Your B & B Business and SCA

New Payment Security Measures that WILL Affect Your Business

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 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.

 

 

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.

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

Gonzo Marketing
Gonzo Marketing

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

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

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

What is the most important trend in online room booking?

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

How can a property get more direct bookings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 key stats to consider:

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

Visit Frederic Gonzalo’s website for further insights

 

Google Mobile Friendly deadline

Mobile friendly deadline
Google Mobile Friendly deadline

In a candid announcement a few months back Google let the world know that mobile friendliness has a deadline. From the 21st April onwards Google will actively favour mobile-friendly websites in mobile searches. If your website is mobile-friendly it is likely that you will rise in Google search results for mobiles as those that aren’t slip down the ranks.

Mobile-Friendly tag on Google
Mobile-Friendly tag on Google

In their words “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” The Google announcement can be found here

This makes total sense, Google is in the business of delivering high quality relevant searches to their customers. If a customer is using a mobile device they will want to see mobile-friendly websites above the websites that do not look good on mobile devices. As a useful guide Google has made free tool to check if your website is mobile-freindly click here to check your website.

Mobile-Friendly websites for hotels
Get a great mobile website

Accommodation businesses should look to be mobile-friendly before the 21st April. There is help at hand with freetobook mobile website and mobile booking. Our mobile websites are continually updated for the latest mobile versions and they update when you change your details in your freetobook account.

For more information on Mobile websites on freetobook click here or watch the video below.

Google Mobile-Friendly websites

Mobile friendly website
If you get this your website is mobile friendly

If Google speaks we all have to listen and when the world’s search giant lets us know that it now labels websites as “mobile-friendly” the message is clear. (read Google announcement)

Labeling websites as mobile-friendly will help Google rank them higher for users on phones. The message from Google is loud and clear so any late arrivals need to get serious about mobile. Simply put there is now a penalty on Google for not having a mobile website.

Not Mobile Friendly
You don’t want to see this message ! It’s bad news.

Google says “Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. “

 

Google now offers a free tool to check if your website is mobile-friendly. Check your website here.

Frankly, it’s frustrating to visit a website with a phone and have to scroll to find things, read tiny print and wish that your fingers were the size of matchsticks as you try to click the correct link or back track from the wrong link.

Elegant, simple, mobile booking solutions have been part of freetobook from our birth. It’s easy and low cost to get your website and booking process mobile.

Mobile websites for accommodation providers need to designed specifically for accommodation, you need something that fits your business. All our mobile sites are automatically updated when you update your details in freetobook.

 

 

Get together and win

Is your local association or marketing group doing enough for you?

Together for accommodation ownersOnline booking is just getting easier and more accessible to everyone. It’s great to see associations and marketing groups looking to improve their websites and the profitability of their membership.

Local association and marketing group websites tend to generate a lot traffic because they are the best source of local information (search engines like this), but do they really capitalise on all those visitors. If the huge growth of budget hotels and online travel agents is anything to go by you would have to say these local websites are failing to deliver what their members need most…direct commission free bookings.

together group website
together was our best decision

Why are they losing out on these bookings, because they are not offering their visitors what they want…the ability to search availability then compare properties, locations and prices, and make bookings. We all know customers want choice, value and convenience when shopping for accommodation online hence the global popularity of the OTAs.

That’s the problem, here’s the solution – get your area website set-up to take bookings for your members. To set this up quickly and cheaply you need a booking system that is accessible to all, quick to set up and easy to manage. Our solution at freetobook has been

Grow your accommodation group with together
Grow together and expand your association

simple and inclusive, the internet booking engine is free to use, quick to set-up (couple of hours) and easy to manage. Members can still run their existing booking systems if they want .. we do not mandate that they have to use freetobook exclusively and there’s no tie-ins. So the cost of entry is just a few hours time for members … a fair price for commission free bookings?

Proven benefits of working better “Together” include:

1) being able to categorically show members that they are “in profit” from their membership

2) reduce commissions paid and raise the long-term positive profile of the group/area

3) expand the membership of the group and directly increase their profitability

4) keeping bookings within the group means more bookings for all and easier referrals

Website visitors want to book online on your website and your association or group website, can you and your association afford to sit on your hands and do nothing ?

Find out more with examples of existing “together” websites

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

Video showing how “together” can work for you

TripConnect Mobile Optimisation

Make the most of TripConnect Mobile bookings

TripConnect Mobile Bookings
TripConnect Mobile Bookings using freetobook

As TripAdvisor focuses on Mobile customers we think you should too. Earlier this year they reported there had been 100 million downloads* of their free mobile app. These customers use mobile phones to research holidays and some make bookings. If you are promoted on TripConnect you will convert better with freetobook’s mobile booking platform.

To optimise your freetobook mobile booking system simply login and select the TAB ”Plus” then “Mobile Booking”.  The “Deluxe Mobile Search” option will work for TripConnect or why not get a discount on the Full Mobile Package which includes a great mobile website.

Mobile Booking for accommodation Freetobook Plus Services

 

Freetobook’s mobile booking works on all mobiles and includes multi language booking. The mobile services work for all customers, not

TripAdvisor mobile page
TripAdvisor mobile page

just those on TripConnect, this means customers visiting your website using a mobile will also be able to use the optimised booking process.

We don’t charge for a connection with TripConnect….and that includes multi language booking in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

Our mobile optimised website and/or mobile deluxe search provide great value.

Watch the video below to see how great your mobile website and mobile optimised booking process can be with freetobook.

 

freetobook mobile booking engine for tripconnect and your website (youtube)

Find out more about mobile booking and mobile websites for accommodation businesses

On mobile it’s all about the booking experience, see some examples below.

mobile website for guest house

A mobile website for guest house.

 

 

mobile booking pages for hotels

Mobile booking pages for hotels.

*TripAdvisor press release 15April2014

Mobile bookings : Your 4 point check list

Mobile booking optimisation for accommodation owners

Mobile Hotel Website
Mobile Hotel Website – Torcroft hotel

Ownership of smartphones is growing and so are mobile bookings. Mobile bookings grew at 20% in the first half of 2014. Smartphones and tablets now account for 21 percent of hotel bookings with OTAs (online travel agents) taking most of the growth *

Here is a handy four point check list to tick off and make sure you are getting your share of mobile bookings. The longer you leave it the more bookings you could be losing.

1) Your website : Is your website optimised for mobile phones ? Visit your website now and find out if it automatically redirects to a mobile version. If not then customers will be lost because as they give up trying to navigate a full size version on a small screen.

Mobile traffic growth
Mobile traffic growth

2) Speed and size: Yes, this is a case where size matters, big images on your website will take too long to load on a small mobile. Customers get bored waiting, give up and go somewhere else. Mobile websites are more than 70% more likely to convert bookings on a Mobile device and nearly 50% of customers will never come back if they have had a bad experience on a non mobile website.

3) Elegant and Simple wins: You need to cut down on the clutter, remove unnecessary content and keep the most important information at or near the top of the page. One good image coupled with simple easy buttons to access the vital information leading to a booking.

4) Mobile Booking engine: There is absolutely no point in having a mobile website without mobile optimised booking engine. The booking functionality needs to work on a mobile phone in just the same way your website needs to be optimised. The booking process should be fast, simple and elegant that’s what leads to more mobile bookings. Visit your website with your mobile phone and make sure the booking process changes when you try to make a booking on your phone.

It’s not difficult or expensive to get a mobile website and mobile booking engine our technology has been powering mobile bookings for years make sure you are not missing out.

Mobile Booking for accommodation  Freetobook Plus Services
Freetobook customers can easily add mobile services to their account in the TAB “Plus”

 

 

 

Mobile websites for hotels

 

Video showing how a good mobile website and a good mobile booking should and can look for accommodation owners all over the world.

* 2014 Travel Flash Report by Criteo

Together case study – How to get a group accommodation website

How a group of B&Bs got Together.

together by freetobook
get together as an accommodation group

Keeping bookings in the community and working together with nearby accommodation businesses has never been easier or more profitable. A small group of Fort William Bed and Breakfast owners got together and use the freetobook software, here is their story.

In their own words…..

together fort william accommodation group
Fort William marketing Group get together

“Together has contributed dramatically to the expansion of the group and to the individual profitability of our members. Without exception, all of our members have gained a substantial value of commission free bookings directly and measurably.”

This is powerful stuff.

Together: provides a live booking website showing rates and availability for all of the group with direct commission free booking….“an almost perfect match for a number of reasons”.

1) All availability for the group can be accessed through a single search. “helping guests save time …. and increasing booking retention within the group”

2) By adding the group search facility to their website they “transformed their group site with almost no cost into a fully functional mini OTA (online travel agent)”

3) All members update availability using their freetobook account so maintenance and upkeep is easy.

4) The Together fees are fixed keeping each member’s annual cost to a minimum…. “we know in advance the cost of maintaining our market advantage…as the group grows individual costs go down !”

The group has gone from 8 local B&Bs to 26 members. With other guest houses in the area wanting to join as they became aware of the benefits in a cooperative approach. “As group members reduce their reliance on the OTAs … we will continue to reap the rewards of the best decision the group has made to date !”

Fort William Marketing Association Case Study with freetobook together online booking

 

freetobook together system for group booking of accommodation providers

Together the video on youtube