Smart messaging says it all

smart messaging for accommodation owners

When you are looking to stand out in your guests mind then get messaging. Smart Messaging will take your communication with guests to the next level, making messages and stays memorable.

Freetobook Smart Messaging is your work horse taking the hassle and bore out of email communications. It replaces the old email system with a simple and intuitive interface that your guests can engage with, whilst making your administrative work quicker and simpler.

First up: you can set automated messages to go out before and after the guests stay. No need to worry about sending critical information.

Add images: spice up your message with gorgeous images that show off and boost your brand.

Communicate: a smart message thread is available to the guest making replies so easy and your interaction so natural.

Emojis: it’s brilliant when guests start sending emojis, it means you have connected in a fun and friendly way.

Spot any fails: you’ll see a failed message immediately so you can fix the email address that notifies your guest of a new message.

All channels: you can Smart Message all of your bookings as long as they have an email address (even to the fake emails from the OTAs).

Freetobook customers can setup Smart Messaging in matter of seconds in the “PLUS” tab. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

The Smart messaging system is getting massive investment from us, there are already over twenty new features waiting to be implemented. These include “guest actions” where the guest can change their arrival time or other interactions with their booking.

We really believe the freetobook messenger will help you communicate better and save time… so we will continue to make it even better.

Not sure about freetobook ? Read our 7 pledges to see what makes us so different.

Airbnb fully connected

Professional accommodation businesses welcome on Airbnb!

Airbnb API connection

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

Hotels, Guest Houses, Hostels, Glampsites and professional B&Bs are welcome onto the Airbnb platform along with Cottages and other self catering accommodation. Its safe to say that Airbnb has changed to open up their listings and provide more choice for their customers.

You will attract a different type of guest on Airbnb typically they will 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.

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

Many of you are already aware that freetobook and Airbnb are now connected for updating rates, bookings and availability so you don’t need to worry about double bookings or double entry.

Like all of the services we offer the Airbnb connection is optional, you can find out more about how to connect from your Tab “Plus”, select the “Airbnb” section.

If you are not yet with freetobook then find out what makes us different – see our 7 pledges, born from our 21 years in the accommodation booking business.

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.

www.ulkamedia.co.uk/website-design-ayrshire

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.

World Social Media Day

Social Media is a brilliant way for B&Bs and independent hotels to connect with their customers, build relationships and promote themselves. In celebration of World Social Media Day, here are freetobook’s top ten social media tips for B&Bs:

Make visuals a social media priority

Give future guests a virtual experience of what it will be like staying at your B&B – share pictures of your rooms, the delicious breakfasts you offer, the awesome view from your property, that speciality cake you make for new arrivals…get creative!

Destinations change based on the time of year, remember to show off how awesome you are year round with pictures reflecting seasonal changes.

Play with your Facebook cover photos

 It’s the first thing that prospective guests see when they visit your page and influences their perception of your brand. Make sure your cover photo is as awesome as your business, and remember that you can change it frequently if you want to.

Engage Your Followers

Platforms like Facebook are a great way to engage with existing and new customers. Take the time to respond to questions, and also sometimes ask your own – “we’re preparing our new afternoon tea menu, what should it be, lemon drizzle or Victoria sponge?”

Get Guests Involved

Create a hashtag for your B&B to get your guests talking online. Guests can use it when they post about their holiday on Twitter and Instagram and is great bit of free PR for your business. It’s also a rich source of material that you can re-post on your own social media channels (with the guest’s permission!).

Speaking of hashtags…

When you post on Twitter and Instagram remember to include a few relevant hashtags. An important one to include is your location – holiday makers will often search for their planned location via hashtag on social media, for inspiration and ideas. Using it on your posts can draw them to your page and showcase how great your property would be for their holiday.

Promote your special offers and packages, but…

Have you just launched a brand new package? Got a new promo offer? Advertise it on social media! Get your great deals out there and encourage people to book direct.

Remember the Seven and One Rule

Too many promotional or ‘salesy’ posts are a turn off for your followers. Make sure you get the balance right by posting around seven posts that are interesting, beneficial and relevant to your customers for every one post where you advertise your B&B.

However, you can (and should) still do some ‘soft promotion’ on your posts by including a link to your website at the end of your posts.

Post Interesting Content

Consider topics and ideas that would be interesting and useful for your guests and incorporate them into your social media plan. Interesting or fun event coming up in town? Post about it! Is there a great country walk nearby? Post about it! Is there a brilliant local restaurant that your guests should try on their trip? Post about it!

Repeat Posts

So you’ve made an awesome post about family activities in your area…but it’s been a few months and now it’s hidden far down your page where your followers won’t see it. Time to repost!

Social media has a very short shelf life – if your followers don’t see your post the day you make it, chances are they won’t see it at all. Repost interesting content (as long as it’s still relevant) every few weeks or months.

Direct Bookings through Facebook

Turn your facebook page into a great booking tool with our free facebook app. Incredibly simple to set up and use, this is a brilliant way to convert all the hard work you’ve done creating an awesome facebook page for your business into more direct bookings.

Airbnb and freetobook

Airbnb connecting to hotelsIn an open letter this week to boutique hotel and B&B owners, Airbnb have just announced that going forward they want to ensure that small business owners have access to their community of travelers. Airbnb has always been a favourite of thousands of freetobook customers; over the years a large number have registered with Airbnb and use it as a great source of bookings. It’s good news that small hotels, bed and breakfasts and unique properties are now officially recognised and welcome to the Airbnb site.

Freetobook has always been a supporter of unique, independent, interesting and diverse accommodation; these are values we share with Airbnb, so its no surprise to us that so many of our customers enjoy bookings from them. Together we celebrate and support diversity, uniqueness and personal hospitality; after all, despite our size we too are a family business passionate about our customers and what you do.

There is another reason we support Airbnb for our customers. Over the past years the big OTAs have gotAirbnb API connection bigger, they continue to grow, and their commissions are cripplingly high to so many small businesses. Compared to the OTAs Airbnb has a far lower commission to accommodation owners, which gives you a welcome choice.

At freetobook we support diversity of bookings, encouraging our customers not to have all their eggs in one basket and to be over reliant on one big OTA. Airbnb is a competitor of the large OTAs and therefore an additional independent source of bookings that can help make the booking environment healthier with more players.

Thousands of freetobook customers already list on Aribnb and update their availability using our iCal feature. We are in discussions to enrich the functionality of our connection with Airbnb and help our customers get even more out of the Airbnb connection. Further news of this will be announced in the future.

Now that they are expanding their customer base to include boutique hotels and B&Bs, Airbnb are looking for new properties to list. If you’re interested in lower commission and diversifying your booking sources, check out Airbnbs list of standards to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your property. Airbnb are selective about the properties they include so you should read their creteria before registering (see 1 below)

If you are interested in becoming an Airbnb customer (or already are one) you can link your availability from your freetobook diary (you can only do this after you have an Airbnb listing).

Just to recap:

  1. First you need an Airbnb account, check Airbnb criteria here
  2. If you fit their requirments then request an account as a professional listing “hotel”.
  3. After requesting an account Airbnb will check if you meet their criteria and approve or reject your request.
  4. Once you have an Airbnb account you can update your availability using freetobook iCal

Card payments : fast, secure, and easy with Stripe

Stripe: online payments made easier, faster and more secure. Freetobook’s integration with Stripe makes payments possible at the click of a button, keeping things simple for you – and your customer. 

 

Thousands of freetobook customers use Stripe as their credit card payment system – this is one bandwagon you want to hop on!

 

Top 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments:

1. Quick and easy to setup

Just head over to the PAY tab in your freetobook account to get started!

2. Low Cost

In Europe, Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards (2.9% for International cards) and a mere 20p transaction fee!

3. No monthly charges 

Stripe charge per transaction, a simple pay-as-you-go system so you’re not out of pocket!

4. Secure 

PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete

5. 92% approval rating

Thousands of freetobook customers using Stripe love it! We introduced Stripe in 2015 and have since had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the service. In fact, we are so sure it will be good for your business that we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the freetobook integration charge.

 

 

Still not convinced that Stripe will work for your business? Take a look at what your fellow freetobookers are saying…. A staggering 92% of freetobook Stripe users are very happy with the service! Check out some of their feedback below:

“Absolutely love it (Stripe). It has changed my life. It is so easy, great when people cancel, works fantastic… Much less admin for me. It’s a win, win all the way”

Holly Tree Cottage

“Love it – all automatic, and you know if cards securing reservations are valid cards, you can also charge guest stays using the system. Well done freetobook! It so easy to set up and maintain even older users like me have mastered it simply like all freetobook products we use…”

– Avlon House B&B

“It has reduced our costs and offers peace of mind.”

– The Cardinal’s Hat

 

We’re positive that you’ll love using Stripe for your accommodation payments! But just in case, we offer a full refund within 30 days of paying your subscription. Freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 for providing you with this great payment functionality, which can be accessed quickly and easily through your freetobook account.

So what are you waiting for?! Join thousands of freetobook users and improve the speed and ease of your payments today by adding freetobook Stripe integration! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.

Hotel Bonanza 8 percent

Hotel BonanzaHotel Bonanza is a new Online Travel Agent (OTA) with a strategy of offering a lower commission for accommodation owners and a discount to guests. They have set their commission at 8% so you will find them considerably cheaper than the current dominant OTAs.

Freetobook is a family run company so our loyalty is firmly with our customers, we hear time and time again that properties need to reduce commission charges. We understand this need and will continue to support companies like Hotel Bonanza that offer a lower cost alternative.

If you already have a Hotel Bonanza account fully setup and are a freetobook customer all you need to do is request a connection in the Tab “Plus” where you can add a channel.

For those of you who are not yet freetobook customers you can find out about all the advantages of switching to freetobook

Find out more about Hotel Bonanza and their story visit their website, join up if you like it click here

Before next summer freetobook will have a connection for Google Hotel Ads which will give you access to Google’s direct booking channels at 10% which will also be a welcome reduction for many of you.

Freetobook, the fiercely independent family company you can rely on.

3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.

Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?

Book Now
Book Direct

Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.

Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.

3. Reward direct bookings

Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.

special offer for rooms
special offer

With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.

Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.

Group website at zero commission

Get a Together group for direct bookings

direct commission free bookings
grow your direct bookings

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.

Key Advantages:

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.

Read about the together group that reached £500,000 in commission free bookings

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

Find out more from those already doing it with their “Together” websites.

Video showing how “together” can work for you

Join Together for more zero commission bookings from freetobook on Vimeo.

 

Together group benefit circle

5 Ways to make your website user-friendly

User friendly websites
User friendly websites

We are always trying to help our customers increase their direct bookings. Although there is not one simple answer to achieving that (i.e. social media marketing works for some properties, whilst others might find special offers increase their website bookings), one key thing that applies to all is having an easily-navigated, user-friendly website. So, here are a few helpful tips

1. Use a simple and readable font for your website. We all love the fancy fonts, but you must remember your font should be web-friendly and easy on the eye.

2. Your “Book Now” button e.g. your Search Availability should be visible on every page of your website without having to scroll down (above the fold).

Visitors should see it without having to look for it i.e. place your Search Availability at the top or the right-hand/left-hand side bar of your Home Page. Remember, your booking button must be on ALL pages of your website and ideally in the same place. Doing this makes it easy to find.

Take a look at how the Coila Guest House do it, it’s in the top menu on all pages and again on the content pages. By all means be creative but also give a consistent structure to help customers find your availability and book.

3. Each click you ask a customer to make reduces your bookings. So don’t hide your “Search Availability” button under your Accommodation or Tariffs menu. Many will leave a website in less than a minute after they have landed on the Home Page because they can’t find what they need. Visitors are looking to check your rates and availability, don’t bury it behind another click.

4. Remember, when you make any changes to your website spend a little time checking that  all your links and buttons are working properly. Why not ask a friend to do a booking and tell you how they found it.

5. If you are active on social media then place your social media icons in a visible place. If you are on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram put a link to those pages on your Home Page at the top to avoid having customers scroll down to search for them. The Auchlea B&B  has their social media buttons well placed on their Home Page.

 

As you can see these are simple, easy ideas that everyone can try in order to make their websites more booking-friendly. Let us know how they work for you in the comment section below.