Accommodation photography

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words….

It only takes a quick glance for someone to evaluate what they see and form a positive or negative judgement. In fact, studies have shown that the viewer generates an opinion as instantly as the blink of an eye.

Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage.
The study, published in the journal ‘Behaviour and Information Technology’*, also suggests that first impressions have a lasting impact.

Researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the “halo effect”. Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and lead researcher of the paper says: “If people believe a website looks good, then this positive quality will spread to other areas.” As websites increasingly jostle for business, Dr Lindgaard added that companies should take note. “Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors,” she warned.

Your establishment may provide guests with a spectacular breakfast to beat all of your competitors or you may have spent time, effort & money on the interior design. But if the pictures are poor, unprofessional or non existent, you could risk losing potential customers in an instant.

Therefore, it is evident that good quality photographs are essential for success in drawing in new guests. If there are few or no pictures to look at, the chances are they will move on.

Sarah Kay Photography specialises in all types of accommodation photography and styling. Here she shares some of her tips for creating photographs that will bring out the best in your holiday let and help you use the power of image to increase sales.

Tips for photographing your property:

Tip no 1. It may seem obvious but don’t forget to de-clutter every room. This includes removing bins, leaflets, etc.

Tip no 2. Don’t have wires/cables dangling all over the place! Wherever possible try to hide them either by unplugging or removing them all together. With kettle bases or wires from other appliances, or in the case of lamps which need to be switched on, tuck the wire behind furniture or use masking tape to ‘stick’ them out of the way.

Tip no 3. Tidy and straighten all curtains, blinds, bedding and sofa cushions. Iron them if necessary, there is nothing worse than creases and crumples that stare back at you in photographs!

Note this BEFORE and AFTER shot. Yes it’s the same room!

compare2rooms

 

Tip no 4. Personally, I always like to have all lights switched on in my shots. I feel it gives the image added shine and sparkle. Depending on the natural lighting in your room, you may want to experiment and see which you feel looks best.

Tip no 5. Please, no toilets in shot. I’m not against photographing bathrooms, some look great. If you think it will be beneficial to photograph your bathroom, do try to avoid the toilet. If this is not possible, please please ensure the lid is completely closed and there is no bin or toilet brush in sight! Eeek!!

Added tip: Take a shot of a detail in your bathroom rather than the whole room. To give a taster of the style of the bathroom. The viewer can then create a idea of the whole room just from that one shot.

Tip no 6. Think about your target market and dress your rooms accordingly. Romantic getaway? Champagne and chocolates will do the trick.

Added tip: Less is more, never over-dress the room or it will look cluttered.

Tip no 7. Remember the reasons that people come to stay in your property. Is it the stunning lake view? Is there a fantastic feature window? Think about it’s uniqueness and take those photographs.

Tip no 8. Ensure your outside areas are looking tip top. Hanging baskets flourishing, decking or patio swept and free of weeds, grass trimmed and looking neat. Take the photograph on a day with some sunshine and blue sky. If you can’t get a good day, take one at dusk with all your lights on for an ambient glow.

Tip no 9. Finally, take your shots. Study each image for imperfections as mentioned above. Does the furniture need tweaking slightly to create better composition for the viewer? Would the picture look better if taken from a different angle? Try every corner of the room, some will look “right” some won’t; again, experiment with this.

Tip no 10. Save time and hire a professional photographer, but first ensure they will take care of all the points mentioned above. Not all photographers include styling in the price. I always say, during my accommodation photoshoot it’s 10% photography, 90% preparation! And then there is professional editing… which is another story all together!

www.skhp.co.uk

Twitter @Sarahkay_photo

https://www.facebook.com/skpcumbria
*Source of research into psychology of first impressions: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4616700.stm

3 Tips for Special Offers

special offer for rooms
special offer

We all love the feel of getting a great deal and the same goes for potential bookers on your website. The truth is Special Offers drive direct bookings, that’s why we make it super easy to create them in freetobook. Simply visit tab “Specials” and create a new offer, it’s live and available in seconds.

Here are 3 top tips to help you create a successful Special Offer.

1. Keep the Offer Active – Special Offers help differentiate you, help you stand out against the competition….. so try to keep an offer running all the time.

2.Give a good deal – The best offers give guests a great deal, but don’t worry if you don’t have a big budget even a small amount can make all the difference.

3. Better deals in low season – If you think you have periods where you are not selling then focus your offers on those dates eg. off-season, weekdays or other low demand dates.

On freetobook you can easily open and close your offers (in Close-Outs under the tab “Availability”), so why not set-up a couple now and just open/close them when you need them most. Remember, if you don’t need to have the offers open on peak dates…. just close the high dates out.

Interns at freetobook

interns at freetobook

Just back from a round table meeting with Nathan Bostock (CEO Santander UK Plc),  Prof. Anton Muscatelli (Principal of Glasgow Uni) and a few other small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

We discussed some of the problems facing SMEs and from freetobook’s perspective it’s simply access to highly skilled, enthusiastic and clever undergraduates. We don’t have the recruitment resources of large multinationals yet we can provide a unique learning environment for fresh grads…..how do you get that message across?

We were lucky enough to access Glasgow Uni’s great intern programme (Internship Hub) over this summer. They are a really professional and helpful outfit…totally on the ball!  It’s also really refreshing to speak to lecturers that are heavily encouraging students to take on internships during their summer holidays, seeing the all round benefits to students, the Uni. and interns alike.  Having interviewed quite a few interns I can see that encouragement is clearly taking effect – these grads are keen  to get real experience (and we are enjoying access to some great young minds).

interns2

Glasgow Uni have fantastic computer science undergraduates and with Santander’s generous part funding of these internships SMEs like us were able to access them.  We do need that support to get ourselves in front of these students and ensure they have a choice.  Working in an SME offers students a huge variety to tasks and roles to play with, plus responsibility from day one and opportunities to see the immediate effects of their industry… providing real job satisfaction and a fantastic learning environment.  Many SMEs are also very close to the Uni’s (freetobook is just 5 minutes walk from Glasgow Uni) so the interns don’t even need to change their alarm clocks!

Santander generously part fund over 2000 placements across Universities in the UK but for us that has sadly changed as they are no longer offering support for interns still studying. Instead the part funding is now only available after graduation, that’s not really any use for us as computing science graduates are overwhelmingly employed by the time they graduate…especially the best.  This change may be a result of Santander wanting to link revenue spent on internships directly and immediately with employment – it completes the circle. However, it fails to account of the real value internships can offer SMEs in our sector….helping aspiring SMEs in the tech sector access the very best engineers must be a bet worth making!

Come on Santander, leave aside the corporate need to “show proof” to the CEO and focus on the real long term value delivered….surely this equates to many of your core values?

We currently have 2 interns and are looking to increase that….help us.

 

Scotland’s Herald newspaper profiled freetobook and our two Glasgow University interns – Read the Article

 

Reduce your commission bill with promo codes

OTA CommissionOn the phones we hear the pain many accommodation owners feel when they get the monthly commission bill from their OTAs. Particularly annoying is finding repeat or regular customers who somehow end up booking through an OTA rather than directly. Many of you are looking for tools to help fight back against rising costs from the Online Travel Agents. One excellent way to do this is by using promotional codes.

Direct Bookings using Promo CodesA promo code is a private special offer that gives customers a discount when they book online directly with you. Essentially you give them a small discount making it cheaper to book directly, they save and you reduce your commission bill with more direct bookings. They simply type a promo code into your online booking page and it gives them a special direct discount.

The first step is to think about how much of an incentive you want to give to direct bookers. Perhaps your OTA commission is 15% and you want to give your customers 10% off thus saving you 5%. In the example we give the hotel offers a ten percent discount but you decide the amount yourself (you set it and you can easily change it).

Regular customers use promo codesNext you create a “Promo Code” in your freetobook account. Once you have your promo code setup (eg. DIRECT10) you now need to let your customers know about it, ensuring they know that booking directly on your website will save them money. The  simple message is “Book direct and save” but you do have to promote it. Here are some clever ideas to help.

Promo Code business cardAt Guest Checkout – Hand your guest a little business card with your promo code on it. This lets them know they are special and that they will always get a better deal booking directly with you.

At reception – Put up a little plaque or sign stating that you always guarantee the best rate when guests book direct and that some guests might get a special discount when they book again. Give them the promo code so they can use it to claim their discount when booking direct.Promo Code sign at reception

On your email signature – When you email guests about coming back to stay with you mention your promo code so they can get their special private deal. Again this reinforces the book direct message in a place where they might be considering making a booking with you.

We all like to feel special, using promo codes is a great way to show guests that you value their business and want them to come back and stay. Its a powerful message, book direct and save… here is a little exclusive discount because we value your custom. You want them to come back and/or tell family and friends about the special deal they can have by booking with you directly next time – promo codes do that for you.

The video below shows how the promo codes work, all you need to do is login to your freetobook account select the tab “Specials” and “Promo Codes” on the orange bar. To get a little further information see the promo codes section on our website.

Back to Basics

Well done, you’ve made it to the end of the busy summer season.  Take a breath but then start planning for next year.  Guests are already thinking ahead to next year’s holidays so you must too.  If you have forgotten how to enter your rates or set up your minimum stays, here’s a quick “Back To Basics” to help you through it.

 

Entering rates:  On the AVAILABILITY tab, click on the first green box, hold your finger on the mouse and drag all the way to the bottom green box.  This turns the boxes a darker colour.  Release the mouse and a white square appears in each box.  Enter your rates in the first column and then click the “a” below that column to copy the rate forward to all days.  The “d” will copy to just that day of the week and in all cases it copies to the dates going forward so you can up your rates later in the calendar and click the “a” or “d” again below those new rates.  Don’t forget to hit save before moving forward and repeating for the next six months.

ratesAniSml

Changing minimum stays:  You can set a default minimum stay in AVAILABILITY tab under DEFAULTS subtab.  This is handy if you normally insist on stays of 2 or more nights.  You can also set minimum stays on individual days or sets of days.  Similar to adding rates, on AVAILABILITY tab click the MINIMUM STAYS sub tab and then highlight the boxes on the calendar by clicking your mouse, dragging and releasing.  Each box will have a white square.  If you want to set all of a certain day of the week then change the first column of that day and then click the “d” button.  You can also change individual days/rooms as required.  Again, don’t forget to hit save before moving forward.

minStay

Close outs:  There are two ways to enter close outs.  In the DIARY tab you can click on a white box and bring up the “Quick Close Out” box.  This is ideal for one or two close outs on specific dates.  If you need to close out on a larger scale then you should do that in AVAILABILITY tab and CLOSE OUTS subtab.  Clicking a green or blue box will turn it pink.  Clicking, holding and dragging the mouse will allow you to close out multiple rooms and date in mere seconds.  Once you have closed out all that you need remember to hit the save button before moving on to the next six months.

closeOuts

Special Offers: If you are looking for a bookings boost during the quieter winter months then adding a special offer can help.  There are two types of offer in the SPECIALS tab; discount offer (i.e. offering a monetary or percentage discount from the nightly rate) and free night offer (i.e. stay 3 nights and get one of them free).  Please note that special offers do not transfer through the channel manager, if you would like the offer to be added to the channel manager please contact us for details of who does what.

specials

Direct Bookings vs OTA Bookings

Grow your direct bookings whilst using the OTAs

Direct bookings vs OTA bookings
Direct Bookings vs OTA Bookings

How much more of the “booking cake” can the OTAs (Online Travel Agents) take and how much bigger is the online booking sphere getting? They’re both interesting questions we continue to ask ourselves with a view to helping independent properties generate more direct bookings and reduce commission bills.

There is now evidence that the growth in new online customers is starting to flatten and mature. The OTAs are giant corporations that require continual growth to fire their share price. With fewer new online customers to sell to, the OTAs are looking for ways to keep their growth on target and some have been launching products to control your direct bookings. This strategy of getting income from your direct bookings doesn’t require them to find any new customers yet helps them expand their income. When they manage your direct bookings you are effectively providing them with an opportunity to acquire new customers, your direct customers.

We have also seen some OTAs removing the customer’s direct email address when the booking has originated on their site. In the past they shared these details freely with the property owners but now you need to make the effort to obtain the customer’s contact details. This will lead to less communication between you and the customer, reducing your ability to make direct marketing offers and run loyalty promotions. The knock-on effect is to shift more bookings into commissionable income and reduce direct bookings. Make sure you get contact details of all your guests.

Best Rate Guaranteed
Make sure your customers know, promise them the best rate

How do the OTAs control so much of the online business? Well, they spend billions on online marketing to get customers to book on their website. Along with the expensive adverts they quite often advertise on the search engines under cheaper terms like your property name. When they advertise under your name customers looking for your property will see them first at the top of the Google page. You will also probably see them paying for advertising on other high traffic websites e.g. your TripAdvisor page.

So what can you do about it ? Take your direct bookings very seriously, be under no illusions that you are in competition for your own direct bookings. You need to stop thinking that the property down the road is your main competition. In the online world your biggest competitor is most likely to be the OTA that provides you with the most bookings. If a potential customer has a better website experience on an OTA’s website then that’s where they’ll book.

Direct booking savings re-invested
Re-Invest your direct booking savings to generate more savings

Make sure you have invested in a great website, lots of fantastic images (critical), a great design and good original copy. There is nothing new there but independent businesses are all too often reticent to invest in their marketing, seeing it purely as a cost. Have you ever wondered why the OTAs insist on you uploading so many great images? They know customers are more likely to book with them if they have great images of your property.

A fantastic image led website will generate more direct bookings and save commission. Making sure your website is the best it can be will give you an edge when competing for direct bookings. Some of the big hotel chains even keep their best images for their own website so that they have better visual content for direct customers.

Book direct for benefits
Book direct for benefits

It’s a fact that big OTAs have a global sales coverage that independent accommodation owners can’t match. Learn from the way the big hotel chains do it, they use the OTAs for customer acquisition in areas they cannot reach. Use the OTAs to get the bookings in and convert the customers to future loyal direct bookers. Not all OTAs are the same, some customers have loyalty to a specific OTA that they use most of the time. If you rely on just one OTA for too large a percentage of your bookings then you should probably diversify the source of your OTA business. Work with the biggest OTAs but not just one of them. This gives you more online exposure, access to more customers, reduces your reliance on a specific channel and gives you a better mix of customers. It’s also a lot easier to bargain with the OTAs if you have more than one.

together by freetobook
get together as a group

Co-operation between nearby properties will help grow direct bookings for all. When it comes to getting more direct bookings your main competitor is your OTA. If properties switched from competing with each other to cooperating there would be a mutual benefit for all. Taking it to another level some accommodation owners have enjoyed significant success by cooperating and creating bookable websites featuring their members, examples include Fort William and St Ives in the UK (see freetobook together).

The benefits of more direct bookings are clear, the simplest calculation is the commission. By cutting out the middleman you save precious commission but importantly you also own the customer relationship. You have the customer’s contact details, and from the booking onwards it’s your brand that they will communicate with, not the OTAs. The direct booking message is simple so make it clear on your website, social media, emails, brochures and do let guests know that booking direct is better for them and better for you.

The service you offer from the point of confirmation to their stay with you and beyond is all yours. With direct bookings you have no communications middleman, so take advantage of the opportunity to differentiate yourself and be “special”. Always have the best rate on your website. If you ever feel the need to make a special offer make sure it’s on your website so customers booking direct never pay more.

It can be complex in the online world, as an independent family business we try to keep things simple and in perspective for smaller businesses, there’s lots of bookings out there you just have to keep chasing them.

To find out more about freetobook call, email or visit our home page
Properties group up, Get Together and cooperate

Spread your OTA bookings

OTA selection
Select more than one OTA

Are all your eggs in one Online Travel Agent’s (OTA) basket? We see a number of independent accommodation owners who rely on just one OTA. Business wisdom and common sense suggest that an over reliance on one source of sales is risky. Spreading your sales sources will give you a more reliable, robust and diversified stream of bookings.

So what are the risks of working with just one OTA? At some future point that company may decide to implement something you disagree with; it could be a policy about commission or some way that they deal with guest data, reviews or customer relations. There’s no way to say what the future holds but with only one source you will have to follow their rules without any backup relationships.

Biggest OTAs in the World
World’s Biggest OTAs

Each of the biggest three worldwide travel websites (and they keep growing), Expedia, TripAdvisor and Booking.com all have their own customer databases and their own advertising strategies. By working with more than one you both maximise your exposure and diversify sources of potential customers. Remember that some customers only ever book with Expedia and others only Booking.com so by working with both you get seen by them all.

Customers also visit many websites during their research process so featuring on the big three means you have more chance of catching their eye. Again each of these booking sites will place a different emphasis on your property so you will appear in different positions and places on different searches and pages.

Having only one OTA is a bit like a farmer getting a giant contract from a major supermarket. The initial glow wears off when you have had to turn down all other distribution opportunities and tailor your processes to that single source, and then you realise that losing the contract would likely mean instant business failure. It’s a horrible question to ask but an important one, if your biggest OTA stopped working with you would your business survive?

Fortunately in the accommodation business you can spread your risk far more easily than some farmers can. You can share your availability across multiple channels and benefit from a bigger and more diverse spread of bookings whilst increasing your negotiating position. Then, if at some future date one OTA ever demands something you don’t want to give you can always move business to another.

A good healthy business mix includes plenty of direct bookings so your OTA policy should always go hand-in-hand with a strategy to increase direct bookings. In our next blog we cover ways to increase direct bookings, so you can make the most of the existing customers that have booked via the OTAs.

Find out more about our Channel Manager

Great, Gratis and Glorious digital marketing ideas to boost direct sales

Gonzo Marketing
Gonzo Marketing

Our guest blog and interview is with Frederic Gonzalo, founder of Gonzo Marketing. With over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere, he is passionate about marketing and communications.

Frederic recently attended the EyeForTravel event in Miami as a speaker, panelist and participant to the 2015 edition of Online Marketing Strategies in Travel.

Here Frederic generously shares his industry insights and expertise with freetobook. As he pointedly states, having no marketing budget is no excuse for not having a dynamic online presence!

What is the most important trend in online room booking?

It’s about going mobile. More than 51% of travelers now research their next destination, accommodation and transportation from a mobile device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet. And more importantly, an increasing proportion of them are now booking via their mobile device: in fact, it is estimated that 25% of all online travel revenue in the US will come from mobile devices in 2015.

How can a property get more direct bookings?

1- Have a “best online rate” guarantee and feature it, big and bold, on your home page. People will shop around no matter what, but if they can have the confidence that by booking direct they will get the best deal, well… you got it!

2- Have a relationship marketing approach in place. This can be through a rewards program or simply by capturing emails from clients and visitors to your site and/or blog. Sending out regular newsletters and promotional offers to this base can ensure retention and direct booking through time.

3- Promote deals and best rates across your various social accounts. I see hotels mention a promo code for 10% off best rate… on their Twitter bio. Others do Facebook offers, or mail push to group databases. Think outside the box, and make sure you crossover information from newsletter to blog to social media.

Having no marketing dollars is not an excuse not to have a dynamic online presence.

The first step is to have a professional-looking website, and this can be done with various solutions that cost a fraction of what it used to 3-5 years ago.

Sending out emails? MailChimp is free up to 2,000 email addresses, and other providers offer similar low-cost solutions.

Social media? It’s not free, contrary to what many believe, because someone has to manage it, but you can have impact and reach on Facebook with minimal investments. It’s more a matter of having a strategy in place to begin with, then finding the resources (human and financial) to manage this new reality. Knowing 87% of travel decisions now begin with an online search, do we even really have a choice here?

15 key stats to consider:

  1. TripAdvisor (42%) is the most downloaded mobile app amongst travelers, followed by Priceline (15%), Expedia (14%) and Orbitz (13%)
  2. There are 139 reviews written every minute on TripAdvisor
  3. You lose 25-60% of visitors with each click on the mobile path to purchase.
  4. 69% of travelers begin their search online…via a mobile device!
  5. Average mobile users check their device 150 times per day!
  6. Of the average six daily hours US adults spend on digital media, 3 hours is on mobile.
  7. Twitter on Travel: in the past year, 60M tweets mentioned hotels, 21M tweets mentioned vacations
  8. 70% of followers have taken some action after seeing travel content on Twitter
  9. 70% of Instagram users have looked for a brand online
  10. 3/4 of consumers are frustrated when online content doesn’t relate to their interest
  11. In 2016, 50% of total travel sales will involve more than one device
  12. Ritz Carlton Hotel sees 18% conversions from email campaigns. Email is not dead, folks!
  13. 92% of visitors to a website will never return. Thus, remarketing is key!
  14. Only 27% of hotels send automated emails prior to arrival (and after departing)
  15. According to Google, 1/3 of people with a smartphone would give up sex instead of their phone. Sad.

Visit Frederic Gonzalo’s website for further insights

 

Does Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

bestPriceDoes Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

We were chatting with one freetobook customer this week who was alarmed at the growing number of rooms sold via booking.com rather than her own website and to make matters worse, a returning customer had re-booked using the OTA! With a few clicks all became clear. The property’s website was overly cluttered, out of date with offers from the Christmas holidays and it wasn’t clear there was an online booking facility.

Does your website tell potential customers WHY they should book directly with you?  The OTA’s do a brilliant job at converting lookers to bookers. From the ‘last room, last chance’ popups in red lettering, they create a sense of urgency to drive through that final click to book.

It’s worth saying once again …
Place your BOOKING BUTTON on the top left hand side if you possibly can. Advertisers pay a premium for this ‘sweet spot’.

HIGHLIGHT to potential bookers that they will get the BEST POSSIBLE PRICE (with no commission) by booking on your website.

Add in fresh, positive reviews onto your front page. Update very regularly!

Other general website design tips to remember …
How well do other folk feel you are marketing your accommodation? Ask friends and business associates whose opinions you trust to spent time on your website. Their feedback may highlight some great new suggestions or angles.

Make your website look as professional as possible, it’s your number one marketing tool. It’s worth considering giving it a timely overhaul with the help of a website designer.

Beautiful images SELL.  Refresh images of your property seasonally, there is nothing more off-putting than searching for a summer retreat only to find the main photos on the property’s website show a winter wonderland!

Write concise (less is more!), appealing copy about your property and what visitors can expect on arrival.

OTAs – Rise of the Giants

Rise of the giants

A huge amount of internet change is currently impacting independent accommodation providers.

Online travel agent (OTA) consolidation puts the vast majority of bookings into the hands of just 2 or 3 players. Together they dominate the online space through aggressive marketing and huge pay per click spends with Google and other high volume websites. This continues to make it increasingly challenging for independent accommodation owners trying to maintain the same volume of direct bookings.

If you find yourself in this situation the best strategy is to avoid over reliance on a single OTA as that level of dominance creates obvious business risks, no business wants all its eggs in one basket. So make sure you have a spread of booking sources and always be on the look out for new, more efficient ways to distribute. Don’t be afraid to invest in technology that improves your direct commission free bookings and also enables you to diversify your booking sources i.e. a channel manager and booking engine that connects to all three big players…Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

Remaining fiercely independent and open to multiple sources of bookings becomes more crucial as the dominance of the biggest grows. In other words the most successful strategy will be diversified and independent – keep your eggs in baskets you can trust.

connect to freetobook channel manager