There are three things we need to recognise about hospitality in these new COVID times; automation, automation and automation.
Automation can make processes contact-less, be used to collect vital information and communicate more easily. All these things help build confidence and trust between you and your guests whilst saving hours on boring repetitive tasks.
Let’s take a look at some examples that are live and some
that are on their way.
Messaging your guests
Our fully integrated guest Messaging system (built last year) makes communicating with your guests easy and fun. With scheduled Automated Messages you don’t even have to think about it, just set it up and every guest gets the right information at the right time… automatically.
Guests love it, after booking they get a friendly “thank you” message with loads of helpful key information (links to key sites) and tips. What a great way to start a conversation and build a relationship… that’s what service is all about. You can even brand our guest Messaging with your logo and colours..
Collect key information
Knowing which guests are arriving, and when, helps you manage social distancing and get prepared for arrival. Messaging has a cool little button making it super easy for guests to provide their arrival times.
Improve your cashflow by taking upfront payments from guests that book online or offline. When you take a deposit the card is securely stored so that collecting the balance is a simple click of a button. Stripe receives and stores cards from Bookingcom, Expedia etc… and you can even “Pre-auth” cards one week before stay, making sure the money is available. For your guests, Stripe makes payment so easy, using ApplePay and GooglePay payment is literally at their finger tips!
Messaging and Stripe
For the perfect contact-less automation use both Stripe and Messaging together. Message a guest for payment and they just use their phone to pay – a simple click, no contact, if they have Apple/Google Pay they can pay using their thumb print.
As part of Messaging we will soon add Digital Registration, enabling your guests to register in advance of arrival (set for release in mid-July).
Messaging was built as a way to automate almost all
your digital guest interactions, we’ll continue to roll out more and more for
the usual amazingly low prices.
Our new state of the art online diary has all the
messaging solutions built-in and that’s just the beginning, it’s due for
general release in the coming few weeks.
Here at freetobook we’ve always been about developing new technology, always the first to release new features. Our team of developers are all working flat out to deliver so much more for our growing customer base. As a family business we believe in fairness and due to our many thousands of customers we can deliver amazing services at ridiculously low prices.
Freetobook – great tech solutions – more for less is
so much more.
Messaging is £49 per year
Stripe is £89 per year (plus Stripe card handling
All paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go so you never have to pay for anything you don’t use. If you are not already with freetobook why not try it today at no cost …
Operating in a world with COVID19 is a test for all the accommodation industry and it means having to adapt as things change and new information becomes available. It is initially unsettling for everyone, including guests, but there are basic steps that properties can take that will be the same for the foreseeable future.
The key word of these times is SAFETY. Your customers will expect it and your business needs to show it takes safety seriously. If you have not done so already, conduct a Risk Assessment of your busines using the guidance issued by your government and make sure your customers know what you are doing at your property. This is the starting point for every business anywhere. There are lots of examples and templates out there (see below) also some images that you can make use of.
We all know that communication is the key to reassuring customers and securing bookings (see earlier blog with essential tips here) and that has proved to be the case in those countries that have opened up already.
Chabanettes Hotel & Spa in France shared this feedback with our Facebook group recently
‘I put a Covid 19 statement on my website almost 2 months ago. It remains my most popular sub-page. And it works. It’s a statement, like all the other big chains, which shows that we acknowledge risks, and have put reasonable steps in to place to reduce these risks. Not eliminate, we can never say that. But it portrays a seriousness that is clearly sufficient for our clientele to convince them to book. Our new booking volumes are now on a par with previous years’
There are lots of great examples of webpages that are both clear and reassuring to guests so do have a look around and then ensure yours is relevant to your guests.
Being able to offer flexibility will help you appeal to some of the more nervous customers. Many of you have already displayed huge levels of flexibility in helping guests move bookings. Looking forward there’s the opportunity to introduce more relaxed cancellation policies, changing traditional minimum stays and nimble pricing. Some have also gone as far as reducing the number of rooms on offer/guests on site to phase in the return to business and offering new customised breakfast arrangements. Consider what is appropriate for your business and guests and what’s needed to attract bookings.
With strict quarantine rules in place for overseas visitors in many countries, businesses who have previously relied on inbound customers will need to modify their marketing to focus on the domestic market….a market that may well be only an hour away from your property. These are potential guests that are concerned about travelling long distances from home but are keen to enjoy some hospitality again!
It is at least comforting to know that literally the whole world is in the same situation, and there’s an understanding that we will all need to adapt as things evolve. It is impossible to say for how long things will continue like this and although we hope they continue to improve we must also be prepared for things to tighten up with little notice.
At freetobook we can see the activity levels increasing both in general system readiness and booking levels. We’ll continue to support and advise where we can as we all navigate our way through this. Stay Safe.
A collection of useful Links which may help (there are many more so please share on our facebook group if you are a freetobook customer)
Communication is only the first part of Messaging, there is so much more. Your Messaging is fully integrated with your bookings so you can digitise parts of the guest experience, replacing some of your face-to-face interaction.
We call these “Guest Actions”, they are perfect for automating processes that were manual (saving you time) and/or replacing face-to-face tasks with digital ones.
Message for Payment:
Using Stripe with Messaging you can request payments in any message. Ideal for advance payments, deposits and balances before arrival, as well as for in-house payments at check-out or during stay.
For example, guests can make a Stripe payment on their phone (in the message) so there is no need for a face-to-face terminal – this will update in the booking. Even better, if they have ApplePay or GooglePay then payment is a quick thumb print on their phone.
Guests can pay at anytime from within a message if you are using Stripe alongside our Messaging system. Getting payments by message reduces unnecessary contact and can be initiated in an automated message or a manual one.
Just like the payment action guests can interact with the booking to change their arrival time. You can add a Confirm Arrival Time button to your messages so that when guests change their arrival time it simply updates in their booking, no manual changes required. With this information you can better manage everyone’s arrival times and prepare for their welcome.
We are currently adding registration to guest actions and aim to have it live by the end of June. Guests will be able to complete their registration details in Messaging so there’ll be no need for paper forms on arrival. This contactless registration puts guest safety first and streamlines check-in, avoiding any queues or delays.
As accommodation owners demand more automation we continue to enhance Guest Actions to automate more of your interaction with guests.
In addition, you can also brand Messaging with your logo, colours and customise messages to fit your style of communication by adding images and attachments. Why not take steps to further impress your guests.
For a limited time we are offering full access to Messaging for a trial of two months. You must register before the end of June 2020 to qualify for the free two month trial, you can opt out at anytime or choose to continue with Messaging at only £49 per year.
You can access further details about this fantastic Messaging solution from within your freetobook account PLUS tab.
As accommodation businesses start to enter the next phase of managing COVID-19, guests are looking for reassurance that the accommodation they are booking is as SAFE as possible, and the people operating it will be taking measures to protect them. It is important that properties start to put measures in place now to deal with the new way their businesses will be operating. Then, most importantly, communicating that to their guests… do not assume that they know what you are doing… you need to tell them.
Here are the three things we think are worth considering now.
Many properties have already done this so there’s lots of great examples out
1. CONDUCTING A COVID RISK ASSESMENT OF YOUR PROPERTY
Take advantage of the time you have now to conduct a thorough risk assessment of your business. A risk assessment will allow you to identify the COVID-19 related risks to you, your staff, and your customers. Once you have identified those risks, you can then set protocols to mitigate that risk.
We have seen guidance issued in various countries (some more prescriptive than others) and it looks like similar measures are being recommended across the board. Here in the UK some local government authorities are starting to issue their guidance e.g. Cornwall. Visit your government website or contact your local government authority to see what guidance they are issuing
Guidance that has been issued tends not to be a prescriptive
list as it would be impossible to cover all accommodation types, so common
sense and knowledge of your own situation would seem to be the best route right
Only by conducting a thorough risk assessment of your property will you then be able to clearly communicate this to your staff and your guests. Examples of things to consider are;
What risk do you and your staff pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
What risk do your customers pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
What measures will you take if an infected person has been on your premises?
What additional cleaning measures will be taken in rooms and communal areas over and above the norm?
What cleaning materials will you need to source? (Do you need to update your assessments e.g. COSHH for the UK?)
Where you will position hand sanitisers and the like?
How you will manage check ins and breakfasts?
What you will require customers to do when on site and how will you communicate this?
How will you protect yourselves?
What can you remove from the property that would be an unnecessary source of contamination? i.e. books and board games.
Identify frequently touched areas.
This is not an exhaustive list and you can find guidance all
over the internet that may be more relevant to your specific situation.
The most important thing is that you DO conduct a thorough risk assessment and are prepared before reopening.
N.B There has been talk of various COVID-19 Safety accreditation or certificate schemes – regardless of who may be issuing these, it is clear that a written assessment will form the basis of obtaining these.
All properties should be looking at their website and finding effective ways to communicate to their guests, now, how they will be operating after they reopen. This could be with a pop-up box on entering the site, a page dedicated to COVID-19 related issues and FAQs or a video. Examples of things that you should consider highlighting are;
Cleaning Protocols that you have brought in to ensure the property is safe.
Use of hand sanitiser/masks (Personal Protective Equipment etc.).
Social distancing measures they can expect from you and you will require from them.
Changes to breakfast or eating arrangements where those apply.
Changes to the use of communal areas/equipment.
Contactless/virtual payments where those apply.
Check in times and how these will be handled.
All businesses are different so your list will be specific
to your property, but the main point here is that the customer is informed and
reassured before they even make their booking. People are booking now for the future, so
those businesses who have made this information available on their website are
more likely to get a booking. This could also be the difference between them
booking your property or someone else’s which appears safer.
There are some super videos that properties are posting on
their websites and social media and if you can, we would recommend this
Bookings could have come from anywhere at any time, so it is important that you communicate to all guests how you will be working before they arrive. This is best done with a pre-arrival email outlining what the guest can expect when arriving at your property… and what you will require from them. It may be that you need them to check in at a specific time to avoid everyone arriving at once or that you will not be able to personally greet them at the door. Whatever it is good communication is key.
If you are using Messaging in freetobook you set this up via the automated ‘before arrival’ message to be sent ‘X’ days before arrival, containing all this information… you can also include a request for their arrival time.
If you are not using Messaging, you can use the Email tab in the booking to send an email to the guest (you can build a template for this in the main Email tab).
Consider also adding information about local restrictions
where they apply.
thing to remember here is BE PREPARED. Whilst
dates may change and lockdowns may be lifted in different places/countries at
different times, these are measures you will need to have in place at some
point. So, use the time you have now, to
get everything organised so you are good to go as soon as your bookings are.
All of the above is non-expert opinion we hope you find it helpful BUT you are wholly responsible for your own safety and that of your guests. We are NOT experts, if you follow any actions above you do so entirely at your own risk. Stay safe.
As a guest we all love that time leading up to our holiday, the anticipation and excitement. The wind down from work and daily bind as we get our heads and hearts into holiday mode. Never have we been more ready for a break.
Preparation and planning, brings a hint of anxiety to the excitement. Are we ready to make the most of our stay ?
Messaging can get your guests into that happy zone of prepared and excited. Start by reassuring them that you’re here to help with answers to all their questions.
Scheduled messages send out the right information at the right time – every time, delighting guests with answers to questions they haven’t even had to ask… that’s service at its best.
Automated messages are an ideal way of establishing that first guest contact and letting them know you’re there to help. Add small touches like lovely photos of your property or area, tips on secret nearby local walks or a favourite restaurant. Set it up and let automated messaging do the rest for all your bookings.
Create and save templates so you have good detailed answers at the ready for many of the most common questions. Replying with templates takes literally 3 seconds and that always impresses guests.
Your Messaging Hub in freetobook gives you easy access to all replies, neatly ordered with notifications to say you’ve got a reply. Managing messages is simple with access integrated into your bookings. Each message thread keeps a clear record of the conversation for both you and your guests, so you always know what’s been said and what’s next. Having full control of all messages in the hub saves you jumping from booking to booking.
We’ve integrated Messaging into freetobook so it’s as much part of the booking fabric as anything else so you can build relationships even before the guests’ arrived. Using our own technology also enables us to connect Messaging to other key parts of freetobook (e.g. payments, arrival times, channels etc.) all to make your lives easier.
Messaging massively improves the guest experience, saves hours of repetitive work and makes you stand out from the crowd.
As technology develops so do your guests’ expectations.
In the last 5 years messaging apps have flourished and
entered our everyday lives. This has again accelerated in the last few months as
we’ve have had to find ways to communicate with loved ones that we can’t visit.
Family and work WhatsApp and Messenger groups have really come into their own.
These tools all have two things in common – they are conversational, less formal and richer in content. Adding images, links and other attachments means you’re able to share so much with so little effort. That sharing helps create stronger bonds and brings us all closer.
So how does that fit on a business level? Well, for starters it means our guests are
familiar and comfortable with messaging as a technology. With such a big part of the service you offer
guests driven by communication, why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to
finesse that communication?
That’s why we built Smart Messaging.
How you communicate with your guests before, during and after their stay is changing. The ease with which you can schedule key messages for your guests makes Smart Messaging invaluable. And those automatic messages can be rich in content, so attaching images and links makes them not just interesting but also very useful to guests. We know this because the guest replies say it all.
What’s also fascinating is that guests respond quickly (because it’s easy) and they become more engaged with the host. So building that relationship is a natural process. Guests even use emojis in their responses, who doesn’t love seeing a 😊 in a response! 👍
There’s lots and lots more on offer, so click here for more… We have built Smart Messaging from the ground up ourselves so it’s fully integratedwith all your bookings and continually being added to. It’s also why we can offer it at such a low price of just £4/month (£49/yr + VAT)…. ridiculous value yet again from a family business that enjoys building things that make your life easier.
Every business is currently faced with some tough decisions, not least how to maintain quality and still save money in difficult times. Some very recent customers have shared their feedback on freetobook. As a family business we really know how to keep those budgets down and satisfaction up.
Even during these terrible times all of our service is running at full capacity developing new features and servicing all customers.
Having recently joined freetobook, I wish I’d done it ages ago. The set up was straightforward, and together with the great help and useful tips from Heather, along with Sandra on the Help Desk with the integration of bookings from an OTA, I couldn’t be happier. Nothing to pay unless you want to, so with the added bonus of only having to pay for the services that you need, what’s not to like. So what are you waiting for? Join freetobook today!
Lochinver Guest House
I returned to freetobook from ev***vo just a few months before the lockdown, and I am so glad I did – they simply provide the very best customer service I’ve experienced from a channel manager, and are always available to assist, especially during the dark days of the lock-down. No hanging on the phone for ages before you can speak to a real person who actually understands your issue and gets it resolved in no time! I can always get advice or answers to questions very quickly either via the online support, via phone or on the Facebook group. The fees are very reasonable and the team continues, even now during Covid-19, to work on great new features on their system. I can’t recommend them highly enough – this family-run company has good morals and ethics.
Tyndale Boutique B&B
We were using ev***vo as our channel manager but were let down by the lack of customer support despite the high monthly costs. Since we switched to freetobook we have seen a noticeable reduction in our outgoings and yet their support, both online and over the phone, is incredible. We highly recommend FTB.
Birklands Guest House
Just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for your recent advice which has certainly just saved us a considerable amount of money!
We also wanted to let you know how glad we are that we made the decision to join freetobook. As ‘newbies’ to all of this we were finding the system that we ‘inherited’ so very frustrating and confusing – not to mention expensive! We found FTB so easy to set up, simple to work round, and extremely user friendly. Without exception, any query we had was dealt with quickly and efficiently by your knowledgeable and friendly team, and the continued support in these highly unusual circumstance is just brilliant. When we then take into account the clear and, in our view extremely reasonable charges, we believe we’ve found the best and couldn’t rate FTB more highly.
Foxhills of Shanklin
The process of changing over from our previous online booking system to freetobook was a breeze. We were up and running on the system within just a couple of days. The system is intuitive and easy to use, but great support is there if needed. The customer service is available online or by phone and the responses are received so quickly. Not only is this a great system, but as a small B&B I appreciate not having to pay extortionate monthly fees, particularly when we are closed over winter!
I wholeheartedly recommend freetobook to anyone looking for a system which provides all the functionality, and better service, at a very reasonable price.
Over 10,000 B&Bs in the UK have had their business ripped from under them as the virus empties bedrooms across the land. Guests that would have come to stay would not only have enjoyed their unique accommodation but all the other popular tourism services connected to the area.
The knock on effect of not protecting these most British of establishments ripples out to the wider UK tourism economy. Fair protection is all we ask, give B&Bs equal standing to larger hotels and businesses that benefit from 100% small business rate relief.
Follow the cause on Twitter (Bed and Breakfast Association @bandbassoc and @eighteen97bandb who tirelessly campaign for help #saveukbnbs)
Write to your MP and Rishi Sunak telling them how the initial grant and newly announced scheme will not be enough to save or B&Bs.
Update: B&Bs are still not being treated equally even after the government announcement on 2nd May which looked like a lifeline to struggling businesses but turns out to exclude 95% of those than need help.
B&Bs are excluded from grants that the same businesses get simply because they pay business rates. (Unfair because many B&Bs legitimately pay council tax not business rates)
Recent (2May) £600 million grant scheme was headlined as helping B&Bs paying council tax but turns out to exclude anyone eligible for self employed income support.
Small B&Bs do exactly the same job as hotels, and larger accommodation businesses just on a more intimate unique scale.
Failure to protect these infrastructure businesses risks ruining many other local businesses dependent on their guests.
So much is beyond the control of accommodation owners in this difficult time. Yet we hear so many inspiring stories of owners using their extra time to help their community while others offer accommodation to key workers or get on with renovations and tidy ups, ready for a return to business.
We are positive, inspired and continually asking – What can we do to make a difference?
“… the very best customer service…fees are very reasonable. … this family-run company has good morals and ethics.” (Lochinver GH)
You will be pleased to know that freetobook has ALL our customer service staff working from home helping your businesses where and when you need it.
Just as importantly, ALL of our developers are working from home creating the next generation of technology to make freetobook even better value with even more smart functionality.
“…we only pay for what we use nothing more, what could be fairer? Thank you freetobook for first class caring support.” (Drinkstone Park B&B)
Our unique pay-as-you-go cost structure means that many customers are paying nothing whilst business is low. We have no monthly charges and all costs are optional, so not only are we keeping going at full pace we are also literally sharing the financial pain in these difficult times.
Offering real, honest value for money service and technology is at the core of any family business. We will never waver from supporting you to grow your accommodation business at the lowest possible cost.
“Changing over was breeze… up & running in a couple of days. … I appreciate not having to pay extortionate monthly fees.” (Foxhills)
“…very satisfied with their amazing service, and much lower costs. …their support, both online and over the phone, is incredible.” (Tyndale Boutique B&B)
New additions coming soon:
Updated hotel style diary with extra functionality, ability to create unit specific smart messages, split billing so guests can share parts of the same bill, new attachment types for smart messages, cobooking for a new way to find and book direct.
“…so easy to set-up, simple to work round and extremely user friendly. … we believe we’ve found the best and couldn’t rate freetobook more highly.” (Birklands GH)
You might not know this but freetobook’s core functionality is exactly the same price as it was in 2012. Yes, we haven’t increased any of our prices ever.
How have we managed to do this? Well, our loyal customer base has grown to over 11,000 businesses world-wide!
Our paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go ensuring you only use what you need, no pressure from us. There are no tie-ins or set monthly costs regardless of your booking volume. You only pay for what you want, all the way from the free service to an all-in one singing and dancing system that does everything but make your morning coffee.
With many accommodation owners facing difficulties as a result of Covid19 you can rest in the knowledge that we are the best value system on the planet.
Not only that, it just keeps getting better. Over the same period we have continually developed new functionality. It is in our blood to keep improving so almost every week we’re releasing new and better versions of our service, bringing more benefits to our loyal customers.
How do we do it? A key part is the massive savings we’ve made because we’re lucky enough to have customers who are really passionate about us, they’re our sales force. Hence, we don’t need a pushy sales team but instead can rely on recommendations from existing customers. If you’re not with freetobook…. ask someone you know who is!
A price freeze since 2012 with optional low cost services (pay-as-you-go) that are reliable and secure all make for an extremely compelling case to switch to freetobook. Couple this with our family company’s caring service and our 7 pledges of online booking and you’ll know we’re here to help you through these difficult times.
If you’re not with freetobook just register today – get up and running in a couple of hours.