Covid-19: Reassuring Your Customers

Operating in the current COVID19 world

Book with confidence Covid19 prepared

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.

Safety

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.

Communication

covid prepared
click to use this image and others

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.

Flexibility

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.

Domestic Travel

Book with confidence Covid19 ready
click to access free Covid19 images

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)

Freetobook Facebook Users Group
UK Hospitality Guidance for Hospitality in Scotland
Bed and Breakfast Association
PASC (Professional Association of Self-Caterers) Guidelines
UK Government Advice
HSE Risk Assessment
Centre for Disease Control USA
Vacation Rental Management Association Cleaning Advice


Covid-19: Preparing To Open Again!

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.

enjoy your stay in safety covid prepared
We are covid ready (free image click to save)

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 there.

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. 

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 now.

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.

book with confidence covid
Book with us we are Covid prepared (free image click to save)

Our own facebook group has plenty of things that people are doing in their own business so make sure you are part of that. Freetobook customers ONLY facebook group

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.

For those in the UK, this Government HSE website Risk Assessment is the place to start

2. COVID-19 INFORMATION ON YOUR WEBSITE

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.

book with confidence covid safe
Book with confidence we are Covid19 safe (free image click to save)

There are some super videos that properties are posting on their websites and social media and if you can, we would recommend this wholeheartedly.

Blue Sky retreat (their facebook page) New Mexico

Laggan Glamping (YouTube)

Pebble Beach (facebook page) Llandudno

Covid19 prepared
Covid19 ready for bookings (free image click to save)

3. PRE-ARRIVAL COMMUNICATION

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.

The key 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.

Serving Our Customers During Covid-19

Keeping Busy

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?

All working

“… 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.

Pay-as-you-go

“…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)

Stay safe and well.

Airbnb Welcomes Hotels, Hostels & B&Bs!

Hotels, B&Bs and Hostels are welcome on Airbnb!

Airbnb API connection

Airbnb’s changed from its early days so we think it’s worth reflecting on how these changes could attract new customers for you.

Hotels, Guest Houses, Hostels and Glampsites are now joining the Airbnb platform along with Cottages and other self catering accommodations. Its a safe bet to say that Airbnb’s change is all about opening up their listings to provide more choice for their customers.

Airbnb Users

Getting more bookings often means attracting new and different types of guests and on Airbnb these guests will typically be younger and booking closer to arrival;

  • About 40% of guests that book on Airbnb are aged between 25-34 years, this is quite a bit younger than typical bookers from other sources.
  • Last minute bookings are a big thing on Airbnb with about 40% of bookings being made fewer than 15 days before arrival. A great way to fill some gaps, especially in the quieter seasons.

Many people don’t realise that business people also form a significant part of Airbnb’s customer base. Airbnb is quite an attractive site for a number of business travellers that are looking for the sort of experience only independently run businesses just like yours can provide. These are more likely to be new customers that might not find you if it wasn’t for Airbnb.

Many of Airbnb’s customers are very loyal and will only use their platform to book their stay so being on Airbnb means you’re immediately exposed to them. They’re also looking for exactly what you offer (professionally run independent accommodation) so it’s worth getting in “front of them”.

Many of you are already aware that freetobook and Airbnb are now fully connected for updating rates, bookings and availability so you don’t need to worry about double bookings or double entry. You’ll also get the support and advice that comes with our Channel Manager connections team.

Like all of the services we offer, the Airbnb connection is optional. To get connected and find out more just visit the Tab “Plus” and select the “Airbnb” section.

Your B & B Business and SCA

New Payment Security Measures that WILL Affect Your Business

freetobook secure

SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) measures have now come into force as part of the Payment Services Directive II (PSD 2), a European law that all UK banks will be using (and yes this will remain in effect despite Brexit) to prevent fraud.

What does this mean?

Overall these measures will significantly improve the security of payments. Sadly Some of the OTAs have misrepresented the situation for their own gain. It is important to note that SCA ONLY applies to cards typed in online by the customer, all other card transactions are exempt so you can continue payments in exactly the same way you did prior to SCA.

What’s ’strong’ about it?

The ’strong’ in ’Strong Customer Authentication’ means that the person using the card online has passed at least two of three ’proof points’ confirming they’re the owner of the account.

Those three proof points are:

  • Knowledge (knowing Password or PIN)
  • Possession (having their card or phone with them)
  • Inherence (being able to prove their identity through fingerprint or facial recognition).
Direct bookings via your website’s booking engine:

These are relatively straightforward, at the point of booking online the card issuing bank will now ask your guest for 2 of the 3 security points so you will be certain the payment was made by the owner of the card. Stripe and FabPay will take SCA details and confirm the identity of the card holder for you.

Channel bookings from Online Travel Agents (OTAs):

Where you get the customer’s card from the OTA this will be exempt from SCA. Any payments you take from the card will be Card Not Present (CNP) or Mail Order Telephone Order (MOTO). These transactions are treated by the banks in the same way as they were before SCA so there is no change at all.

In the same way as channel bookings, payments where you type the card into a terminal or virtual terminal don’t fall under the new SCA measures as they are a Card Not Present (CNP) or Mail Order Telephone Order (MOTO) payments, that is to say they are exempt from SCA. These transactions are treated by the banks in the same way as they were before so there is no change.

Here at freetobook we offer property owners a number of secure payment options including Stripe and FabPay all of which are 100% SCA compliant for all types of payment.

Savvy Tips For (Re) Designing Your Website

Our guest blog this month is from design and marketing company Ulka Media. Here they offer up some great tips and tricks when (re) designing your accommodation’s website.

As with most businesses, it’s important to portray yourself as professionally as possible and that extends to your property’s website. You only have a few moments to grab a user’s attention online so be sure to not squander the opportunity.

User Experience

When it comes to website design it’s vital to make a good first impression to stand out from the busy marketplace.

The whole user experience needs to be simple and alluring from start to finish to draw in prospective guests. Since 40% of users will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, speed is critical so it’s important to employ techniques for faster loading such as browser caching or choosing the right hosting package.

Another factor to consider is how many clicks a user needs to get to the reservations stage and keep this to a minimum … 1 if possible, 3 at the absolute limit.

Responsive Layout

In 2018 Google deployed mobile-first indexing which emphasized the importance of mobile-friendly designs as users increasingly move to handheld devices for the web.  This is especially true in the travel industry as guests make bookings ‘on the go’. It is absolutely essential website usability on mobile devices is at the forefront of your website design, delivering great opportunities to reach your audience wherever they are.

Check to see if your website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test here http://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly ).

SSL Certificate

An SSL Certificate can be setup and configured by any reputable hosting company. Without getting into the technical workings, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (promoting trust) when installed on a web server, allowing secure connections from a web server to a browser.

Quality Content

Is your content relevant? Is your property family-friendly or adults only? Have the rooms been recently refurbished? Have you won any awards? Are you located in a convenient location or close proximity to a popular visitor attraction? Do you offer free Wifi (if not, why?), is there an option for late check-out or any other benefits you can promote? You need to portray all of these points and any other Unique Selling Points to the website users to differentiate your property from all the others. You may also consider adding a location map or FAQs page to enhance the site.

Cohesive Branding

If you have a logo, stick with it on every medium (online and offline) from your website & social media accounts to your signage, brochures & stationary.

Your brand is not just your logo however, it’s also your colours and type face as well as your voice, reassuring your potential guests of the quality of your premises.

Loyalty

One of the most effective methods to promote direct bookings through your own website is to offer an attractive loyalty program.

Can you team up with local partners to provide discounts which guests can benefit from in return for loyalty points accrued?

Images

Photos of your property should not only be large and high resolution but they should also have good composition. Focus on guest rooms, restaurants and other amenities, not the exterior (unless you have a nice patio or balcony perhaps) especially on the home page. Hire a professional photographer if you can stretch the budget, the end result will be worth the investment to truly showcase your property.

Virtual Tours

Consider adopting a virtual tour to engage your customers with intuitive interactive content like pop-ups to provide additional detailed information or reservation links. This is like Google Street View for inside your business allowing you to replicate your premises in stunning details and provide your guests with a useful glimpse of your facilities from afar prior to making a booking.

Reviews

‘Social proof’ is the buzzword at the moment which includes engaging on social media and user-generated content. Most people (over 75%) read reviews before booking travel accommodation so it’s important to have them somewhere on your website – whether it’s a widget on the homepage or a dedicated landing page. Consider displaying TripAdvisor and Google reviews as these are more convincing than your own website testimonials.

Live Chat

Surpass your guest’s expectations with outstanding customer service instantly by engaging with them using live chat directly on the website. Online travel agencies like booking.com, etc cannot provide personalised guest service in this manner but you can.

NOTE: freetobook’s Messaging system is now up and running!

Calls to Action

To ensure your website is ‘conversion optimised’ it will require smart call-to-actions to usher guests through to the reservations page.

If you don’t do anything else on this list make sure your BOOK NOW button is displayed prominently on every page of the site. Once they have clicked the button to book don’t distract users with more CTAs.

Promote direct Bookings

Make it simple for your potential guest to book directly on your website (with a good booking engine like freetobook).

Display certification icons to encourage potential guests to book with confidence.

Local Events Calendar

Adding a local events calendar gives guests a reason to stay an extra night if they know the circus is in town the following evening or the flower show is at the weekend. Make sure to include dates, times, entry costs and any other pertinent details to help your visitors. In addition to upcoming events, list what activities are available locally whether it’s recreational activities such as golf or popular restaurants and visitor attractions like beaches, castles or theme parks.

Offers & Upsells

Can you offer a deal to first time guests who book direct or perhaps a free breakfast? Lure potential guests by offering certain deals available if they book before a certain date. Maybe you can upsell an afternoon tea as an extra on the booking confirmation page?

Urgency

Create a sense of urgency through the search and booking process by telling users when there are only a limited number of rooms available. This can instill a fear of losing out prompting users to click through and make a reservation rather than abandon. If that does occur, however, a clever website can ask users if they would like to save their search for another time. You can then retarget potential customers with the captured data.

Switch tips for new customers

Switching your booking system can be a lot easier than you think with our switch team.

User friendly websites
User friendly freetobook

Reliability, trust and cost savings can all make a big difference to your business and your happiness!

1. No Monthly standing charges

As a family business we believe all customers should pay for what they want and that nothing is hidden. Our pricing is optional, clear and openly listed on our website, it has always been this way. Prices and what you get for free

(other companies don’t show prices on their website because they want to charge you more or pay oily sales people high commissions to get the sale!)

2. No Minimum contract terms

At freetobook we guarantee you will love our service, but just in case you don’t you’re not locked in, you can leave whenever you wish; we will never make it difficult, our customers stay because they want to.

(other companies tie you in to make it difficult to leave without penalty, that’s a trick we would never play – it just would not be trust worthy)

3. UK based support system

Customer service at freetobook is second to none – give us a ring and you will be connected straight to our expert support team in Glasgow.

4. Free online booking system

Unlike other booking systems we provide a high quality booking system free of charge so you get to fully use our system before you decide to opt in for any of the paid services which are completely optional and include a brilliant channel manager (Bookingcom reliability score 99.97% on 13 Jun 19) or a great low cost payment system.

5. You’re in control

Your business, your decisions. With freetobook you have control over all aspects of your online booking. You can decide to sell lower prices on your own website or have better availability on your direct booking channels…plus so much more.

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? why not try it out today …