Staycation Tsunami 2021

When lockdown ends, bookings dramatically spike

Get ready for a tsunami of bookings this summer. #StaycationTsunami Savings levels are at a record high. Through the lockdowns money that would have been spent has been saved. International travel is likely to be difficult/impossible.

Staycations at unprecedented levels are predicted and most likely to happen this summer. Added to this, there’s been far fewer bookings this year so there’s loads of availability to book into when things open up.

Frustrated, locked down bookers are out there waiting for somewhere to go. The instant that lockdown is lifted you’re looking at a situation never seen before.

Lockdowns have devastated accommodation businesses so here’s a great opportunity to rebalance that, but only if you’re ready for it by being prepared.

Summer 2021, are you ready for it?

Get ready for a record summer

Maximising your profit will help recover such a terrible past year. Minimise commission paid. Demand will likely outstrip supply so don’t pay commission when you can get more direct bookings.


Preparation Checklist

  1. Get your booking technology in order now. If you don’t have it running efficiently you’ll lose out on that record number of bookings coming in. Get your payment system setup and have your messaging fine-tuned. Reduce the risk for double bookings by getting it lined up and ready now.
  2. Think about your prices for summer now, should you increase them? Inflation is likely in your costs and you’ve lost a year of income so use the demand to recoup some losses. Businesses that have increased their prices understand they can reduce them later if it’s necessary.
  3. Get available now for direct bookings, prioritise early direct bookers. Give a preference to getting your early bookers in direct. Use commissionable bookings to fill gaps later. There will be a record number of bookings, you want them to be direct. You can always open to non-direct bookings later if you have to. Check you minimum stays and cancellation policy always entice direct bookings.
  4. Makes sure all the housekeeping, renovation and services are ready for a record summer. Is your accommodation physically ready? Do whatever you can do now so you’re ready for the biggest ever summer.
  5. Your website should be ready to encourage direct bookings. Ensure your COVID cleaning policy is visible and up to date, guests want to feel safe booking.  Update your website with any changes/updates you’ve made, you need to look your best and guests will not book on a bad website. free covid ready images

Last year was both terrible and tragic with losses of every kind, personal, national, social and economic.

It will end at some point so be ready for a reversal of fortune…it’s likely to happen this summer in the accommodation sector!

#StaycationTsunami 

Review Widgets Stealing Direct Bookings

Our friends over at cobooking.com have shared their recent blog on the danger to direct booking posed by third party review widgets.

Cobooking exposes review widget dangers.

leaking pipe bad review widgets leak direct bookings
Bad Review widgets leak direct bookings

For far too many years we have put up with dodgy review widgets that cheat properties out of direct bookings. Widgets, badges and awards touted by large “reputable” businesses and placed on websites in good faith “trusting” these big corporations that pretend their main function is to “display” reviews, nonsense they are not to be trusted.

Cobooking and many others know that accommodation owners have been cheated because the hidden effect of these widgets is a significant loss of direct bookings. We are dedicated to the promotion of direct bookings so together lets call out the cheats and help remove these bad widgets.

Reviews are good but not all review widgets are good.

The value of having great reviews is undeniable. Almost all guests looking to book are keen to know what others think and reviews do a great job, so naturally you want to display them with widgets, buttons and awards.

However, there is a real danger of losing direct bookings from review widget links on your website and these could cost you a lot more than a bad review!

What do you mean, how do I lose?

The most common loss occurs when a review widget or badge is put on your website. Your guest naturally clicks the widget and is then led off to the review website. Now “your” guest is away on the review website where that website earns money by encouraging “your” guest to make a commissionable booking.

When you feed these review websites “your” guests (via the review widget) you lose direct bookings. In fact, it’s worse than that because they don’t care if “your” guest books your accommodation on their website, they earn commission on any booking “your” guest makes. So most websites offer your guest other accommodation options in order to increase their conversion.

Simply put, you sent your guest there to look at your reviews but they end up booking while there and not on your website. You’ve now lost a direct booking and have to pay commission, or worse still, they book somewhere else and you lose the booking entirely.

What is a direct booking unfriendly widget?

An unfriendly widget has links away from your website to another site where they offer your guest somewhere else to book or encourage them to book with a commissionable agency.

A friendly widget shows your reviews but does not send guests away to book with commission.

How do I know if the widgets, awards and buttons on my website are unfriendly?

Visit your website and follow the links just like a guest. By thinking and acting like a potential guest you’ll see exactly what your guests would see. Ask yourself what you’re being encouraged to do on that site and you’ll see just how direct booking unfriendly the process is.

Review widgets, buttons and awards are free?

Yes, they are free because the review website wants to get your customers onto their website. Is the cost of losing your customers worth the value of displaying reviews on bad widgets ? We are certain it is not.

Trojan horses have much in common with review widgets.

yellow trojan horse bad widget

These buttons, awards and widgets are just like Trojan horses. They look like a gift, displaying your fabulous reviews but they contain a link that costs you direct bookings. Your great reviews are a result of your hard work and dedication so please don’t lose out from your hard work.

Review websites play heavily on the temptation to show off your reviews and that’s when they get you to put their Trojan horse on your website and you start leaking direct bookings.

How to fix it …

The simple rule is to never have a widget on your website that takes guests away to book with a commissionable source.

Remove widgets, badges and awards that lose direct bookings.
Replace unfriendly review widgets with friendly ones.
Show your review score or awards in an image with no links away from your website.
If you don’t understand how to fix it you should give your web designer a link to this blog, they will be able to fix it for you and stop you losing direct bookings …

At cobooking we believe that review websites have been abusing the good will of accommodation owners for many years by requesting they put bad acting widgets on their websites without adequately explaining their function.

Let’s campaign to spread the word and encourage companies to create direct booking friendly widgets, good honest widgets. Lets stop this loss of direct bookings.

Cobooking will be looking to create a direct booking friendly widget to help accommodation owners fight back.

Get going, become a partner and join cobooking if you have not already done so – sign up !

If you have already joined cobooking you can get involved in helping on the cobooking users facebook group (closed group for cobooking users only)

Covid-19: Reassuring Your Customers

Operating in the current COVID19 world

Book with confidence Covid19 prepared

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

covid prepared
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


Covid-19: Preparing To Open Again!

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.

enjoy your stay in safety covid prepared
We are covid ready (free image click to save)

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 there.

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. 

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 now.

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.

book with confidence covid
Book with us we are Covid prepared (free image click to save)

Our own facebook group has plenty of things that people are doing in their own business so make sure you are part of that. Freetobook customers ONLY facebook group

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.

For those in the UK, this Government HSE website Risk Assessment is the place to start

2. COVID-19 INFORMATION ON YOUR WEBSITE

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.

book with confidence covid safe
Book with confidence we are Covid19 safe (free image click to save)

There are some super videos that properties are posting on their websites and social media and if you can, we would recommend this wholeheartedly.

Blue Sky retreat (their facebook page) New Mexico

Laggan Glamping (YouTube)

Pebble Beach (facebook page) Llandudno

Covid19 prepared
Covid19 ready for bookings (free image click to save)

3. PRE-ARRIVAL COMMUNICATION

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.

The key 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.

Your B & B Business and SCA

New Payment Security Measures that WILL Affect Your Business

freetobook secure

SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) measures have now come into force as part of the Payment Services Directive II (PSD 2), a European law that all UK banks will be using (and yes this will remain in effect despite Brexit) to prevent fraud.

What does this mean?

Overall these measures will significantly improve the security of payments. Sadly Some of the OTAs have misrepresented the situation for their own gain. It is important to note that SCA ONLY applies to cards typed in online by the customer, all other card transactions are exempt so you can continue payments in exactly the same way you did prior to SCA.

What’s ’strong’ about it?

The ’strong’ in ’Strong Customer Authentication’ means that the person using the card online has passed at least two of three ’proof points’ confirming they’re the owner of the account.

Those three proof points are:

  • Knowledge (knowing Password or PIN)
  • Possession (having their card or phone with them)
  • Inherence (being able to prove their identity through fingerprint or facial recognition).
Direct bookings via your website’s booking engine:

These are relatively straightforward, at the point of booking online the card issuing bank will now ask your guest for 2 of the 3 security points so you will be certain the payment was made by the owner of the card. Stripe and FabPay will take SCA details and confirm the identity of the card holder for you.

Channel bookings from Online Travel Agents (OTAs):

Where you get the customer’s card from the OTA this will be exempt from SCA. Any payments you take from the card will be Card Not Present (CNP) or Mail Order Telephone Order (MOTO). These transactions are treated by the banks in the same way as they were before SCA so there is no change at all.

In the same way as channel bookings, payments where you type the card into a terminal or virtual terminal don’t fall under the new SCA measures as they are a Card Not Present (CNP) or Mail Order Telephone Order (MOTO) payments, that is to say they are exempt from SCA. These transactions are treated by the banks in the same way as they were before so there is no change.

Here at freetobook we offer property owners a number of secure payment options including Stripe and FabPay all of which are 100% SCA compliant for all types of payment.