conclusion that responses received in this study would be similar to responses gotten and given at another time. There is also a potential that other factors which are (setting, time of day, recent conflicts, and fatigue of the participants) could influence responses (Shell, 2001).

The most important of this study’s limitations is that the survey populations were extremely limited considering the fact that participation was voluntary, only 21 responses was received by the end of the two week period. This means that the survey population is quite small and so, the findings that are derived from this population cannot be generalized to a larger one.

5.3 IMPLICATIONS OF STUDY

Bed and breakfast continues to represent a major component of serviced accommodation in the South East, not only servicing the leisure visitor but also the increasing demand from business travellers. Bed and breakfast also makes a substantial contribution to the regional economy with an estimated ?280m in visitor expenditure attributable to guests staying in Bed and Breakfast in the South East. The Internet is becoming an increasingly important mechanism for promotion and booking, with several Bed and Breakfasts creating their own websites in the absence of recognised, effective industry standard solutions.

An important implication of the study is that improving an online system does not guarantee increase in profitability rather it aims at achieving that at a very high level. Service quality can be maintained at very high levels, providing that the company exercises great sensitivity to customers, ensuring that they possess communication and hosting skills. Furthermore, it is absolutely necessary that bed and breakfast management receive appropriate training in their technical knowledge regarding the company’s website and how to update services and products online. Similarly, to ensure quality of service, it is imperative that the bed and breakfast be appropriately ready for all seasons as many Bed and Breakfast owners desire to run a seasonal, rather than year round business(SEEDA), so that customers are not kept waiting for extended periods of booking. In other words, the implications of this study are that if bed and breakfast have a web presence and apply the determinants of a successful online presence, it will increase their competitive edge, quality of service, value and class, leading to customer satisfaction and retentions.

5.4 RECOMMENDATIONS

For future study, first to be recommended will be direct comparison, between bed and breakfast that has a highly rated web presence to a poorly rated one, in terms of their profit yield and customer retention. Such a study could have practical benefits of having web presence as it will provide a comprehensive understanding of the positive and if there is the negatives of having a web presence. A second recommendation is a study whose primary purpose is the maintenance of bed and breakfast in the local area in terms of its traditional feel and modern technology added to give the business an advantage on current changes that may occur, so that it will not be swallowed up by hotels, inns etc, rather the b&b should stand out as a different business from other businesses. There are numerous other issues that can be discussed, these two are most relevant to the current study and have immense practical value.

5.5 CONCLUSION

B&B online system are a relatively new phenomenon and most of the research done in the study, has focused on how bed and breakfast can run efficiently with current technology. The bed and breakfast sector has seen a decline in the period between 2006-2009 (Northwest Regional Development, 2010). This could be due to different problems such as not having a web presence, keeping on trends like having wifi, modern decoration, and value for money, different customers with different needs. There are so many reasons for the decline but the purpose of this study is to improve the functionality of the existing web presence of bed and breakfast in Chatham and to highlight the importance of a web presence for B&B and also, for those that do not have a web presence.

The results of the data collected are shown in the tables in Chapter IV and these shows the primary source of literature review. An extensive secondary review was used throughout the study as well .In order to achieve a successful web presence there are determinants which the study found and they are planning, usability, web duration and performance, web quality and management. If these determinants are applied, it can enhance customer satisfaction and increase profitability in the bed and breakfast online system in Chatham.

CHAPTER VI:

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