Google zero commission

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

A few weeks into the Google free feed activation and bookings are flowing in. We are overjoyed to be providing direct commission free bookings into your diary… (No charge from Google) so make sure you don’t get left out.

Sometimes these things don’t last forever so its worth getting in as early so you can to maximise the number of commission free bookings.

You can have the Google free feed on its own, you don’t have to pay for Google advertising to be part of the free feed.

Maximising direct bookings at zero commission is one of our key pledges, we are proud once more to be the first to build solutions that genuinely help accommodation owners to thrive…

Freetobook will always prioritise direct bookings which is why you can trust us to be the first with such important services like the Google commission free bookings. It’s a great benefit to your business so why not signup to Google Zero by freetobook and get yours!

Login to your freetobook account and activate Google zero

More information on Google commission free bookings:
Google Zero is here !
Tips to get to the Top On Google free feed
Article by Craig from freetobook on phocuswire
Google’s free booking links for hotels …

Top of Google free feed

The Google free feed is now available world-wide but it is also available for OTAs and big review sites. To maximise Google free bookings you must be at the top of the free feed….

Google free feed ranking
Google free and paid feed ranking

Firstly the free feed ranking is a Google secret (but it’s easy to get to the top of it). What we do know is that Google will order the free feed to satisfy their user, that is the many millions visiting Google to check out accommodation. We also know that the free feed is independent of money paid so every accommodation owner has the same opportunity as a multi-billion dollar OTA. This has never happened before and is brilliant news for direct bookings…

Google users (just like most of us)

  1. Want to see the direct feed “official site” at the top
  2. Want to see the best price at the top
  3. Want the best availability at the top

For the first time ever this gives property owners a distinct advantage (over OTAs) if they connect availability directly with their booking system.

It is most important that you make sure you have the best rates and availability direct. This comes with a warning, if you offer OTAs or review sites a better deal they will most likely go to the top of the Google free feed.

Google free feed tips
Google free feed tips

The top position in the Google free feed is as simple as this …

  1. Have the best rate direct
  2. Have the best availability direct
  3. Do not accept OTAs/Review sites undercutting your direct rate

In this simplicity, there is amongst the suspicious of us, a feeling of fear – can it really be this simple? Clearly Google want to satisfy their customers and make Google the best place to come for accommodation booking AND we know the customer wants the best price and availability. The Google free feed is an elegant solution to provide what the customer wants, but there is an elephant in the room. How much will it cost Google in lost advertising (mostly from OTAs and Review sites)

The question the future will determine is, how much is Google willing to pay in lost advertising revenue to make Google the best place to get the best deal? The answer right now is indirect, there is simply no company better able to make this calculation profitably. Google knows exactly how to do these type of numbers and knows how to provide great search. Great search for Google now includes availability, prices, location, reviews, descriptions, comparison and booking. They also have what only Google has, vast user data and smart suggestions.

If the Google free feed continues it is likely that the future battle over the best price – the “price parity” vs. “rate fixing” argument – is going to be settled by Google de facto rather than in law where it has failed to provide the customer the best deal. Before the free feed the OTAs could pay to get their higher prices at the top of the list, not on the free feed they can’t… Bookings and customers will naturally flow to where they can get the best deal and Google wants it to be them.

One can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of OTAs and other meta review sites. They are starting to feel like second class places to go to book accommodation and that is, and must be, Google’s primary intention.. make it better than the OTAs and they will come…

The Google free feed changes everything in meta because it is genuinely better than anything else and that must put the fear in the rest.

Find out how to get listed on Google free feed – earlier blog..

Google Zero is here!

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

Google, the mighty search engine, offers accommodation owners the possibility of listing in their free booking feed. Connect your availability and rates to the free feed on its own and get zero commission bookings from Google. Get in early and take advantage of this Google giveaway, it might not last forever, who knows?

The facts ….

  1. Have the free feed on its own (no need to pay Google anything)
  2. Google free feed is 100% independent of paid advertising
  3. Free Google feed is available world-wide
  4. Free feed bookings are direct bookings
  5. OTAs and review sites are also in the free feed
  6. Google free bookings are only for serviced accommodation (not cottage, villa, or vacation type accommodation – sorry!)

Speed is the essence, maximise your direct bookings, take advantage of the free feed quickly and be the one that gets the most free direct bookings. Experience has shown us that these opportunities get diluted over time so early adopters get the most bookings.

Freetobook has always been at the forefront of technology to get you more direct bookings. We have pioneered availability with Google since 2018 (which is why we can launch this free feed only service quicky).

We introduce freetobook “Google Zero”, with this service you will be listed ONLY in the free feed. In order for us to provide, map and maintain live rates and availability to Google we will charge a small subscription fee of £49 per year, act quickly for limited free trial until 10th June 2021.

How can I get Google Zero?

Log in to freetobook and click on Tab “Plus” then select “Google Zero”

Google free booking feed by freetobook - join the direct booking revolution

Other useful information about Google free bookings…

How do I get to the top of the Google free feed ? (top tips from freetobook)

What does Google free booking link look like and why are Google doing this for free ?

Google free feed on freetobook – How ?

Google Free Hotel Ads
Google Free Hotel Ads free feed

How you can participate in that free booking link with freetobook.

In a related article we explain Why do it ? What’s in it for accommodation owners, and why we think Google is doing it.

Who can take part? The free booking link is part of Google’s Hotel Ads system, so you can see right away that Google are looking for “hotel” type accommodation.  Hotel type includes guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels but it specifically excludes vacation rental type accommodation, cottages, villas, lodges.

Eligibility

YES: for hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, hostels and apart hotels (hotel type).

NO: for cottages, chalets, villas, lodges (vacation rental type)

What do you need? You will need a booking system like freetobook that’s connected to Google, that connection (feed) sends your rates and availability with a link directly to your booking process. Freetobook have been providing this feed to Google Hotel Ads since September 2018

You also need a Google My Business listing, almost every business in the world already has one and it’s free (they look like this, see freetobook’s here).

The situation NOW: Remember there are two parts to Google Hotel Ads the free bit with, we reckon, about 10% of the traffic and the paid section with roughly 90% of the clicks. (Read the blog for further details)

Google Hotel Ads on freetobook : freetobook are already connected to Google Hotel Ads (since 2018) and we provide a managed advertising service for more than and thousand properties in the UK. This advertising service is active now and we’ll continue managing it.

Good news: All properties using the Google Hotel Ads to advertise automatically get the Google free booking link. You can see how that works on this Google blog…

I want free booking links now: if you are eligible (i.e. Hotel type accommodation) and in the UK you can subscribe for our Google Hotel Ads service in your Plus tab this will give you paid and free feeds.

Only free booking links (Zero): You will need to wait a week or so for us to make this option available for you.

HOW? Google Zero will be available in the Tab “Plus” shortly.

The situation SHORTLY:

We’re already busy creating a Google free ONLY service that’ll be available worldwide. This will use our existing feed to provide Google with your rates and availability and the link for bookings at Zero cost. You will not have to pay Google anything for the bookings.

This will be available shortly to all eligible (Hotel type) accommodation worldwide. We will charge a small annual subscription to provide the feed to Google (from freetobook) and deliver the bookings directly into your freetobook diary with reporting.

Google’s own blog and information March 2021 : free hotel booking links and Google Hotel Ads the overall picture from Google

Google’s free booking feed – Why ?

Good news for property owners? We think so!

Google free feed

Just over a week ago Google made a big announcement about free advertising. It’s fair to say it shook up the meta search hotel booking space like a gorilla with a rattle. We all like to have something for free and from an advertising giant like Google, we would surely love it.

But let’s pause for a minute, what is this? We know that the OTAs typically spend in excess of $6 Billion a year with Google on advertising. Are they giving all of this away? No, I’m sure they are not doing that.

So, if it’s not a total giveaway then what is it? What is the free advertising Google are offering and how good is it for accommodation owners? More to the point, WHY have Google done it?

As a Google Hotel Ads feed provider and Ads manager for nearly two years, here at freetobook we have seen the progress and have a few insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Hotel Ads as it stands, and, as it might develop alongside its competitors – chiefly TripAdvisor – in this meta search space.

What is the free bit that Google offer? The new free listing of the rates and availability feed is a section at the foot of the advertising block. It fits in below the paid or sponsored listings and looks a bit like this …

Google free and paid Hotel Ads feeds
Google free and paid feeds – Hotel Ads

For those of you familiar with search engine terms this new “free” block is analogous to “natural” listings. Natural listings are the opposite of paid listings, they are free and they are ordered based primarily on customer preference. If many customers pick a certain supplier for that property it is likely that supplier will float to the top.

Anyone providing a feed to Google can be listed in the free or natural section and the order they are presented will be a secret algorithm known only to Google which is 100% independent of any payment to Google. No advertising payment can ever influence a natural listing, that is certain.

How good is this free “natural” advertising? This is the tricky bit to answer but I think I can. In short, the reality is that it’s as good as Google wish to make it. They are the universal masters of natural listings vs. sponsored or paid listings. Their whole business model has, at its core, the advertising auction to get to the top of the page (where the clicks are) vs. the natural listings that give more authentic content and customer satisfaction.

The answer is probably about 10%. Google is giving away about 10% of the traffic to natural listing. We know this roughly from volumes of bookings and it kind of makes sense as a natural vs. paid split.

Freetobook Distribution
Freetobook distribution for less

It sounds small but to accommodation owners this is a fantastic opportunity. If you are not currently paying Google to advertise in their feed (and the majority are not) then this 10% is actually 100% of something you didn’t have before and for free. If you remember the $6 Billion dollars, they are giving away a chunk of that to massively improve their customer offering and bring in new potential advertisers. Not a bad price for them and remember Google controls the prominence of natural listings (as they always have), so that 10% might not always be 10%, the structure/visibility of that display will continue to change.

What’s in it for accommodation owners? Our feed to Google is direct so it shows to the consumer as “Official site”, this puts properties at an advantage against the OTAs in the natural listings (free section). This is because consumers are drawn to the direct channel when everything else is equal. Every property’s direct feed should by “rights” be at the top of the natural listings and so you could get the 10% of clicks for free. But beware! The OTAs are all also in the free feed and if any OTAs were to have a better rate than yours they would almost certainly come above you in the natural listing. If you are not at the top, it is likely you have given a special offer to an OTA and your direct rates are higher than the OTA rate.

Top Tips freetobook
Tips to be top of the free feed

Now this is the bit worth paying attention to … here are our tips to being top of the natural listing:

a) Have the best rate direct
b) Keep the best availability for your direct bookings
c) Do not accept OTA virtual cards or they will undercut your direct rate
d) Make sure your Google My Business listing is as unique and rich as it can be with reviews, photos, amenities etc. In other words if your direct feed is not at the top it is your fault and you need to fix it – which is as easy as a,b,c,d.

So yes, this is a massive opportunity for the direct booking feed, if you are managing your rates properly you will benefit. For the small number of properties that do not list with the OTAs this is even better news because they will have no competition for their direct bookings, a “no-brainer” as they say.

Why are Google doing this?

Lots of good reasons. Google really cares about the user experience. You use Google search because they are the best search engine. They want you to say you also book via Google meta because it is the best place to find the best rates and availability.

1) Google can only show the best rates and availability if they have all of the properties in the world on board and feeding them with the best on offer. So, on one level, this is a ‘land grab’ to get the whole world’s accommodation listed and bookable.
2) As a customer on Google you want to find the best rate. In the sponsored listing the best rate is not at the top, the top spot is for the highest bidder. This is sub-optimal as a user, why is the best rate hidden down the list of OTAs? Not a good user experience. The natural listings solve this issue because the most popular link comes to the top (most likely the best rate).
3) New advertisers become possible. As google advertising is an auction, these always work better with more bidders. Google would like you to play in the 90% of traffic that isn’t free so they will get you on board with the 10% free and take it from there.
4) Great authentic natural listings are what customer’s ultimately desire. They want to see what the best link is and the only way to do that is to remove the paid side of it.
5) Google probably know that by having all the small independent properties (the “longtail”) on board they will increase their overall bookings including those with the larger chain hotels. Guests want choice and that’s why the OTAs want to have all properties listed.
6) Reviews and content are becoming a bigger part of what Google offers. Having availability next to their accommodation reviews is a very smart move. We have seen the growing importance Google and Facebook place on collecting reviews… another blog in itself.

Google knows how to juggle the supplier’s desire for customers “traffic” with the customer’s desires. They know that if their meta is to work it must work for customers and the most authentic way for it to work is with natural listings providing by definition; what the customer wants at the top of the list.

We know Google has the best tech, they can do the math on advertising bidding better than any other company. They soon will have most of the rates and availability, a very good set of customer reviews and other content, making them the “go-to” place to book a hotel and other travel-related services. If I was a review website or an OTA I would be looking hard to see how I could keep my revenue. If I was an accommodation provider I’d take advantage of the free offer and see what plays out – Google vs. OTA vs. Big review site.

PS: Where Google goes and makes a success, Facebook and Amazon watch to see how its done!

Craig Stewart, Director freetobook

Reflections – Together, One Year On

As we approach our one year ‘work from home’ anniversary we thought we would take a look back at how freetobook have managed the challenges the last year has brought. 

MARCH 2020 – As we entered March we already had a feel for what might be coming our way from our overseas properties who were experiencing some sort of lockdown.  UK infection rates were not running that high and no announcements about what the government might do had been made so we were still out and about meeting our customers at tourism shows … there was anxiety and concern about what was to come, but no-one could have predicted the year that would unfold.  We started to make plans for our team to work ‘temporarily’ from home, never imagining that we would still be there a year later.  On the 23rd March we had to go into total lockdown. 

From the very start, our customer services team stepped up to the challenge, fielding 1000’s of calls and Help Desk messages as properties struggled to cope with the avalanche of cancellations and rescheduling of bookings.  We made the decision early on that we would not be furloughing any of our team and would continue to offer the customer service our customers expect and deserve.  Those first 6 weeks were traumatic for our properties and our hearts broke as we listened to the many stories and concerns.  Oftentimes our team were the only people properties could actually speak to as they struggled to navigate the tidal wave of cancellations and the OTAs’ ever-changing policies on these.  We cannot praise our team enough for their compassion, calm heads and resilience during this time. 

Our little known Freetobook Users Group on Facebook suddenly became a go-to source of information as properties struggled to plot their way through the ever-changing guidance regarding re-opening, cleaning, lockdown rules, insurance, grants etc. 

Our Developers swung quickly into action to create new reporting to help our users assess cancellation information, generate digital registrations, adapting the messaging system and much more.  Some of the projects we had planned for the year were paused whilst we made the adjustments which would help our users adapt to the changing circumstances.  Again, huge praise to the developer team for the speed with which they handled the fluid requirements the situation demanded.   

APRIL/MAY – It is not often that business owners would have so much time on their hands at this time of year, so we decided to make some constructive use of the downtime and began offering additional training to freetobookers.   In April, Heather started home schooling freetobookers with her weekly training in the Facebook Users Group and in May, Eleanor started a series of live webinars (you can still see Heather’s training in ‘Guides’ in the Facebook group and Eleanor’s webinars in the Home >Webinar’s tab in Freetobook).  It was great to see so much engagement from our property owners and willingness to use the time to make positive changes for the future. 

JUNE – As news of re-opening dates came through, so did a raft of new rules and new ways of working.  In June we sent out one of our most read blogs ever and reading it again now, it is just as relevant for this next reopening in the UK this Spring … Covid19: Reassuring your Customers

JULY OCTOBER – As predicted, when the UK opened back up for bookings they went off like a rocket! Accommodation providers in tourist areas of the UK had a busy time and at our end the workload became a tidal wave as so many properties came back online all at once.  Working late became the ‘new norm’ as we responded to everything and all our customers needed within incredibly tight timelines. 

Sadly though, we were also hearing that a couple of properties were not going to re-open due to owners shielding, retiring or sadly property closure.  We never underestimated the weight of the decision a property had taken when they contacted us to let us know they would not be re-opening.  Our team continued to do what they do best and dealt with them all professionally and with compassion.   

NOVEMBER TO DATE – With infection rates increasing, the introduction of another lockdown was inevitable … although this time we were all better prepared for it.  Our team continued to support properties as they made adaptations to their properties in-house, on freetobook and with their OTAs.  Our Developers have also been working on some exciting features for 2021 and we, as a business, continue to look forward.  Again, a special thanks to our team who have adapted to the challenges of working from home and being separated from their colleagues, whilst maintaining their well-known good spirits … and in many cases home-schooling their children too! 

It’s been a long winter but as we enter spring; with the COVID vaccine roll-out and announcement of re-opening dates in the UK, there is now a sense of hope amongst property owners and huge pent-up demand from customers.  The announcement of opening dates in England saw a huge spike in bookings in February … a pattern we expect to be repeated as more re-opening announcements are made. 

We hope that of the many worries you have had over the last year, your booking engine has not been one of them.  We have tried our very best to ensure that we are always available to help you and we will be here to support you all with whatever comes next.  We do not underestimate the many challenges that lie ahead for the tourism sector, but we can’t help feeling we have all been through the worst and better things are yet to come.   

TripAdvisor website grab

TripAdvisor makes a grab for your website content.

grab for your unique content

Late last week TripAdvisor sent out an email advising of a change in their terms and conditions. This was no trivial change, they demand access to all text and images on your website which they can harvest anytime and have perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable rights over. This is a grab for all the content on your website forever. TripAdvisor can then use any of those images and text as they see fit and for their potential profit without any payment to you (A copy of the terms at the bottom of the page).

Why is your website content so important ? The unique descriptions and photos that you put on your website are one of the few places that a small independent business has an advantage. Search engines value unique content, if you give this over to TripAdvisor or anyone else, it will impact your uniqueness and harm your ranking on the internet. Conversely it will improve the ranking of the website that takes it for their own use. In short: giving away your website content will harm your internet ranking and help that of TripAdvisor. A likely result of losing your unique content would be your website going lower on Google and others going higher.

What is really striking about this request for “agreement” of content access is that it is perpetual (forever), it is irrevocable (can’t reverse it), it is transferable (can be given or sold to anyone else), royalty-free (you get no payment) and sub-licensable (they can make money from it). This is just about the worst possible outcome you could ever agree to, it is completely and utterly in the favour of TripAdvisor. I don’t think its possible for there to be a worse agreement for independent accommodation owners.

Do not undervalue your website content. The material on your website is a result of your hard work. With your toil over time it has become your very valuable brand/name/image, it is literally what marks you out as different. I cannot image what has possessed TripAdvisor to think they can grab it so blatantly from your website and take it forever to do with as they please with just one click. There is no option to refuse the terms, (only a button to close the pop up – see below) this looks more like a diktat, “a take it or take it”, than it does an agreement. You can close the popup but it keeps coming back until you agree, if you agree then you lose your unique content rights and the pop up goes away.

TripAdvisor say in their popup that they want to improve traveller experience on their website. Fine do that, but that is their business to make the experience better for customers on their website. Unique content costs effort, it costs money, it is valuable and it is certainly not free. TripAdvisor profits from their website. They sell OTA advertising that is a major part of their income which is paid for by commissionable bookings. Why would a independent property give over its unique content (under extremely bad terms) in order to increase the profit of TripAdvisor. The nett result of which is fewer direct bookings and again, and again, yet more commission.

It is extremely sad and disappointing that TripAdvisor have such low ethical values in this action. This is no relationship of mutual benefit, they take everything and you get nothing. Surely this has to be totally withdrawn by TripAdvisor with a big apology. All properties that have agreed these terms should have the agreement reversed with an assurance that these kind of terms should never be sneaked back in. The damage has been done, we have now seen the disregard they have for accommodation businesses and sadly trust lies shattered.

Staycation Tsunami 2021

When lockdown ends, bookings dramatically spike

Get ready for a tsunami of bookings this summer. #StaycationTsunami Savings levels are at a record high. Through the lockdowns money that would have been spent has been saved. International travel is likely to be difficult/impossible.

Staycations at unprecedented levels are predicted and most likely to happen this summer. Added to this, there’s been far fewer bookings this year so there’s loads of availability to book into when things open up.

Frustrated, locked down bookers are out there waiting for somewhere to go. The instant that lockdown is lifted you’re looking at a situation never seen before.

Lockdowns have devastated accommodation businesses so here’s a great opportunity to rebalance that, but only if you’re ready for it by being prepared.

Summer 2021, are you ready for it?

Get ready for a record summer

Maximising your profit will help recover such a terrible past year. Minimise commission paid. Demand will likely outstrip supply so don’t pay commission when you can get more direct bookings.


Preparation Checklist

  1. Get your booking technology in order now. If you don’t have it running efficiently you’ll lose out on that record number of bookings coming in. Get your payment system setup and have your messaging fine-tuned. Reduce the risk for double bookings by getting it lined up and ready now.
  2. Think about your prices for summer now, should you increase them? Inflation is likely in your costs and you’ve lost a year of income so use the demand to recoup some losses. Businesses that have increased their prices understand they can reduce them later if it’s necessary.
  3. Get available now for direct bookings, prioritise early direct bookers. Give a preference to getting your early bookers in direct. Use commissionable bookings to fill gaps later. There will be a record number of bookings, you want them to be direct. You can always open to non-direct bookings later if you have to. Check you minimum stays and cancellation policy always entice direct bookings.
  4. Makes sure all the housekeeping, renovation and services are ready for a record summer. Is your accommodation physically ready? Do whatever you can do now so you’re ready for the biggest ever summer.
  5. Your website should be ready to encourage direct bookings. Ensure your COVID cleaning policy is visible and up to date, guests want to feel safe booking.  Update your website with any changes/updates you’ve made, you need to look your best and guests will not book on a bad website. free covid ready images

Last year was both terrible and tragic with losses of every kind, personal, national, social and economic.

It will end at some point so be ready for a reversal of fortune…it’s likely to happen this summer in the accommodation sector!

#StaycationTsunami 

Ten Years On & Stronger Than Ever!

freetobook the journey

Are we really 10 years into this journey? Its January 2021 and we are just starting lockdown III in the UK, what a time to look back on 10 years of freetobook.

It’s November 2010 and we facilitate our first direct booking which was the culmination of a year’s worth of programming work for the team. We took the “idea” of direct booking and literally made it free for accommodation owners all over the world. The journey from then to now has been one of continual learning and solution development.

All those years ago it was big call for our early customers to support us; we were unknown but they had faith.… which we continue to repay…. thank you!  There are so many that are still with us and yes, the property that received our first direct booking over ten years ago is today a thriving hotel on freetobook.

Years later direct booking is still free and right there at the heart of everything we do. Free is not just without charge; it also means open, unrestricted, unbound, at liberty and untied. With the ever-rising power of corporations in the accommodation booking sector we remain free. Think of us as a counter-balance to corporate greed; an authentic high tech family-business.

Direct booking is a tough business. Against us all, there are a few giant corporations that want to take your bookings and make you pay more commission. We have earned the trust of many thousands of accommodation businesses because we tell it as it is. Ten years on and building better technology to facilitate more direct bookings. Our customers are also family businesses who entrust us with their booking technology, our system is at the centre of many thousands of accommodation businesses.  That’s a serious business.   

In The Beginning…..

creation of adam in the beginning
created from scratch

Back at the beginning, although new in the technology booking space we certainly weren’t empty-headed; we’d already had 10 years of accommodation booking experience. We knew our stuff; the processes, tech and the industry. Our service was free, but that was never enough, it also had to be a real high-quality product. There was more building to be done. Sure we made mistakes, corrected them quickly and were never short of new ideas.

There’s nowhere to hide when your software is out there at the heart of so many businesses. We’re a “hands-on” bunch; we listen and truly care, perhaps sometimes too much and that can take its toll. Some comments can hurt but we build better every time. There are many shiny things in the technology world, they look good on the surface but before we invest/build anything we ask… does it help generate more direct bookings?    

Those many years ago customers (led on by our competitors at the time) laughed at us and questioned us. How can you really be free? Well, we were free and we still are free for 1000s of accommodation businesses. Our “freemium” model with a free booking system with optional paid add-on services was not common then, indeed our free offering alone is better than many of our competitors paid versions. We convinced the “doubters” by building new and innovative services that are supported, developed and cherished.  By listening to our customers, responding and continually improving, our passion started to filter through. Being genuine, doing the right things for the right reasons has always been the way we operate.

Just writing this makes it all seem like it was normal to start out that way but it was far from that at the time. It was a big call, a huge risk, that now brings a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement.

By simply doing what came naturally to us we created something special …. an authentic trust.  It takes a second to write that “T” word but years to build and earn it. 

What Happened Next

high tech solutions
technology solutions

There was no income for freetobook until we launched our first chargeable service some three years later. The Channel Manager wasn’t really our idea but customers just preferred our booking diary and asked us to “link it up” with the OTAs to avoid double bookings and save time managing bookings. Now our channel technology is an unsung hero, processing millions of updates/requests daily and getting it right again and again … the OTAs consistently rank our channel manager in the top tier worldwide, often asking us how we do it so well?

Next came payment systems and secure card storage. We could see immediately the real value of Stripe for businesses; no merchant provider required, minimal form filling, great security technology and they offer low card rates too. Five years on Stripe is one of our most popular services because it’s still the most cost-effective product on the market, literally half the price of PayPal with so many more features and benefits. Stripe is the kind of technology we love to integrate and it shows when we poll our customers, they give it a satisfaction rating over 90%.

Alongside bookings and payments there is an ever-increasing need to ensure you “own the guest relationship” thereby keeping your direct bookings. Your brand is so important when communicating with a guest. The OTAs want to muscle-in and keep guest contact under their name. Freetobook’s Messaging enables you to brand messages with your name and scale your customer contact by simplifying it and removing the repetitive stuff.

What a timely introduction Messaging was; paying dividends last year with the ability to schedule messages, make contactless payment links, handle digital registrations and run in-house guest surveys. Our Messaging solution is neatly integrated into the booking flow, right from the moment the booking is made you’ve got easy access via your online diary and Messaging hub. Messaging makes guest interaction a joy for both you and your guest, replacing clunky lengthy email communication with short conversation-like threads that feel more genuine and create happy guests.

We built Messaging ourselves from scratch because we know how critical great guest communication is for direct booking.  We didn’t take the easy option that our competitors took by using inferior 3rd party “integrations” to the other messaging companies. Instead, we kept innovating and moving things forward. When it’s your own technology you can listen and respond to your customers faster. We’ve added over 20 improvements since its initial release … guest actions, digital registration, surveys, file attachments, images, customisations, arrival times etc.

Software Updates

direct booking champion
Champion!

Last year we also invested in making your lives easier with our New Diary that shows key guest/booking data right there in plain sight whilst providing faster access to manage rates and availability. There’s also some neat integration with Stripe and Messaging, giving you a fuller picture of your business and a smoother work-flow.

Creating and managing this requires great people. The visionaries, thinkers, doers, builders, supporters, helpers etc. all contribute with their knowledge, experience, dedication and passion. This is no ordinary team at freetobook, they all deserve a special thank you (Ele, the service team, Heather, the developers, Craig and Iain, accounts and support team etc.).  We do “tech” but really what we try to do best is people, with the right people anything is possible.

Growth has been essential in funding new services and continuing to keep costs down for customers (nearly 8,000 of them). Our only sales team are these very customers; thousands of you who go out daily and recommend us to your  fellow businesses….thank you.  Please keep doing it, it makes a huge difference and helps us spend our energy where you get the most benefit.

defending small business
power to businesses

The sector we are in has changed beyond recognition, ownership and self-determination has been wrestled from small businesses into the hands of a few very large and powerful corporations. Technology has been the instrument of this change, this unbalancing. It is not unique to our sector either and there’s growing concern over the unassailable power of just a few mammoth tech companies.  For any open market to operate sustainably, freely and for the benefit of its society, it requires open competition. We always welcome competition and we must all fight to maintain plurality and choice in the face of corporate monopolies that seek to take it all.

cobooking
cobooking

Corporations have been allowed by governments to become monopolies and they have abused that position (not surprisingly) to ensure they increase their dominance.  The argument provided by these dominating corporations is that they provide cheaper prices for the consumer (i.e. that they are benefiting society) and there size enables better innovation. This is absolute rubbish, more competition will always decrease pricing and provide greater innovation… if freely allowed. It is unnerving to sit amongst the OTA dominance. Action is required, there is nothing to be gained by simply watching, we all have to try to change things, hence cobooking – join it.

We don’t have shareholders to keep happy or investors to placate, giving us the freedom to act. Our independence, like that of our customers, is one of our most cherished assets. Last year that enabled us to act in the way that we did.  To use our values to guide us and offer support by simply being there to talk to, to help/respond, to be compassionate and to build solutions that helped. That meant keeping on a full team, focused and available. Our unique pay-as-you-go model has also helped in the best way possible, by reducing monthly bills often to zero. So as bookings dropped dramatically so did our invoices. When we started out 10 years ago with freetobook we said, “no tie-ins and no set monthly bills” and we meant it, our customers are always free to leave and are never tied in.

So what does the future hold?  In all honesty… it’s difficult to know exactly.  There are some obvious truths, people will always want to go on holiday and travel so demand will come back big, we saw that in the summer of 2020 (make sure you’re ready for it in 2021). They’ll also need flexibility on their booking conditions due to the uncertainty. Initially guests are likely to be more cautious, going to places they know and feel “safe” in. These are likely to be closer to home and in some cases very close.  These holidays and experiences will be more cherished than ever before.  

On the technology side there has been a significant acceleration of some existing trends such as automation, online shopping and dispersed working.  We are in the fortunate position of being able to use that acceleration to benefit your businesses by creating new tools and services that help you not just adapt but thrive.

It’s an exciting space to be in, one which we’ll continue to navigate with our people and customers in mind. A simple formula, yet so often overlooked. Thank you for your support over the last 10 years. We must continue supporting each other, to be positive and forward looking, creating a better future…. that’s how we started freetobook and that’s how we will continue.

Review Widgets Stealing Direct Bookings

Our friends over at cobooking.com have shared their recent blog on the danger to direct booking posed by third party review widgets.

Cobooking exposes review widget dangers.

leaking pipe bad review widgets leak direct bookings
Bad Review widgets leak direct bookings

For far too many years we have put up with dodgy review widgets that cheat properties out of direct bookings. Widgets, badges and awards touted by large “reputable” businesses and placed on websites in good faith “trusting” these big corporations that pretend their main function is to “display” reviews, nonsense they are not to be trusted.

Cobooking and many others know that accommodation owners have been cheated because the hidden effect of these widgets is a significant loss of direct bookings. We are dedicated to the promotion of direct bookings so together lets call out the cheats and help remove these bad widgets.

Reviews are good but not all review widgets are good.

The value of having great reviews is undeniable. Almost all guests looking to book are keen to know what others think and reviews do a great job, so naturally you want to display them with widgets, buttons and awards.

However, there is a real danger of losing direct bookings from review widget links on your website and these could cost you a lot more than a bad review!

What do you mean, how do I lose?

The most common loss occurs when a review widget or badge is put on your website. Your guest naturally clicks the widget and is then led off to the review website. Now “your” guest is away on the review website where that website earns money by encouraging “your” guest to make a commissionable booking.

When you feed these review websites “your” guests (via the review widget) you lose direct bookings. In fact, it’s worse than that because they don’t care if “your” guest books your accommodation on their website, they earn commission on any booking “your” guest makes. So most websites offer your guest other accommodation options in order to increase their conversion.

Simply put, you sent your guest there to look at your reviews but they end up booking while there and not on your website. You’ve now lost a direct booking and have to pay commission, or worse still, they book somewhere else and you lose the booking entirely.

What is a direct booking unfriendly widget?

An unfriendly widget has links away from your website to another site where they offer your guest somewhere else to book or encourage them to book with a commissionable agency.

A friendly widget shows your reviews but does not send guests away to book with commission.

How do I know if the widgets, awards and buttons on my website are unfriendly?

Visit your website and follow the links just like a guest. By thinking and acting like a potential guest you’ll see exactly what your guests would see. Ask yourself what you’re being encouraged to do on that site and you’ll see just how direct booking unfriendly the process is.

Review widgets, buttons and awards are free?

Yes, they are free because the review website wants to get your customers onto their website. Is the cost of losing your customers worth the value of displaying reviews on bad widgets ? We are certain it is not.

Trojan horses have much in common with review widgets.

yellow trojan horse bad widget

These buttons, awards and widgets are just like Trojan horses. They look like a gift, displaying your fabulous reviews but they contain a link that costs you direct bookings. Your great reviews are a result of your hard work and dedication so please don’t lose out from your hard work.

Review websites play heavily on the temptation to show off your reviews and that’s when they get you to put their Trojan horse on your website and you start leaking direct bookings.

How to fix it …

The simple rule is to never have a widget on your website that takes guests away to book with a commissionable source.

Remove widgets, badges and awards that lose direct bookings.
Replace unfriendly review widgets with friendly ones.
Show your review score or awards in an image with no links away from your website.
If you don’t understand how to fix it you should give your web designer a link to this blog, they will be able to fix it for you and stop you losing direct bookings …

At cobooking we believe that review websites have been abusing the good will of accommodation owners for many years by requesting they put bad acting widgets on their websites without adequately explaining their function.

Let’s campaign to spread the word and encourage companies to create direct booking friendly widgets, good honest widgets. Lets stop this loss of direct bookings.

Cobooking will be looking to create a direct booking friendly widget to help accommodation owners fight back.

Get going, become a partner and join cobooking if you have not already done so – sign up !

If you have already joined cobooking you can get involved in helping on the cobooking users facebook group (closed group for cobooking users only)