If you’ve ever thought of starting a business in the travel and tourism sector, Guido van den Elshout, also known as GJE and Happy Hotelier is the person to follow.

@happyhotelier is the creator and owner of perhaps The Netherlands’ most upmarket bed and breakfast, Haagsche Suites in The Hague, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2012.

He uses social media prolifically both to promote his business in an unobtrusive way, and because he enjoys it. He writes and contributes to a few blogs and publishes several Paper.lis, including The Happy Hotelier Daily, as well as being active in other social channels like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest.

He has become a trusted source of news and information in his field. His main English-language blog, Happy Hotelier, is a mine of lists and links for anyone interested in travel, hotels and much more.

His blogging and curating go beyond marketing: he says they help him bring order to his many interests.

You changed direction to become a hotelier. How and why?

The Hague by BamshadI practiced international tax law for over 25 years, but then I became involved with our family company managing property in and around The Hague. There are certainly similarities between practicing as a lawyer and operating a hotel. You have to be able to read your clients/guests so you can make them happy, and you have to be very creative in both professions.

In autumn 1999 we bought the house next door, because you can only buy the house next door once in your lifetime! One of our daughters suggested starting a B&B, and we decided to do something different, the ultimate in luxury bed-and-breakfast. So we have only three 70sq.m. deluxe suites, with fully equipped kitchens so people can stay long-term.

I believe we were trendsetting then as I’ve seen many similar small very luxurious hotels/B&Bs being opened since.

Are you always as happy as your ‘handle’ implies?

I remember I couldn’t sleep the night before the opening party, thinking “I’ve now built the ultimate B&B, but what if our guests turn out not to like my face, my manners or the way I treat them?”. I was like an actor with stage fright.

My wife and I were not trained hoteliers. But we had travelled a lot and have strong opinions about the ideal hotel room/suite and service. Luckily our guests appreciate us and our approach. One even went so far as to name me as one of the pluses of Haagsche Suites. I was walking around like a peacock for a day or two.

I’m happiest when we have guests who, like us, like to discover a hidden gem, appreciate a well-designed, clean and well-kept suite and the details we take care of. My blog’s tongue-in-cheek motto is: the happier the hotelier, the happier the guest.

How do you keep guests satisfied?

Simple: surprise them and treat them beyond their expectations. Stay focused on each and every detail each and every day, and learn from your mistakes.

Why do you invest time in social media?

First, I’m a people person. Through Haagsche Suites, my blogging, curating and involvement with social media I come into contact with many people from around the world. Many of them I’ve met IRL (in real life) from time to time.

The Sissy Suite at Haagsche Suites Second, I’ve been able to make people aware of Haagsche Suites, attract not only many guests, but also journalists and bloggers who visit or write a review. The question for me was how to attract attention to Haagsche Suites without being too intrusive.

Third, it’s a way to bring some order in my many interests, and to share my discoveries (and sometimes thoughts) with whoever wants to read them. Curating is a good description of what I do. My online activities help me stay informed about trends in the travel industry and the technical and behavioral changes that affect the Internet which is increasingly important for my business.

Paper.li made it very easy to create daily papers from links tweeted by members of the Twitter lists I had created. I am often amazed at the useful content that shows up. I share the Paper.lis on Twitter and I must say I like the reactions I get from the tweeps who are mentioned.

Also they give inspiration for new blog posts. They are a sort of reference point. On Twitter I only follow some 800 active accounts. Those alone produce more than 3,500 tweets a day. I simply can’t keep track of all those.

Do you have much interaction with readers?

In my experience, many readers never give online feedback to bloggers. That comes mainly from fellow bloggers. Interestingly, it is the more recent social sites like Twitter and Facebook and the social bookmarking sites like Tumblr and Pinterest that give you some insight into your readers. I think that is because their interfaces are much easier than WordPress’s commenting feature; tumblring or pinning is also much easier than commenting.

You seem to have many interests outside your business, such as chair design, architecture, street art and photography…

You’ve hit the nail on the head. I have too many interests! A summary of what I blog about could fill another blog. The blogs I contribute to:

  1. Co-author of a Dutch language blog that is part of Weekendhotel
  2. Initiator and sole author of the Happy Hotelier 
  3. Initiator and co-author of English language Chair Blog which I started in 2007 just because I’m a chair addict. Currently there are three authors: two nice ladies from Taiwan and Moscow help me out. Chair blog also has a daily Paper.li.
  4. Initiator and co-author of English language Absolutely The Hague. I started it in July 2010 with the aim of it becoming a community project to provide foreigners living in or visiting The Hague with in-depth knowledge of the place, but recently it hasn’t had all my attention! There’s also The Absolutely The Hague Daily.
  5. Co author of the Dutch language blog Hofstijl, a community-driven blog that aims to offer in-depth knowledge of The Hague from locals. Occasionally it also touches on Dutch politics as The Hague is the seat of Dutch government and, of course, various international companies and legal bodies.

So do you spend most of your time online?

Usually I only get to my computer somewhere between 3-4pm. My day starts with preparing our famous gourmet breakfast together with my wife, and serving it to our guests. Then I arrange the billing for guests who are about leave. Next, I get busy with cleaning and preparing the suites and shopping for new guests.

I can’t be on the computer continuously as guests may be arriving or need attention. But sometimes I fill idle time with blogging. It has proven to be a good pastime.

Main photo: Henk Jan Winkeldermaat, photo of The Hague by Bamshad

Liz Wilson
Liz Wilson writes copy in the Marketing Communications team at Orange Switzerland and used to edit this blog. She likes talking about content, copywriting and social media on her personal blog.

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