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

3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.

Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?

Book Now
Book Direct

Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.

Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.

3. Reward direct bookings

Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.

special offer for rooms
special offer

With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.

Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.

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

City Guides – Facebook new app and Book Now

Attention freetobookers: It is time to update your property Facebook pages with the “Book Now” button, as Facebook has launched a new app – City Guides! The app’s aim is to give its users ideas on things to do, places to visit and accommodations to book in different cities of the world.

Make sure you are ready with your “Book Now” button active on your facebook page.

The app is not available to everyone just yet, but after all the buzz it is creating, we are sure that everyone will be enjoying this new Facebook addition soon.

What we know so far is that if you look for a specific city the app will show suggestions based on places your friends have visited in that city and the most popular places among the locals. If someone is looking for an accommodation, for example, they will see suggestions of nearby properties and they may stumble upon your property Home page with the book now button and reviews. City Guides will appear among other apps on the mobile version of Facebook among Events, Pages, Offers, etc. So, don’t waste time and check if your book now button appears on your property page.

If you don’t remember how to add a Book Now button, take a look at our Facebook ADD a Book Now Button video below !

Remember when testing the “Book Now” button you won’t see it in the same way as a cutomer because you are the admin of your facebook page. Get a friend to check it or hover over the button and select “test button”

More about adding the facebook “Book Now” button to your accommodation

facebook Book Now from freetobook on Vimeo.

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.

 

Tips for Switching booking system

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

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

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

1) Evaluating the booking engine

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

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

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

2) Costs

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

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

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

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

3) Compare companies

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

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

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

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

4) Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? find out more here…

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

 

Booking extras now even better

Booking Extras for hotels
Booking Extras no limit

Freetobook properties have always been able to offer their very own extras enabling customers to choose items that will make their stay special, whilst adding to to property’s revenue.

We have now added the ability for you to define nightly extras so that the extra cost is multiplied by the number of nights your customer stays. Nightly extras can be also booked for a specific number of nights rather than all nights.

Booking Extras can be found in Tab “Availability” and “Booking Extras” on the orange bar.

More great options included with freetobook’s booking extras include;

  1. Ask your customer an associated question related to a booking extra.
  2. Limit the extra to certain dates of stay.
  3. Extras can also be offline only (not bookable by the customer), this is great if the extra is variable and you only want to add it to their bill during stay i.e. meals and drinks.
  4. An extra can also be compulsory i.e. for a security deposit.

These functions and much more are included in freetobook’s free version which continues to grow and improve, all helping your direct bookings. Just what you would expect from a cutting edge family business.

6 ways hotels can use social media to attract more guests

A guest blog from Juste Semetaite

6waysGuestBlog

To thousands of holiday seekers, the planning phase may seem like a time-eating disaster. With so many options where to stay and what to do, the majority find themselves immersed in indecision and torn between equally exciting, glamorous and exotic choices. And this is where your social media strategy gets tested.

To capture the holiday seekers’ imagination early, you need to keep the engagement fire blazing on daily basis – a whopping 66% of leisure travellers turn to search engines when planning their next trip. So, what it means, really, is that a ton of potential guests are snooping around your social media accounts every day.

How can you turn curious vacationers into soon-to-be guests?

Capitalise on the magic of compelling visuals

The number of international travellers has skyrocketed in the last 10 years. People are more eager to travel to distant, exotic places than ever before and the thirst for unique experiences pushes them outside their comfort zone.

How do they pick their travel destinations? It’s not uncommon to hear about travellers crossing the world to visit a place they’ve seen featured in a magazine, on TV or in a travel blog. The mind is a visual instrument, so if there is one way to grabbing travellers’ attention, it certainly involves gorgeous imagery.

Here are some ideas to try:

read the full article here

Juste Semetaite is a content marketer @PeoplePerHour,  For hotels struggling to find spare hours or energy to execute social media strategies, PeoplePerHour.com can help. You can ping Juste at juste@peopleperhour.com or tweet @JusteSem.