Packages help direct bookings

Packages: the latest update on freetobook.

Using freetobook packages you can now offer your customers extra value added inclusions and change the board basis for any specific package you wish to create.

Types of Package:

Added Meals – for example you may have a standard rate with Bed and Breakfast and want to offer a “Dinner Bed & Breakfast” rate, or a rate which includes a packed lunch.

You can also remove meals in a package, so if your standard rate is including breakfast you might want to have a package that does not include breakfast.

Value Added Service –  Alternatively you might create a package which incudes bike hire or some other value added service special to your business. For example, you may collaborate with other local businesses and offer a golf  or spa package, cookery or photography class, or tickets to a local attraction such as a theme park.

How you setup your packages is very flexible; you can change the board basis and add extra services -it’s completely up to you.

Packages are a fixed rate and can be restricted by:

  • dates of stay
  • minimum stay duration and
  • nights of the week.

If a package is available for a customer to book during their search they will see a new tab with the package title you have created. They can then easily switch between your package and your standard availability.

 

Packages are exclusive for your direct bookers so they also potentially give a great way to offer more value to your direct customers where you pay zero commission.

To start creating your own unique packages, head to the ‘Specials’ tab on your freetbook diary and select ‘Packages’. Click ‘Create Package’ and start filling in all your package details – simple!

 

 

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 ?

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.

Why it pays to sleep around for B&B owners

4poster

A Guest Blog by Heather Turner at Forfeng Media.

I wrote a post a while back about Viewing your restaurant from a customers perspective, and it occurred to me after spending a weekend away at a very nice B&B, to wonder how many innkeepers have actually stayed (and not just one night) in every single room in their own B&Bs. I mean packed their bags and literally “checked in”.

I bring this up because, as an example, the B&B I just stayed at recently had wonderful hosts, a delicious breakfast, comfy beds and great amenities, but the toilet paper holder just wasn’t very functional. Every time someone went to use the loo, the toilet paper fell off the decorative holder. How annoying was that? Trivial, but annoying.

Did this mar my whole stay? Absolutely not. Did I forget to mention it to the innkeepers? Yes I did, because it was a very minor problem (am I emailing them after I write this post? Yes).

It got me to thinking though, how many small things that the usual guest may have a small problem with, that doesn’t really affect the overall stay, but stays in the subconscious and they forget to mention it to the innkeepers.

As innkeepers (I know I would feel this way if I had an inn) you go out of your way to try to make a guest’s stay perfect. So to me, take one step more and go a little further.

I recently wrote a post about Attracting Business Travelers to B&Bs, and in it I listed some very minor pet peeves about staying in B&Bs. If I think back to recent stays, not just in B&Bs, but hotels as well, I can list a bunch of minor things, that if the owners or managers had actually stayed in the rooms themselves they would have noticed.

Two different places, had big armoires that had flat screen TVs in them. Terrific idea to get them out of the way and not be an eyesore. Defeats the purpose of having a TV for guests to watch though if the armoire doors won’t stay open, and keeps slowly swinging closed.

Defective or misplaced toilet paper holders seem to be huge one. The one that was two feet from the commode really made my day so to speak, LOL.

The water faucet that sprays a little too hard when turned on all the way. I tell you it’s a real pain having to find another set of clothes to wear, when you are on your way out the door, and all of a sudden you are wearing water polka dots.

What are you supposed to do with all those pillows and comforters (especially when it’s 90 degrees out)? They get piled on chairs. I’m not suggesting you do away with them, they look gorgeous, but perhaps put a place aside where guests can put them. The places that have luggage racks generally get used for that oversized comforter and my luggage ends up on the floor, and the pillows I put on chairs, and then end up with nowhere to sit when I want to put shoes and socks on the next morning.

I am not trying to nitpick about very minor things, but more to make the point that if innkeepers spent actual time (sleep time, activity time) in the rooms they let guests sleep in, they might notice some minor things, like the very bottom drawer of the dresser that just doesn’t want to get unstuck easily.

As innkeepers you want to make your B&Bs perfect, take a look at it from a customer’s point of view, it’s a fresh perspective, and it will help you to better understand and fix any small issues that can make a very small (but lasting) impression on a guest.

I would suggest setting up a log, so you can track when you’ve stayed in the rooms as well. Did the other rooms have guests at the time? Was it a weekend? What season was it?

You may find things like the room that is perfect in three seasons, in the summer the air conditioner blows directly on the sleepers (so you could consider moving the bed), or the suite upstairs you can hear a TV playing (so you consider moving the location of the TV stand against a wall that doesn’t connect with an adjoining guest room). You wouldn’t know these things otherwise.

When was the last time YOU stayed in your rooms?

Accommodation photography

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words….

It only takes a quick glance for someone to evaluate what they see and form a positive or negative judgement. In fact, studies have shown that the viewer generates an opinion as instantly as the blink of an eye.

Researchers found that the brain makes decisions in just a 20th of a second of viewing a webpage.
The study, published in the journal ‘Behaviour and Information Technology’*, also suggests that first impressions have a lasting impact.

Researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the “halo effect”. Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and lead researcher of the paper says: “If people believe a website looks good, then this positive quality will spread to other areas.” As websites increasingly jostle for business, Dr Lindgaard added that companies should take note. “Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors,” she warned.

Your establishment may provide guests with a spectacular breakfast to beat all of your competitors or you may have spent time, effort & money on the interior design. But if the pictures are poor, unprofessional or non existent, you could risk losing potential customers in an instant.

Therefore, it is evident that good quality photographs are essential for success in drawing in new guests. If there are few or no pictures to look at, the chances are they will move on.

Sarah Kay Photography specialises in all types of accommodation photography and styling. Here she shares some of her tips for creating photographs that will bring out the best in your holiday let and help you use the power of image to increase sales.

Tips for photographing your property:

Tip no 1. It may seem obvious but don’t forget to de-clutter every room. This includes removing bins, leaflets, etc.

Tip no 2. Don’t have wires/cables dangling all over the place! Wherever possible try to hide them either by unplugging or removing them all together. With kettle bases or wires from other appliances, or in the case of lamps which need to be switched on, tuck the wire behind furniture or use masking tape to ‘stick’ them out of the way.

Tip no 3. Tidy and straighten all curtains, blinds, bedding and sofa cushions. Iron them if necessary, there is nothing worse than creases and crumples that stare back at you in photographs!

Note this BEFORE and AFTER shot. Yes it’s the same room!

compare2rooms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip no 4. Personally, I always like to have all lights switched on in my shots. I feel it gives the image added shine and sparkle. Depending on the natural lighting in your room, you may want to experiment and see which you feel looks best.

Tip no 5. Please, no toilets in shot. I’m not against photographing bathrooms, some look great. If you think it will be beneficial to photograph your bathroom, do try to avoid the toilet. If this is not possible, please please ensure the lid is completely closed and there is no bin or toilet brush in sight! Eeek!!

Added tip: Take a shot of a detail in your bathroom rather than the whole room. To give a taster of the style of the bathroom. The viewer can then create a idea of the whole room just from that one shot.

Tip no 6. Think about your target market and dress your rooms accordingly. Romantic getaway? Champagne and chocolates will do the trick.

Added tip: Less is more, never over-dress the room or it will look cluttered.

Tip no 7. Remember the reasons that people come to stay in your property. Is it the stunning lake view? Is there a fantastic feature window? Think about it’s uniqueness and take those photographs.

Tip no 8. Ensure your outside areas are looking tip top. Hanging baskets flourishing, decking or patio swept and free of weeds, grass trimmed and looking neat. Take the photograph on a day with some sunshine and blue sky. If you can’t get a good day, take one at dusk with all your lights on for an ambient glow.

Tip no 9. Finally, take your shots. Study each image for imperfections as mentioned above. Does the furniture need tweaking slightly to create better composition for the viewer? Would the picture look better if taken from a different angle? Try every corner of the room, some will look “right” some won’t; again, experiment with this.

Tip no 10. Save time and hire a professional photographer, but first ensure they will take care of all the points mentioned above. Not all photographers include styling in the price. I always say, during my accommodation photoshoot it’s 10% photography, 90% preparation! And then there is professional editing… which is another story all together!

www.skhp.co.uk

Twitter @Sarahkay_photo

https://www.facebook.com/skpcumbria
*Source of research into psychology of first impressions: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4616700.stm

TripAdvisor’s Number 1 B&B In the World

millgate b&b

Sue Burrell, owner of the Millgate B&B in Masham, recalls the excitement and media frenzy and tells us why she will always be indebted to her local dentist and freetobook.

“Sometime in January 2015 I answered the telephone to James Kay, Senior Media Relations Manager for TripAdvisor who said, “Remember me from last year? You won an award as one of the Top 10 B&B’s Inns and Lodges in the World. Well, this year we have a special award for you”. I thought he was talking about my scones.  You see every new guest arriving at our B&B is greeted with freshly baked scones in their room and most of our TA reviews since we had started in business (just 2 years 10 months previously) had mentioned our scones.

I waited. ‘You have been voted TripAdvisor’s number 1 B&B in the World. But you cannot tell anyone” James said.  “Can I tell my husband?” I whimpered. “I think you probably will have to tell your husband” he said. I could tell he was smiling as he said that and I began to cry.

 

The next few days were just a blur. James would be telephoning to book in journalists from the UK’s national press for overnight stays while interviews with numerous TV and radio stations, local press reporters, newswire photographers and cameramen were lined up in total secrecy, ready for the day the news was to be announced to the world at the end of January 2015.

We had to stand in the little lane outside our home shaking bottles of sparkling wine (not champagne!) whilst photographers said “Just one more” for hour upon hour.  Tourists passing in the street were curious and I’m sure our neighbours thought we were Lottery winners as we stood together for the TV cameraman.

Standing in the cold for around six hours we opened up around four bottles of fizz posing for photographs. By 6pm I told Andrew we should eat out as by this stage I was ‘twinkling’ after drinking on an empty stomach.

It was Steak Night when we arrived at The Bruce Arms in Masham. Two steaks with all the trimmings and a bottle of wine for a bargain price.  After weaving our way home Andrew opened another bottle. I was just about to take a slurp when I missed my mouth and hit my front teeth with the glass, knocking off a porcelain crown which hit the terracotta tiles in the kitchen and shattered like a Ming vase. “Oh crikey, we have got telly again tomorrow” were my last words that night.

 

The following morning was the day the news of our award was announced to the world at 0500 hrs UK time. The first booking came in at 0509 and after BBC 2 radio show host Chris Evans began telling everyone to book Millgate B&B they were coming in at the rate of four a minute.  We had BBC Radio York broadcasting live from 6 am from our home.

I did radio interviews about our award from as far away as Cambodia, to Spain and Cambridge.  We had to unplug our telephone as it was ringing constantly and I couldn’t take the bookings fast enough.  We relied on freetobook for over a month to take the bookings for us as we had 1,427 email enquiries on the first day alone.  It took just four days for us to be booked for almost the full year ahead!

I was still worrying about not being able to smile on our ITV This Morning appearance because of my missing tooth when I received a text from my dentist asking for a radio ‘shout out’. My response clinched the deal, “As long as you do a temporary crown for me by 12 o’clock today”. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat for the cameras later that day.

 

I wish the winners for 2016/2017 all the very best and hope that they have an on-line booking system like freetobook to take the strain.

With hindsight, I wish we had booked some days off for ourselves as we only had 7 days off until October of 2015.

 

CNN wanted to make a film about us and wished to come over in March 2015.  We only had one day off that month and the next break was just two days off in May.  Despite their global audience of 240 million I turned down their kind offer (much to the consternation of TripAdvisor who wanted the extra publicity for their awards).  As I said to Andrew at the time, we would never have been able to have our telephone plugged in as there were so many time zones, calls would have been coming in 24 hours a day.  Although on the upside, I am able to say I turned down CNN and it sounds very flash!”

Sue Burrell, Millgate B&B

 

Winners TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award 2015

Number 1 B&B IN THE WORLD

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2015

Bookingcom  Award  of Excellence 2014

Sunday Times Ultimate 100 British Hotels 2015/2016 –  Top 10 B&B’s.

Winners TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award 2014

Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014

Number 9 in the TOP 10 B&B’s IN THE WORLD

Winners TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award 2013

Number 23 in the TOP B&B’s IN EUROPE

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

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.