OTAs – Rise of the Giants

Rise of the giants

A huge amount of internet change is currently impacting independent accommodation providers.

Online travel agent (OTA) consolidation puts the vast majority of bookings into the hands of just 2 or 3 players. Together they dominate the online space through aggressive marketing and huge pay per click spends with Google and other high volume websites. This continues to make it increasingly challenging for independent accommodation owners trying to maintain the same volume of direct bookings.

If you find yourself in this situation the best strategy is to avoid over reliance on a single OTA as that level of dominance creates obvious business risks, no business wants all its eggs in one basket. So make sure you have a spread of booking sources and always be on the look out for new, more efficient ways to distribute. Don’t be afraid to invest in technology that improves your direct commission free bookings and also enables you to diversify your booking sources i.e. a channel manager and booking engine that connects to all three big players…Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

Remaining fiercely independent and open to multiple sources of bookings becomes more crucial as the dominance of the biggest grows. In other words the most successful strategy will be diversified and independent – keep your eggs in baskets you can trust.

connect to freetobook channel manager

 

B&B marketing tips from Karen

hopton house“If anyone knows about B&B, Karen does.” (Guardian) Karen owns Hopton House, a converted granary in Shropshire offering three bedrooms. Alongside her own bed and breakfast business, she runs regular courses for potential B&B owners. Here Karen shares her business expertise and thoughts on TripAdvisor, the ‘Marmite’ of the B&B world.

“I’ve been running Hopton House for nearly eleven years now and the B&B courses for a couple of years less than that. I’m often asked what the biggest changes I’ve seen in that time are. In terms of the running of the B&B it’s very much about guest expectations, they tend to be more widely travelled and the lines between hotels and B&Bs are getting a bit blurred. Internet access is one case in point – ten years ago it wouldn’t have been required or maybe it was just a nice to have, but in 2015, with the amazing growth of smartphones, it’s pretty much a necessity for many people. From my own travels I know that if there are choices of similar accommodation in an area, I’ll always go for the one with Wi-Fi access. I think the biggest changes I’ve seen are the ways in which B&Bs market their businesses.

Here are the top 5 areas that I think have been game changing;

guest reviews tripadvisor1. Guest Reviews:
Tripadvisor; the marmite of the B&B world! All guests these days are potential amateur reviewers. Whilst having lots of great reviews is heart warming for the B&B owner, a negative review has the potential to cause serious damage to a business. Even now my heart skips a beat whenever I see I have a new review come through. Whilst receiving a bad review can ruin the owner’s day, it’s important to address the review and respond constructively. Tripadvisor reviews have shown that potential guests are more likely to choose to stay at a B&B if they’re taken to respond to negative feedback in a positive constructive way.

online travel agents2. Online travel agents:
The OTAs such as booking.com are changing the way people book accommodation, and many B&Bs can have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. OTAs can bring us a lot of business with no upfront joining fees but the commission they charge is high and the guests haven’t always understood what they should expect in their B&B. I think B&B owners need to make a decision about whether they will use the OTAs and then how will they use them. Whilst I don’t use them myself (I’m on booking.com but haven’t yet released nights to them), I think they can be very useful ( and possibly essential ) to some types of accommodation providers.

social media3. Social Media:
Many B&Bs have always relied on word of mouth to promote their business for years, and social media is the ultimate word of mouth. Social media, be it twitter, facebook, Instagram or even blogging, provides B&B owners with a great way to attract new guests, meet suppliers and keep in touch with repeat guests. I filled a room last minute following a cancellation using a promoted Facebook post last week. Better still, when you attract someone on social media and they like what you offer, they’ll then go back and recommend you to all of their followers.

advertising4. Advertising:
Whilst paper advertising in magazines and tourist guides has been steadily declining, digital advertising has been on the increase. I find both Facebook promoted posts and Google adwords are an effective way of marketing my B&B.

Google adwords particularly are becoming quite complicated to manage these days. I’d always suggest getting a recommendation for a digital marketing company to help you get started (although avoid those that cold call you offering top place on Google).

online booking5. Online Booking:
I’ve had online availability since I opened my B&B, I was one of the first in my area to get online booking. I do think online booking is an essential for any tourism business these days. About 85% of my bookings come through online via freetobook. Taking the deposit, blocking the calendar and sending confirmation are all handled seamlessly without me having to do a thing (the hours I used to spend on holiday looking for an internet café so I could sign into my email and respond to guest bookings with my old booking system!)

These days marketing is as an essential part of running a B&B as cleaning the rooms or cooking the breakfast. If it’s something you enjoy then great, if not then find someone who can help you. There’s lot of support out there locally via local tourism associations and groups.

Hopton House B&B, Hopton Heath, Craven Arms, Shropshire, SY7 0QD

Check availability and book online at www.shropshirebreakfast.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hoptonhousebnb
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hoptonhouse
Check out our Pins at http://pinterest.com/hoptonhousebnb/
Read our Breakfast Recipes at http://shropshirebreakfast.blogspot.co.uk/

6 Secrets to OTA success

Secrets to OTA successLearn the 6 secrets to OTA success

Knowing the secrets of success with the Online Travel Agents OTAs can boost your direct bookings. Their web coverage is so massive that any single property will find it hard to get noticed without them. In reality the chances are that any potential customer visiting your website has already checked out your listing on the OTAs, so take a moment to learn how to leverage that coverage to your advantage.

channel manager and internet booking engine
get connected to the world

The big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are experts at online promotion and sales, they act a bit like a supermarket, giving customers significant choice, relevant information to help compare and an opportunity to buy simply and quickly. They have mastered the art of great online marketing, continually optimising their websites and spending billions on advertising to generate millions of bookers. Ranking high on search engines and also listing on the most popular websites like TripAdvisor make it almost certain that anyone searching for accommodation online will come across them.

The great news is that although customers visit OTAs during their search for accommodation most still choose to book direct. Take your OTA presence seriously by investing time and care to ensure it works for you. Do not be fooled into just a switching it on and letting it run, you have to drive it in the right direction.

1. Look Special: Ensure you are “attractive” on the OTA websites by having great images and plenty of them. These images must “connect” with customers on an emotional level….can they see themselves in those images? Highlight your strengths, you will be compared. By standing out you increase your chances of getting booked.

2. Know Your Targets: Understand what types of customer are finding you on the OTAs – why not ask them when you see them? Then grab the attention of those customers with the right content, your business customers may want to see free wi-fi, car parking, proximity to their destination etc. Enhance your own website to attract these customers.

3. Make Improvements: Refresh and fine tune your presence on each OTA, learning and improving all the time – nothing is static on the internet! Simplify the process of managing OTAs by using a channel manager, then spend the time you save by getting more from the connection…. put an end to tedious rate and availability updating, rather spend the time saved to add real value.

Book Direct for the best price
Book Direct for the best price

4. Drive Direct Bookings: You must have a great website, invest in fantastic images and rich content – go the extra mile.  Place your online booking process at the heart of your website, it’s got to be so easy to find and book.  Customers want it to be simple don’t confuse them or appear to offer less. Extract the maximum value from all customers, capture repeat business or referrals direct.

5. Returning Customers: Once a customer comes to you via an OTA make sure you get to know them, offer them a loyalty discount so they come back via a direct booking next time. Add the customer to your mailing list or social media channels and engage them directly.

Together for accommodation owners6. Create your own Mini OTA: When you can’t beat them make your own. Why not join up with other properties in your area to work together. You could create a website for customers to book accommodation in your location and compete with the chains and save commission using your mini OTA.

Smaller independent properties have limitations on their time and marketing budgets so it’s critical you make the most of them. The biggest advantage owner run and managed businesses have is the direct contact with their guests, it’s not something the chain hotels and OTAs can replicate.

Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine and channel manager with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor TripConnect, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others. Using freetobook can greatly improve your worldwide distribution and add bookings to your bottom line : find out more about freetobook on our home page.

To find out more about what the freetobook channel manager can do for you, click the link below.freetobook channel manager

 

Yorkshire Special Offer

Free connection to all Yorkshire websites

Yorkshire connection with freetobook channel manager
Connect to Yorkshire with freetobook

There’s no charge from freetobook for connecting to all Yorkshire Tourism sites when you connect before the 31st Oct 2014 (normally £49+ VAT) *.

Freetobook’s channel manager now updates yorkshire.com, VisitLeeds, VisitRyedale, VisitHull and DiscoverYorkshireCoast all from your freetobook diary.

You can also use freetobook to link up with the worlds largest Online Travel Agents including, booking.com, LateRooms, Agoda, HostelWorld, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

1) Save time and energy updating different diaries – your freetobook diary updates them all with rates, availability and bookings. No more double bookings and no more double entry.

2) The channel manager connects you to guests from all over the world – using freetobook’s global connections you reach customers that would not otherwise be able to find you.

3) Our online booking engine also links to your website at no charge, where all bookings are zero commission.

Find out more about the freetobook Guestlink channel manager connectionfreetobook guestlink connection

freetobook channel manager

 

 

Watch the video on YouTube see how the freetobook channel manager works.

 

* freetobook will not charge their set-up and connection fee if connected in time. There may be costs from Welcome to Yorkshire to list on their websites and update via guestlink – your listing on Yorkshire websites is subject to their terms and conditions so you need to check all Welcome to Yorkshire terms and conditions.

Visit Jersey Special Offer

Connect to Visit Jersey accommodation websites

There’s no charge from freetobook for connecting to Visit Jersey tourism accommodation websites when you freetobook connect visit jerseyconnect before the 31st Oct 2014 (normally £49+ VAT) *.

Freetobook’s channel manager now updates Visit Jersey all from your freetobook diary.

You can also use freetobook to link up with the worlds largest Online Travel Agents including, booking.com, LateRooms, Agoda, HostelWorld, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

1) Save time and energy updating different diaries – your freetobook diary updates them all with rates, availability and bookings. No more double bookings and no more double entry.

2) The channel manager connects you to guests from all over the world – using freetobook’s global connections you reach customers that would not otherwise be able to find you.

3) Our online booking engine also links to your website at no charge, where all bookings are zero commission.

Find out more about the freetobook Guestlink channel manager connection

freetobook guestlink connection

 

 

 

Find out more about the freetobook channel manager

freetobook channel manager

 

 

Watch the video on YouTube see how the freetobook channel manager works.

 

* freetobook will not charge their set-up and connection fee if connected in time. There may be costs from Visit Jersey to list on their websites and update via guestlink – your listing on Jersey websites is subject to their terms and conditions so you need to check all Visit Jersey terms and conditions.

Visit Wales accommodation offer

Free connection to all Visit Wales websites

There’s no charge from freetobook for connecting to all Visit Wales sites when you connectVisit Wales connected with freetobook before the 31st Oct 2014 (normally £49+ VAT) *.

Freetobook’s channel manager now updates visitwales.com, VisitMidWales, and North Wales Tourism all from your freetobook diary.

You can also use freetobook to link up with the worlds largest Online Travel Agents including, booking.com, LateRooms, Agoda, HostelWorld, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

1) Save time and energy updating different diaries – your freetobook diary updates them all with rates, availability and bookings. No more double bookings and no more double entry.

2) The channel manager connects you to guests from all over the world – using freetobook’s global connections you reach customers that would not otherwise be able to find you.

3) Our online booking engine also links to your website at no charge, where all bookings are zero commission.

Find out more about the freetobook Guestlink channel manager connection freetobook guestlink connection

 

 

 

More information on freetobook channel managerfreetobook channel manager

 

 

Watch the video on YouTube see how the freetobook channel manager works.

* freetobook will not charge their set-up and connection fee if connected in time. There may be costs from Visit Wales to list on their websites and update via guestlink – your listing on Welsh websites is subject to their terms and conditions so you need to check all Visit Wales terms and conditions.

Special Offer for Cumbria

Free connection to all Cumbria websites

link to cumbria tourism websites
link to cumbria tourism websites free before 31Oct14

There’s no charge from freetobook for connecting to all Cumbria Tourism sites when you connect before the 31st Oct 2014 (normally £49+ VAT) *.

Freetobook’s channel manager now updates golakes.co.uk, cumbriatourism.org and discovercarlisle.co.uk from your freetobook diary.

You can also use freetobook to link up with the worlds largest Online Travel Agents including, booking.com, LateRooms, Agoda, HostelWorld, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

1) Save time and energy updating different diaries – your freetobook diary updates them all with rates, availability and bookings. No more double bookings and no more double entry.

2) The channel manager connects you to guests from all over the world – using freetobook’s global connections you reach customers that would not otherwise be able to find you.

3) Our online booking engine also links to your website at no charge, where all bookings are zero commission.

Find out more about the freetobook Guestlink channel manager connection

freetobook channel manager

 

Watch the video…see how the freetobook channel manager works?

* freetobook will not charge their set-up and connection fee if connected in time. There may be costs from the Cumbria Tourism to list on their websites and update via guestlink – your listing on the Cumbria Tourism websites is subject to their terms and conditions so you need to check all Cumbria Tourism’s terms and conditions.

Guestlink channel connection

New channel manager link with Guestlink will be live shortly.

Guestlink channel manager connection
Guestlink channel manager connection

Our UK customers will soon be able to access even more distribution.

Guestlink is based in the UK and they power a number of big destination websites. These include golakes and VisitYork . If your accommodation is in any of these locations you can list on their websites subject to their conditions.

UK Channels Manager for Guestlink
Some of the Guestlink Destination Management Areas

This Guestlink connection adds to the growing collection of connections available with freetobook’s channel manager. Keep an eye on our email updates, blog, facebook and twitter pages where we will let you know the go live date.

 

You can already enjoy connections with the following channels on the freetobook channel manager.

Channel Manager
Channel Manager

We continue to grow the connections as our customers are always looking for new ways to be seen and generate bookings.

Our channel manager is a plus service that freetobook customers can opt into. If you don’t yet have an account it’s easy and free to get one today. Join the thousands of properties enjoying our services….find out more at freetobook

iCal Airbnb Wimdu FlipKey HouseTrip

iCal for Airbnb updates
Airbnb iCal Synchronizer

iCal is a standard format for calendars, it can be used to share date information. Some big companies like Airbnb, Wimdu, FlipKey and others use iCal to receive simple availability data. They use iCal because it is easy and very simple. Because it is a very basic format of data it is also limited.

We have created a way for you to export your availability in iCal format to these big sales systems. So if you already have an account with Airbnb, FlipKey or company that allows iCal import you can register for our iCal service and use freetobook to export your open/closed dates.

synchronise via iCal calendars
Freetobook iCal updater

Because of the simplicity of iCal there are limitations. While you can synchronize open/closed dates you cannot give rates, minimum stays or other data. Another important limitation is the data only goes one way freetobook will give you an availability feed for export but we do not import any data from them. This means Wimdu, FlipKey and other sales bookings need to be added to freetobook to keep your diary up to date.

Freetobook has also created a separate iCal feed for all your bookings. This is a private feed which you can use in your iPhone or other mobile device to keep up with your bookings on the go. Because iCal is a standard format for calendar data there are many ways to view your bookings on different calendars.

Freetobook offers both of these iCal services for our customers you can find them in the TAB”Plus” if you already have a freetobook account. If not why not get one today and start enjoying some of the many fantastic booking solutions provided by freetobook.

Click to find out more about our iCal synchronization

Click to find out more about freetobook channel manager

Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others : find out more about freetobook on our home page.

 

 

 

HostelWorld Channel Manager connected

Channel manager for HostelWorld
Connect to HostelWorld.com

Freetobook channel manager keeps on growing with the new connection to HostelWorld you now get even more distribution. This is great news for Hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, Guest Houses and hotels using freetobook.

(HostelWorld includes Hostels.com and also BedandBreakfastWorld.com)

Hostels will be listed on HostelWorld.com and Hostels.com websites

Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels and Guest Houses will be listed on BedandBreakfastWorld.com and also HostelWorld.com

HostelWorld has a comprehensive selection of hostels with over 35,000 places to stay in 180 countries. Take advantage of an extensive affilate network with 3,500 global affilate partners including Lonely Planet and Travellers point.

channel manager for hostels.com
connect to hostels.com

Commission payments to HostelWorld and BedandBreakfastWorld tend to be lower than many of the other worldwide OTAs so you may end up getting more bookings for a lower commission.

Freetobook will continue to add functionality to our channel manager so you get more distribution for less…

bed and breakfast world channel manager
connect to BedandBreakfastWorld.com

If you are already a freetobook customer you can click the PLUS Tab and select channel manager to get these new channels. If you don’t yet have a freetobook account find out more about freetobook here. To find out more about the freetobook channel manager click here.