Ten years on and stronger than ever…

freetobook the journey

Are we really 10 years into this journey? Its January 2021 and we are just starting lockdown III in the UK, what a time to look back on 10 years of freetobook.

It’s November 2010 and we facilitate our first direct booking which was the culmination of a year’s worth of programming work for the team. We took the “idea” of direct booking and literally made it free for accommodation owners all over the world. The journey from then to now has been one of continual learning and solution development.

All those years ago it was big call for our early customers to support us; we were unknown but they had faith.… which we continue to repay…. thank you!  There are so many that are still with us and yes, the property that received our first direct booking over ten years ago is today a thriving hotel on freetobook.

Years later direct booking is still free and right there at the heart of everything we do. Free is not just without charge; it also means open, unrestricted, unbound, at liberty and untied. With the ever-rising power of corporations in the accommodation booking sector we remain free. Think of us as a counter-balance to corporate greed; an authentic high tech family-business.

Direct booking is a tough business. Against us all, there are a few giant corporations that want to take your bookings and make you pay more commission. We have earned the trust of many thousands of accommodation businesses because we tell it as it is. Ten years on and building better technology to facilitate more direct bookings. Our customers are also family businesses who entrust us with their booking technology, our system is at the centre of many thousands of accommodation businesses.  That’s a serious business.   

created from scratch

Back at the beginning, although new in the technology booking space we certainly weren’t empty-headed; we’d already had 10 years of accommodation booking experience. We knew our stuff; the processes, tech and the industry. Our service was free, but that was never enough, it also had to be a real high-quality product. There was more building to be done. Sure we made mistakes, corrected them quickly and were never short of new ideas.

There’s nowhere to hide when your software is out there at the heart of so many businesses. We’re a “hands-on” bunch; we listen and truly care, perhaps sometimes too much and that can take its toll. Some comments can hurt but we build better every time. There are many shiny things in the technology world, they look good on the surface but before we invest/build anything we ask… does it help generate more direct bookings?    

Those many years ago customers (led on by our competitors at the time) laughed at us and questioned us. How can you really be free? Well, we were free and we still are free for 1000s of accommodation businesses. Our “freemium” model with a free booking system with optional paid add-on services was not common then, indeed our free offering alone is better than many of our competitors paid versions. We convinced the “doubters” by building new and innovative services that are supported, developed and cherished.  By listening to our customers, responding and continually improving, our passion started to filter through. Being genuine, doing the right things for the right reasons has always been the way we operate.

Just writing this makes it all seem like it was normal to start out that way but it was far from that at the time. It was a big call, a huge risk, that now brings a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement.

By simply doing what came naturally to us we created something special …. an authentic trust.  It takes a second to write that “T” word but years to build and earn it. 

technology solutions

There was no income for freetobook until we launched our first chargeable service some three years later. The Channel Manager wasn’t really our idea but customers just preferred our booking diary and asked us to “link it up” with the OTAs to avoid double bookings and save time managing bookings. Now our channel technology is an unsung hero, processing millions of updates/requests daily and getting it right again and again … the OTAs consistently rank our channel manager in the top tier worldwide, often asking us how we do it so well?

Next came payment systems and secure card storage. We could see immediately the real value of Stripe for businesses; no merchant provider required, minimal form filling, great security technology and they offer low card rates too. Five years on Stripe is one of our most popular services because it’s still the most cost-effective product on the market, literally half the price of PayPal with so many more features and benefits. Stripe is the kind of technology we love to integrate and it shows when we poll our customers, they give it a satisfaction rating over 90%.

Alongside bookings and payments there is an ever-increasing need to ensure you “own the guest relationship” thereby keeping your direct bookings. Your brand is so important when communicating with a guest. The OTAs want to muscle-in and keep guest contact under their name. Freetobook’s Messaging enables you to brand messages with your name and scale your customer contact by simplifying it and removing the repetitive stuff.

What a timely introduction Messaging was; paying dividends last year with the ability to schedule messages, make contactless payment links, handle digital registrations and run in-house guest surveys. Our Messaging solution is neatly integrated into the booking flow, right from the moment the booking is made you’ve got easy access via your online diary and Messaging hub. Messaging makes guest interaction a joy for both you and your guest, replacing clunky lengthy email communication with short conversation-like threads that feel more genuine and create happy guests.

We built Messaging ourselves from scratch because we know how critical great guest communication is for direct booking.  We didn’t take the easy option that our competitors took by using inferior 3rd party “integrations” to the other messaging companies. Instead, we kept innovating and moving things forward. When it’s your own technology you can listen and respond to your customers faster. We’ve added over 20 improvements since its initial release … guest actions, digital registration, surveys, file attachments, images, customisations, arrival times etc.

Last year we also invested in making your lives easier with our New Diary that shows key guest/booking data right there in plain sight whilst providing faster access to manage rates and availability. There’s also some neat integration with Stripe and Messaging, giving you a fuller picture of your business and a smoother work-flow.

Creating and managing this requires great people. The visionaries, thinkers, doers, builders, supporters, helpers etc. all contribute with their knowledge, experience, dedication and passion. This is no ordinary team at freetobook, they all deserve a special thank you (Ele, the service team, Heather, the developers, Craig and Iain, accounts and support team etc.).  We do “tech” but really what we try to do best is people, with the right people anything is possible.

Growth has been essential in funding new services and continuing to keep costs down for customers (nearly 8,000 of them). Our only sales team are these very customers; thousands of you who go out daily and recommend us to your  fellow businesses….thank you.  Please keep doing it, it makes a huge difference and helps us spend our energy where you get the most benefit.

power to businesses

The sector we are in has changed beyond recognition, ownership and self-determination has been wrestled from small businesses into the hands of a few very large and powerful corporations. Technology has been the instrument of this change, this unbalancing. It is not unique to our sector either and there’s growing concern over the unassailable power of just a few mammoth tech companies.  For any open market to operate sustainably, freely and for the benefit of its society, it requires open competition. We always welcome competition and we must all fight to maintain plurality and choice in the face of corporate monopolies that seek to take it all.

cobooking

Corporations have been allowed by governments to become monopolies and they have abused that position (not surprisingly) to ensure they increase their dominance.  The argument provided by these dominating corporations is that they provide cheaper prices for the consumer (i.e. that they are benefiting society) and there size enables better innovation. This is absolute rubbish, more competition will always decrease pricing and provide greater innovation… if freely allowed. It is unnerving to sit amongst the OTA dominance. Action is required, there is nothing to be gained by simply watching, we all have to try to change things, hence cobooking – join it.

We don’t have shareholders to keep happy or investors to placate, giving us the freedom to act. Our independence, like that of our customers, is one of our most cherished assets. Last year that enabled us to act in the way that we did.  To use our values to guide us and offer support by simply being there to talk to, to help/respond, to be compassionate and to build solutions that helped. That meant keeping on a full team, focused and available. Our unique pay-as-you-go model has also helped in the best way possible, by reducing monthly bills often to zero. So as bookings dropped dramatically so did our invoices. When we started out 10 years ago with freetobook we said, “no tie-ins and no set monthly bills” and we meant it, our customers are always free to leave and are never tied in.

So what does the future hold?  In all honesty… it’s difficult to know exactly.  There are some obvious truths, people will always want to go on holiday and travel so demand will come back big, we saw that in the summer of 2020 (make sure you’re ready for it in 2021). They’ll also need flexibility on their booking conditions due to the uncertainty. Initially guests are likely to be more cautious, going to places they know and feel “safe” in. These are likely to be closer to home and in some cases very close.  These holidays and experiences will be more cherished than ever before.  

On the technology side there has been a significant acceleration of some existing trends such as automation, online shopping and dispersed working.  We are in the fortunate position of being able to use that acceleration to benefit your businesses by creating new tools and services that help you not just adapt but thrive.

It’s an exciting space to be in, one which we’ll continue to navigate with our people and customers in mind. A simple formula, yet so often overlooked. Thank you for your support over the last 10 years. We must continue supporting each other, to be positive and forward looking, creating a better future…. that’s how we started freetobook and that’s how we will continue.

Switch tips for new customers

Switching your booking system can be a lot easier than you think with our switch team.

User friendly websites
User friendly freetobook

Reliability, trust and cost savings can all make a big difference to your business and your happiness!

1. No Monthly standing charges

As a family business we believe all customers should pay for what they want and that nothing is hidden. Our pricing is optional, clear and openly listed on our website, it has always been this way. Prices and what you get for free

(other companies don’t show prices on their website because they want to charge you more or pay oily sales people high commissions to get the sale!)

2. No Minimum contract terms.

At freetobook we guarantee you will love our service, but just in case you don’t you’re not locked in, you can leave whenever you wish; we will never make it difficult, our customers stay because they want to.

(other companies tie you in to make it difficult to leave without penalty, that’s a trick we would never play – it just would not be trust worthy)

3. UK based support system

Customer service at freetobook is second to none – give us a ring and you will be connected straight to our expert support team in Glasgow.

4. Free online booking system

Unlike other booking systems we provide a high quality booking system free of charge so you get to fully use our system before you decide to opt in for any of the paid services which are completely optional and include a brilliant channel manager (Bookingcom reliability score 99.97% on 13 Jun 19) or a great low cost payment system.

5. You’re in control

Your business, your decisions. With freetobook you have control over all aspects of your online booking. You can decide to sell lower prices on your own website or have better availability on your direct booking channels…plus so much more.

 

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? why not try it out today …

Packages help direct bookings

Packages: the latest update on freetobook.

Using freetobook packages you can now offer your customers extra value added inclusions and change the board basis for any specific package you wish to create.

Types of Package:

Added Meals – for example you may have a standard rate with Bed and Breakfast and want to offer a “Dinner Bed & Breakfast” rate, or a rate which includes a packed lunch.

You can also remove meals in a package, so if your standard rate is including breakfast you might want to have a package that does not include breakfast.

Value Added Service –  Alternatively you might create a package which incudes bike hire or some other value added service special to your business. For example, you may collaborate with other local businesses and offer a golf  or spa package, cookery or photography class, or tickets to a local attraction such as a theme park.

How you setup your packages is very flexible; you can change the board basis and add extra services -it’s completely up to you.

Packages are a fixed rate and can be restricted by:

  • dates of stay
  • minimum stay duration and
  • nights of the week.

If a package is available for a customer to book during their search they will see a new tab with the package title you have created. They can then easily switch between your package and your standard availability.

 

Packages are exclusive for your direct bookers so they also potentially give a great way to offer more value to your direct customers where you pay zero commission.

To start creating your own unique packages, head to the ‘Specials’ tab on your freetbook diary and select ‘Packages’. Click ‘Create Package’ and start filling in all your package details – simple!

 

 

TripAdvisor at 12 percent

Own the bookings on your TripAdvisor page

Twelve Percent commission on TripAdvsior
Twelve Percent commission on TripAdvsior

More and more bookings are being made on TripAdvisor, we have some information and friendly advice to help ensure you are not losing out. In the last week we have seen a 400% increase in TripAdvisor Instant Bookings. If you use the freetobook direct connection these are now available at 12% commission.

All across the world Instant Booking is becoming more widely available, you will have noticed a change to your TripAdvisor page. Now visitors to your page are asked for their dates of stay and your availability only shows if you’re connected, if not, TripAdvisor lists availability of nearby properties.

Getting a direct connection to Instant Booking is easy and will save you commission. To take part you just need a freetobook account and a TripAdvisor account.

Login to your TripAdvisor account and switch on the connection to freetobook, it’s as simple as that.

Six advantages of a direct TripAdvisor connection:

1) Lower commission, you can pay as little as 12%
2) You only pay commission on completed bookings
3) No upfront costs, no signup costs, no fees from freetobook
4) You receive all of the customer’s direct details, including email address
5) Simple to do, just login to TripAdvisor and connect
6) You don’t need a Business Listing to get these TripAdvisor bookings

Booking by TripAdvisor
Booking by TripAdvisor

The connection simple, just activate it in your TripAdvisor account to enable direct bookings on your TripAdvisor page.

Freetobook has always believed in great technology for direct bookings as well as offering the highest quality connections to world’s biggest sources of bookings. We all know some providers are not universally popular with accommodation owners but it remains a fact that they have access to the world’s online bookers. We try to advantage our customers (property owners) by offering these connections at better value. It is certainly better to get a booking through TripAdvisor at 12% than one through another big source at higher commission!

This year a freetobook customer was awarded TripAdvisor’s “Best B&B in the World,” yes, number 1 out of 300,ooo or more listed on their site. The Millgate in Masham is certainly a fantastic B&B and for us what stands out is their great attitude to using new technology to maximise sales and free up time to get on with taking care of customers. See what the Millgate has to say about getting to the top on TripAdvisor.

To become the best B&B in the world you certainly need to be fabulous but you also need to have fantastic reviews and as many of them as possible. Here again freetobook can help you rise up on the TripAdvisor rankings. A Review Express connection on your freetobook account can automate review requests for your customers and dramatically increase the number of reviews you receive. Find out more about Review Express.

Most of freetobook’s benefits are free with a few optional charged services, find a complete list of our charges on our pricing page, what does freetobook cost ?

View our helpful TripAdvisor Instant Booking video for a quick recap of how to increase bookings on your TripAdvisor page, click play below.

TripAdvisor direct bookings TripConnect explained

TripConnect explained
TripAdvisor for business

Many accommodation businesses are confused about TripAdvisor’s direct bookings, are you one them?  Let’s try to explain, so find a nice quiet spot to sit down with a glass or mug of your favourite drink.

In the last year TripAdvisor has changed its business model a number of times leaving many potential customers confused and even locked out. We have created a couple of videos to help you understand these changes (skip to these at the foot of the article…if you like) but it’s probably worthwhile seeing some of the basic facts first. Like them or not, here they are;

  1. TripAdvisor is a booking website used to book accommodation online.
  2. Accommodation businesses can receive bookings directly from the TripAdvisor website using a booking engine i.e. Freetobook.
  3. If you are already working with an OTA (Online Travel Agent) like Expedia or Booking.com you may find that the OTAs advertise your availability on TripAdvisor. These bookings will come through the OTA (not directly from TripAdvisor) and look like any other OTA booking and you pay your agreed commission to the OTA, as usual.
  4. The OTA pays to advertise on the TripAdvisor website, each OTA decides if they want to advertise your availability. You have no control over this.
  5. TripAdvisor lists availability and prices prominently so properties that don’t have online rates will be more difficult to find and if they are found they’ll be surrounded by images and popups directing customers to nearby available properties.
  6. Available to accommodation owners worldwide except if you have a holiday rental on HolidayLettings or FlipKey

In short, if you don’t have online rates you will receive less traffic and fewer bookings than in previous years.

Direct bookings via TripAdvisor
Direct bookings via TripAdvisor

If you do want bookings this way then you choose your route, direct with TripAdvisor or through an OTA – either way there is no requirement for any fixed upfront costs, no subscriptions or annual fees.

To get bookings direct you will need an account with TripAdvisor and an approved booking engine (or connectivity partner i.e. freetobook). Simply login to your TripAdvisor account and setup your direct advertising via their TripConnect service. Most approved booking engines charge for this service but with us it is completely free.

To advertise directly on their website you will need to pay TripAdvisor. In their wisdom they have created two models for payment (hence our two videos mentioned earlier).

Model One: Pay Per ClickTripAdvisor CPC video
Here you pay TripAdvisor a click fee each time a customer clicks on your advert, on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. However, you DON’T pay for a search, you only pay when the customer searches AND then clicks on your available price. If you are not available on the dates the customer searches or they don’t click the price then you don’t pay.

Cost Per Click model facts:
You pay when a customer clicks on your available price.
TripAdvisor sets the click costs and from feedback they are generally quite low (but we can’t see or know the cost, they are only visible in TripAdvisor).
You can vary what you pay per click (your bid). If you bid too low then TripAdvisor will remove the advert and you would have to increase your bid to show again.
If you work with an OTA they might also advertise alongside your CPC advert.
You set the budget and pay TripAdvisor and can switch it on/off as you please.

In this model you pay for the advertising and you measure the bookings that come from the clicks. Bidding higher for clicks will make you show at the top of any adverts on your property and bidding too low will mean you don’t show. You make the judgement as to the cost effectiveness of your advertising by totalling up the bookings versus the click costs.  Ideally that return has to better than any other booking options i.e. OTA commissions.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Cost Per Click model.

Model Two: Pay Per Booking model (Instant Booking)Instant Booking video for TripConnect
In this model you only pay TripAdvisor for bookings. There is no cost for each click, instead you pay a commission amount on realised bookings. You set this up by logging into TripAdvisor account and activating an Instant Booking campaign. You pay TripAdvisor a commission fee only after the customer has completed their stay. At the time of this blog Instant Booking is not available to all properties. Use the Instant booking link below to check.

Pay Per Booking model facts:
You pay either 12% or 15% commission after the customer has stayed.
If you bid 12% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 25% of the time.
If you bid 15% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 50% of the time.
No other OTAs will show if your advert is showing.
There is no payment/commission due on bookings that cancel.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Pay Per Booking model

By now you are either asleep or completely up to speed on direct bookings from TripAdvisor….. that is before it changes (only joking!)  As always, please share your experience of this service or any other relevant news, let us know how it has or hasn’t worked for you.

Other relevant pages:
List of premium partners (booking engines) with TripAdvisor
TripConnect CPC on freetobook
TripConnect Instant Booking on freetobook
TripAdvisor TripConnect on their site
TripAdvisor Instant Booking on their site

World's Best B&B 2015
World’s Best B&B 2015

Millgate B&B was awarded the best B&B in the World 2015, why not have a little read about how Sue did it along with a few tips to learn from.

If you’re a historian or an online booking nerd and want to see some old blogs on how TripAdvisor has changed since we first started reporting and connecting way back in July 2013

TripConnect Instant Booking a Global First

Freetobook is TripConnect Instant Booking’s First Approved Partner – Worldwide first in technology.

TripConnect Premium Partner
TripConnect Premium Partner

Press release (September 15 2014 – Glasgow)

Freetobook, one of the UK’s leading travel technology companies, announced today that it is the first Internet Booking Engine to be a fully approved and certified partner for the upcoming TripConnect instant booking feature from TripAdvisor.

TripConnect instant booking is being developed to increase direct bookings for independent hotels and scheduled to launch officially later this year. This instant booking will enable accommodation owners worldwide to leverage approved connectivity partners, such as Freetobook, to update rates and availability and take bookings directly into their online diary.

The TripConnect instant booking API has been approved and tested and Freetobook will enrol a select few customers in a live beta test ahead of the full launch when the feature will be available to the global independent hotel sector.

Its exciting to be at the forefront of this new development. We are looking forward to getting our customers’ feedback in the first instance before TripConnect instant booking is rolled out globally,” says freetobook’s Director Iain Stewart. “

Other blogs and links about freetobook TripAdvisor connection

What is TripConnect ?

More TripAdvisor reviews automatically

What is Trip Connect the video ?