More bookings for Elgin B&B via Freetobook channel manager

Case Study: Freetobook’s channel manager brings more bookings to Ardgye House B&B in Elgin.

In the current economy, many independent accommodation providers know all too well the importance of getting new business. It’s a challenge, especially if you can’t afford expensive campaigns or newspaper advertising. Freetobook now offers some help: an easy-to-manage connection to LateRooms and Booking.com, which allows you to update your availability on both those site quickly and easily via your Freetobook diary.

It’s true that some property owners are still wary of LateRooms and Booking.com, concerned that the commission charged by these Online Travel Agents will erase their profit margin. But experience has shown that many accommodation owners who take the plunge really benefit from the increased exposure. The internet is just so big and managing to get your property in front of the customer at the right time is no easy task.

One Freetobook customer who has definitely benefited from the extra exposure is Carol McInnes, who, with her husband Alistair and daughter Kerry, runs the 4-star Ardgye House in Elgin. A beautiful 5-room Edwardian property, built in 1904, the Ardgye has been welcoming guests for over 20 years. It boasts sumptuous Family, Twin and King Rooms and is rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Elgin B&Bs/Inns. None the less, Carol had noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to compete for attention in an online world where paid results dominate the first page of any accommodation search.

Already offering online booking with Freetobook software, Carol decided to integrate with LateRooms via company’s channel manager.

“We’ve always been successful and we have a great reputation. We get a lot of bookings from the RAF at Lossiemouth and the Royal Engineers at Kinloss. We’re also very popular with German tourists visiting Scotland. But as with a lot of properties these days, it has become harder and harder for us to be ‘found,’” says Carol. “The main thing that attracted us to LateRooms was their huge advertising spend. We realised that we could piggyback on that to become much more visible to potential guests. The Freetobook system’s channel manager allowed the integration to be done quickly and easily. It really couldn’t have been simpler.”

Carol is well aware that some accommodation owners feel they’ll lose money on booking by going down this route, but she doesn’t share that view.

“I don’t see a LateRooms booking as 15% lost in commission, I see it as 85% gained on a booking I wouldn’t otherwise have got,” she points out. “I’m also noticing that guests who book through LateRooms the first time are becoming repeat customers who book with us direct on subsequent occasions, now that they know we exist.”

And although Carol has only been offering LateRooms availability for a short time, she has already seen the benefits: “LateRooms bookings are up by a third since we integrated via Freetobook. We’re much busier than we were before and we are starting to see a pick-up in direct bookings too. Pretty soon we’re looking to integrate with Booking.com via Freetobook as well.”

Connect Booking.com and LateRooms

Update Booking.com & LateRooms in one place

We all know that in the current economy every extra booking is precious. We also know that an accommodation owner’s time is valuable. There are always a million things to do and not nearly enough time to do them in. With that in mind, freetobook now offers you a channel manager that allows you to connect to Booking.com and LateRooms and update them direct from your freetobook diary.

Thanks to this new functionality, you’ll no longer have to update lots of different systems. One diary will automatically update them all so you can never go over-booked. It’ll also allow you to alter room rates across different sales channels from one place. And each time a booking is made, it will go straight into your diary with all the customer details (phone, email, and prices) captured.

Not only will this new functionality save you time and increase room sales, it will also increase your exposure via the world’s leading booking websites and eliminate the worry of double bookings.

To find out more about how our new channel manager works and all the benefits it can bring you, go here.

 

 

 

The scandal of Taxing Exports, UK VAT and Accommodation

Export, export, export is the way to a prosperous future. An export led recovery is what we all need. The story goes something like this: if we can encourage more folk from abroad to part with their hard earned cash, spending it on our stuff, we can pay off our debts and maintain some of the living standards we have become quite attached to. At the same time, to double the effect, we need to curb our habits and spend a little less on the old imports. This all seems quite simple home economics. It even makes perfect sense to me.

Vat on accommodation
Vat on accommodation

In the accommodation business we have an ideal and somewhat rare chance to help the economy in terms of both exports and domestic consumption. Accommodation is not only a key element in the tourist experience, it is also a significant generator of jobs and GDP. So in our business we can help to grow exports, lower imports, create jobs and boost GDP: a quadruple benefit. Wow! You would think any government would see the advantage in promoting the accommodation business, and, as I will show, almost all governments have seen the benefits; it’s one of those “no-brainer” things.

As accommodation providers, we often look at improving our service to customers and potential guests. Essentially we aim to encourage them to stay with us for the first time or come back again next time. In this improvement exercise, it often pays to take a look at what the competition are offering: it gives a great snapshot of who’s doing what and, let’s be honest, there is nothing more satisfying than pinching an idea and making it even better. An important job of governments is to do a similar thing but on a far grander scale. They need to look at other countries and work out what the competitors are up to and which great ideas they can pinch and improve.

At this point I feel the need for a bit of research well above my pay grade. Luckily those clever people at the World Economic Forum produce a very useful report every other year. It’s called the world tourism competitive report and the last one was published in March 2011 – pretty up to date. It lists every country’s worldwide relative competitive tourist ranking using a wide variety of factors.

So, how does the UK government help us compete against our nearest competitors? The table below shows the top 10 European countries* listed in order of competitiveness, displaying their standard VAT rates versus their accommodation VAT rates. It’s an interesting measure of how much they look to promote their domestic accommodation businesses:

VAT_screenshot

I find these results quite literally shocking. Every single competitor we have enjoys a tax advantage against us. In relative terms, the UK government is effectively taxing exports (domestic accommodation) and allowing tax breaks for imports (European accommodation). You might be tempted to forgive them if this related to a couple of countries, but every single one bar the UK has a tax break. The world of international trade is heavily regulated, so it’s very rare to have a sector where a government has the power to legitimately favour its local business. This is one of them and it seems to me that every other government knows it. So why doesn’t the UK? I suggest they look at our competitors and pinch a good tax break or two. That would be something to really help the export-led recovery we all need.

* Source – The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011 by World Economic Forum

Save money on credit card handling charges.

I won’t make any friends in the banking industry for saying this, but here goes.

If you already have a deal which is bad or average then it’s worth shopping
around now. You could save money, as your bank may be taking advantage of you.

A good credit card rate is between 1% and 1.5%.
An average credit card rate is between 1.4% and 1.9%.
A bad credit card rate is 2% and over.
(These rates are indications based on PDQ and virtual terminal. They will
be good for most B&Bs, guest houses, cottages or hotel businesses.)

So how do you do get the rate down ?

The first rule of dealing with bank credit card handling fees is negotiate. The second rule is negotiate and the third rule is negotiate. When it comes
to card charges, banks will try and get the highest charge they can
get away with. You can easily end up being charged 2.5% instead
of 1.5%. It’s a big difference and, let’s face it, in these times it pays to be
smart with costs. Who could ever feel bad about squeezing a bank?

We have been dealing with banks and their credit card charges for more
twelve years, so here are a few tips. I hope they lead to reducing your charges:

  1. When it comes to card charges, feel free to play banks off each against other. They
    all provide a similar service, so get at least three quotes from different banks.
  2. Let each one of them know you are shopping around for a good deal on your
    card business. If they want your account then they need to give you their
    best possible rates.
  3. Don’t feel you need to stick with the same bank you use for other services. Card transactions are mostly handled by completely different sections. They
    won’t do you any favours since card handling is mostly treated as an independent
    service.

What factors do they look for in calculating their charge ?

Risk: The lower your risk in the eyes of the banks the better rate they give and each bank
assesses risk differently (all the more reason to try different banks).

So what are the main risk factors?

  1. Time and Money: The time between taking payment and providing the service is a risk period to them. If you take a deposit in advance rather than full payment it will be a lower risk. Make sure the bank knows you are low risk (if you are). The more payment you take a greater time from arrival the higher the risk.
  2. Method: How you take the payment. If you use chip and pin, customer present, the risk is very low.  Taking payments over the phone – so-called card holder not present transactions – are a higher risk. Online card transactions are an even higher risk, but using online 3D secure can reduce the risk. You can expect a higher charge for online card transactions.
  3. Reputation: A good long trading history with a healthy set of accounts will reduce the risk that the bank sees in you and hence your charges.

Turnover: the higher your turnover the better the deal you can get. This is a simple volume calculation. If the bank can get 1.7% on 50,000 and your turnover increases to 70,000 you could get them down to 1.5% or lower; it’s worth a try.

Competition: They all have targets to meet and if they know you are shopping around for the best deal they won’t be tempted to over charge you and risk losing your account.

If anyone has any other tips or stories I would love to hear them. Happy hunting.

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