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

5 Ways to make your website user-friendly

User friendly websites
User friendly websites

We are always trying to help our customers increase their direct bookings. Although there is not one simple answer to achieving that (i.e. social media marketing works for some properties, whilst others might find special offers increase their website bookings), one key thing that applies to all is having an easily-navigated, user-friendly website. So, here are a few helpful tips

1. Use a simple and readable font for your website. We all love the fancy fonts, but you must remember your font should be web-friendly and easy on the eye.

2. Your “Book Now” button e.g. your Search Availability should be visible on every page of your website without having to scroll down (above the fold).

Visitors should see it without having to look for it i.e. place your Search Availability at the top or the right-hand/left-hand side bar of your Home Page. Remember, your booking button must be on ALL pages of your website and ideally in the same place. Doing this makes it easy to find.

Take a look at how the Coila Guest House do it, it’s in the top menu on all pages and again on the content pages. By all means be creative but also give a consistent structure to help customers find your availability and book.

3. Each click you ask a customer to make reduces your bookings. So don’t hide your “Search Availability” button under your Accommodation or Tariffs menu. Many will leave a website in less than a minute after they have landed on the Home Page because they can’t find what they need. Visitors are looking to check your rates and availability, don’t bury it behind another click.

4. Remember, when you make any changes to your website spend a little time checking that  all your links and buttons are working properly. Why not ask a friend to do a booking and tell you how they found it.

5. If you are active on social media then place your social media icons in a visible place. If you are on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram put a link to those pages on your Home Page at the top to avoid having customers scroll down to search for them. The Auchlea B&B  has their social media buttons well placed on their Home Page.

 

As you can see these are simple, easy ideas that everyone can try in order to make their websites more booking-friendly. Let us know how they work for you in the comment section below.

Increase Bookings by Making your Website more Personal

Imagine you’re a looking for somewhere to stay and you stumble upon your website. What do you see? Evaluate, how your website looks, what feelings do the descriptions create, what are the colours saying to you? These are the first things your customers see, is it painting the image you have in your own mind about your property?

Simply put, is it telling the story you want to tell?  Those first impressions are personal and emotional and getting them right will help increase bookings, so here are 5 tips to ensure you make the right impact.

1.       Use colour psychology – Although, the language is important visuals are the first thing people see when they open a web page. It is proven that our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text! Thus, choosing the right colours for your website is pivotal. So, here comes the colour psychology. If you haven’t heard about colour psychology before, the basic idea is that different colours convey certain meanings and feelings. For example, brown gives the sense of security, it is a colour some people associate with home and quietness. You have to think about the general atmosphere of your property, where it’s situated (by the sea or up in the mountains), then decide what colours to use.  

Have a look at a couple of examples:

House on the point B&B, located on the coast by Ullapool. Along with great photos, they have used blue and white as key colours on their website, suggesting that the property is located near water.

Another good example is The Caledon Guest House, Isle of Wight, which have used back and white as their background colours, suggesting sophistication and glamour. This is also a good complement to their amazing photographs.

 

For more information, you can check the Psychological Properties of Colours.

2.       Add a welcoming video on your website – Adding a short video to your website, helps to establish authenticity and show the atmosphere. It is critical to keep it short, as 60 percent of viewers will drop off within two minutes of a promotional video. Moreover, by adding a video to your website you will increase the traffic to your website, as a recent marketing study showed in 2017, video content will represent 74 percent of all internet traffic.

 

3.       Language – Using the right language is a key. “A great photo can only benefit from an amazing description. If you have already utilised our suggestions on accommodation photography, now you can have a go at improving the language of your website.”Here you have the chance to use those creative writing skills you never knew you had! You may have heard of the saying “Don’t sell rooms, sell character”. Well, here is your chance to get creative. Look at these examples: “enchanting rooms”; “attractive décor”; “sumptuous mattress toppers”. So, grab your notepads and start writing.  If you are short on ideas spend 30 minutes online looking around, it’s all there. 

 

4.       Get reviews from your guests to show on your website – Word of mouth is one of the most influential marketing techniques. As we well know people are easily influenced by reading a great review or by friends sharing their great experiences. Therefore, adding reviews to your website is one of the best ways to increase direct bookings.  

 

5.       Share stories – Write your personal story of how your property came to be or find a funny story to tell. Working with people all the time, you might have a lot of fun experiences, so share them. Think about something that has made you laugh, a strange request or an incident which turned out well in the end and share it on your website. Customers will see a more personal side of you, like this blog of The Hive at 52 B&B, in which the owner records their everyday life as a B&B owner.

 

So, why don’t you try some of those tips? Going the extra mile towards increasing your direct bookings is that simple.

3 Ways to Boost Direct Bookings

Book Direct
Book Direct

Direct bookings save commission and are much less likely to cancel. The more direct bookings you get the more money and time you are saving.

1) Make sure you offer the best deal.

Research has shown again and again that customers will choose to book direct where the price is the same or better. Proving that we are naturally attracted to the idea of booking direct, believing we will get better options, better customer service and are more likely to get an upgrade.

Offering the lowest rate is critical, even if it is the same as any other rates offered.

2) Reward direct bookings

When customers do book direct you should look at ways to reward them. Typical rewards can include a discount on their next stay via promo codes. It’s also a great idea to make a reward during their stay, this will depend on your circumstance but might include something like a room upgrade, free wi-fi or a free breakfast.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking, it helps you stand out.

Book direct for benefits
Book direct for benefits

3) Show the benefits of booking direct clearly

Customers visiting your website want to know what to expect when they stay with you but they also need to know that you want their booking direct. They will have visited many other websites and you want them to be persuaded when they are on your website. Displaying a neat little “Best Price Guarantee” on your website will go a long way to increasing direct bookings.

We have created a small selection of Book Direct images, try one or design your own.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking advantages take a look at Promo Codes which help encourage repeat customers and social media promotion with facebook bookings.

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

 

Promo Codes upgraded for more direct bookings

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Thousands of properties have already benefited from freetobook’s promo codes so we have made them even better. You can set up as many promo codes as you like to target more customer segments and drive up your direct bookings.

Now with the new upgrades you can also;

1) Restrict the promo codes to apply on certain nights of the week.

2) Create a promo code that’s an extra service or item rather than a rate discount.

3) Set a minimum stay duration for the promo code.

Promo codes are great at encouraging guests to book direct. So why not use them to increase direct bookings and entice bookers away from other online websites, thereby powering more direct commission free bookings.

You will find promo codes and special offers in the Tab “Specials” and “Promo Codes” on the orange bar.

Further information on promo codes

On our website “More Direct bookings with Promo Codes

On our blog “How can hotels use Promo Codes ?

Reduce your commission bill with promo codes

OTA CommissionOn the phones we hear the pain many accommodation owners feel when they get the monthly commission bill from their OTAs. Particularly annoying is finding repeat or regular customers who somehow end up booking through an OTA rather than directly. Many of you are looking for tools to help fight back against rising costs from the Online Travel Agents. One excellent way to do this is by using promotional codes.

Direct Bookings using Promo CodesA promo code is a private special offer that gives customers a discount when they book online directly with you. Essentially you give them a small discount making it cheaper to book directly, they save and you reduce your commission bill with more direct bookings. They simply type a promo code into your online booking page and it gives them a special direct discount.

The first step is to think about how much of an incentive you want to give to direct bookers. Perhaps your OTA commission is 15% and you want to give your customers 10% off thus saving you 5%. In the example we give the hotel offers a ten percent discount but you decide the amount yourself (you set it and you can easily change it).

Regular customers use promo codesNext you create a “Promo Code” in your freetobook account. Once you have your promo code setup (eg. DIRECT10) you now need to let your customers know about it, ensuring they know that booking directly on your website will save them money. The  simple message is “Book direct and save” but you do have to promote it. Here are some clever ideas to help.

Promo Code business cardAt Guest Checkout – Hand your guest a little business card with your promo code on it. This lets them know they are special and that they will always get a better deal booking directly with you.

At reception – Put up a little plaque or sign stating that you always guarantee the best rate when guests book direct and that some guests might get a special discount when they book again. Give them the promo code so they can use it to claim their discount when booking direct.Promo Code sign at reception

On your email signature – When you email guests about coming back to stay with you mention your promo code so they can get their special private deal. Again this reinforces the book direct message in a place where they might be considering making a booking with you.

We all like to feel special, using promo codes is a great way to show guests that you value their business and want them to come back and stay. Its a powerful message, book direct and save… here is a little exclusive discount because we value your custom. You want them to come back and/or tell family and friends about the special deal they can have by booking with you directly next time – promo codes do that for you.

The video below shows how the promo codes work, all you need to do is login to your freetobook account select the tab “Specials” and “Promo Codes” on the orange bar. To get a little further information see the promo codes section on our website.

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