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

 

B&B marketing tips from Karen

hopton house“If anyone knows about B&B, Karen does.” (Guardian) Karen owns Hopton House, a converted granary in Shropshire offering three bedrooms. Alongside her own bed and breakfast business, she runs regular courses for potential B&B owners. Here Karen shares her business expertise and thoughts on TripAdvisor, the ‘Marmite’ of the B&B world.

“I’ve been running Hopton House for nearly eleven years now and the B&B courses for a couple of years less than that. I’m often asked what the biggest changes I’ve seen in that time are. In terms of the running of the B&B it’s very much about guest expectations, they tend to be more widely travelled and the lines between hotels and B&Bs are getting a bit blurred. Internet access is one case in point – ten years ago it wouldn’t have been required or maybe it was just a nice to have, but in 2015, with the amazing growth of smartphones, it’s pretty much a necessity for many people. From my own travels I know that if there are choices of similar accommodation in an area, I’ll always go for the one with Wi-Fi access. I think the biggest changes I’ve seen are the ways in which B&Bs market their businesses.

Here are the top 5 areas that I think have been game changing;

guest reviews tripadvisor1. Guest Reviews:
Tripadvisor; the marmite of the B&B world! All guests these days are potential amateur reviewers. Whilst having lots of great reviews is heart warming for the B&B owner, a negative review has the potential to cause serious damage to a business. Even now my heart skips a beat whenever I see I have a new review come through. Whilst receiving a bad review can ruin the owner’s day, it’s important to address the review and respond constructively. Tripadvisor reviews have shown that potential guests are more likely to choose to stay at a B&B if they’re taken to respond to negative feedback in a positive constructive way.

online travel agents2. Online travel agents:
The OTAs such as booking.com are changing the way people book accommodation, and many B&Bs can have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. OTAs can bring us a lot of business with no upfront joining fees but the commission they charge is high and the guests haven’t always understood what they should expect in their B&B. I think B&B owners need to make a decision about whether they will use the OTAs and then how will they use them. Whilst I don’t use them myself (I’m on booking.com but haven’t yet released nights to them), I think they can be very useful ( and possibly essential ) to some types of accommodation providers.

social media3. Social Media:
Many B&Bs have always relied on word of mouth to promote their business for years, and social media is the ultimate word of mouth. Social media, be it twitter, facebook, Instagram or even blogging, provides B&B owners with a great way to attract new guests, meet suppliers and keep in touch with repeat guests. I filled a room last minute following a cancellation using a promoted Facebook post last week. Better still, when you attract someone on social media and they like what you offer, they’ll then go back and recommend you to all of their followers.

advertising4. Advertising:
Whilst paper advertising in magazines and tourist guides has been steadily declining, digital advertising has been on the increase. I find both Facebook promoted posts and Google adwords are an effective way of marketing my B&B.

Google adwords particularly are becoming quite complicated to manage these days. I’d always suggest getting a recommendation for a digital marketing company to help you get started (although avoid those that cold call you offering top place on Google).

online booking5. Online Booking:
I’ve had online availability since I opened my B&B, I was one of the first in my area to get online booking. I do think online booking is an essential for any tourism business these days. About 85% of my bookings come through online via freetobook. Taking the deposit, blocking the calendar and sending confirmation are all handled seamlessly without me having to do a thing (the hours I used to spend on holiday looking for an internet café so I could sign into my email and respond to guest bookings with my old booking system!)

These days marketing is as an essential part of running a B&B as cleaning the rooms or cooking the breakfast. If it’s something you enjoy then great, if not then find someone who can help you. There’s lot of support out there locally via local tourism associations and groups.

Hopton House B&B, Hopton Heath, Craven Arms, Shropshire, SY7 0QD

Check availability and book online at www.shropshirebreakfast.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hoptonhousebnb
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hoptonhouse
Check out our Pins at http://pinterest.com/hoptonhousebnb/
Read our Breakfast Recipes at http://shropshirebreakfast.blogspot.co.uk/

TripAdvisor direct bookings TripConnect explained

TripConnect explained
TripAdvisor for business

Many accommodation businesses are confused about TripAdvisor’s direct bookings, are you one them?  Let’s try to explain, so find a nice quiet spot to sit down with a glass or mug of your favourite drink.

In the last year TripAdvisor has changed its business model a number of times leaving many potential customers confused and even locked out. We have created a couple of videos to help you understand these changes (skip to these at the foot of the article…if you like) but it’s probably worthwhile seeing some of the basic facts first. Like them or not, here they are;

  1. TripAdvisor is a booking website used to book accommodation online.
  2. Accommodation businesses can receive bookings directly from the TripAdvisor website using a booking engine i.e. Freetobook.
  3. If you are already working with an OTA (Online Travel Agent) like Expedia or Booking.com you may find that the OTAs advertise your availability on TripAdvisor. These bookings will come through the OTA (not directly from TripAdvisor) and look like any other OTA booking and you pay your agreed commission to the OTA, as usual.
  4. The OTA pays to advertise on the TripAdvisor website, each OTA decides if they want to advertise your availability. You have no control over this.
  5. TripAdvisor lists availability and prices prominently so properties that don’t have online rates will be more difficult to find and if they are found they’ll be surrounded by images and popups directing customers to nearby available properties.
  6. Available to accommodation owners worldwide except if you have a holiday rental on HolidayLettings or FlipKey

In short, if you don’t have online rates you will receive less traffic and fewer bookings than in previous years.

Direct bookings via TripAdvisor
Direct bookings via TripAdvisor

If you do want bookings this way then you choose your route, direct with TripAdvisor or through an OTA – either way there is no requirement for any fixed upfront costs, no subscriptions or annual fees.

To get bookings direct you will need an account with TripAdvisor and an approved booking engine (or connectivity partner i.e. freetobook). Simply login to your TripAdvisor account and setup your direct advertising via their TripConnect service. Most approved booking engines charge for this service but with us it is completely free.

To advertise directly on their website you will need to pay TripAdvisor. In their wisdom they have created two models for payment (hence our two videos mentioned earlier).

Model One: Pay Per ClickTripAdvisor CPC video
Here you pay TripAdvisor a click fee each time a customer clicks on your advert, on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. However, you DON’T pay for a search, you only pay when the customer searches AND then clicks on your available price. If you are not available on the dates the customer searches or they don’t click the price then you don’t pay.

Cost Per Click model facts:
You pay when a customer clicks on your available price.
TripAdvisor sets the click costs and from feedback they are generally quite low (but we can’t see or know the cost, they are only visible in TripAdvisor).
You can vary what you pay per click (your bid). If you bid too low then TripAdvisor will remove the advert and you would have to increase your bid to show again.
If you work with an OTA they might also advertise alongside your CPC advert.
You set the budget and pay TripAdvisor and can switch it on/off as you please.

In this model you pay for the advertising and you measure the bookings that come from the clicks. Bidding higher for clicks will make you show at the top of any adverts on your property and bidding too low will mean you don’t show. You make the judgement as to the cost effectiveness of your advertising by totalling up the bookings versus the click costs.  Ideally that return has to better than any other booking options i.e. OTA commissions.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Cost Per Click model.

Model Two: Pay Per Booking model (Instant Booking)Instant Booking video for TripConnect
In this model you only pay TripAdvisor for bookings. There is no cost for each click, instead you pay a commission amount on realised bookings. You set this up by logging into TripAdvisor account and activating an Instant Booking campaign. You pay TripAdvisor a commission fee only after the customer has completed their stay. At the time of this blog Instant Booking is not available to all properties. Use the Instant booking link below to check.

Pay Per Booking model facts:
You pay either 12% or 15% commission after the customer has stayed.
If you bid 12% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 25% of the time.
If you bid 15% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 50% of the time.
No other OTAs will show if your advert is showing.
There is no payment/commission due on bookings that cancel.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Pay Per Booking model

By now you are either asleep or completely up to speed on direct bookings from TripAdvisor….. that is before it changes (only joking!)  As always, please share your experience of this service or any other relevant news, let us know how it has or hasn’t worked for you.

Other relevant pages:
List of premium partners (booking engines) with TripAdvisor
TripConnect CPC on freetobook
TripConnect Instant Booking on freetobook
TripAdvisor TripConnect on their site
TripAdvisor Instant Booking on their site

World's Best B&B 2015
World’s Best B&B 2015

Millgate B&B was awarded the best B&B in the World 2015, why not have a little read about how Sue did it along with a few tips to learn from.

If you’re a historian or an online booking nerd and want to see some old blogs on how TripAdvisor has changed since we first started reporting and connecting way back in July 2013

Google Mobile-Friendly websites

Mobile friendly website
If you get this your website is mobile friendly

If Google speaks we all have to listen and when the world’s search giant lets us know that it now labels websites as “mobile-friendly” the message is clear. (read Google announcement)

Labeling websites as mobile-friendly will help Google rank them higher for users on phones. The message from Google is loud and clear so any late arrivals need to get serious about mobile. Simply put there is now a penalty on Google for not having a mobile website.

Not Mobile Friendly
You don’t want to see this message ! It’s bad news.

Google says “Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. “

 

Google now offers a free tool to check if your website is mobile-friendly. Check your website here.

Frankly, it’s frustrating to visit a website with a phone and have to scroll to find things, read tiny print and wish that your fingers were the size of matchsticks as you try to click the correct link or back track from the wrong link.

Elegant, simple, mobile booking solutions have been part of freetobook from our birth. It’s easy and low cost to get your website and booking process mobile.

Mobile websites for accommodation providers need to designed specifically for accommodation, you need something that fits your business. All our mobile sites are automatically updated when you update your details in freetobook.

 

 

Together in Gatwick

Together for accommodation ownersJust back from a quick trip down to Gatwick to see the Gatwick Guest House Association (GGHA). I was invited to give a short presentation on the Together service after a few of their proactive members thought the service may help their website generate more bookings.

Like many other associations they need to upgrade their website and in assessing the options it became obvious that a booking engine on the website would be a great benefit…and that’s where Together comes in. Freetobook are always happy to visit groups and explain face-to-face who we are, where we came from and what we do.

Gatwick guest house association
Gatwick guest house association

I was really impressed with the positive and proactive attitude of everyone at the meeting, I was made to me feel very welcome.

A big thank you to everyone and especially to Carmel at the Cumberland House for her warm hospitality…..the perfect host.

 

To find out more about how to get together click here.

Short video on the together system

 

 

Get together and win

Is your local association or marketing group doing enough for you?

Together for accommodation ownersOnline booking is just getting easier and more accessible to everyone. It’s great to see associations and marketing groups looking to improve their websites and the profitability of their membership.

Local association and marketing group websites tend to generate a lot traffic because they are the best source of local information (search engines like this), but do they really capitalise on all those visitors. If the huge growth of budget hotels and online travel agents is anything to go by you would have to say these local websites are failing to deliver what their members need most…direct commission free bookings.

together group website
together was our best decision

Why are they losing out on these bookings, because they are not offering their visitors what they want…the ability to search availability then compare properties, locations and prices, and make bookings. We all know customers want choice, value and convenience when shopping for accommodation online hence the global popularity of the OTAs.

That’s the problem, here’s the solution – get your area website set-up to take bookings for your members. To set this up quickly and cheaply you need a booking system that is accessible to all, quick to set up and easy to manage. Our solution at freetobook has been

Grow your accommodation group with together
Grow together and expand your association

simple and inclusive, the internet booking engine is free to use, quick to set-up (couple of hours) and easy to manage. Members can still run their existing booking systems if they want .. we do not mandate that they have to use freetobook exclusively and there’s no tie-ins. So the cost of entry is just a few hours time for members … a fair price for commission free bookings?

Proven benefits of working better “Together” include:

1) being able to categorically show members that they are “in profit” from their membership

2) reduce commissions paid and raise the long-term positive profile of the group/area

3) expand the membership of the group and directly increase their profitability

4) keeping bookings within the group means more bookings for all and easier referrals

Website visitors want to book online on your website and your association or group website, can you and your association afford to sit on your hands and do nothing ?

Find out more with examples of existing “together” websites

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

Video showing how “together” can work for you

TripConnect Mobile Optimisation

Make the most of TripConnect Mobile bookings

TripConnect Mobile Bookings
TripConnect Mobile Bookings using freetobook

As TripAdvisor focuses on Mobile customers we think you should too. Earlier this year they reported there had been 100 million downloads* of their free mobile app. These customers use mobile phones to research holidays and some make bookings. If you are promoted on TripConnect you will convert better with freetobook’s mobile booking platform.

To optimise your freetobook mobile booking system simply login and select the TAB ”Plus” then “Mobile Booking”.  The “Deluxe Mobile Search” option will work for TripConnect or why not get a discount on the Full Mobile Package which includes a great mobile website.

Mobile Booking for accommodation Freetobook Plus Services

 

Freetobook’s mobile booking works on all mobiles and includes multi language booking. The mobile services work for all customers, not

TripAdvisor mobile page
TripAdvisor mobile page

just those on TripConnect, this means customers visiting your website using a mobile will also be able to use the optimised booking process.

We don’t charge for a connection with TripConnect….and that includes multi language booking in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

Our mobile optimised website and/or mobile deluxe search provide great value.

Watch the video below to see how great your mobile website and mobile optimised booking process can be with freetobook.

 

freetobook mobile booking engine for tripconnect and your website (youtube)

Find out more about mobile booking and mobile websites for accommodation businesses

On mobile it’s all about the booking experience, see some examples below.

mobile website for guest house

A mobile website for guest house.

 

 

mobile booking pages for hotels

Mobile booking pages for hotels.

*TripAdvisor press release 15April2014

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

 

iCal calendar sync

iCal sync with Holiday Lettings, Airbnb, Flipkey and others

iCal calendar sync holiday lettings airbnb flipkey
iCal calendar sync holiday lettings and airbnb

Get found and get booked by keeping your calendars up to date.

iCal enables customers to see your true availability  leading to better quality enquiries, happier customers and most importantly more bookings. However, its a bore logging into all these systems and updating each one separately. The freetobook iCal service updates availability on many of the world’s big sales channels automatically.

Very recently Holiday Lettings added an iCal calendar syncing feature so freetobook’s iCal export can now be used to update airbnb, Flipkey, Wimdu, House Trip and any other systems that accept iCal imports.

How the freetobook iCal calendar updater can work for you (youtube video)

iCal calendar sync is a standard format for calendars that’s used widely to share date information. Large companies use iCal to receive simple availability data because it’s an easy, simple and basic format of calendar data. We have created a way for you to export your availability in an iCal format to these big sales systems. If you have an account with Holiday Lettings, Airbnb, FlipKey or anyone that allows iCal import you can register for our iCal service and use freetobook to export your open/closed dates.

Due to the simplicity of iCal there are limitations. You can synchronize open/closed dates but you cannot give rates, minimum stays or other data. Another very important limitation is data only goes one way, so freetobook will give you an availability feed for export but we do not import any data. This means bookings from Holiday Lettings, Wimdu, FlipKey etc. must to be added manually into freetobook to keep your diary up to date.

iCal calendar feedPart of the freetobook iCal service is a private iCal feed for all of your bookings. This  private feed can be used on your iPhone or other mobile device, enabling you to keep up with your bookings while on the go. The standard format of iCal means are many ways to view your bookings on many different calendars.

Freetobook offers both of these iCal services, just go to your TAB ”Plus” if you already have a freetobook account. If you are not with freetobook why not start TODAY and enjoy some of our many fantastic booking solutions.

Find out more about freetobook and the iCal calendar sync

channel manager and internet booking engine
get connected to the world

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

Mobile bookings : Your 4 point check list

Mobile booking optimisation for accommodation owners

Mobile Hotel Website
Mobile Hotel Website – Torcroft hotel

Ownership of smartphones is growing and so are mobile bookings. Mobile bookings grew at 20% in the first half of 2014. Smartphones and tablets now account for 21 percent of hotel bookings with OTAs (online travel agents) taking most of the growth *

Here is a handy four point check list to tick off and make sure you are getting your share of mobile bookings. The longer you leave it the more bookings you could be losing.

1) Your website : Is your website optimised for mobile phones ? Visit your website now and find out if it automatically redirects to a mobile version. If not then customers will be lost because as they give up trying to navigate a full size version on a small screen.

Mobile traffic growth
Mobile traffic growth

2) Speed and size: Yes, this is a case where size matters, big images on your website will take too long to load on a small mobile. Customers get bored waiting, give up and go somewhere else. Mobile websites are more than 70% more likely to convert bookings on a Mobile device and nearly 50% of customers will never come back if they have had a bad experience on a non mobile website.

3) Elegant and Simple wins: You need to cut down on the clutter, remove unnecessary content and keep the most important information at or near the top of the page. One good image coupled with simple easy buttons to access the vital information leading to a booking.

4) Mobile Booking engine: There is absolutely no point in having a mobile website without mobile optimised booking engine. The booking functionality needs to work on a mobile phone in just the same way your website needs to be optimised. The booking process should be fast, simple and elegant that’s what leads to more mobile bookings. Visit your website with your mobile phone and make sure the booking process changes when you try to make a booking on your phone.

It’s not difficult or expensive to get a mobile website and mobile booking engine our technology has been powering mobile bookings for years make sure you are not missing out.

Mobile Booking for accommodation  Freetobook Plus Services
Freetobook customers can easily add mobile services to their account in the TAB “Plus”

 

 

 

Mobile websites for hotels

 

Video showing how a good mobile website and a good mobile booking should and can look for accommodation owners all over the world.

* 2014 Travel Flash Report by Criteo