3 Things to learn from Hilton CEO

OTA giantsHigh levels of cancellation, high commissions from Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and competition from Airbnb are big issues that a giant chain like Hilton have in common with independent owners.

In a recent interview, the CEO of Hilton talked about rising cancellation rates, high commission from the OTAs and competition from Airbnb. Every day is a school day so I thought I would consider his comments and try and interpret them for independent accommodation owners like yourself.

High levels of cancellation

High level of cancellationNassetta, from Hilton, says “customers…have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scene where cancellations…have skyrocketed.” He is talking about certain OTAs encouraging customers to book and cancel. OTAs don’t really care about high cancellation rates if the customer books again through them it doesn’t matter to their profitability, they still get the booking; it’s the cancelled property who loses out.

If cancellation levels are an issue for Hilton they are an even bigger issue for independent accommodation owners where each room is so much more precious. To put some numbers on it I looked at our statistics from the last 10 months and they show that certain OTAs have an average cancellation rate of 26.5% compared to 8% on direct bookings.

Our advice here is to make sure you have a cancellation policy that does not penalise direct bookings. If you can maximise your direct bookings you will also lower your cancellation rate because direct bookings are more than three time less likely to cancel.

Hilton has responded by increasing their cancellation deadline from same day to 48 or 72 hours and made sure that their direct booking cancellation policy is always the best.

High levels of commission

OTA commission risesMany of our customers tell us about the rising commission bills which seem to get larger every year as OTA bookings keep rising. Hilton mentions a lack of competition “More competition would have the effect of driving down distribution [commission] costs.” We have seen less competition as the OTAs take over rivals leaving only two major OTAs (Bookingcom and Expedia, who own most of the others).  Nassetta, of Hilton, thinks that Airbnb could change to become a competitor for the OTAs and help drive down commissions.

Is there a place for another OTA with lower commission? Hilton certainly thinks or maybe hopes so. In common with many independent owners Hilton feels the pressure from very dominant sources of bookings and hope for a path to lower commission.

Airbnb is not competition

Hilton sees Airbnb as catering to “different travel or trip occasions” this may be true for Hilton because a big hotel chain clearly has little in common with a bedroom in a home. Airbnb feels far closer to the independent small businesses that are our customers.  We also know that many of our independent customers already use Airbnb as a channel for low cost bookings so they can be an ally for everyone.

In summary, it seems that there is a surprising amount in common between Hilton and independent accommodation owners. A closer look does reveal that the same issues are faced by everyone irrespective of size along with a hope for more competition in the online travel agent space.

Previous related blogs on direct bookings

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3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.

Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?

Book Now

Book Direct

Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.

Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.

3. Reward direct bookings

Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.

special offer for rooms

special offer

With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes

Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.

Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.

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AA B&B Awards 2017

Huge congratulations to the winners of the AA B&B Awards 2017 and especially to the two properties who are using freetobook – Mansion Hotel, Llansteffan and Glenegedale House, Islay.  The awards took place on the 8th May and we could not wait to congratulate the winners. The B&Bs using freetobook won in the following categories:

AA Guest Accommodation of the Year, Wales – Mansion House, freetobook user since March 2015

AA Friendliest B&B – Glenegedale House, Islay – using freetobook services since December 2014

Mansion House in Llansteffan   

twitter: @pantyrathro  https://www.facebook.com/mhllansteffan/

Situated in the Carmarthenshire area, Mansion House B&B has 5 luxurious bedrooms, each named after a Welsh hill farm and a restaurant that has two AA rosettes. I guess the location is not the only thing that is stunning about Mansion House, right? It is no wonder that they have won the award for a Guest Accommodation of the Year, Wales. If you are still not convinced take a look at some of the reviews their customers have left on TripAdvisor and you won’t be disappointed when you see that the place has been described as “outstanding” and having “superb food and stunning location”.

We managed to get a comment from the proud property owners David and Wendy Beaney!

 “We never imagined, whilst building our business plan on the dining table in Sydney, Australia – exactly five years ago – that we would achieve such an accolade in such a short space of time. We have defined strong financial targets for ourselves each year and slowly (and we think realistically) have incorporated professional goals for the team and the business, but this award had not even come onto our goal list yet! We are grateful for the support of our strong team of professionals: Paul, Anwen, Oscar and Nick (in the kitchen), Janet, Lucy, Paul and Ella (front of house) and Hannah and Claire (housekeeping) as well as our army of casual staff, which have excelled across the board over the past two years. And we cannot finish without mentioning our wonderful families. The support of Wendy’s parents has been unconditional particularly when we turned their world upside-down by moving back to their home with our four children! And finally to our children, who have sacrificed a ‘normal family life’ over the past few years and have become an integral part of our business. Thank you, Dylan, Lolly, Will and Rory.” – David and Wendy Beaney

Glenegedale House, Islay   twitter: @GlenegedaleH  https://www.facebook.com/GlenegedaleHouse/

Located on the island of Islay with a stunning view over the Mull of Oa and the Atlantic, Glenegedale House was voted the friendliest B&B by the AA B&B awards. The B&B has four rooms, offers delicious Scottish food and something extra – books, maps and local tourist information to browse through.  Rated 5 out of 5  on TripAdvisor with comments such as “unsurpassed hospitality”, “peaceful perfection” and “a complete dream” we are in no doubt that Glenegedale House deserves their award. This is the third award that Glenegedale won in less than 2 days. That is right, they were also awarded Breakfast Destination of the Year and a Gold Award for Food by the Scottish Food Academy in Edinburgh. 

“We are absolutely thrilled to win such an amazing national award that recognises how hard we work to make sure every guest feels welcome and that reflects how much we enjoy what we do here at Glenegedale House. We work hard to make sure each guest has a fantastic time here at Glenegedale House and this means we help tailor their time on Islay to suit each individual as much possible.  To win the AA’s most friendly bed and breakfast in the UK is out of this world.  This is something we have worked hard for and dreamed about.  Graeme and I simply love what we do and love that our guests have a fabulous time staying with us and this award recognises this” – Graeme and Emma Clark

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Group website at zero commission

Get a Together group for direct bookings

direct commission free bookings

grow your direct bookings

Here at freetobook we are continually looking to make it easier for small independent accommodation owners to thrive. One message we hear again and again is that the large OTAs are taking more and more commission.

Well, here’s  the good news, it’s never been easier to fight back with zero commission direct bookings from your group’s website. A group website can be created for a few nearby properties who want to work together or for bigger groups like a local association or marketing group.

Get together and co-operate to reduce commission.

Key Advantages:

1) Zero commission for all your group’s bookings.

2) Easy to refer phone bookings when you are full, revenue stays local.

3) Professional online booking and mobile site improves the image of your group.

4) Simple to administer, each property handles their own availability, rates and information.

5) It’s your group – you own the website so you can invest in it and grow it.

If you want to start fighting back against all the high commission bills this is a great place to start.

Find out more from those already doing it with their “Together” websites.

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

Video showing how “together” can work for you

Join Together for more zero commission bookings from freetobook on Vimeo.

 

Together group benefit circle

Posted in bookings, cooperation, digital marketing, group booking, hospitality associations, online, OTAs, sales, technology, tips, together, winning strategies | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Ways to make your website user-friendly

User friendly websites

User friendly websites

We are always trying to help our customers increase their direct bookings. Although there is not one simple answer to achieving that (i.e. social media marketing works for some properties, whilst others might find special offers increase their website bookings), one key thing that applies to all is having an easily-navigated, user-friendly website. So, here are a few helpful tips

1. Use a simple and readable font for your website. We all love the fancy fonts, but you must remember your font should be web-friendly and easy on the eye.

2. Your “Book Now” button e.g. your Search Availability should be visible on every page of your website without having to scroll down (above the fold).

Visitors should see it without having to look for it i.e. place your Search Availability at the top or the right-hand/left-hand side bar of your Home Page. Remember, your booking button must be on ALL pages of your website and ideally in the same place. Doing this makes it easy to find.

Take a look at how the Coila Guest House do it, it’s in the top menu on all pages and again on the content pages. By all means be creative but also give a consistent structure to help customers find your availability and book.

3. Each click you ask a customer to make reduces your bookings. So don’t hide your “Search Availability” button under your Accommodation or Tariffs menu. Many will leave a website in less than a minute after they have landed on the Home Page because they can’t find what they need. Visitors are looking to check your rates and availability, don’t bury it behind another click.

4. Remember, when you make any changes to your website spend a little time checking that  all your links and buttons are working properly. Why not ask a friend to do a booking and tell you how they found it.

5. If you are active on social media then place your social media icons in a visible place. If you are on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram put a link to those pages on your Home Page at the top to avoid having customers scroll down to search for them. The Auchlea B&B  has their social media buttons well placed on their Home Page.

 

As you can see these are simple, easy ideas that everyone can try in order to make their websites more booking-friendly. Let us know how they work for you in the comment section below.

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Scottish Thistle Awards 2017

The 2016/2017 Scottish Thistle Awards were held on 16th March at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. As usual, the category freetobookers did best was Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House. We are happy to announce that this year at the Scotland’s tourism Oscars, Brookford B&B, a freetobook user, has won the national award for Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House. Congratulations!

We asked them for a short comment and here is what they said:

“We are completely elated to have our efforts recognised in this way. To be honest, being the first time we had entered the competition, we had no expectations about winning the Regional final let alone winning the National title too.

To us, hospitality comes naturally and is all about treating our guests and recognising their needs as we would close friends whom we have invited to stay with us.

It is without a doubt that working with freetobook has played a major part in our success by helping create a good first impression with its seamless booking process and ease of use for both our clients and ourselves, thank you.” – Brookford B&B

We also have two regional finalists in the same category – Newton Farm Holidays
and Barony House Edinburgh.

Scotland’s Best B&Bs, which is using freetobook as a Together Group was a regional finalist in the Working Together for Tourism category. Congratulations again to all of you!

Scottish Thistle awards 2017/2018 entries are now open. Good luck to everyone who is going to enter this year! Also earlier this year many freetobook customers from all corners of the world scooped up top awards from TripAdvisor at the 2017 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards

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City Guides – Facebook new app and Book Now

Attention freetobookers: It is time to update your property Facebook pages with the “Book Now” button, as Facebook has launched a new app – City Guides! The app’s aim is to give its users ideas on things to do, places to visit and accommodations to book in different cities of the world.

Make sure you are ready with your “Book Now” button active on your facebook page.

The app is not available to everyone just yet, but after all the buzz it is creating, we are sure that everyone will be enjoying this new Facebook addition soon.

What we know so far is that if you look for a specific city the app will show suggestions based on places your friends have visited in that city and the most popular places among the locals. If someone is looking for an accommodation, for example, they will see suggestions of nearby properties and they may stumble upon your property Home page with the book now button and reviews. City Guides will appear among other apps on the mobile version of Facebook among Events, Pages, Offers, etc. So, don’t waste time and check if your book now button appears on your property page.

If you don’t remember how to add a Book Now button, take a look at our Facebook ADD a Book Now Button video below !

Remember when testing the “Book Now” button you won’t see it in the same way as a cutomer because you are the admin of your facebook page. Get a friend to check it or hover over the button and select “test button”

More about adding the facebook “Book Now” button to your accommodation

facebook Book Now from freetobook on Vimeo.

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Easy low cost way to accept credit cards with Stripe

Having access to an easy to use credit card system has been a great bonus to so many of our customers. Being able to accept credit cards for your online and telephone bookings makes payment simple for you and your customer. It’s easy to take balance payments and make any refunds if you need to all at the click of a button. No more chasing cheques or waiting for bank transfers Stripe does it all for you, click, click….

5 Reasons to use Stripe for card payments

  1. Quick and easy to setup – Go to the PAY tab in your freetobook account
  2. Low Cost – In Europe Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards
  3. Secure – PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete
  4. No monthly charges – Stripe charge per transaction, simple pay-as-you-go
  5. 92% approval rating – freetobook customers using Stripe love it

Stripe is a faster and a more secure online payment system which enables you to take card payments without the need for a merchant account or a payment gateway.

Freetobook introduced Stripe in 2015 and since then we have had astonishingly high feedback about the service. In fact we are so sure it will be good for your business that we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the freetobook integration charge.

Still not convinced that Stripe will work for your business ? Take a look at what fellow freetobookers are saying. In Nov 2016 we asked those of you using Stripe to rate the service, results below…. A staggering 92% of the users are very happy with the service.

Here is some of the amazing feedback we received:

“Absolutely love it (Stripe). It has changed my life. It is so easy, great when people cancel, works fantastic… Much less admin for me. It’s a win, win all the way.” – Holly Tree Cottage

 

“Easy to use, keeps card numbers without being exposed to them and can rebill for balances and deposits. Easy to send payment links for people to make deposits and have a card on file.” – Zen Yard Guest House

“Fantastic! It (Stripe) has turned my business around. No need to chase for a deposit and no need to ask guests for payment in cash. Without being able to take a card payment, I previously lost out on business, as many companies book my accommodation for their employees.” – Home Farm Barn

“So easy to set up…seamlessly integrated with freetobook and offers all of  the functionality and features that our bank offered for less cost. 5-stars!” – Terragong 1858

 

 

“Using it about 4 months now love it all automatic, and you know if cards securing reservations are valid cards, you can also charge guest stays using the system. Well done freetobook! It so easy to set up and maintain even older users like me have mastered it simply like all freetobook products we use…” – Avlon House B&B

There is nothing more that we can say after those testimonials from freetobookers, other than giving you our guarantee that you will love using Stripe.  If not, we offer a full refund within 30 days of paying your subscription. Freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 for providing you with this great payment functionality, all of which can be accessed through your freetobook account.

Get your freetobook Stripe integration today !! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.

 

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Increase Bookings by Making your Website more Personal

Imagine you’re a looking for somewhere to stay and you stumble upon your website. What do you see? Evaluate, how your website looks, what feelings do the descriptions create, what are the colours saying to you? These are the first things your customers see, is it painting the image you have in your own mind about your property?

Simply put, is it telling the story you want to tell?  Those first impressions are personal and emotional and getting them right will help increase bookings, so here are 5 tips to ensure you make the right impact.

1.       Use colour psychology – Although, the language is important visuals are the first thing people see when they open a web page. It is proven that our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text! Thus, choosing the right colours for your website is pivotal. So, here comes the colour psychology. If you haven’t heard about colour psychology before, the basic idea is that different colours convey certain meanings and feelings. For example, brown gives the sense of security, it is a colour some people associate with home and quietness. You have to think about the general atmosphere of your property, where it’s situated (by the sea or up in the mountains), then decide what colours to use.  

Have a look at a couple of examples:

House on the point B&B, located on the coast by Ullapool. Along with great photos, they have used blue and white as key colours on their website, suggesting that the property is located near water.

Another good example is The Caledon Guest House, Isle of Wight, which have used back and white as their background colours, suggesting sophistication and glamour. This is also a good complement to their amazing photographs.

 

For more information, you can check the Psychological Properties of Colours.

2.       Add a welcoming video on your website – Adding a short video to your website, helps to establish authenticity and show the atmosphere. It is critical to keep it short, as 60 percent of viewers will drop off within two minutes of a promotional video. Moreover, by adding a video to your website you will increase the traffic to your website, as a recent marketing study showed in 2017, video content will represent 74 percent of all internet traffic.

 

3.       Language – Using the right language is a key. “A great photo can only benefit from an amazing description. If you have already utilised our suggestions on accommodation photography, now you can have a go at improving the language of your website.”Here you have the chance to use those creative writing skills you never knew you had! You may have heard of the saying “Don’t sell rooms, sell character”. Well, here is your chance to get creative. Look at these examples: “enchanting rooms”; “attractive décor”; “sumptuous mattress toppers”. So, grab your notepads and start writing.  If you are short on ideas spend 30 minutes online looking around, it’s all there. 

 

4.       Get reviews from your guests to show on your website – Word of mouth is one of the most influential marketing techniques. As we well know people are easily influenced by reading a great review or by friends sharing their great experiences. Therefore, adding reviews to your website is one of the best ways to increase direct bookings.  

 

5.       Share stories – Write your personal story of how your property came to be or find a funny story to tell. Working with people all the time, you might have a lot of fun experiences, so share them. Think about something that has made you laugh, a strange request or an incident which turned out well in the end and share it on your website. Customers will see a more personal side of you, like this blog of The Hive at 52 B&B, in which the owner records their everyday life as a B&B owner.

 

So, why don’t you try some of those tips? Going the extra mile towards increasing your direct bookings is that simple.

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2017 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award

rdTopLaurel_L_no_trademarks2017Congratulations to all the winners of TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award 2017!  They have all worked so hard to get this recognition so let’s celebrate their achievements. Here is a list of the best hotels and B&B’s that are using freetobook…there are quite few!  A special congratulations to the Marine Court Hotel for being number 15 in the top 25 small hotels in the world. On the B&B front, a big congratulations to Swallows Rest Bed & Breakfast (number 5 in the world) and West by Five Guest House (also in the top 10).

Each year the list gets bigger and bigger, with 7 out of the UK’s top 25 B&Bs currently enjoying freetobook. Well done to everyone, including the 100s with a certificate of excellence.

See the full list below and let us know if you found your name!

 

Top 25 Small Hotels – World

  1. Marine Court HotelIlfracombe, United Kingdom

 

Top 25 B&B’s – World

  1. Swallows Rest Bed & Breakfast – Brigstock, United Kingdom

 

  1. West by Five Guest House – St Ives, United Kingdom

 

2017 Travellers’ Choice Award – UK

 

Top 25 B&B’s in the UK

  1. Swallows Rest Bed & Breakfast Brigstock, United Kingdom

 

  1. West by Five Guest House – St Ives, United Kingdom

 

  1. Riverside – Ambleside, United Kingdom

 

  1. Eighteen97 – Goathland, United Kingdom

 

  1. Heddwyn – Llandudno, United Kingdom

 

  1. Maxwell’s Piece Bed and Breakfast  – Moreton-in-Marsh, United Kingdom

 

  1. Highcliffe Contemporary Bed and Breakfast –  Falmouth, United Kingdom

 

Top 25 Small Hotels – UK

 

  1. Marine Court Hotel  – Ilfracombe, United Kingdom

 

  1. Ascot House Hotel – Torquay, United Kingdom

 

  1. Pencubitt House – Liskeard, United Kingdom

 

  1. Abbeyfield Hotel – Torquay, United Kingdom

 

Top 25 Bargain Hotels – UK

 

  1. Karden House HotelLlandudno, United Kingdom

 

Top 25 Hotels for Romance

 

  1. Trelaska Hotel & Restaurant Looe, United Kingdom

 

  1. Abbeyfield Hotel – Torquay, United Kingdom

 

  1. Cary Court Hotel – Torquay, United Kingdom

 

 

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