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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
As accommodation businesses start to enter the next phase of managing COVID-19, guests are looking for reassurance that the accommodation they are booking is as SAFE as possible, and the people operating it will be taking measures to protect them. It is important that properties start to put measures in place now to deal with the new way their businesses will be operating. Then, most importantly, communicating that to their guests… do not assume that they know what you are doing… you need to tell them.
Here are the three things we think are worth considering now.
Many properties have already done this so there’s lots of great examples out
1. CONDUCTING A COVID RISK ASSESMENT OF YOUR PROPERTY
Take advantage of the time you have now to conduct a thorough risk assessment of your business. A risk assessment will allow you to identify the COVID-19 related risks to you, your staff, and your customers. Once you have identified those risks, you can then set protocols to mitigate that risk.
We have seen guidance issued in various countries (some more prescriptive than others) and it looks like similar measures are being recommended across the board. Here in the UK some local government authorities are starting to issue their guidance e.g. Cornwall. Visit your government website or contact your local government authority to see what guidance they are issuing
Guidance that has been issued tends not to be a prescriptive
list as it would be impossible to cover all accommodation types, so common
sense and knowledge of your own situation would seem to be the best route right
Only by conducting a thorough risk assessment of your property will you then be able to clearly communicate this to your staff and your guests. Examples of things to consider are;
What risk do you and your staff pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
What risk do your customers pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
What measures will you take if an infected person has been on your premises?
What additional cleaning measures will be taken in rooms and communal areas over and above the norm?
What cleaning materials will you need to source? (Do you need to update your assessments e.g. COSHH for the UK?)
Where you will position hand sanitisers and the like?
How you will manage check ins and breakfasts?
What you will require customers to do when on site and how will you communicate this?
How will you protect yourselves?
What can you remove from the property that would be an unnecessary source of contamination? i.e. books and board games.
Identify frequently touched areas.
This is not an exhaustive list and you can find guidance all
over the internet that may be more relevant to your specific situation.
The most important thing is that you DO conduct a thorough risk assessment and are prepared before reopening.
N.B There has been talk of various COVID-19 Safety accreditation or certificate schemes – regardless of who may be issuing these, it is clear that a written assessment will form the basis of obtaining these.
All properties should be looking at their website and finding effective ways to communicate to their guests, now, how they will be operating after they reopen. This could be with a pop-up box on entering the site, a page dedicated to COVID-19 related issues and FAQs or a video. Examples of things that you should consider highlighting are;
Cleaning Protocols that you have brought in to ensure the property is safe.
Use of hand sanitiser/masks (Personal Protective Equipment etc.).
Social distancing measures they can expect from you and you will require from them.
Changes to breakfast or eating arrangements where those apply.
Changes to the use of communal areas/equipment.
Contactless/virtual payments where those apply.
Check in times and how these will be handled.
All businesses are different so your list will be specific
to your property, but the main point here is that the customer is informed and
reassured before they even make their booking. People are booking now for the future, so
those businesses who have made this information available on their website are
more likely to get a booking. This could also be the difference between them
booking your property or someone else’s which appears safer.
There are some super videos that properties are posting on
their websites and social media and if you can, we would recommend this
Bookings could have come from anywhere at any time, so it is important that you communicate to all guests how you will be working before they arrive. This is best done with a pre-arrival email outlining what the guest can expect when arriving at your property… and what you will require from them. It may be that you need them to check in at a specific time to avoid everyone arriving at once or that you will not be able to personally greet them at the door. Whatever it is good communication is key.
If you are using Messaging in freetobook you set this up via the automated ‘before arrival’ message to be sent ‘X’ days before arrival, containing all this information… you can also include a request for their arrival time.
If you are not using Messaging, you can use the Email tab in the booking to send an email to the guest (you can build a template for this in the main Email tab).
Consider also adding information about local restrictions
where they apply.
thing to remember here is BE PREPARED. Whilst
dates may change and lockdowns may be lifted in different places/countries at
different times, these are measures you will need to have in place at some
point. So, use the time you have now, to
get everything organised so you are good to go as soon as your bookings are.
All of the above is non-expert opinion we hope you find it helpful BUT you are wholly responsible for your own safety and that of your guests. We are NOT experts, if you follow any actions above you do so entirely at your own risk. Stay safe.
As technology develops so do your guests’ expectations.
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.
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 integratedwith 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.
So much is beyond the control of accommodation owners in this difficult time. Yet we hear so many inspiring stories of owners using their extra time to help their community while others offer accommodation to key workers or get on with renovations and tidy ups, ready for a return to business.
We are positive, inspired and continually asking – What can we do to make a difference?
“… the very best customer service…fees are very reasonable. … this family-run company has good morals and ethics.” (Lochinver GH)
You will be pleased to know that freetobook has ALL our customer service staff working from home helping your businesses where and when you need it.
Just as importantly, ALL of our developers are working from home creating the next generation of technology to make freetobook even better value with even more smart functionality.
“…we only pay for what we use nothing more, what could be fairer? Thank you freetobook for first class caring support.” (Drinkstone Park B&B)
Our unique pay-as-you-go cost structure means that many customers are paying nothing whilst business is low. We have no monthly charges and all costs are optional, so not only are we keeping going at full pace we are also literally sharing the financial pain in these difficult times.
Offering real, honest value for money service and technology is at the core of any family business. We will never waver from supporting you to grow your accommodation business at the lowest possible cost.
“Changing over was breeze… up & running in a couple of days. … I appreciate not having to pay extortionate monthly fees.” (Foxhills)
“…very satisfied with their amazing service, and much lower costs. …their support, both online and over the phone, is incredible.” (Tyndale Boutique B&B)
New additions coming soon:
Updated hotel style diary with extra functionality, ability to create unit specific smart messages, split billing so guests can share parts of the same bill, new attachment types for smart messages, cobooking for a new way to find and book direct.
“…so easy to set-up, simple to work round and extremely user friendly. … we believe we’ve found the best and couldn’t rate freetobook more highly.” (Birklands GH)
You might not know this but freetobook’s core functionality is exactly the same price as it was in 2012. Yes, we haven’t increased any of our prices ever.
How have we managed to do this? Well, our loyal customer base has grown to over 11,000 businesses world-wide!
Our paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go ensuring you only use what you need, no pressure from us. There are no tie-ins or set monthly costs regardless of your booking volume. You only pay for what you want, all the way from the free service to an all-in one singing and dancing system that does everything but make your morning coffee.
With many accommodation owners facing difficulties as a result of Covid19 you can rest in the knowledge that we are the best value system on the planet.
Not only that, it just keeps getting better. Over the same period we have continually developed new functionality. It is in our blood to keep improving so almost every week we’re releasing new and better versions of our service, bringing more benefits to our loyal customers.
How do we do it? A key part is the massive savings we’ve made because we’re lucky enough to have customers who are really passionate about us, they’re our sales force. Hence, we don’t need a pushy sales team but instead can rely on recommendations from existing customers. If you’re not with freetobook…. ask someone you know who is!
A price freeze since 2012 with optional low cost services (pay-as-you-go) that are reliable and secure all make for an extremely compelling case to switch to freetobook. Couple this with our family company’s caring service and our 7 pledges of online booking and you’ll know we’re here to help you through these difficult times.
If you’re not with freetobook just register today – get up and running in a couple of hours.
Diversity is security. Relying on just one source of bookings is a risk to any business.
Your first priority is maximising direct bookings and it’s what we do best at freetobook. You simply can’t ever have too many direct bookings!
Next in importance, if you need more bookings than just your direct ones, is your channel bookings and your meta bookings**. Freetobook does the whole range of channels: Bookingcom, Expedia, Airbnb, Hotelscom, Agoda, HostelWorld, HRS, Pitchup and a few others in the wings.
For Meta you can use Google Ads (UK only, world-wide by summer) and TripAdvisor (worldwide).
The 3 biggest channels are Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb. If you only work with one then you’re in danger of that source being too dominant, one channel is not a healthy spread. Some customers prefer to only book with certain sites (like Airbnb) so you may just not be reaching them if you’re not on that channel. Also a specific channel may do something you disagree with (it’s not unheard of!), so having alternatives will help in these situations by providing resilience.
Freetobook is regarded as one of the most reliable and high service channel managers in the world. There’s a lot of high tech in action, making sure it works all of the time. On the service side, unlike most, we do all your rate plan mapping and pro-actively manage connections once in place. This hands-on human support and advice makes the all difference. We also provide you with tools to ensure your direct rates and direct availability are the best they can be.
A good healthy business mix includes a majority of direct bookings alongside a diversified strategy with Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb.
OTAs are not for everyone, some properties can manage to fill up without them and we support those efforts. If you want more exposure but at a lower cost than the OTAs we suggest Google Ads at 7% advertising. In our experience TripAdvisor advertising works best if you are not with any OTAs, if you are with OTAs then TripAdvisor is too high a cost.
If Google Ads and direct are not enough to fill up your property we would suggest a diversified selection of OTAs. These channels can be managed in a way that prioritises your direct bookings, you would expect nothing less of a family company like freetobook.
**Meta is a source of direct bookings from rate comparison systems. Examples are Google and TripAdvisor – They are NOT Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and you pay for advertising rather than commission. Your direct rates are shown alongside the OTAs (only if you are with the OTAs). Meta is most powerful when you are not with any OTAs – your direct rates then become the only rate Google shows !!
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:
build booking technology that maximises direct bookings above all other bookings
continually develop, upgrade and improve for your business
listen, care about, support and advise you whilst building things to the highest standards both morally and technically
be the best booking system possible, to study and learn from other booking systems
protect you from powerful corporations that seek to manipulate and plunder your revenue
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
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”
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:
Send guests automated messages as soon as they book or a set number of days before arrival or after stay.
You can add gorgeous images to show off and boost your brand
Increases your read and reply rate because its so easy to use.
Quickly spot any failed messages and fix them instantly.
Works with all bookings including OTA fake email addresses.
Conversation thread keeps your chat together.
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.
We asked you to prioritise these 7 Pledges, to re-order them according to your needs and your ambitions. That was no easy task… as many of you said, but that forced focus is what every good business requires if it is to improve.
So here’s how it unfolded, drum roll please…
Maximise direct bookings above all other bookings (35% of
This is music to our ears, we created freetobook to enable direct bookings on websites. We wanted to build a booking engine so any accommodation anywhere in world could get an account, set up and take direct bookings in under an hour – for free. That was case in January 2011 and it’s still very much the case now, indeed that’s why we called it “Freetobook”. But there is so much more to do and we’re working on it. (some free direct booking images for you)
Continually develop, upgrade and improve functionality
came second (with 26% of the vote)
We are here 21 years down the line simply because we’ve
always believed we can do it better, we must do it better. Our “creative” drive demands that we look for
solutions to difficult problems. We also enjoy that process, it’s terribly
rewarding. This means that we don’t accept and settle in a comfort zone but
continually look around appraising the changes to your environment.
Listen, care about, support and advise your business
This is the “easy” bit for us, as a family business we find
it a very natural function yet we value the importance of it. Our support team
have an amazing record only because they care. We are not here to serve
ourselves so it’s important that we listen and feel confident to advise when
required. Having the commercial freedom
(of a family business) means we don’t compromise in our service and advice we
Keep learning to be the best booking system possible (9%)
We will. Aiming to do your best is always a great place to
start and we are fortunate to work with 1000s of customers who believe the
same. Over the 21 years we’ve seen a lot of changes so we’ve had to keep
learning new things. We have always
looked for and admired great technology.
Protect you, keep things optional for you and not tying
you in (altogether got 13%)
Our independence is a choice, just like yours. We have seen
enough stuff that does not impress us to know that we must always be clear,
open and genuine in what we do and what we offer.
Protecting independence results in more money staying local
and being re-invested locally in businesses. We live in times where technology
is enabling money to move across oceans far far away from where it was
generated and without any chance of businesses or governments being rewarded
for their investments.
So where do we go
The great news is that we are already working on some new
technology to help increase direct booking, this includes better measurement
and analysis of the current situation. Other developments will become clearer
next year and we trust we can count on your support to get them moving. There is much work to do!
Thank you again for voting and for your many appended
comments. As usual there were masses of amazingly supportive ones, as well as
some great suggestions.
Here’s a small selection of what people said against the
“We know you are the best out there, you have been amazing for us. Helpful and progressive.”
“All of the above are highly important. Thank you for giving them focus.”
“… really excellent customer service, feel like I’m contacting someone in my own company!”
“Would love it if freetobook was more mobile friendly or had a full App.”
“Good to see an honest and ethical organisation.”
“Still love freetobook and even more so since I joined stripe.”
“Thanks so much for your amazing service you have revolutionised the way we do business…”
“More reports, like annual and monthly.”
“Get the OTAs out of the booking loop as the charges are criminal.”