Scotland’s Luxury B&Bs – Hot Travel Trend

At freetobook we were delighted to read a recent article in The Herald about the new generation of boutique B&Bs in Scotland, which it describes as “increasingly fashionable, even becoming the top choice for young travellers”. It highlights the importance of giving guests a ‘personal experience’ – something we know that our freetobookers excel at! So it was no surprise to find that of the ten properties chosen by The Herald as their top Scottish boutique B&Bs, seven were freetobookers!

Huge congratulations to Brucefield Boutique B&BRudha-Na-CraigeFirhall Highland Bed and BreakfastArdtorna Bed and BreakfastKingsmuir HouseLys-Na-Greyne and Barony House – brilliant to see you all featured, well deserved!

And finally some more excellent news – it’s a double celebration for Kingsmuir House, who have been awarded Most Hospitable B&B at the VisitScotland Thistle Awards! Remember every property in Scotland is entitled to a free listing on VisitScotland and freetobook properties pay no commission on those bookings – double freebie!

Our freetobookers across the world consistently offer great accommodation, great service and great experiences to their guests, so it’s brilliant to see whenever you get some extra recognition! We are proud to offer a system that helps you manage your bookings and make life a little easier – so you can continue delivering a top quality experience to your guests.

At freetobook we love to hear about your achievements  – keep up the great work freetobookers!

Airbnb and freetobook

Airbnb connecting to hotelsIn an open letter this week to boutique hotel and B&B owners, Airbnb have just announced that going forward they want to ensure that small business owners have access to their community of travelers. Airbnb has always been a favourite of thousands of freetobook customers; over the years a large number have registered with Airbnb and use it as a great source of bookings. It’s good news that small hotels, bed and breakfasts and unique properties are now officially recognised and welcome to the Airbnb site.

Freetobook has always been a supporter of unique, independent, interesting and diverse accommodation; these are values we share with Airbnb, so its no surprise to us that so many of our customers enjoy bookings from them. Together we celebrate and support diversity, uniqueness and personal hospitality; after all, despite our size we too are a family business passionate about our customers and what you do.

There is another reason we support Airbnb for our customers. Over the past years the big OTAs have gotAirbnb API connection bigger, they continue to grow, and their commissions are cripplingly high to so many small businesses. Compared to the OTAs Airbnb has a far lower commission to accommodation owners, which gives you a welcome choice.

At freetobook we support diversity of bookings, encouraging our customers not to have all their eggs in one basket and to be over reliant on one big OTA. Airbnb is a competitor of the large OTAs and therefore an additional independent source of bookings that can help make the booking environment healthier with more players.

Thousands of freetobook customers already list on Aribnb and update their availability using our iCal feature. We are in discussions to enrich the functionality of our connection with Airbnb and help our customers get even more out of the Airbnb connection. Further news of this will be announced in the future.

Now that they are expanding their customer base to include boutique hotels and B&Bs, Airbnb are looking for new properties to list. If you’re interested in lower commission and diversifying your booking sources, check out Airbnbs list of standards to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your property. Airbnb are selective about the properties they include so you should read their creteria before registering (see 1 below)

If you are interested in becoming an Airbnb customer (or already are one) you can link your availability from your freetobook diary (you can only do this after you have an Airbnb listing).

Just to recap:

  1. First you need an Airbnb account, check Airbnb criteria here
  2. If you fit their requirments then request an account as a professional listing “hotel”.
  3. After requesting an account Airbnb will check if you meet their criteria and approve or reject your request.
  4. Once you have an Airbnb account you can update your availability using freetobook iCal

Card payments : fast, secure, and easy with Stripe

Faster and more secure, Stripe is a brilliant online payment system which enables accommodation providers to take card payments – without the need for a merchant account or a payment gateway!

Access to an easy to use credit and debit card system can make life so much easier for our customers. Stripe enables you to accept card payments for your online and telephone bookings; payment made quick and simple for you AND your customers! All it takes is a click of a button to take balance payments and make any necessary refunds; no more chasing cheques or waiting for bank transfers – Stripe does it all for you!

Here are our top 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments:

1. Quick and easy to setup

Just head over to the PAY tab in your freetobook account to get started!

2. Low Cost

In Europe, Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards (2.9% for International cards) and a mere 20p transaction fee!

3. No monthly charges 

Stripe charge per transaction, a simple pay-as-you-go system so you’re not out of pocket!

4. Secure 

PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete

5. 92% approval rating

freetobook customers using Stripe love it! We introduced Stripe in 2015 and have since had overwhelmingly positive 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 your fellow freetobookers are saying…. A staggering 92% of freetobook Stripe users are very happy with the service! Check out some of their feedback below:

“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

“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

At freetobook we’re positive that you’ll love using Stripe for your accommodation payments! But just in case, 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, which can be accessed quickly and easily through your freetobook account.

So what are you waiting for?! Improve the speed and ease of your payments today by adding freetobook Stripe integration! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.

Maximum Direct Bookings 2018

New year, new direct booking updates!

Direct bookings save you commission, time and are three times less likely to cancel than bookings made through an OTA. As always, freetobook has your back – our new SearchPro upgrade can increase your direct bookings by up to 40%! Here are our top tips to make the most of your free SearchPro upgrade and maximise your direct bookings:

 

1.Customise your booking page

Your business is unique – your booking page should be too! Head over to your My Direct Booking page and select icons to appear which reflect the amenities you offer, such as wifi and breakfast. Replacing text with icons optimises your booking page, making it super clear to your guests the benefits you offer.

2.Reward booking direct:

Special offers are a brilliant way to incentivise and reward your guests for booking direct. Always make sure that you offer the best deal on your own                  website, even if that is the same as rates offered elsewhere – don’t miss out on direct bookings because OTAs are offering a better deal! We have a selection of Book Direct Images, try one or design your own – displaying a neat “Best Price Guarantee” sticker on your website will go a long way to increasing your direct bookings.

Using Promo codes is a more selective way to reward booking direct; the customer needs to know the promo code. Your offer can vary from a complementary drink on arrival to a discount – get creative! Your guests will feel special and rewarded and will likely mention it in their review, encouraging future guests to book direct when they hear about the benefits!

Providing a non-refundable special offer booking option for your guests ensures that they are getting a great value deal, and you are reducing your cancellations and securing guaranteed income – it’s a win-win!

 

3.Review your cancellation policy

Take some time to review your cancellation policy – always make sure that your cancellation policy is equal to or better than the OTA offer! This is another way to show that booking direct offers the best deal.

 

4.Website check up

The new year is a perfect time to review your website and optimise it to increase your direct bookings:

  • Update your content – is all the information still accurate? Do you provide information on local attractions and events?
  • Good quality, professional pictures of your property are important in showcasing your business and are worth investing in.
  • Is your website mobile responsive? 27% of accommodation bookings are made via mobile – your booking page is responsive; your website should be too!
  • Is your ‘Book Now’ button visible and in more places than just your homepage? Quick and easy ability to ‘Book Now’ will help increase your direct bookings

 

 

Stay tuned for tips and advice throughout 2018 – we will soon be hosting our first webinar where we will guide you through the ins and outs of SearchPro via live video, keep an eye on our social media and emails for more details!

Hotel Bonanza 8 percent

Hotel BonanzaHotel Bonanza is a new Online Travel Agent (OTA) with a strategy of offering a lower commission for accommodation owners and a discount to guests. They have set their commission at 8% so you will find them considerably cheaper than the current dominant OTAs.

Freetobook is a family run company so our loyalty is firmly with our customers, we hear time and time again that properties need to reduce commission charges. We understand this need and will continue to support companies like Hotel Bonanza that offer a lower cost alternative.

If you already have a Hotel Bonanza account fully setup and are a freetobook customer all you need to do is request a connection in the Tab “Plus” where you can add a channel.

For those of you who are not yet freetobook customers you can find out about all the advantages of switching to freetobook

Find out more about Hotel Bonanza and their story visit their website, join up if you like it click here

Before next summer freetobook will have a connection for Google Hotel Ads which will give you access to Google’s direct booking channels at 10% which will also be a welcome reduction for many of you.

Freetobook, the fiercely independent family company you can rely on.

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

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.

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

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.

Read about the together group that reached £500,000 in commission free bookings

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

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

Video showing how “together” can work for you

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

 

Together group benefit circle

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.