Automation, automation, automation

automate guest messages
make processes contact-less

There are three things we need to recognise about hospitality in these new COVID times; automation, automation and automation.

Automation can make processes contact-less, be used to collect vital information and communicate more easily. All these things help build confidence and trust between you and your guests whilst saving hours on boring repetitive tasks.

Let’s take a look at some examples that are live and some that are on their way.

Messaging your guests

Guest Messaging
Automate Guest Messaging

Our fully integrated guest Messaging system (built last year) makes communicating with your guests easy and fun. With scheduled Automated Messages you don’t even have to think about it, just set it up and every guest gets the right information at the right time… automatically.

Guests love it, after booking they get a friendly “thank you” message with loads of helpful key information (links to key sites) and tips. What a great way to start a conversation and build a relationship… that’s what service is all about. You can even brand our guest Messaging with your logo and colours..

Collect key information

Knowing which guests are arriving, and when, helps you manage social distancing and get prepared for arrival. Messaging has a cool little button making it super easy for guests to provide their arrival times.

Stripe payments

Stripe hotel payments
automate payments

Improve your cashflow by taking upfront payments from guests that book online or offline. When you take a deposit the card is securely stored so that collecting the balance is a simple click of a button. Stripe receives and stores cards from Bookingcom, Expedia etc… and you can even “Pre-auth” cards one week before stay, making sure the money is available. For your guests, Stripe makes payment so easy, using ApplePay and GooglePay payment is literally at their finger tips!

Messaging and Stripe

For the perfect contact-less automation use both Stripe and Messaging together.  Message a guest for payment and they just use their phone to pay – a simple click, no contact, if they have Apple/Google Pay they can pay using their thumb print.

Digital registration

digital hotel registration
digital registration

As part of Messaging we will soon add Digital Registration, enabling your guests to register in advance of arrival (set for release in mid-July).

Messaging was built as a way to automate almost all your digital guest interactions, we’ll continue to roll out more and more for the usual amazingly low prices.

Our new state of the art online diary has all the messaging solutions built-in and that’s just the beginning, it’s due for general release in the coming few weeks.

more for less with freetobook
more for less with freetobook

Here at freetobook we’ve always been about developing new technology, always the first to release new features. Our team of developers are all working flat out to deliver so much more for our growing customer base. As a family business we believe in fairness and due to our many thousands of customers we can deliver amazing services at ridiculously low prices.

Freetobook – great tech solutions – more for less is so much more.

Messaging is £49 per year

Stripe is £89 per year (plus Stripe card handling fees)

All paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go so you never have to pay for anything you don’t use. If you are not already with freetobook why not try it today at no cost …

Getting back open

Operating in the current COVID19 world

Book with confidence Covid19 prepared
this image is free for you to use

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

Covid19 ready image
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


Messaging reduces face-to-face tasks

messaging helps automate

Communication is only the first part of Messaging, there is so much more. Your Messaging is fully integrated with your bookings so you can digitise parts of the guest experience, replacing some of your face-to-face interaction.

We call these “Guest Actions”, they are perfect for automating processes that were manual (saving you time) and/or replacing face-to-face tasks with digital ones.

Message for Payment:

Message a Stripe payment link

Using Stripe with Messaging you can request payments in any message. Ideal for advance payments, deposits and balances before arrival, as well as for in-house payments at check-out or during stay.

For example, guests can make a Stripe payment on their phone (in the message) so there is no need for a face-to-face terminal – this will update in the booking. Even better, if they have ApplePay or GooglePay then payment is a quick thumb print on their phone.

Guests can pay at anytime from within a message if you are using Stripe alongside our Messaging system. Getting payments by message reduces unnecessary contact and can be initiated in an automated message or a manual one.

Arrival Times:

Just like the payment action guests can interact with the booking to change their arrival time. You can add a Confirm Arrival Time button to your messages so that when guests change their arrival time it simply updates in their booking, no manual changes required. With this information you can better manage everyone’s arrival times and prepare for their welcome.

Electronic Registration:

Guests will soon be able to register online from a message

We are currently adding registration to guest actions and aim to have it live by the end of June. Guests will be able to complete their registration details in Messaging so there’ll be no need for paper forms on arrival. This contactless registration puts guest safety first and streamlines check-in, avoiding any queues or delays.

As accommodation owners demand more automation we continue to enhance Guest Actions to automate more of your interaction with guests.

In addition, you can also brand Messaging with your logo, colours and customise messages to fit your style of communication by adding images and attachments. Why not take steps to further impress your guests.

For a limited time we are offering full access to Messaging for a trial of two months. You must register before the end of June 2020 to qualify for the free two month trial, you can opt out at anytime or choose to continue with Messaging at only £49 per year.

You can access further details about this fantastic Messaging solution from within your freetobook account PLUS tab.

Guest’s love Messaging

As a guest we all love that time leading up to our holiday, the anticipation and excitement. The wind down from work and daily bind as we get our heads and hearts into holiday mode. Never have we been more ready for a break.

Preparation and planning, brings a hint of anxiety to the excitement. Are we ready to make the most of our stay ?

welcome guest message
welcome your guests

Messaging can get your guests into that happy zone of prepared and excited. Start by reassuring them that you’re here to help with answers to all their questions.

Scheduled messages send out the right information at the right time – every time, delighting guests with answers to questions they haven’t even had to ask… that’s service at its best.

Automated messages are an ideal way of establishing that first guest contact and letting them know you’re there to help. Add small touches like lovely photos of your property or area, tips on secret nearby local walks or a favourite restaurant. Set it up and let automated messaging do the rest for all your bookings.

schedule guest messages
schedule messages

Create and save templates so you have good detailed answers at the ready for many of the most common questions. Replying with templates takes literally 3 seconds and that always impresses guests.

Your Messaging Hub in freetobook gives you easy access to all replies, neatly ordered with notifications to say you’ve got a reply. Managing messages is simple with access integrated into your bookings.  Each message thread keeps a clear record of the conversation for both you and your guests, so you always know what’s been said and what’s next.  Having full control of all messages in the hub saves you jumping from booking to booking.

automate guest messages
messages go out automatically

We’ve integrated Messaging into freetobook so it’s as much part of the booking fabric as anything else so you can build relationships even before the guests’ arrived.  Using our own technology also enables us to connect Messaging to other key parts of freetobook (e.g. payments, arrival times, channels etc.) all to make your lives easier.

Messaging massively improves the guest experience, saves hours of repetitive work and makes you stand out from the crowd.

Simple, slick and elegant…. guests love it!

Smart Guest Messaging

As technology develops so do your guests’ expectations.

Smart Messaging
Smart Messaging

In the last 5 years messaging apps have flourished and entered our everyday lives. This has again accelerated in the last few months as we’ve have had to find ways to communicate with loved ones that we can’t visit. Family and work WhatsApp and Messenger groups have really come into their own.

These tools all have two things in common – they are conversational, less formal and richer in content. Adding images, links and other attachments means you’re able to share so much with so little effort.  That sharing helps create stronger bonds and brings us all closer.

So how does that fit on a business level?  Well, for starters it means our guests are familiar and comfortable with messaging as a technology.  With such a big part of the service you offer guests driven by communication, why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to finesse that communication?

That’s why we built Smart Messaging.

How you communicate with your guests before, during and after their stay is changing. The ease with which you can schedule key messages for your guests makes Smart Messaging invaluable.  And those automatic messages can be rich in content, so attaching images and links makes them not just interesting but also very useful to guests. We know this because the guest replies say it all.

Smart Messaging
Get Better Replies

What’s also fascinating is that guests respond quickly (because it’s easy) and they become more engaged with the host.  So building that relationship is a natural process. Guests even use emojis in their responses, who doesn’t love seeing a 😊 in a response! 👍

There’s lots and lots more on offer, so click here for more… We have built Smart Messaging from the ground up ourselves so it’s fully integrated with all your bookings and continually being added to. It’s also why we can offer it at such a low price of just £4/month (£49/yr + VAT)…. ridiculous value yet again from a family business that enjoys building things that make your life easier.

7 Pledges of Internet Booking (your perfect booking partner)

In the 21 years since our birth in 1998 we’ve learnt a  thing or two about making, managing and servicing accommodation bookings but the one thing we often get asked is: 

“what makes freetobook  different ?” 

freetobook is committed to:

  1. build booking technology that maximises direct bookings above all other bookings 
  2. continually develop, upgrade and improve for your business 
  3. listen, care about, support and advise you whilst building things to the highest standards both morally and technically  
  4. be the best booking system possible, to study and learn from other booking systems 
  5. protect you from powerful corporations that seek to manipulate and plunder your revenue
  6. never prevent you from leaving (by tie-in contract or any obstruction), instead we’ll learn why you left and improve to get you back 
  7. continue to make all paid services optional, clearly priced and listed publicly on our website, ensuring we advise honestly and openly as to their value and use to your business 

These aren’t some corporate bull,  they are part of our DNA, developed from  those that work with us and for us, those that support us to grow and all  those that used to work with us, they are our history and our future. 

The significant success of freetobook in business provides us with the luxury to always put  your interests first with fierce independence and a long term outlook  typical of family values that no corporate can afford. That’s what makes freetobook different. 


One of the winning valentine poems…

One valentines day a hotelier had the blues,
“Which channel manager should I choose?”
The OTA’s were leading them to booze!
But they were cheered up when they heard the news,

“freetobook” said a friend with cheer!
“they are really good, I have used them for more than a year!”
They are the best by far, never fear.
“they are there to help you, they are sincere”

from Blackpool based Topaz Hotel owner Danny Gee:

Guest messaging upgrade

Guest messaging for hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and cottages
Smart Messaging

Have you ever thought about how easy it would be for a guest to simply click a reply button to get in touch with you ? In the freetobook labs we have 🙂

Today’s guests expect so much and easy communication is now a given, looking for emails to reply to just isn’t good enough anymore. That’s essentially why we have upgraded the freetobook email system.

With the new smart messaging upgrade (which replaces emails) you can:

  1. Send guests automated messages as soon as they book or a set number of days before arrival or after stay.
  2. You can add gorgeous images to show off and boost your brand
  3. Increases your read and reply rate because its so easy to use.
  4. Quickly spot any failed messages and fix them instantly.
  5. Works with all bookings including OTA fake email addresses.
  6. Conversation thread keeps your chat together.
Smart messaging for automatic messaging of guests
Boost your Guest replies

Smart messaging is getting even better. In the next few weeks we will be adding “guest actions” where guests can interact with their booking through their smart message.

You can send them a guest action and they will be able to change it, the first one will be “arrival time” – guests will be able to click to re-confirm their arrival time and it will change automatically in their booking, no need for you to do any more work.

Smart messaging will keep getting better, just let us know what you want it to do for you. There are so many ideas just a taster includes Stripe payments from smart messages, branding for the messaging page so guests connect with your brand setting the scene for their stay.

Read about the 7 pledges that make freetobook so different. A high tech company with family values is a rare and wonderful thing 🙂

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

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.

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.

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.