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

Tips for Switching booking system

switchSwitching your booking engine can be a lot easier than you think. Here are a few tips gleaned from our clients.

But first a word of warning, it’s not just about cost savings.  Whilst cost is always important there are subtler, seemingly less significant things that can actually make a much bigger difference to your business and your happiness!

The four areas I would say you need to understand well are the booking engine functions, it’s cost, the company and the switching process.

1) Evaluating the booking engine

Compare the functionality of each booking engine, focus on what’s absolutely critical to your business…don’t get side tracked by any irrelevant functions.

Speak to the various companies but then dig a little deeper by asking around – do you know anyone using that booking engine, what’s their view?  Remember, an “oily” sales person will just tell you what you want to hear to get the sale!

Ensure the booking engine is flexible enough to handle your processes.  It is one thing to have a function but you need to ensure it works the way you need it to.

2) Costs

You need these in black and white, good companies don’t need to hide or negotiate costs with every client – hiding prices usually means the sales team get extra commission by overcharging you.

Can you tailor their services to suit you? If it’s pay as you go, work out the costs – these tend to be the best value services because you are only paying for what you use.

Look at hidden costs i.e. how does their channel manager work and what control do you have over it? If you don’t have any control over which rooms are sold, when, where and at what price… this will increase costs.

Make sure you don’t incur any additional cost i.e. having to use a specific payment system.

3) Compare companies

heartTry to gauge how much each company really cares about your business. For example, the service and support role is currently in danger of dying off and finding a company that takes it seriously will make a real difference to your business.

Existing customers and social media are your best references when trying to get evidence of how a company treats its clients.

Ask about their plans, do they continually bring out new features, add services, are they innovative, what’s their reputation among other suppliers you work with….ask around. The best businesses are respected and loved by both their clients and partners they work with.

Look at the small print in any contract, does it tie you in? Do you have any penalties or notice periods that lock you in if you don’t like it?

4) Process

How easy is it move over? Can you access the system to try it out first, even run it alongside your current booking engine so you are 100% certain.  Is there a time restriction to get it running ? Beware of lock-in trials, you want to try it at your own speed.

Make sure the company you are switching to is ready to have you on board, do they have a dedicated switch team? If they are good they’ll have lots of experience and offer advice on the right way to set-up and which services are most suitable.

If they are really great they’ll give you tips and tricks to increase your business, remember they may have spoken with 1000s of small businesses just like yours.

Check if there are help guides or videos available to help you understand the new system (and work at your own pace).

Finally, timing is critical, it makes sense to do this kind of analysis when you have a bit of time on your hands.

The overwhelming feedback I have received indicates that all of the above is much easier than most think, there is no reason to stick with a booking system that doesn’t work for you……

I just wanted to finish with a happy switcher who got it all right…

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days 9/12/16 to 9/01/17, on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? find out more here…

Why it pays to sleep around for B&B owners

4poster

A Guest Blog by Heather Turner at Forfeng Media.

I wrote a post a while back about Viewing your restaurant from a customers perspective, and it occurred to me after spending a weekend away at a very nice B&B, to wonder how many innkeepers have actually stayed (and not just one night) in every single room in their own B&Bs. I mean packed their bags and literally “checked in”.

I bring this up because, as an example, the B&B I just stayed at recently had wonderful hosts, a delicious breakfast, comfy beds and great amenities, but the toilet paper holder just wasn’t very functional. Every time someone went to use the loo, the toilet paper fell off the decorative holder. How annoying was that? Trivial, but annoying.

Did this mar my whole stay? Absolutely not. Did I forget to mention it to the innkeepers? Yes I did, because it was a very minor problem (am I emailing them after I write this post? Yes).

It got me to thinking though, how many small things that the usual guest may have a small problem with, that doesn’t really affect the overall stay, but stays in the subconscious and they forget to mention it to the innkeepers.

As innkeepers (I know I would feel this way if I had an inn) you go out of your way to try to make a guest’s stay perfect. So to me, take one step more and go a little further.

I recently wrote a post about Attracting Business Travelers to B&Bs, and in it I listed some very minor pet peeves about staying in B&Bs. If I think back to recent stays, not just in B&Bs, but hotels as well, I can list a bunch of minor things, that if the owners or managers had actually stayed in the rooms themselves they would have noticed.

Two different places, had big armoires that had flat screen TVs in them. Terrific idea to get them out of the way and not be an eyesore. Defeats the purpose of having a TV for guests to watch though if the armoire doors won’t stay open, and keeps slowly swinging closed.

Defective or misplaced toilet paper holders seem to be huge one. The one that was two feet from the commode really made my day so to speak, LOL.

The water faucet that sprays a little too hard when turned on all the way. I tell you it’s a real pain having to find another set of clothes to wear, when you are on your way out the door, and all of a sudden you are wearing water polka dots.

What are you supposed to do with all those pillows and comforters (especially when it’s 90 degrees out)? They get piled on chairs. I’m not suggesting you do away with them, they look gorgeous, but perhaps put a place aside where guests can put them. The places that have luggage racks generally get used for that oversized comforter and my luggage ends up on the floor, and the pillows I put on chairs, and then end up with nowhere to sit when I want to put shoes and socks on the next morning.

I am not trying to nitpick about very minor things, but more to make the point that if innkeepers spent actual time (sleep time, activity time) in the rooms they let guests sleep in, they might notice some minor things, like the very bottom drawer of the dresser that just doesn’t want to get unstuck easily.

As innkeepers you want to make your B&Bs perfect, take a look at it from a customer’s point of view, it’s a fresh perspective, and it will help you to better understand and fix any small issues that can make a very small (but lasting) impression on a guest.

I would suggest setting up a log, so you can track when you’ve stayed in the rooms as well. Did the other rooms have guests at the time? Was it a weekend? What season was it?

You may find things like the room that is perfect in three seasons, in the summer the air conditioner blows directly on the sleepers (so you could consider moving the bed), or the suite upstairs you can hear a TV playing (so you consider moving the location of the TV stand against a wall that doesn’t connect with an adjoining guest room). You wouldn’t know these things otherwise.

When was the last time YOU stayed in your rooms?

6 Secrets to OTA success

Secrets to OTA successLearn the 6 secrets to OTA success

Knowing the secrets of success with the Online Travel Agents OTAs can boost your direct bookings. Their web coverage is so massive that any single property will find it hard to get noticed without them. In reality the chances are that any potential customer visiting your website has already checked out your listing on the OTAs, so take a moment to learn how to leverage that coverage to your advantage.

channel manager and internet booking engine
get connected to the world

The big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are experts at online promotion and sales, they act a bit like a supermarket, giving customers significant choice, relevant information to help compare and an opportunity to buy simply and quickly. They have mastered the art of great online marketing, continually optimising their websites and spending billions on advertising to generate millions of bookers. Ranking high on search engines and also listing on the most popular websites like TripAdvisor make it almost certain that anyone searching for accommodation online will come across them.

The great news is that although customers visit OTAs during their search for accommodation most still choose to book direct. Take your OTA presence seriously by investing time and care to ensure it works for you. Do not be fooled into just a switching it on and letting it run, you have to drive it in the right direction.

1. Look Special: Ensure you are “attractive” on the OTA websites by having great images and plenty of them. These images must “connect” with customers on an emotional level….can they see themselves in those images? Highlight your strengths, you will be compared. By standing out you increase your chances of getting booked.

2. Know Your Targets: Understand what types of customer are finding you on the OTAs – why not ask them when you see them? Then grab the attention of those customers with the right content, your business customers may want to see free wi-fi, car parking, proximity to their destination etc. Enhance your own website to attract these customers.

3. Make Improvements: Refresh and fine tune your presence on each OTA, learning and improving all the time – nothing is static on the internet! Simplify the process of managing OTAs by using a channel manager, then spend the time you save by getting more from the connection…. put an end to tedious rate and availability updating, rather spend the time saved to add real value.

Book Direct for the best price
Book Direct for the best price

4. Drive Direct Bookings: You must have a great website, invest in fantastic images and rich content – go the extra mile.  Place your online booking process at the heart of your website, it’s got to be so easy to find and book.  Customers want it to be simple don’t confuse them or appear to offer less. Extract the maximum value from all customers, capture repeat business or referrals direct.

5. Returning Customers: Once a customer comes to you via an OTA make sure you get to know them, offer them a loyalty discount so they come back via a direct booking next time. Add the customer to your mailing list or social media channels and engage them directly.

Together for accommodation owners6. Create your own Mini OTA: When you can’t beat them make your own. Why not join up with other properties in your area to work together. You could create a website for customers to book accommodation in your location and compete with the chains and save commission using your mini OTA.

Smaller independent properties have limitations on their time and marketing budgets so it’s critical you make the most of them. The biggest advantage owner run and managed businesses have is the direct contact with their guests, it’s not something the chain hotels and OTAs can replicate.

Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine and channel manager with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor TripConnect, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others. Using freetobook can greatly improve your worldwide distribution and add bookings to your bottom line : find out more about freetobook on our home page.

To find out more about what the freetobook channel manager can do for you, click the link below.freetobook channel manager

 

Share your reviews online

Freetobook review sharing widget

Share hotel reviews
Share your Reviews

Isn’t it great to get fantastic reviews! You work so hard looking after your customers, naturally they give you fabulous feedback that influences potential future guests. To find your reviews in freetobook simply go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Share your great reviews with the world. Freetobook is about to release a new review sharing system so you can get your reviews out there and read by potential guests.

Sharing reviews is easy with :

  • a simple to install review widget for your website, available in a variety of formats and the ability to resize and customise colours
  • freetobook’s new “click here to share” a review instantly on facebook and twitter.
  • linked to your booking system for instant direct bookings.
Review sharing widget for hotels
Review sharing widget various sizes

It gets better…each review widget will give guests instant access to your freetobook reviews and link them directly to your booking system, making it easy for impressed customers to make a direct commission free booking there and then.

Keep an eye open for the launch of the new review sharing system… another great idea from freetobook giving you more for less. As soon as the review sharing system is available you will find it in the same place as your current reviews – go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Social Media review sharing for hotels
Social Media review sharing

We expect to launch the new review sharing system before Christmas 2013 so it won’t be long before you can show off all your best reviews across your website and social media platforms.

In the spirit of sharing please feel free to tell others about your experience of freetobook the internet booking engine with more for less.

3 Tips from TripAdvisor

Tips directly from TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor Tips
TripAdvisor Tips

You can stumble across myriad views and opinions about TripAdvisor but here is a blog based on on a recent article directly from TripAdvisor.

 

There is a difference between “TripAdvisor rating” and “TripAdvisor ranking”

Your “TripAdvisor rating” is based on reviews this rating is 1-5 with 5 being the highest. Your “TripAdvisor ranking” is formed from your rating when compared with other nearby properties.

Tips from TripAdvisor

1) How to increase your TripAdvisor ranking ?

TripAdvisor says “The better your ratings – and the more recent your reviews – the higher your property’s TripAdvisor ranking can potentially go.”

They are not giving away the exact method or algorithm of ranking (you can’t expect them to) however it is clear that you should get more reviews and make sure they are good reviews to rise up the rankings.

2) Embrace and respond to negative reviews

Don’t ignore or hide away from negative reviews. Research shows “84% of users agree that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel”

It is a good policy to respond to reviews (in an appropriate manner) as it shows that you value feedback and that you are trying to provide the best possible experience.

3) Do NOT offer incentives for reviews

TripAdvisor says “Incentives, like offering vouchers or upgrades in exchange for writing a review, actually violate TripAdvisor rules because special treatment or discounts can hinder the validity and accuracy of a guest’s reviews”

They will remove reviews they think have received an incented and penalties can be imposed on the ranking as well as not being eligible for their awards.

Freetobook is connected to TripAdvisor pay per click advertising see previous blog

 

TripAdvisor book now button
TripAdvisor Show Prices button can link to your property

How To Avoid That Dreaded Overbooking

Is overbooking a sign of marketing success, process failure or just bad luck?

There’s a real stigma attached to over/double booking. Why?

  •  Is it the failure to deliver on a personal promise made to your customer?
  • Or is it the fear of your contractual obligation once a booking has been made?
vacancy by LOLren
Fear of overbooking can lead to empty rooms!

In these days of litigious customers and a compensation “culture”, it’s no wonder that small businesses err on the side of caution. These valid concerns appeal to our most human of instincts: fear. Yet when you de-construct the problem, it’s not as bad as looks!

Most businesses need to maximise their chances of getting bookings and the most effective place for this is online.  The more places you can be found and booked, the more bookings you are likely to attract. But by increasing your exposure online you may also increase the risk of double booking.

Many businesses have held back from maximising their online advertising for fear of double or overbooking. There must be thousands of lost bookings every night because businesses don’t feel confident offering their full availability.

So if you sell across a variety of places online (i.e. channels like Booking.com, Bed & Breakfast websites etc.) then you need to ensure various systems are kept in sync. It’s time consuming and can be a stressful process.

One option is to show only a selection of rooms on each channel, so they are distinct and when they run out they can’t overbook. It’s not very efficient and you need to know what channels will sell what rooms best and when.

no_vacancy_p_a_h
Effective channel management can avoid lost bookings

Another solution is to have your booking system linked to your various sales websites (or channels), so that your one diary keeps all the other channels up-to-date. This means any phone bookings you add to your diary update all the channels and any website bookings automatically appear in your diary. This technology is usually called “channel management”.

When you consider the benefits of extra exposure, additional bookings and time saved updating various sites – not to mention the end of all that worrying – channel management can represent great value. Ideally you want a channel manager that works with the key channels, is flexible and isn’t too expensive. There are some clever “pay-as-you-go” options available where you pay according to the number of bookings you receive.

This technology can free up a lot of time and allow you to disappear for the odd week (or longer) without having to take the mobile phone and diary with you!

Even if you don’t go for any of the above options, I would stress that the fear of an overbooking should not stop you selling your rooms.

After all, the definition of overbooking is the deliberate practice of hotels to take more bookings than they can accommodate in order to avoid empty rooms, on the basis that there will be no-shows and cancellations.

This is hardly a claim that could reasonably be levelled at a B&B or guest house. Most customers, if contacted quickly, will understand that with modern technology it’s a rare possibility and not a result of negligence or greed on your part.

That’s a different story if you are a large hotel that regularly overbooks and then “bumps” or “moves” a customer on arrival and just blames someone else! Been there and got the scars to show it!

2013 VisitEngland Awards for Excellence

freetobook sponsors “Small Hotel of the Year” 2013

Visit England Awards2013Quality is the key. What makes the VisitEngland Awards so important for the accommodation world – and so important to freetobook as a sponsor – is the fact that they’re not just an excuse for a boozy meal and a lot of back-slapping. Instead, they’re a beacon of excellence for all tourism businesses. By rewarding excellence, they play a key role in encouraging everyone involved in English tourism to raise their game even further. They highlight good practice amongst the very best hotels, B&Bs, guest houses and self-catering cottages in the country and, in doing so, allow other properties to learn from them. Simply by taking part, accommodation owners are inspired to improve their business performance in terms of turnover, profitability, quality, sustainability, staff morale and customer satisfaction.

This relentless focus on quality and making things better is what freetobook is all about as well. We provide cutting-edge booking technology, but we also offer a huge range of advice on boosting your online business and getting the very best out of a fast-changing digital world that is full of just as many opportunities as it is pitfalls.

With this in mind, freetobook is once again delighted to be sponsoring the “Small Hotel of the Year” category at the 2013 VisitEngland Awards for Excellence. The ceremony will take place on Monday 20th May at Lancashire County Cricket Club, Old Trafford.

Here are the finalists in the freetobook-sponsored “Small Hotel of the Year” category. Click their names to view their websites and connect with them via Facebook & Twitter (all, of them, interestingly enough, are strongly active on Social Media):

Brockencote Hall, Worcestershire

Gidleigh Park, Devon

Holbeck Ghyll, Cumbria

Northcote, Lancashire

The Scarlet Hotel, Cornwall

And given the fantastic range of our customer base, we’ll also be keeping an interested eye on the “Bed & Breakfast / Guest Accommodation of the Year” category too…

Alkham Court Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast, Kent

Fern Cottage Bed and Breakfast, South Gloucestershire

Pendragon Country House, Cornwall

The Bear’s Paw, Cheshire

The Salty Monk Restaurant with Rooms, Devon

Best of luck to all the nominees!

 

 

freetobook is 2 years young – established in 1998

On the 17th December 2010 freetobook took it’s very first customer booking…to our customers that makes us 2 years old (even if we were established in 1998), party time! It does seem a long time ago, much has happened and so much has been learnt and applied.

more for less with freetobook
more for less with freetobook

Going forward we will bed down the TripAdvisor link and will very soon finish work on mobile enhanced results. We are in discussions with more channel partners, including Venere.com, Hostelbookers, HRS, BudgetPlaces, Hostelworld, Hotels.com, TravelRepublic and Expedia. We are also starting development on some clever tools, such as a online merchant account and a system that helps you work with other  freetobook users! We are also looking to make translations available to all our International customers. These are all designed to help you get the most from your freetobook account.

easy to use online booking by freetobook
easy to use and freetobook

When we set out to build freetobook (well over 3 years ago) we had one goal in mind; to build the best online booking system in the world for independent accommodation providers. I suppose that in itself is not a such crazy ambition but we also wanted to make it available to all small independent businesses….that created lots of puzzled looks and a good degree of scepticism.

For us building a great service is all about putting our customers in the driving seat, understanding what matters to them and why. We were lucky because we already had 11 years in the “booking business” and had honed processes and systems to create simplicity and maximum efficiency. We had seen at an early stage how powerful the internet would become and then witnessed first hand it’s ability to increase reach and exposure exponentially. We had marvelled at how the linking of the digital world with clever software simply made life so much easier for our customers, it was trend that was clearly going one way…..up. It was perhaps that realisation more than any other that led us make freetobook an open system (available to all).

freetobook the fastest growing online booking system
freetobook going UP

We invested early in creating our own software development capability by getting in some of the best people available, and keeping them. People like Eleanor who has been with us for over 8 years add tremendous value to the system and service that supports it. Across our team, over 75 years of booking experience has gone into freetobook.

These capabilities gave us a platform to be creative without risk, to understand and experiment without crippling costs. It also taught us that the true value of any software lies in the people that create it and those that use it. Also that the software itself is always “a work in progress”, and that just as with children, you get out what you put in, you need to feed, nurture, care for and cherish them in order to give them the best possible future.

Those values probably derive from us being a family business. As two brothers you can also be sure that there is not always a pleasant nodding of heads and calm contentment, there is belief, there is passion, there is trust and there’s just plain old sibling rivalry! In many senses the differences are our strengths and that’s another lesson we can take and use everywhere, but what unites us is that we have always tried to put the customer at the centre…. simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Directors at freetobook Craig and Iain Stewart
Craig and Iain freetobook directors

It has been an exciting 2 years and we have made mistakes that we are only just realising and correcting. We put freetobook out there in the market as “free”, which of course it is (and will always remain so), but perhaps we undervalued our knowledge and experience in building quality systems and services. Our customers use freetobook not because it’s free but because it works well for them and they enjoy and benefit from it.

Customers describe freetobook as …..fantastic, simple, professional, extraordinary, versatile, intuitive, exceptional, comprehensive, unbelievable, hassle free, superb, seamless, brilliant, a blessing, painless, efficient, speedy, first class, secure, helpful, flexible, sophisticated, the best, wonderful, fast, reliable, tremendous, very special……

These words are such a strong encouragement to us and we are very fortunate to have such generous customers. We have not invested in an army of sales people with clever ways of instilling fear and doubt in prospective customers, instead we have tried to build trust and help our customers wherever we can. The vast majority of our rapidly growing customer base have come from other customers recommending and talking about their freetobook experience, be that face to face, on social media or in their various associations.

We also needed to articulate the “freemium” model more clearly to answer the perennial question “how do you make your money then?”. At the start that wasn’t easy because we didn’t have any premium services to offer our customers! The “freemium” model is widely used in many software services and has two parts – a free product or service (i.e. our booking engine/diary) and then premium more advanced features and services that are charged for.

ABBA - Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association
Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association (ABBA)

There have been some great achievements; the Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association’s online booking website (a global first?), a great value channel manager, the addition of cottage and hostel style availability, properties in over 80 countries using freetobook, Ways to Sell, being selected as preferred supplier for Punch Taverns….these are just a few and there are many more to come. As we write this there are 10 current/live feedback forms in the freetobook system and every single one gives freetobook 10/10…thank you! Many of freetobook’s achievements are a direct result of your input, your requests, queries, concerns, passions, quirks, suggestions etc. keep them coming!

Thank you for your tremendous support, encouragement and belief. Busy days ahead!