Reflections – Together, One Year On

As we approach our one year ‘work from home’ anniversary we thought we would take a look back at how freetobook have managed the challenges the last year has brought. 

MARCH 2020 – As we entered March we already had a feel for what might be coming our way from our overseas properties who were experiencing some sort of lockdown.  UK infection rates were not running that high and no announcements about what the government might do had been made so we were still out and about meeting our customers at tourism shows … there was anxiety and concern about what was to come, but no-one could have predicted the year that would unfold.  We started to make plans for our team to work ‘temporarily’ from home, never imagining that we would still be there a year later.  On the 23rd March we had to go into total lockdown. 

From the very start, our customer services team stepped up to the challenge, fielding 1000’s of calls and Help Desk messages as properties struggled to cope with the avalanche of cancellations and rescheduling of bookings.  We made the decision early on that we would not be furloughing any of our team and would continue to offer the customer service our customers expect and deserve.  Those first 6 weeks were traumatic for our properties and our hearts broke as we listened to the many stories and concerns.  Oftentimes our team were the only people properties could actually speak to as they struggled to navigate the tidal wave of cancellations and the OTAs’ ever-changing policies on these.  We cannot praise our team enough for their compassion, calm heads and resilience during this time. 

Our little known Freetobook Users Group on Facebook suddenly became a go-to source of information as properties struggled to plot their way through the ever-changing guidance regarding re-opening, cleaning, lockdown rules, insurance, grants etc. 

Our Developers swung quickly into action to create new reporting to help our users assess cancellation information, generate digital registrations, adapting the messaging system and much more.  Some of the projects we had planned for the year were paused whilst we made the adjustments which would help our users adapt to the changing circumstances.  Again, huge praise to the developer team for the speed with which they handled the fluid requirements the situation demanded.   

APRIL/MAY – It is not often that business owners would have so much time on their hands at this time of year, so we decided to make some constructive use of the downtime and began offering additional training to freetobookers.   In April, Heather started home schooling freetobookers with her weekly training in the Facebook Users Group and in May, Eleanor started a series of live webinars (you can still see Heather’s training in ‘Guides’ in the Facebook group and Eleanor’s webinars in the Home >Webinar’s tab in Freetobook).  It was great to see so much engagement from our property owners and willingness to use the time to make positive changes for the future. 

JUNE – As news of re-opening dates came through, so did a raft of new rules and new ways of working.  In June we sent out one of our most read blogs ever and reading it again now, it is just as relevant for this next reopening in the UK this Spring … Covid19: Reassuring your Customers

JULY OCTOBER – As predicted, when the UK opened back up for bookings they went off like a rocket! Accommodation providers in tourist areas of the UK had a busy time and at our end the workload became a tidal wave as so many properties came back online all at once.  Working late became the ‘new norm’ as we responded to everything and all our customers needed within incredibly tight timelines. 

Sadly though, we were also hearing that a couple of properties were not going to re-open due to owners shielding, retiring or sadly property closure.  We never underestimated the weight of the decision a property had taken when they contacted us to let us know they would not be re-opening.  Our team continued to do what they do best and dealt with them all professionally and with compassion.   

NOVEMBER TO DATE – With infection rates increasing, the introduction of another lockdown was inevitable … although this time we were all better prepared for it.  Our team continued to support properties as they made adaptations to their properties in-house, on freetobook and with their OTAs.  Our Developers have also been working on some exciting features for 2021 and we, as a business, continue to look forward.  Again, a special thanks to our team who have adapted to the challenges of working from home and being separated from their colleagues, whilst maintaining their well-known good spirits … and in many cases home-schooling their children too! 

It’s been a long winter but as we enter spring; with the COVID vaccine roll-out and announcement of re-opening dates in the UK, there is now a sense of hope amongst property owners and huge pent-up demand from customers.  The announcement of opening dates in England saw a huge spike in bookings in February … a pattern we expect to be repeated as more re-opening announcements are made. 

We hope that of the many worries you have had over the last year, your booking engine has not been one of them.  We have tried our very best to ensure that we are always available to help you and we will be here to support you all with whatever comes next.  We do not underestimate the many challenges that lie ahead for the tourism sector, but we can’t help feeling we have all been through the worst and better things are yet to come.   

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.

City Guides – Facebook new app and Book Now

Attention freetobookers: It is time to update your property Facebook pages with the “Book Now” button, as Facebook has launched a new app – City Guides! The app’s aim is to give its users ideas on things to do, places to visit and accommodations to book in different cities of the world.

Make sure you are ready with your “Book Now” button active on your facebook page.

The app is not available to everyone just yet, but after all the buzz it is creating, we are sure that everyone will be enjoying this new Facebook addition soon.

What we know so far is that if you look for a specific city the app will show suggestions based on places your friends have visited in that city and the most popular places among the locals. If someone is looking for an accommodation, for example, they will see suggestions of nearby properties and they may stumble upon your property Home page with the book now button and reviews. City Guides will appear among other apps on the mobile version of Facebook among Events, Pages, Offers, etc. So, don’t waste time and check if your book now button appears on your property page.

If you don’t remember how to add a Book Now button, take a look at our Facebook ADD a Book Now Button video below !

Remember when testing the “Book Now” button you won’t see it in the same way as a cutomer because you are the admin of your facebook page. Get a friend to check it or hover over the button and select “test button”

More about adding the facebook “Book Now” button to your accommodation

facebook Book Now from freetobook on Vimeo.

Great, Gratis and Glorious digital marketing ideas to boost direct sales

Gonzo Marketing
Gonzo Marketing

Our guest blog and interview is with Frederic Gonzalo, founder of Gonzo Marketing. With over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere, he is passionate about marketing and communications.

Frederic recently attended the EyeForTravel event in Miami as a speaker, panelist and participant to the 2015 edition of Online Marketing Strategies in Travel.

Here Frederic generously shares his industry insights and expertise with freetobook. As he pointedly states, having no marketing budget is no excuse for not having a dynamic online presence!

What is the most important trend in online room booking?

It’s about going mobile. More than 51% of travelers now research their next destination, accommodation and transportation from a mobile device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet. And more importantly, an increasing proportion of them are now booking via their mobile device: in fact, it is estimated that 25% of all online travel revenue in the US will come from mobile devices in 2015.

How can a property get more direct bookings?

1- Have a “best online rate” guarantee and feature it, big and bold, on your home page. People will shop around no matter what, but if they can have the confidence that by booking direct they will get the best deal, well… you got it!

2- Have a relationship marketing approach in place. This can be through a rewards program or simply by capturing emails from clients and visitors to your site and/or blog. Sending out regular newsletters and promotional offers to this base can ensure retention and direct booking through time.

3- Promote deals and best rates across your various social accounts. I see hotels mention a promo code for 10% off best rate… on their Twitter bio. Others do Facebook offers, or mail push to group databases. Think outside the box, and make sure you crossover information from newsletter to blog to social media.

Having no marketing dollars is not an excuse not to have a dynamic online presence.

The first step is to have a professional-looking website, and this can be done with various solutions that cost a fraction of what it used to 3-5 years ago.

Sending out emails? MailChimp is free up to 2,000 email addresses, and other providers offer similar low-cost solutions.

Social media? It’s not free, contrary to what many believe, because someone has to manage it, but you can have impact and reach on Facebook with minimal investments. It’s more a matter of having a strategy in place to begin with, then finding the resources (human and financial) to manage this new reality. Knowing 87% of travel decisions now begin with an online search, do we even really have a choice here?

15 key stats to consider:

  1. TripAdvisor (42%) is the most downloaded mobile app amongst travelers, followed by Priceline (15%), Expedia (14%) and Orbitz (13%)
  2. There are 139 reviews written every minute on TripAdvisor
  3. You lose 25-60% of visitors with each click on the mobile path to purchase.
  4. 69% of travelers begin their search online…via a mobile device!
  5. Average mobile users check their device 150 times per day!
  6. Of the average six daily hours US adults spend on digital media, 3 hours is on mobile.
  7. Twitter on Travel: in the past year, 60M tweets mentioned hotels, 21M tweets mentioned vacations
  8. 70% of followers have taken some action after seeing travel content on Twitter
  9. 70% of Instagram users have looked for a brand online
  10. 3/4 of consumers are frustrated when online content doesn’t relate to their interest
  11. In 2016, 50% of total travel sales will involve more than one device
  12. Ritz Carlton Hotel sees 18% conversions from email campaigns. Email is not dead, folks!
  13. 92% of visitors to a website will never return. Thus, remarketing is key!
  14. Only 27% of hotels send automated emails prior to arrival (and after departing)
  15. According to Google, 1/3 of people with a smartphone would give up sex instead of their phone. Sad.

Visit Frederic Gonzalo’s website for further insights

 

Share your reviews online

Freetobook review sharing widget

Share hotel reviews
Share your Reviews

Isn’t it great to get fantastic reviews! You work so hard looking after your customers, naturally they give you fabulous feedback that influences potential future guests. To find your reviews in freetobook simply go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Share your great reviews with the world. Freetobook is about to release a new review sharing system so you can get your reviews out there and read by potential guests.

Sharing reviews is easy with :

  • a simple to install review widget for your website, available in a variety of formats and the ability to resize and customise colours
  • freetobook’s new “click here to share” a review instantly on facebook and twitter.
  • linked to your booking system for instant direct bookings.

Review sharing widget for hotels
Review sharing widget various sizes

It gets better…each review widget will give guests instant access to your freetobook reviews and link them directly to your booking system, making it easy for impressed customers to make a direct commission free booking there and then.

Keep an eye open for the launch of the new review sharing system… another great idea from freetobook giving you more for less. As soon as the review sharing system is available you will find it in the same place as your current reviews – go to your “Home” TAB and select “Reviews”.

Social Media review sharing for hotels
Social Media review sharing

We expect to launch the new review sharing system before Christmas 2013 so it won’t be long before you can show off all your best reviews across your website and social media platforms.

In the spirit of sharing please feel free to tell others about your experience of freetobook the internet booking engine with more for less.

New Facebook booking app

facebook_-squarelogo
facebook app

With 845 million active users, Facebook is becoming an ever-more useful way of reaching new customers and generating more revenue. If you already have a Facebook business page, Freetobook can now create a Facebook booking page for you as well. This will allow you to:

  • Display great photos of your property.
  • List all your property information and room descriptions.
  • Display your location on a Google map.

And most importantly of all…

  • Link to your booking engine, providing easy online booking direct from Facebook.

You’ll find this great new functionality by logging into your profile and clicking on a new tab called “Social.”

Learn more by watching this short video:

Are you on the same page as your customers?

With nearly a billion users on facebook there’s a good chance a few of your current or potential customers are on it and they’ll be looking for your property.

facebook booking button app
facebook app

Facebook business pages have been around for some time now so if want to be on the same page as your customers then look into getting a facebook page (link below).

If you already have a page then you will be pleased to know freetobook will soon be launching a facebook app to help you:

 

Continue reading “Are you on the same page as your customers?”