What’s Your Unique Selling Point?

USP_photosteve101
USPs can be powerful sales tools

USPs are all the rage these days, because they make you stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Given how full of character – and, yes, “quirky” even! – B&Bs and guest houses can be, they’re in a great position to sell themselves in this way.

Having said that, figuring out your USP can sometimes be a bit of a head-scratcher, so here’s some food for thought.

For one thing, the great advantage that all independent properties have is that they’re unique in relation to chain hotels: they’re smaller, more intimate and offer a more personalised service. But, as the owner of a bed and breakfast or guest house, how do you distinguish it from all the others in the area? Here are some things to think about…

  • Are you family-run?
  • Do you grow your own fresh produce?
  • Do you have a herb garden?
  • Do you do some home baking?
  • Are you pet-friendly?
  • Do you have a log fire?

If you can think of something, you’ll find it a lot easier to attract customers and get extra bookings,

Mind you, it’s not just a case of being unique; it’s also important to be unique in the right way. If you’re looking for a unique attribute that you can use to sell your property and nothing comes readily to mind, it might be a good idea to start by looking at your recent customers:

  • Who has booked your property in the past few years?
  • What kind of people are they? What are they interested in?
  • Have they written reviews on your website, or on TripAdvisor? If so, what have they said?
  • Have any of them told you that they booked your property for a special reason?
  • Has a certain local event or landmark brought them to your area?

In terms of finding something unique, customer feedback can be your most valuable resource.

USP_ebookIf, having done all this, you still feel that your property still doesn’t have an obvious unique attribute, there’s always the option of creating one. If you’re in an especially beautiful part of the world, you could study some local history and offer walking tours that focus on that. Seasonal unique selling points are another great way to keep business coming in all year round: you could focus on an outdoor facility, like a patio garden, in summer, and an indoor facility, like a real log fire, in winter.

Once you’ve settled on a unique attribute that you’re confident about, the other most important strategy is not to undersell it. Make sure it’s prominent on your website and try to complement it, if possible, with the best possible photos.

Winning Images – Part 2

5 More Ways That Great Photos Can Boost Your Bookings

Book Direct for the best price

Great photos can massively enhance the first impression guests received from your website – and therefore boost your bookings. Here are a few clever strategies to really drive home the benefits that excellent visuals provide…

 

  1. the-lion-inn-suiteCollect lots of terrific photos of your property by all means. In particular, make sure that your room photos present your accommodation in the very best and most flattering light. But once you’ve done this, chose a SINGLE PHOTO that you’ll use to convey everything you feel is best about the experience your offer your guests. Use the photo as a kind of unofficial logo anywhere you can – on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google Places (and whatever other ‘must do’ social media channels are lurking over the horizon!) Once people see it often enough, they’ll associate it instinctively with your property.
  2. When you (or your web designer) is updating the photos on your site, make sure you think carefully about how you name them. Well-named photos add a lot of Search Engine value to your site. It may seem a bit unwieldy, but make sure the file name for each photo includes the name of your property and where it is (e.g. mayfield_guesthouse_norwich_bedroom1.jpg) rather than just (room.jpg). Lots of people find accommodation by doing geographic searches like “B&B in ­____” or “guesthouse near ­____”. Naming your photos in this way will help them find you. Congratulations, your site just got “Searchier”!
  3. the-lion-inn-foodGreat photos of rooms are the gold standard when it comes to visuals that will entice people to stay with you. But other types of photos can also be great when it comes to really emphasising the cosy, personal experience that people crave. If you take great pride in your home cooking, for instance, have some great photos of your meals on your site. If you’re on the coast with spectacular views, emphasise those. In other words, find your unique selling point and push it as clearly and concisely as possible through your visuals.
  4. Putting guest reviews (even TripAdvisor reviews!) on your site can be a terrific way of establishing trust (i.e. “Look, we’re a wonderful property with nothing to hide and here are the reviews to prove it.”) But some people these days don’t even have the time/patience to read reviews. A Guestbook page with a few photos of you with your guests (ideally smiling!) creates an instant and very powerful positive message. They’re also great for your Facebook page.
  5. Going back to how people search, it can be immensely useful to have a “Local Area” page on your site, with lots of smartly-labelled photos showing nearby attractions. Placing yourself within your community means that you become a strong part of its online presence and an advocate for it. It also means that you’ll score well, once again, with Search Engines if anyone searches for a local attraction then starts looking for accommodation.

VisitScotland Update

freetobook connecting with VisitScotland

One of the most exciting things on the horizon for freetobook is our new connection with VisitScotland.

visitscotlandVisitScotland has a new accommodation search system that allows all B&Bs, guest houses, small hotels etc in Scotland to be displayed regardless of their relationship with VisitScotland itself (this is known as a “polling” system).

What this means is that very soon all Scottish freetobook properties will be able have their rates and availability appearing on VisitScotland’s site whenever a prospective customer does an accommodation search.

1st June is the current “go live” date for VisitScotland’s new system. Keep checking our blog for further details and updates.

Wonderful Widgets

Why your widget is so important to your business!

A sports car may be beautifully styled, but if it can’t go anywhere it’s just… well, a sculpture. In the same way, no matter how good your website looks – and no matter how much money you spend getting people to it – if it doesn’t have a robust “engine” under the hood, no-one is going to book on it. Your booking engine really is the “business end” of your website.

widgetWe’ve put a lot of thought and effort into making those bookings happen for you, but that can be wasted if you don’t spend a little extra time making sure your widget looks fantastic.  Your room details page is usually the 2nd most visited page on your website. Why? Because people, quite understandably, want to see what they’re getting for their hard-earned money!  Showing customers what they are getting whilst they’re considering prices and availability will increase their likelihood of booking….it’s as simple as that.

Here are our 5 top tips to making your widget wonderful!

  1. Room images that keep the customer in the “booking zone”
  2. A list of room facilities that avoids any doubts/delays (i.e. is there a hair dryer?)
  3. Short and clear room descriptions that sell the benefits (i.e. free WIFI, a view etc)
  4. An enticing breakfast description that reinforces the value
  5. A beautiful header image that says “you’ve found the perfect place….”

The right level of information at the right time with a clear “call to action” (i.e. “Book Now”) is what great marketing is all about. That’s what will get you more bookings. Guaranteed.

What to do when VisitScotland suddenly closes its online booking service…

It came as bit of a bombshell to lots of hospitality businesses when VisitScotland suddenly announced the withdrawal of its online booking system.  Many, including myself, would argue that this was long overdue. VisitScotland’s foray into this area over the last 10 or so years has left many Scottish tourism businesses disgruntled and wary of online booking….not a great record.

In my view, it was simply not fair for them to compete against private enterprises whilst receiving funding from government or EU bodies.  The accommodation sector has been radically altered by the internet and the pace of change is unrelenting. There is just no way an organisation like VisitScotland, with all its processes and its complex culture, can keep abreast of developments and provide a service of any quality or value.

Now, with limited time to find an alternative, many businesses are understandably worried about the process and cost of changing.  For these accommodation providers I would say:

  • take your time; don’t rush into anything – you’ve got a month
  • make sure you have a good look around – look at 2 or 3 options
  • try before you buy; it’s important the system works for your business
  • you can test most systems in an hour or so; some (like freetobook) can be set-up in 2 hours
  • call and speak to a few providers; get a feel for their “service”, not just sales
  • ask your friends and users of each system if they’d recommend it and why?
  • make sure you get the best, most cost-effective solution
  • map out what you think you will want from the system – not just now but 3 years hence
  • consider the system from your customer’s perspective i.e. how easy is it to book?
  • don’t base your comparisons on what you currently have
  • find out the cost and ease of connecting back in to VisitScotland via whichever system you’re considering

The solution currently being put together – whereby many suppliers will be able to offer their customers a link into the VisitScotland website – is absolutely right, because it gives accommodation providers the choice.  When you add to this the zero commission policy from VisitScotland website bookings you can clearly see the benefits i.e. more businesses will join the site, providing a better experience for visitors with greater direct access to Scottish tourism products.

The project is currently being run well and although it has a rather distant delivery date the signs are very encouraging.  VisitScotland is offering an intermediate step, whereby business can have a link to their online booking engine on their VisitScotland page.

We have always campaigned for an open system because that serves both the accommodation providers, and their customers best, so freetobook is proud to be the only free system connecting with VisitScotland, ensuring you don’t lose out on any bookings. What’s more, you won’t have to pay any connection fees or commission on bookings from the VisitScotland website.

New Default Widget Search Date

Brand new functionality from Freetobook offers you even more flexibility by enabling you change the default search date on your booking widget.

In the past it was automatically set for 7 days in advance. Now you can set it to anything between 0 and 14 days in advance. If you choose to set it to 0 days in advance, potential customers will instantly see same-day availability just by hitting “search”.

You can find this functionality by going to the “Home” tab then the “Widget” subtab:

Click on “Edit” then, on the next page, go to option 4 in the left-hand column:

 

 

 

Now you can set your default number of days and the default length of stay.

 

Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association gets Online

ABBA Case Study : Brochure websites no longer work, your customers want  to book online.Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association

Getting your Association online – Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association Case Study

Many websites created by accommodation associations are informative but don’t offer a great user experience because the customer can’t search and book accommodation.  It’s frustrating for customers who are used to searching, comparing and booking online.

The accommodation sector has been radically transformed in the last 10 years by the internet. Accommodation websites, with their sophisticated booking engines now transact billions of dollars weekly. Customers find these sites easy to use, they provide information, choice and ease of access to accommodation grouped by area. The Online Travel Agents (OTAs) can afford to pay and compete for a strong presence on the search engines by offering a variety of properties, which  improve their chances of converting searches into bookings.

ipadAs online booking becomes more and more the norm, the OTAs continue to grow their influence. Individual properties cannot compete due to the limitations of their single product offering.

Any marketing Association needs a strong internet presence to improve awareness of their area and member properties. It makes sense to capitalise on these grouped marketing resources by offering customers a direct booking channel, cutting out commissions and increasing efficiency.

For  Associations to compete online they need:

  • a professionally designed website
  • great local content and quality images on the site
  • a good number and variety of properties
  • a simple search and online booking process

Associations have an inherent advantage on content due to their deep understanding of their customers and how their area attracts and fulfils the needs of these customers. They will also have a good range of accommodation covering various local areas and markets.

Finally, it would have been impossible several years ago to access this level of technology as the cost of placing a professional online booking engine on their website would have been prohibitive.

Competition in the online market place is fierce so Associations must use all their websiteResultsresources: Create a bookable website to fulfil your visitor’s needs. Direct traffic to the website so it can be converted and monitored. Use the improved marketing power to earn the Association more visibility and credibility locally.

There are barriers, some real, some perceptual that can all be overcome.

Cost: The cost of sophisticated professional technology is no longer expensive (relative to the past), just look at freetoboook.com, a world class system freely available to the world. This is effectively a marketing exercise (not a technical one) and there are often grants (some involving match funding) that can help reduce the initial set-up cost.

Competition within the Association: Many businesses compete on a day-to-day basis so getting agreement from everyone maybe impossible…. at the outset, but this is nothing new to voluntary organisations!

Project Management: Set clear objectives and get several quotes all based on the same criteria.  Selecting the right company to go with may determine the success or failure of the project.

Get the right person in charge from the start, support them and select a strong team to help. They must have executive decision making powers.

Updating rates: Not everyone will agree to use or update just one system, don’t try to force it. Find one that’s : effectively free for everyone to access and use and doesn’t require members to use on their own website, simple to set-up and easy to update well supported, so there’s help and encouragement to those who need it.

It will take time before the website gets into the internet’s “bloodstream”.  You can decide to take it slowly and see what comes from free search or create Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. If you opt for PPC, the association can manage it or choose to hire someone to manage it.

Associations must utilise all their local membership connections to build links into the website with surrounding businesses. Collaborating and creating local partnerships benefits the area as a whole, increasing the local spend of customers whilst providing you with access to the most relevant and up-to-date content available.

As with any project, it must work! Ideally, it will be on time and look impressive. That’s easy to test with friends and local businesses, are they keen to link to you? Are members proud of the site, has it encouraged businesses to join the Association. The process may also bring the members closer together and there should be improved partnerships within the local community.

These are the “soft” measures of success but you need hard measures as well: Does the website and system bring in bookings, are your marketing efforts sufficient? How well does the site rank? Remember it takes time and effort to show on key terms. How many visitors is the site getting compared to before? Visitor time on the website should increase, as will page views, monitor this with google analytics. Direct user feedback can be collected by members and fed back in to optimise features. Bookings may generated from any new marketing that directs customers to the site.

There are now opportunities for Association websites to really harness the power of their many members, hitherto this has not been the case.

My bet is that fortune will favour those who realise their strength lies in co-operation, not isolation.

Your Website-Bite Sized Winning Strategies (1of10)

Great websites a winning strategy.

10 Bite sized winning strategiesA winning website is a worthwhile investment. Like it or not your customers will form a view about you and your property based on what they see and how they interact with your website.

The first thing a potential customer will do is look for your website, on finding it they form a view about your property and service, you have a winning strategy if the third thing they do is make a booking.

What you need to do to create a winning website ?

  1. It’s now well established that customers select accommodation with their heart first and their head second. So make sure they fall in love with your website, it’s about an emotional connection. This means big impact, great looking photos and engaging text that is short and to the point.
  2. Understand what it is that your customers want and make sure they find it writ large on your home page. For a farm stay, a fabulous rural panorama or some cute animals, a seaside retreat might have a high impact photo of the beach/sea and a party town hotel some nightlife photos – it’s all pretty simple.
  3. OK, you know what they want and you have given it to them, now they want to book. To achieve maximum bookings make it easy to book. Your online booking button must feature prominently on your home page (“above the fold” – no need to scroll down to find it) and on every other page in a very similar position. You will lose bookings if you make it hard to find your booking button.
  4. Keep it simple, engaging, attractive and easy to navigate. Make a point of asking your customers what they think of your website, don’t be precious about the website it’s not for you it’s for your customers.
  5. Regular updates are critical to keep your website fresh and relevant, a handy way to do this is through a blog.
  6. A great website is a winning strategy….. a rubbish one will lose you bookings.

(look out for next weeks bite sized winning strategy “Customer feedback and Reviews”)

Cleaning Report

365.294: VacuumBecause we know that running your own accommodation means having to do a million things at once, at Freetobook we’re always coming up with new innovations to make life easier for you. Our recently added Cleaning Report will help you manage check-ins and check-outs, add notes for cleaners, and print out any requests for today or tomorrow.

You’ll find the Cleaning Report by logging into your Freetobook account and going to the “Diary” Tab then the “Reports” SubTab. Click on the “Cleaning” option and you’ll see this:

cleaning_report_screenshot

Select the fields you want included then click “Generate Report”. Once the report shows you can create a PDF to print for your cleaner (or for yourself!)

You can add notes to any booking by clicking on the booking in the “Diary” Tab. At the bottom of the PopUp you will see “Additional Information.” Click “Modify” to add or edit Requests, Cleaning Notes, Check In/Out times. These notes will then appear on the Cleaning Report when you need them to.

 

Extras get you extras

booking_extrasIn an era of rising costs and tighter margins, it’s more important than ever to add value to your bookings. It make sense to offer paid extras that will enhance your guests’ experience and earn you extra money.

With freetobook you can add extras to your customers’ bills. These can range from charges for pets to bar bills, meals and chocolates – the possibilities are limitless. It’s free format, so you add in the extras and then apply them to a customer’s bill.

How does it work? There are two steps:

Step One: Add your extras into the freetobook system.

Broadly speaking there are two types of extras. The first type can be pre-booked online: these will show to your customer as they book online. The second type is variable expenses consumed during stay.

To create your extras, click on the “Availability” TAB then the “Booking Extras” SubTAB:

booking_extras_screenshot

If the extra is going to be offered online, you can add a description and an image to make it even more attractive. You can also request information relating to the extra. For instance, if the extra is an airport pickup you might ask your customer for their flight details and arrival time.

Where the extra is not booked online, you don’t need to put in descriptions and images but you do need to make the display name clear, as this is what will show on the customer’s bill. You can leave the price blank and complete the amount when you add it to their booking in step two (this is good for bar bills or other variable amounts.)

Step Two: Attach extra or extras to the customer’s bill

If the extra was booked online, it will already be added to the confirmation, as the customer booked it when they booked the accommodation.

Otherwise, to add extras, click on the booking in your “Diary” TAB. You will notice “Extras” just below the yellow box. Click Modify to add, delete and edit extras added to the booking. All extras will now be on the bill. Click “Summary” button at the top of the page to see the extras added. To print, click the “Print” button at the bottom of the summary page.