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

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…

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.

Back to Basics

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

 

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

ratesAniSml

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

minStay

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

closeOuts

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

specials

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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Spread your OTA bookings

OTA selection
Select more than one OTA

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

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

Biggest OTAs in the World
World’s Biggest OTAs

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about our Channel Manager

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

Gonzo Marketing
Gonzo Marketing

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

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

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

What is the most important trend in online room booking?

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

How can a property get more direct bookings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 key stats to consider:

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

Visit Frederic Gonzalo’s website for further insights

 

Does Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

bestPriceDoes Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to win on TripAdvisor

Win on TripAdvisor
Winning on TripAdvisor

It’s great to see so many small businesses flourishing on TripAdvisor with the recent Certificates of Excellence. What does it take to get one? We are privileged to have a special view of the accommodation business chatting to thousands of owners across the world. On the whole customers openly share their success to help others get ahead.

When you look around at the independent B&Bs and guest houses that are winning there are a few things that seem to make all the difference to their guests.

Their welcome is warm, friendly, unique – it sets the tone for the stay. You, the host, make all the difference…. unlike some large corporate hotel chains where you’re “checked-in” by a machine ! That’s a huge advantage straight away, use that encounter to understand the guest, they are all different – some want to chat, take advice etc. others may not.

They have a small “flourish” at check-in that’s worth it’s weight in gold….a fresh pot of tea, some home baking, interesting events for them to see, something local ?

Their “wow factor” often comes from plain old attention to detail. Having everything spotless is a good starting point and then its lots of very small things done well….that add up.  In elite sports it’s called “marginal differences” i.e. the type of bed the athlete sleeps on, the liquids they drink, the make up of their diet, added together all of these 100s of things can mean the difference between a gold or silver medal on the day!

They are “great” at something (most people are!) and they show it off, differentiating themselves from the “crowd” and creating a memorable experience…something guests want to tell their friends about.  It could be flower arranging, local history, gardening, baking bread, carpentry, telling jokes….

They think of their guest all the way, anticipating their needs….if they are in a “walking Focus on Successarea” they provide advice or maps, if guests need to eat out they know which restaurants do what food best.  By spending time with their guests they are better able to understand how to make their stay just that little bit more memorable.

If you do all this you need to understand that although this level of “service” is natural to you it is also a real part of your marketing plan, so make the most of it.  Ask for a review and respond to them on TripAdvisor (all types), it shows you care but it’s also a fantastic source of marketing information. You will find out what “made the difference” in the eyes (and words) of your guests.

Essentially, “the host” seems to make the difference, not the free wi-fi or parking, so organising your time around the guest is critical. The best in the game know this, they clear their “admin” desk, use technology to the max – they don’t waste time processing bookings, typing in payments, updating booking systems …. instead they invest the time saved delivering a friendly, unique and memorable experience… it pays off!

Some winning accommodation owners case studies for further reading

Maxwell’s Piece B&B in Cotswolds
Glangwili Mansion in Carmarthen
Millgate B&B in Masham
Lincoln Yurts Glamping

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