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)

Freetobook’s Digital Registration Feature

automated, integrated and contactless

Digital registration for hotels
Digital registration

With the new Digital Registration form you can make your guests’ lives easier and safer. Guests simply complete their forms remotely before arrival making social distancing at check-in easier whilst also saving you time and paper.  It takes seconds for them to complete and when completed it appears neatly in your new diary on their booking.

Digital Registration (d-reg) is part of freetobook’s Messaging suite meaning it’s a fully automated process that’s also integrated into the booking diary.

Key advantages of d-reg are:

1) Contactless – guests complete their registration before arrival.

2) Integrated – the form is automatically updated and stored in your diary.

3) Automatic – set up and schedule your forms once, Messaging does the rest.

4) Value add – collect all guest names/contacts plus real email addresses for OTA bookings.

5) Branding – look professional by using your own logo and colours.

automation robot for messages
message automation

We’re listening too, the second version of d-reg is due for release shortly and it’s smarter than ever. Using new “logic jumps” your guests will skip certain questions based on their nationality and answers e.g. you may not want local guests to be asked for their passport details.  This makes it quicker and easier for your guests, thereby helping to ensure they complete it.

You will also be able to add your own question tips to the d-reg form e.g. ask for a mobile number rather than a landline, plus much more….

There’s also an icon/alert in the new freetobook diary so you can quickly see who’s completed their d-reg forms.

With Messaging so elegantly integrated into your diary you can add images, attachments and set your text in seconds, making your messages a key part of your service offering.  Scheduling your Automated Messages means your work flows much easier and you don’t lose hours of your time sending out the same email, again and again. Added to that, your guests get the right information at the right time.

More automation is on its way to help you manage your business in these difficult Covid-19 times. Digital Registration is just one small part of what Messaging offers, based on your feedback we continue to build better ways to solve the challenges facing your businesses.

Freetobook has the technology you can trust….

Messaging is £49 per year…

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 …

Include More Automation In Your Processes

automation robot with 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

freetobook 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..

freetobook messaging system

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

freetobook stripe integration
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 …

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


Guest Messaging: Reduce Face-to-Face Tasks

automate face to face coronavirus
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:

stripe payments
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:

online registration for hotels
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.

You can sign up to Messaging for only £49 per year on a pay as you go basis.

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

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.

Building A Communication Line With Your Guests

freetobook heart

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!

Find out more about Messaging in your freetobook account here

New Feature: Introducing Smart Messaging

As technology develops so do your guests’ expectations.

freetobook 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.

freetobook 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.

freetobook messaging

Email Confirmations Are Old News….Speak To Your Guests Directly!

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 🙂

Guest Messaging: Using It To It’s Full Potential

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.