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

Scotland’s Best B&Bs select freetobook

Scotland’s Best B&Bs – a highly regarded group of nearly 100 bed and breakfasts, all rated 4- or 5-star by VisitScotland– have awarded Freetobook a major contract to provide commission-free online booking. www.scotlandsbestbandbs.com

Scotlands best  bed and breakfasts
Scotland’s Best B and Bs

Freetobook’s technology enables customers to select from any of the available properties on the group’s website and book them immediately. Thanks to us, Scotland’s Best B&Bs are now open for business throughout the world, 24 hours a day. No potential booking need slip through their fingers just because someone couldn’t answer a phone or reply to an email enquiry. As you can well imagine, a small B&B group like this one doesn’t have enormous resources, so Freetobook’s agency solution is ideal for its members. Set up costs are minimal and bookings are commission-free.

visitEnglandFreetobook has several similar group projects under development, helping independent properties harness the power of cutting-edge technology and benefit from strength in numbers.

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.