Here at freetobook we are continually looking to make it easier for small independent accommodation owners to thrive. One message we hear again and again is that the large OTAs are taking more and more commission.
Well, here’s the good news, it’s never been easier to fight back with zero commission direct bookings from your group’s website. A group website can be created for a few nearby properties who want to work together or for bigger groups like a local association or marketing group.
Get together and co-operate to reduce commission.
1) Zero commission for all your group’s bookings.
2) Easy to refer phone bookings when you are full, revenue stays local.
3) Professional online booking and mobile site improves the image of your group.
4) Simple to administer, each property handles their own availability, rates and information.
5) It’s your group – you own the website so you can invest in it and grow it.
If you want to start fighting back against all the high commission bills this is a great place to start.
How much more of the “booking cake” can the OTAs (Online Travel Agents) take and how much bigger is the online booking sphere getting? They’re both interesting questions we continue to ask ourselves with a view to helping independent properties generate more direct bookings and reduce commission bills.
There is now evidence that the growth in new online customers is starting to flatten and mature. The OTAs are giant corporations that require continual growth to fire their share price. With fewer new online customers to sell to, the OTAs are looking for ways to keep their growth on target and some have been launching products to control your direct bookings. This strategy of getting income from your direct bookings doesn’t require them to find any new customers yet helps them expand their income. When they manage your direct bookings you are effectively providing them with an opportunity to acquire new customers, your direct customers.
We have also seen some OTAs removing the customer’s direct email address when the booking has originated on their site. In the past they shared these details freely with the property owners but now you need to make the effort to obtain the customer’s contact details. This will lead to less communication between you and the customer, reducing your ability to make direct marketing offers and run loyalty promotions. The knock-on effect is to shift more bookings into commissionable income and reduce direct bookings. Make sure you get contact details of all your guests.
How do the OTAs control so much of the online business? Well, they spend billions on online marketing to get customers to book on their website. Along with the expensive adverts they quite often advertise on the search engines under cheaper terms like your property name. When they advertise under your name customers looking for your property will see them first at the top of the Google page. You will also probably see them paying for advertising on other high traffic websites e.g. your TripAdvisor page.
So what can you do about it ? Take your direct bookings very seriously, be under no illusions that you are in competition for your own direct bookings. You need to stop thinking that the property down the road is your main competition. In the online world your biggest competitor is most likely to be the OTA that provides you with the most bookings. If a potential customer has a better website experience on an OTA’s website then that’s where they’ll book.
Make sure you have invested in a great website, lots of fantastic images (critical), a great design and good original copy. There is nothing new there but independent businesses are all too often reticent to invest in their marketing, seeing it purely as a cost. Have you ever wondered why the OTAs insist on you uploading so many great images? They know customers are more likely to book with them if they have great images of your property.
A fantastic image led website will generate more direct bookings and save commission. Making sure your website is the best it can be will give you an edge when competing for direct bookings. Some of the big hotel chains even keep their best images for their own website so that they have better visual content for direct customers.
It’s a fact that big OTAs have a global sales coverage that independent accommodation owners can’t match. Learn from the way the big hotel chains do it, they use the OTAs for customer acquisition in areas they cannot reach. Use the OTAs to get the bookings in and convert the customers to future loyal direct bookers. Not all OTAs are the same, some customers have loyalty to a specific OTA that they use most of the time. If you rely on just one OTA for too large a percentage of your bookings then you should probably diversify the source of your OTA business. Work with the biggest OTAs but not just one of them. This gives you more online exposure, access to more customers, reduces your reliance on a specific channel and gives you a better mix of customers. It’s also a lot easier to bargain with the OTAs if you have more than one.
Co-operation between nearby properties will help grow direct bookings for all. When it comes to getting more direct bookings your main competitor is your OTA. If properties switched from competing with each other to cooperating there would be a mutual benefit for all. Taking it to another level some accommodation owners have enjoyed significant success by cooperating and creating bookable websites featuring their members, examples include Fort William and St Ives in the UK (see freetobook together).
The benefits of more direct bookings are clear, the simplest calculation is the commission. By cutting out the middleman you save precious commission but importantly you also own the customer relationship. You have the customer’s contact details, and from the booking onwards it’s your brand that they will communicate with, not the OTAs. The direct booking message is simple so make it clear on your website, social media, emails, brochures and do let guests know that booking direct is better for them and better for you.
The service you offer from the point of confirmation to their stay with you and beyond is all yours. With direct bookings you have no communications middleman, so take advantage of the opportunity to differentiate yourself and be “special”. Always have the best rate on your website. If you ever feel the need to make a special offer make sure it’s on your website so customers booking direct never pay more.
It can be complex in the online world, as an independent family business we try to keep things simple and in perspective for smaller businesses, there’s lots of bookings out there you just have to keep chasing them.
Just back from a quick trip down to Gatwick to see the Gatwick Guest House Association (GGHA). I was invited to give a short presentation on the Together service after a few of their proactive members thought the service may help their website generate more bookings.
Like many other associations they need to upgrade their website and in assessing the options it became obvious that a booking engine on the website would be a great benefit…and that’s where Together comes in. Freetobook are always happy to visit groups and explain face-to-face who we are, where we came from and what we do.
I was really impressed with the positive and proactive attitude of everyone at the meeting, I was made to me feel very welcome.
A big thank you to everyone and especially to Carmel at the Cumberland House for her warm hospitality…..the perfect host.
Is your local association or marketing group doing enough for you?
Online booking is just getting easier and more accessible to everyone. It’s great to see associations and marketing groups looking to improve their websites and the profitability of their membership.
Local association and marketing group websites tend to generate a lot traffic because they are the best source of local information (search engines like this), but do they really capitalise on all those visitors. If the huge growth of budget hotels and online travel agents is anything to go by you would have to say these local websites are failing to deliver what their members need most…direct commission free bookings.
Why are they losing out on these bookings, because they are not offering their visitors what they want…the ability to search availability then compare properties, locations and prices, and make bookings. We all know customers want choice, value and convenience when shopping for accommodation online hence the global popularity of the OTAs.
That’s the problem, here’s the solution – get your area website set-up to take bookings for your members. To set this up quickly and cheaply you need a booking system that is accessible to all, quick to set up and easy to manage. Our solution at freetobook has been
simple and inclusive, the internet booking engine is free to use, quick to set-up (couple of hours) and easy to manage. Members can still run their existing booking systems if they want .. we do not mandate that they have to use freetobook exclusively and there’s no tie-ins. So the cost of entry is just a few hours time for members … a fair price for commission free bookings?
Proven benefits of working better “Together” include:
1) being able to categorically show members that they are “in profit” from their membership
2) reduce commissions paid and raise the long-term positive profile of the group/area
3) expand the membership of the group and directly increase their profitability
4) keeping bookings within the group means more bookings for all and easier referrals
Website visitors want to book online on your website and your association or group website, can you and your association afford to sit on your hands and do nothing ?
Find out more about the 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.
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.
Keeping bookings in the community and working together with nearby accommodation businesses has never been easier or more profitable. A small group of Fort William Bed and Breakfast owners got together and use the freetobook software, here is their story.
In their own words…..
“Together has contributed dramatically to the expansion of the group and to the individual profitability of our members. Without exception, all of our members have gained a substantial value of commission free bookings directly and measurably.”
This is powerful stuff.
Together: provides a live booking website showing rates and availability for all of the group with direct commission free booking….“an almost perfect match for a number of reasons”.
1) All availability for the group can be accessed through a single search. “helping guests save time …. and increasing booking retention within the group”
2) By adding the group search facility to their website they “transformed their group site with almost no cost into a fully functional mini OTA (online travel agent)”
3) All members update availability using their freetobook account so maintenance and upkeep is easy.
4) The Together fees are fixed keeping each member’s annual cost to a minimum…. “we know in advance the cost of maintaining our market advantage…as the group grows individual costs go down !”
The group has gone from 8 local B&Bs to 26 members. With other guest houses in the area wanting to join as they became aware of the benefits in a cooperative approach. “As group members reduce their reliance on the OTAs … we will continue to reap the rewards of the best decision the group has made to date !”
The Torbay group consists of over 20 hotels, B&Bs and guest houses, ranging in size from 6 – 14 rooms. Their new “Together” site, which went live last week, is called www.torbaybooking.co.uk
Now these small, individual properties will no longer have to go it alone in an increasingly competitive world where big budget chains dominate more and more. Thanks to “Together”, they’ll be able to benefit from strength in numbers and take advantage of all these innovations:
(1) Increasing conversions by giving customers a fully functional booking engine
(2) Bookings are kept and shared within the group
(3) If members are full, they can see who else is available
(4) They can track bookings through their “Together” booking engine
(5) They can also track the success of any marketing campaigns
Wasn’t there a hit song out a few years ago called “Better Together”? Don’t know, off the top of my head, who sang it, but here at freetobook, we’re all about “togetherness” too, and it’s one of the main things that’s helping our customers go from strength to strength.
When we talk about “togetherness”, though, we’re talking about a lot more than just a warm, fuzzy glow of cooperation. An affordable product unique to freetobook users, TOGETHER is specifically designed to enable smaller businesses to market themselves more effectively as a group, as you can see HERE.
The latest group of forward-thinking accommodation owners benefiting from our TOGETHER product is the Fort William Accommodation Marketing Group (FWAMG), who’re using it improve their current website and booking process.
“Using freetobook’s TOGETHER was a no brainer as far as the members of FWAMG were concerned. We had already benefitted from freetobook individually. This new product gave us an affordable opportunity to collectively generate additional commission-free bookings whilst maintaining the local identity that is so important to us and our visitors”
– Andy Keen, Chairman, FWAMG
So what do the Fort William folk get from TOGETHER? Here are the benefits:
1. They can offer their customers a fully functional online booking engine that increases conversions on their group website
2. Members using freetobook don’t need to update any other system
3. Each member can track the bookings through their “Together” booking engine
4. Bookings are kept and shared within the group
5. It’s a real marketing asset for the group, tracking the success of any marketing campaigns
6. If members are full, they can use the booking engine to see who else is available
7. It’s a great resource and benefit to offer and attract new members to the group
8. No technical knowledge is required…we do the clever stuff!
And, best of all…
9. There’s no commission on any bookings!
Well done to FWAMG for getting it up and running in under a month! You only have to look at their great site HERE to know that the future really is “Better Together.”
With “together” a new solution by freetobook, properties can can easily co-operate to maximise their bookings. It’s great for associations, tourism groups, destination marketing and anyone else that just wants to get together. You can even use it for an independent chain of properties.
All you need is a group of properties that want to work together and we will build a website for your group. We will provide the customised graphics to brand it, we will host it for you and best of all we will provide a professional booking system to generate bookings for your group.
We all know it’s easier to stand out and get noticed as group. Getting a bookable website for your group makes perfect sense in terms of marketing and as a long term asset that you can invest in and grow over time. That’s why it pays to get together.
Collaboration pays with more bookings. From time to time properties get fully booked, so it makes sense to keep the booking within your group. When one is full the chances are that some of the others have accommodation available. This makes the customer’s life easy and means you don’t lose any bookings – more bookings for the group means more bookings for each member. Nothing wasted, nothing lost – that’s why it pays to get together.