Guests love Messaging

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!

7 Pledges of Internet Booking (your perfect booking partner)

In the 21 years since our birth in 1998 we’ve learnt a  thing or two about making, managing and servicing accommodation bookings but the one thing we often get asked is: 

“what makes freetobook  different ?” 

freetobook is committed to:

  1. build booking technology that maximises direct bookings above all other bookings 
  2. continually develop, upgrade and improve for your business 
  3. listen, care about, support and advise you whilst building things to the highest standards both morally and technically  
  4. be the best booking system possible, to study and learn from other booking systems 
  5. protect you from powerful corporations that seek to manipulate and plunder your revenue
  6. never prevent you from leaving (by tie-in contract or any obstruction), instead we’ll learn why you left and improve to get you back 
  7. continue to make all paid services optional, clearly priced and listed publicly on our website, ensuring we advise honestly and openly as to their value and use to your business 

These aren’t some corporate bull,  they are part of our DNA, developed from  those that work with us and for us, those that support us to grow and all  those that used to work with us, they are our history and our future. 

The significant success of freetobook in business provides us with the luxury to always put  your interests first with fierce independence and a long term outlook  typical of family values that no corporate can afford. That’s what makes freetobook different. 


One of the winning valentine poems…

One valentines day a hotelier had the blues,
“Which channel manager should I choose?”
The OTA’s were leading them to booze!
But they were cheered up when they heard the news,

“freetobook” said a friend with cheer!
“they are really good, I have used them for more than a year!”
They are the best by far, never fear.
“they are there to help you, they are sincere”

from Blackpool based Topaz Hotel owner Danny Gee:

Guest messaging upgrade

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 🙂

Maximise direct bookings

7 Pledges, here’s how you voted….

We asked you to prioritise these 7 Pledges, to re-order them according to your needs and your ambitions. That was no easy task… as many of you said, but that forced focus is what every good business requires if it is to improve.

So here’s how it unfolded, drum roll please…

Maximise direct bookings above all other bookings (35% of the vote)

This is music to our ears, we created freetobook to enable direct bookings on websites. We wanted to build a booking engine so any accommodation anywhere in world could get an account, set up and take direct bookings in under an hour – for free. That was case in January 2011 and it’s still very much the case now, indeed that’s why we called it “Freetobook”.  But there is so much more to do and we’re working on it. (some free direct booking images for you)

Continually develop, upgrade and improve functionality came second (with 26% of the vote)   

Advanced Messaging
keep developing never stop

We are here 21 years down the line simply because we’ve always believed we can do it better, we must do it better.  Our “creative” drive demands that we look for solutions to difficult problems. We also enjoy that process, it’s terribly rewarding. This means that we don’t accept and settle in a comfort zone but continually look around appraising the changes to your environment.

Listen, care about, support and advise your business (17%)

This is the “easy” bit for us, as a family business we find it a very natural function yet we value the importance of it. Our support team have an amazing record only because they care. We are not here to serve ourselves so it’s important that we listen and feel confident to advise when required.  Having the commercial freedom (of a family business) means we don’t compromise in our service and advice we offer.

Keep learning to be the best booking system possible (9%)

everyday is a school day !

We will. Aiming to do your best is always a great place to start and we are fortunate to work with 1000s of customers who believe the same. Over the 21 years we’ve seen a lot of changes so we’ve had to keep learning new things.  We have always looked for and admired great technology.

Protect you, keep things optional for you and not tying you in (altogether got 13%)

Our independence is a choice, just like yours. We have seen enough stuff that does not impress us to know that we must always be clear, open and genuine in what we do and what we offer.

Protecting independence results in more money staying local and being re-invested locally in businesses. We live in times where technology is enabling money to move across oceans far far away from where it was generated and without any chance of businesses or governments being rewarded for their investments.

So where do we go from here?

smart messaging for accommodation owners
smart stiff to boost your connection with customers

The great news is that we are already working on some new technology to help increase direct booking, this includes better measurement and analysis of the current situation. Other developments will become clearer next year and we trust we can count on your support to get them moving.  There is much work to do!

Thank you again for voting and for your many appended comments. As usual there were masses of amazingly supportive ones, as well as some great suggestions.

Here’s a small selection of what people said against the various votes….

“We know you are the best out there, you have been amazing for us. Helpful and progressive.”

“All of the above are highly important. Thank you for giving them focus.”

“… really excellent customer service, feel like I’m contacting someone in my own company!”

“Would love it if freetobook was more mobile friendly or had a full App.”

“Good to see an honest and ethical organisation.”

“Still love freetobook and even more so since I joined stripe.”

“Thanks so much for your amazing service you have revolutionised the way we do business…”

“More reports, like annual and monthly.”

“Get the OTAs out of the booking loop as the charges are criminal.”

“Best booking system on the net.”

“…great system – tried all the others !!!!”

Smart messaging says it all

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.

Airbnb fully connected

Hotels, B&Bs and Hostels are welcome on Airbnb!

Airbnb API connection

Airbnb’s changed from its early days so we think it’s worth reflecting on how these changes could attract new customers for you.

Hotels, Guest Houses, Hostels and Glampsites are now joining the Airbnb platform along with Cottages and other self catering accommodations. Its a safe bet to say that Airbnb’s change is all about opening up their listings to provide more choice for their customers.

Getting more bookings often means attracting new and different types of guests and on Airbnb these guests will typically be younger and booking closer to arrival;

  • About 40% of guests that book on Airbnb are aged between 25-34 years, this is quite a bit younger than typical bookers from other sources.
  • Last minute bookings are a big thing on Airbnb with about 40% of bookings being made fewer than 15 days before arrival. A great way to fill some gaps, especially in the quieter seasons.

Many people don’t realise that business people also form a significant part of Airbnb’s customer base. Airbnb is quite an attractive site for a number of business travellers that are looking for the sort of experience only independently run businesses just like yours can provide. These are more likely to be new customers that might not find you if it wasn’t for Airbnb.

Many of Airbnb’s customers are very loyal and will only use their platform to book their stay so being on Airbnb means you’re immediately exposed to them. They’re also looking for exactly what you offer (professionally run independent accommodation) so it’s worth getting in “front of them”.

Many of you are already aware that freetobook and Airbnb are now fully connected for updating rates, bookings and availability so you don’t need to worry about double bookings or double entry. You’ll also get the support and advice that comes with our Channel Manager connections team.

Like all of the services we offer, the Airbnb connection is optional. To get connected and find out more just visit the Tab “Plus” and select the “Airbnb” section.

The best hosts use messaging

Advanced Messaging
Advanced Messaging

At freetobook we really work hard and pride ourselves in the solutions we build to help accommodation owners manage and grow their businesses. Such a large part of that is the communication you have with your guests. We asked how can that be better? Much, much better?

We are super proud to release our latest piece of work which takes messaging between you and your guests to a new level. The best hosts focus on ways to make their customer’s stay amazing and memorable. That’s why they are the best, guests enjoy their stay so much they want to come back and love sharing the experience with others in reviews and recommendations, building reputation and brand.

The critical parts of the experience start with the anticipation and build-up followed by the stay itself and the after-departure feedback. From the moment they book to the end of their stay you will want your guests to have the maximum you can offer. When you put guest communication as a core part of the service at each point of their journey you increase the likelihood of a happy customer.

It’s about giving your guests the right information before they even ask for it and finding out what guests want from you in good time and in a way that suits them. Email just doesn’t cut it anymore, messaging makes communication more immediate and intimate and that makes guests feel special.

To say we have just created a messaging system is a massive understatement, advanced messaging is the first version of a happy guest generator which we will continue to build on. We are certain that using advanced messaging will grow your guest relations and boost your direct bookings.

Freetobook customers can setup advanced messaging in matter of seconds in the Tab “Plus”. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

Messaging vs Email 

 

It’s easy to follow a message thread making communication natural, informative and fun.

(email is clunky and disjointed with no connection to what has already been said)

 

Messaging can be automated and include images, in the flow – so you look like a pro !

(email image attachments don’t look good and sometimes don’t even download)

 

Get more replies to messaging with the easy one click reply button. Your conversation flows and the best connection is made with your guest.

(email is tricky for customer to reply to, which email ? where did I put it ?)

 

It’s easy to know when a customer has opened your message, you can easily see if it has been read, or if the message failed.

(email is different on everyone’s browser so its difficult to know if your email has been received or not.)

 

Freetobook customers can setup advanced messaging in matter of seconds in the Tab “Plus”. For properties not yet using freetobook, why not signup today and enjoy all the marvelous solutions we provide for accommodation owners worldwide.

Savvy Tips For (Re) Designing Your Website

Our guest blog this month is from design and marketing company Ulka Media. Here they offer up some great tips and tricks when (re) designing your accommodation’s website.

www.ulkamedia.co.uk/website-design-ayrshire

As with most businesses, it’s important to portray yourself as professionally as possible and that extends to your property’s website. You only have a few moments to grab a user’s attention online so be sure to not squander the opportunity.

User Experience

When it comes to website design it’s vital to make a good first impression to stand out from the busy marketplace.

The whole user experience needs to be simple and alluring from start to finish to draw in prospective guests. Since 40% of users will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, speed is critical so it’s important to employ techniques for faster loading such as browser caching or choosing the right hosting package.

Another factor to consider is how many clicks a user needs to get to the reservations stage and keep this to a minimum … 1 if possible, 3 at the absolute limit.

Responsive Layout

In 2018 Google deployed mobile-first indexing which emphasized the importance of mobile-friendly designs as users increasingly move to handheld devices for the web.  This is especially true in the travel industry as guests make bookings ‘on the go’. It is absolutely essential website usability on mobile devices is at the forefront of your website design, delivering great opportunities to reach your audience wherever they are.

Check to see if your website passes Google’s mobile-friendly test here http://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly ).

SSL Certificate

An SSL Certificate can be setup and configured by any reputable hosting company. Without getting into the technical workings, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (promoting trust) when installed on a web server, allowing secure connections from a web server to a browser.

 

Quality Content

Is your content relevant? Is your property family-friendly or adults only? Have the rooms been recently refurbished? Have you won any awards? Are you located in a convenient location or close proximity to a popular visitor attraction? Do you offer free Wifi (if not, why?), is there an option for late check-out or any other benefits you can promote? You need to portray all of these points and any other Unique Selling Points to the website users to differentiate your property from all the others. You may also consider adding a location map or FAQs page to enhance the site.

Cohesive Branding

If you have a logo, stick with it on every medium (online and offline) from your website & social media accounts to your signage, brochures & stationary.

Your brand is not just your logo however, it’s also your colours and type face as well as your voice, reassuring your potential guests of the quality of your premises.

 

Loyalty

One of the most effective methods to promote direct bookings through your own website is to offer an attractive loyalty program.

Can you team up with local partners to provide discounts which guests can benefit from in return for loyalty points accrued?

 

Images

Photos of your property should not only be large and high resolution but they should also have good composition. Focus on guest rooms, restaurants and other amenities, not the exterior (unless you have a nice patio or balcony perhaps) especially on the home page. Hire a professional photographer if you can stretch the budget, the end result will be worth the investment to truly showcase your property.

Virtual Tours

Consider adopting a virtual tour to engage your customers with intuitive interactive content like pop-ups to provide additional detailed information or reservation links. This is like Google Street View for inside your business allowing you to replicate your premises in stunning details and provide your guests with a useful glimpse of your facilities from afar prior to making a booking.

Reviews

‘Social proof’ is the buzzword at the moment which includes engaging on social media and user-generated content. Most people (over 75%) read reviews before booking travel accommodation so it’s important to have them somewhere on your website – whether it’s a widget on the homepage or a dedicated landing page. Consider displaying TripAdvisor and Google reviews as these are more convincing than your own website testimonials.

Live Chat

Surpass your guest’s expectations with outstanding customer service instantly by engaging with them using live chat directly on the website. Online travel agencies like booking.com, etc cannot provide personalised guest service in this manner but you can.

NOTE: freetobook’s Messaging system is now up and running!

 

Calls to Action

To ensure your website is ‘conversion optimised’ it will require smart call-to-actions to usher guests through to the reservations page.

If you don’t do anything else on this list make sure your BOOK NOW button is displayed prominently on every page of the site. Once they have clicked the button to book don’t distract users with more CTAs.

Promote direct Bookings

Make it simple for your potential guest to book directly on your website (with a good booking engine like freetobook).

Display certification icons to encourage potential guests to book with confidence.

 

Local Events Calendar

Adding a local events calendar gives guests a reason to stay an extra night if they know the circus is in town the following evening or the flower show is at the weekend. Make sure to include dates, times, entry costs and any other pertinent details to help your visitors. In addition to upcoming events, list what activities are available locally whether it’s recreational activities such as golf or popular restaurants and visitor attractions like beaches, castles or theme parks.

Offers & Upsells

Can you offer a deal to first time guests who book direct or perhaps a free breakfast? Lure potential guests by offering certain deals available if they book before a certain date. Maybe you can upsell an afternoon tea as an extra on the booking confirmation page?

Urgency

Create a sense of urgency through the search and booking process by telling users when there are only a limited number of rooms available. This can instill a fear of losing out prompting users to click through and make a reservation rather than abandon. If that does occur, however, a clever website can ask users if they would like to save their search for another time. You can then retarget potential customers with the captured data.

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.

Airbnb and freetobook

Airbnb connecting to hotelsIn an open letter this week to boutique hotel and B&B owners, Airbnb have just announced that going forward they want to ensure that small business owners have access to their community of travelers. Airbnb has always been a favourite of thousands of freetobook customers; over the years a large number have registered with Airbnb and use it as a great source of bookings. It’s good news that small hotels, bed and breakfasts and unique properties are now officially recognised and welcome to the Airbnb site.

Freetobook has always been a supporter of unique, independent, interesting and diverse accommodation; these are values we share with Airbnb, so its no surprise to us that so many of our customers enjoy bookings from them. Together we celebrate and support diversity, uniqueness and personal hospitality; after all, despite our size we too are a family business passionate about our customers and what you do.

There is another reason we support Airbnb for our customers. Over the past years the big OTAs have gotAirbnb API connection bigger, they continue to grow, and their commissions are cripplingly high to so many small businesses. Compared to the OTAs Airbnb has a far lower commission to accommodation owners, which gives you a welcome choice.

At freetobook we support diversity of bookings, encouraging our customers not to have all their eggs in one basket and to be over reliant on one big OTA. Airbnb is a competitor of the large OTAs and therefore an additional independent source of bookings that can help make the booking environment healthier with more players.

Thousands of freetobook customers already list on Aribnb and update their availability using our iCal feature. We are in discussions to enrich the functionality of our connection with Airbnb and help our customers get even more out of the Airbnb connection. Further news of this will be announced in the future.

Now that they are expanding their customer base to include boutique hotels and B&Bs, Airbnb are looking for new properties to list. If you’re interested in lower commission and diversifying your booking sources, check out Airbnbs list of standards to make sure it’s the right fit for you and your property. Airbnb are selective about the properties they include so you should read their creteria before registering (see 1 below)

If you are interested in becoming an Airbnb customer (or already are one) you can link your availability from your freetobook diary (you can only do this after you have an Airbnb listing).

Just to recap:

  1. First you need an Airbnb account, check Airbnb criteria here
  2. If you fit their requirments then request an account as a professional listing “hotel”.
  3. After requesting an account Airbnb will check if you meet their criteria and approve or reject your request.
  4. Once you have an Airbnb account you can update your availability using freetobook iCal