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

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

Easy low cost way to accept credit cards with Stripe

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

5 Reasons to use Stripe for card payments

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

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

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

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

Here is some of the amazing feedback we received:

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

TripAdvisor lower commission

Booking by TripAdvisor
Booking by TripAdvisor

At 12% TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking connection has a lower commission than big online travel agents. Is it time you looked into how to get your share ?

Why not start by checking out your own listing on TripAdvisor to see how they promote the booking links. You can’t fail to notice that visitors are asked for dates of stay and encouraged to search and book.

The connection to TripAdvisor through your freetobook diary is free (you do have to pay TripAdvisor).

6 Advantages to TripAdvisor Instant Booking

1) Lower commission, from 12%
2) You only pay commission on completed bookings
3) No upfront costs, no signup costs, no fees from freetobook
4) You receive all of the customer’s direct details, including email address
5) Simple to do, just login to TripAdvisor and connect
6) You don’t need a Business Listing to get these TripAdvisor bookings

The connection simple, just activate it in your TripAdvisor account to enable direct bookings on your TripAdvisor page. If you already have a freetobook account you don’t even need to contact us.

Most of freetobook’s benefits are free with a few optional charged services, find a complete list of our charges on our pricing page, what does freetobook cost ?

Other blog articles on TripAdvisor

Find out more about TripAdvisor Review Express

Spread your booking sources

Online Travel Agents
Big sources of bookings

Increasing direct bookings is the priority and we certainly help thousands of businesses grow theirs. The next priority is to ensure you have a good mix of other booking sources so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Too many bookings from one source creates a risk to your business.

If almost all your bookings come in from Bookingcom or Expedia there’s a danger of a single source being too dominant and any business knows that securing future success requires a healthy spread of bookings.

What if you were to fall out with your single biggest source of bookings, do you have any alternatives? Perhaps they decide to implement something you disagree with, do you have another source as back-up?  These are valid questions that could affect the sustainability of your business.

You also need to consider that each agent has their very own customer database and by working with a variety of them you maximise your exposure to potential new customers. If for example you only work with Expedia, you’ll only get Expedia customers and that will limit your business.

bestPriceA good healthy business mix includes plenty of direct bookings alongside a diversified strategy with Bookingcom and Expedia, but make sure you have a plan to increase direct bookings.

 

Secure your future bookings with a two priorities

1) Don’t rely on just one big source of bookings

Easy to use channel manager can help manage multiple sources of bookings without double entry or double bookings.

2) Invest in growing your direct bookings

Direct booking tips and blog articles to help grow your direct bookings

 

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.

TripAdvisor at 12 percent

Own the bookings on your TripAdvisor page

Twelve Percent commission on TripAdvsior
Twelve Percent commission on TripAdvsior

More and more bookings are being made on TripAdvisor, we have some information and friendly advice to help ensure you are not losing out. In the last week we have seen a 400% increase in TripAdvisor Instant Bookings. If you use the freetobook direct connection these are now available at 12% commission.

All across the world Instant Booking is becoming more widely available, you will have noticed a change to your TripAdvisor page. Now visitors to your page are asked for their dates of stay and your availability only shows if you’re connected, if not, TripAdvisor lists availability of nearby properties.

Getting a direct connection to Instant Booking is easy and will save you commission. To take part you just need a freetobook account and a TripAdvisor account.

Login to your TripAdvisor account and switch on the connection to freetobook, it’s as simple as that.

Six advantages of a direct TripAdvisor connection:

1) Lower commission, you can pay as little as 12%
2) You only pay commission on completed bookings
3) No upfront costs, no signup costs, no fees from freetobook
4) You receive all of the customer’s direct details, including email address
5) Simple to do, just login to TripAdvisor and connect
6) You don’t need a Business Listing to get these TripAdvisor bookings

Booking by TripAdvisor
Booking by TripAdvisor

The connection simple, just activate it in your TripAdvisor account to enable direct bookings on your TripAdvisor page.

Freetobook has always believed in great technology for direct bookings as well as offering the highest quality connections to world’s biggest sources of bookings. We all know some providers are not universally popular with accommodation owners but it remains a fact that they have access to the world’s online bookers. We try to advantage our customers (property owners) by offering these connections at better value. It is certainly better to get a booking through TripAdvisor at 12% than one through another big source at higher commission!

This year a freetobook customer was awarded TripAdvisor’s “Best B&B in the World,” yes, number 1 out of 300,ooo or more listed on their site. The Millgate in Masham is certainly a fantastic B&B and for us what stands out is their great attitude to using new technology to maximise sales and free up time to get on with taking care of customers. See what the Millgate has to say about getting to the top on TripAdvisor.

To become the best B&B in the world you certainly need to be fabulous but you also need to have fantastic reviews and as many of them as possible. Here again freetobook can help you rise up on the TripAdvisor rankings. A Review Express connection on your freetobook account can automate review requests for your customers and dramatically increase the number of reviews you receive. Find out more about Review Express.

Most of freetobook’s benefits are free with a few optional charged services, find a complete list of our charges on our pricing page, what does freetobook cost ?

View our helpful TripAdvisor Instant Booking video for a quick recap of how to increase bookings on your TripAdvisor page, click play below.

Planning ahead for your promotions

heather turnerThis week’s guest blog is from US based social media and marketing expert Heather Turner, “Chief Logroller” at Forfeng Media. Here Heather helps you plan your social media calendar for holiday events and special promotions.

The time to start planning ahead for your promotions throughout the year, is best done in slow season when you actually have a little down time, a little space to actually think and work on your marketing for the upcoming year.

Developing a social media and content calendar in advance is key to getting promotions out in an stress free, and timely manner so you have the best chance for a journalist to pickup an event or special for a story, and to make sure you work any kinks out of the special or offer in advance. If you are doing specials in conjunction with other area businesses, i.e. a discount at a local restaurant in conjunction with a stay, or free or ½ price tickets to a museum, for example, as part of your packages, it’s best to be able to make those connections and iron down the details as far ahead in advance as possible. When making joint package deals its very important to stress to the partnering business that they will be getting a lot of free publicity out of it. Working some numbers up, and letting them know where and how you will be promoting it, and them, is leverage for getting you a better deal on a partnership offer or discount.

If you are hoping to get your special or offer picked up by the news for inclusion in a newspaper or magazine, be cognizant of the fact that the lead time for both is very different. A newspaper generally needs several weeks leads time to run an article. Monthly magazines generally need three to six months.

socialIcons

Realistically any unique specials or promotions should be up online on your website at least 6 months prior to the actual event. If you send press releases out about it, it should be send out at least 4 months or more prior. Advertising them on social media should start being pushed out at last 3 months prior, 2 at the very latest.

If you have something that you know will book up and sell out in advance, advertise it on social media at least 4 months in advance so that if you get the inevitable cancellation or two you have time to rebook it. Developing the social media calendar will help you keep on track for when you are scheduled to start promoting your specials.

Specific Holidays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are generally high traffic days for lodging packages, and many potential guests do like to plan ahead for those. You may want to consider starting to advertise these on your social media channels a little earlier than the rest of your other packages.

Posting your specials on social media should not be done more than once a week, each post should be unique, have an appropriate and inviting picture accompanying it (make sure you either own the photograph or image, have permission to use it or have purchased it from a legitimate stock photo source), and be written in a way that utilizes the soft sell approach.

As an example of the soft sell post: Father’s Day is coming up soon. What better way to thank your Dad for being there for you and your family then treating him to a weekend away from it all. Our special Father’s Day Package includes a full day of golf at the historic Beach Head Golf Club, followed by a day on the water fishing for Bass on Lake Bestinach. For more information about this special Father’s Day package please visit http:thejanedoeinn.com/fatherdayspecial.

VS. the hard sell post:  Father’s Day Package, June 18-19, Package includes 18 holes of golf, cart included. River tour with Bass fishing instructor, $360 for the weekend D.O.. Exclusions apply. Book Now at 800-555-1212.

Make sure to keep your social media calendars from previous years, and note when you have gotten the most traffic and bookings for each previous year on them. You should also include anything of note that happens during the time your packages have happened. The Christmas of 2013 had a horrible snowstorm resulting in cancellations, Easter of 2011 had a travel ban, etc. Long term this helps you better plan for next year, as well as being able to look back and see what previous years results were based on what you did for marketing as well as any external events that may have happened that were outside of your control.

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