Google disrupts online bookings

On the 9th March 2021 Google did something completely unexpected, they launched “free booking links”, taking everyone by surprise… after all this is Google offering hotels free direct bookings by showing their rates and availability with a live booking link. No conditions attached, no requirment to pay for advertising and available everywhere.

Want fewer OTA bookings and more direct bookings?

No one else comes near Google in terms of traffic volumes and search influence.  The booking levels on Google Zero or Google Hotel Ads clearly suggest you’ve got to be in that game.

We saw it as a “no brainer” and within 10 days Google Zero was live for free direct bookings on Google. Now just 6 months on Google Zero has delivered:

10,000+ free bookings

That’s £ millions in zero commission bookings! Bookings that would have come via the OTAs if Google Zero wasn’t there.  A similar level of bookings are generated as phone bookings or website bookings because showing your live direct rates acts as an incentive for guests to contact you.

Your live availability on Google is amazing

We’ve seen Google Zero bookings in 30 countries with over 1500 businesses receiving bookings.  A handful have even taken over 100 bookings each and across the board the booking values are high. This all adds up to very strong start and there’s much more potential particularly if you get things right.

Getting it right means:

  1. Activate Google Zero and or Google Hotel Ads
  2. Your direct rates and availability must always be the best (uniquely)
  3. Your Google My Business should be up to date with reviews responded to etc. see our earlier blog with tips:

Reducing OTA commission means competing with the OTAs for those bookings. The best (and only) place to do that effectively is on Google. That’s why we prioritise Google development, we got it live quickly with free trails and now continue to build and expand the service…. all because it is working and growing right now!

What is coming?

1. More data to monitor and improve your performance on Google
2. Greater flexibility to move between Google Zero and Google Hotel Ads
3. Reports on Google Hotels Ads showing how well your rates are performing on Google searches versus the OTAs.  A great tool to ensure your direct rates are always the best.

It’s great to show the booking numbers that prove it’s worth putting more effort into Google as a channel, if you’re not doing that you’re losing out on direct bookings.

Find out more and activate (freetobook customers) Google Zero get started.

Don’t have an account yet ? register for a freetobook account !

Google zero commission

google free booking feed
Google free booking feed

A few weeks into the Google free feed activation and bookings are flowing in. We are overjoyed to be providing direct commission free bookings into your diary… (No charge from Google) so make sure you don’t get left out.

Sometimes these things don’t last forever so its worth getting in as early so you can to maximise the number of commission free bookings.

You can have the Google free feed on its own, you don’t have to pay for Google advertising to be part of the free feed.

Maximising direct bookings at zero commission is one of our key pledges, we are proud once more to be the first to build solutions that genuinely help accommodation owners to thrive…

Freetobook will always prioritise direct bookings which is why you can trust us to be the first with such important services like the Google commission free bookings. It’s a great benefit to your business so why not signup to Google Zero by freetobook and get yours!

Login to your freetobook account and activate Google zero

More information on Google commission free bookings:
Google Zero is here !
Tips to get to the Top On Google free feed
Article by Craig from freetobook on phocuswire
Google’s free booking links for hotels …

Top of Google free feed

The Google free feed is now available world-wide but it is also available for OTAs and big review sites. To maximise Google free bookings you must be at the top of the free feed….

Google free feed ranking
Google free and paid feed ranking

Firstly the free feed ranking is a Google secret (but it’s easy to get to the top of it). What we do know is that Google will order the free feed to satisfy their user, that is the many millions visiting Google to check out accommodation. We also know that the free feed is independent of money paid so every accommodation owner has the same opportunity as a multi-billion dollar OTA. This has never happened before and is brilliant news for direct bookings…

Google users (just like most of us)

  1. Want to see the direct feed “official site” at the top
  2. Want to see the best price at the top
  3. Want the best availability at the top

For the first time ever this gives property owners a distinct advantage (over OTAs) if they connect availability directly with their booking system.

It is most important that you make sure you have the best rates and availability direct. This comes with a warning, if you offer OTAs or review sites a better deal they will most likely go to the top of the Google free feed.

Google free feed tips
Google free feed tips

The top position in the Google free feed is as simple as this …

  1. Have the best rate direct
  2. Have the best availability direct
  3. Do not accept OTAs/Review sites undercutting your direct rate

In this simplicity, there is amongst the suspicious of us, a feeling of fear – can it really be this simple? Clearly Google want to satisfy their customers and make Google the best place to come for accommodation booking AND we know the customer wants the best price and availability. The Google free feed is an elegant solution to provide what the customer wants, but there is an elephant in the room. How much will it cost Google in lost advertising (mostly from OTAs and Review sites)

The question the future will determine is, how much is Google willing to pay in lost advertising revenue to make Google the best place to get the best deal? The answer right now is indirect, there is simply no company better able to make this calculation profitably. Google knows exactly how to do these type of numbers and knows how to provide great search. Great search for Google now includes availability, prices, location, reviews, descriptions, comparison and booking. They also have what only Google has, vast user data and smart suggestions.

If the Google free feed continues it is likely that the future battle over the best price – the “price parity” vs. “rate fixing” argument – is going to be settled by Google de facto rather than in law where it has failed to provide the customer the best deal. Before the free feed the OTAs could pay to get their higher prices at the top of the list, not on the free feed they can’t… Bookings and customers will naturally flow to where they can get the best deal and Google wants it to be them.

One can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end of OTAs and other meta review sites. They are starting to feel like second class places to go to book accommodation and that is, and must be, Google’s primary intention.. make it better than the OTAs and they will come…

The Google free feed changes everything in meta because it is genuinely better than anything else and that must put the fear in the rest.

Find out how to get listed on Google free feed – earlier blog..

Google’s free booking feed – Why ?

Good news for property owners? We think so!

Google free feed

Just over a week ago Google made a big announcement about free advertising. It’s fair to say it shook up the meta search hotel booking space like a gorilla with a rattle. We all like to have something for free and from an advertising giant like Google, we would surely love it.

But let’s pause for a minute, what is this? We know that the OTAs typically spend in excess of $6 Billion a year with Google on advertising. Are they giving all of this away? No, I’m sure they are not doing that.

So, if it’s not a total giveaway then what is it? What is the free advertising Google are offering and how good is it for accommodation owners? More to the point, WHY have Google done it?

As a Google Hotel Ads feed provider and Ads manager for nearly two years, here at freetobook we have seen the progress and have a few insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Hotel Ads as it stands, and, as it might develop alongside its competitors – chiefly TripAdvisor – in this meta search space.

What is the free bit that Google offer? The new free listing of the rates and availability feed is a section at the foot of the advertising block. It fits in below the paid or sponsored listings and looks a bit like this …

Google free and paid Hotel Ads feeds
Google free and paid feeds – Hotel Ads

For those of you familiar with search engine terms this new “free” block is analogous to “natural” listings. Natural listings are the opposite of paid listings, they are free and they are ordered based primarily on customer preference. If many customers pick a certain supplier for that property it is likely that supplier will float to the top.

Anyone providing a feed to Google can be listed in the free or natural section and the order they are presented will be a secret algorithm known only to Google which is 100% independent of any payment to Google. No advertising payment can ever influence a natural listing, that is certain.

How good is this free “natural” advertising? This is the tricky bit to answer but I think I can. In short, the reality is that it’s as good as Google wish to make it. They are the universal masters of natural listings vs. sponsored or paid listings. Their whole business model has, at its core, the advertising auction to get to the top of the page (where the clicks are) vs. the natural listings that give more authentic content and customer satisfaction.

The answer is probably about 10%. Google is giving away about 10% of the traffic to natural listing. We know this roughly from volumes of bookings and it kind of makes sense as a natural vs. paid split.

Freetobook Distribution
Freetobook distribution for less

It sounds small but to accommodation owners this is a fantastic opportunity. If you are not currently paying Google to advertise in their feed (and the majority are not) then this 10% is actually 100% of something you didn’t have before and for free. If you remember the $6 Billion dollars, they are giving away a chunk of that to massively improve their customer offering and bring in new potential advertisers. Not a bad price for them and remember Google controls the prominence of natural listings (as they always have), so that 10% might not always be 10%, the structure/visibility of that display will continue to change.

What’s in it for accommodation owners? Our feed to Google is direct so it shows to the consumer as “Official site”, this puts properties at an advantage against the OTAs in the natural listings (free section). This is because consumers are drawn to the direct channel when everything else is equal. Every property’s direct feed should by “rights” be at the top of the natural listings and so you could get the 10% of clicks for free. But beware! The OTAs are all also in the free feed and if any OTAs were to have a better rate than yours they would almost certainly come above you in the natural listing. If you are not at the top, it is likely you have given a special offer to an OTA and your direct rates are higher than the OTA rate.

Top Tips freetobook
Tips to be top of the free feed

Now this is the bit worth paying attention to … here are our tips to being top of the natural listing:

a) Have the best rate direct
b) Keep the best availability for your direct bookings
c) Do not accept OTA virtual cards or they will undercut your direct rate
d) Make sure your Google My Business listing is as unique and rich as it can be with reviews, photos, amenities etc. In other words if your direct feed is not at the top it is your fault and you need to fix it – which is as easy as a,b,c,d.

So yes, this is a massive opportunity for the direct booking feed, if you are managing your rates properly you will benefit. For the small number of properties that do not list with the OTAs this is even better news because they will have no competition for their direct bookings, a “no-brainer” as they say.

Why are Google doing this?

Lots of good reasons. Google really cares about the user experience. You use Google search because they are the best search engine. They want you to say you also book via Google meta because it is the best place to find the best rates and availability.

1) Google can only show the best rates and availability if they have all of the properties in the world on board and feeding them with the best on offer. So, on one level, this is a ‘land grab’ to get the whole world’s accommodation listed and bookable.
2) As a customer on Google you want to find the best rate. In the sponsored listing the best rate is not at the top, the top spot is for the highest bidder. This is sub-optimal as a user, why is the best rate hidden down the list of OTAs? Not a good user experience. The natural listings solve this issue because the most popular link comes to the top (most likely the best rate).
3) New advertisers become possible. As google advertising is an auction, these always work better with more bidders. Google would like you to play in the 90% of traffic that isn’t free so they will get you on board with the 10% free and take it from there.
4) Great authentic natural listings are what customer’s ultimately desire. They want to see what the best link is and the only way to do that is to remove the paid side of it.
5) Google probably know that by having all the small independent properties (the “longtail”) on board they will increase their overall bookings including those with the larger chain hotels. Guests want choice and that’s why the OTAs want to have all properties listed.
6) Reviews and content are becoming a bigger part of what Google offers. Having availability next to their accommodation reviews is a very smart move. We have seen the growing importance Google and Facebook place on collecting reviews… another blog in itself.

Google knows how to juggle the supplier’s desire for customers “traffic” with the customer’s desires. They know that if their meta is to work it must work for customers and the most authentic way for it to work is with natural listings providing by definition; what the customer wants at the top of the list.

We know Google has the best tech, they can do the math on advertising bidding better than any other company. They soon will have most of the rates and availability, a very good set of customer reviews and other content, making them the “go-to” place to book a hotel and other travel-related services. If I was a review website or an OTA I would be looking hard to see how I could keep my revenue. If I was an accommodation provider I’d take advantage of the free offer and see what plays out – Google vs. OTA vs. Big review site.

PS: Where Google goes and makes a success, Facebook and Amazon watch to see how its done!

Craig Stewart, Director freetobook

Airbnb Welcomes Hotels, Hostels & B&Bs!

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.

Airbnb Users

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.

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

Hotel Bonanza 8 percent

Hotel BonanzaHotel Bonanza is a new Online Travel Agent (OTA) with a strategy of offering a lower commission for accommodation owners and a discount to guests. They have set their commission at 8% so you will find them considerably cheaper than the current dominant OTAs.

Freetobook is a family run company so our loyalty is firmly with our customers, we hear time and time again that properties need to reduce commission charges. We understand this need and will continue to support companies like Hotel Bonanza that offer a lower cost alternative.

If you already have a Hotel Bonanza account fully setup and are a freetobook customer all you need to do is request a connection in the Tab “Plus” where you can add a channel.

For those of you who are not yet freetobook customers you can find out about all the advantages of switching to freetobook

Find out more about Hotel Bonanza and their story visit their website, join up if you like it click here

Before next summer freetobook will have a connection for Google Hotel Ads which will give you access to Google’s direct booking channels at 10% which will also be a welcome reduction for many of you.

Freetobook, the fiercely independent family company you can rely on.

3 Things to learn from Hilton CEO

OTA giantsHigh levels of cancellation, high commissions from Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and competition from Airbnb are big issues that a giant chain like Hilton have in common with independent owners.

In a recent interview, the CEO of Hilton talked about rising cancellation rates, high commission from the OTAs and competition from Airbnb. Every day is a school day so I thought I would consider his comments and try and interpret them for independent accommodation owners like yourself.

High levels of cancellation

High level of cancellationNassetta, from Hilton, says “customers…have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scene where cancellations…have skyrocketed.” He is talking about certain OTAs encouraging customers to book and cancel. OTAs don’t really care about high cancellation rates if the customer books again through them it doesn’t matter to their profitability, they still get the booking; it’s the cancelled property who loses out.

If cancellation levels are an issue for Hilton they are an even bigger issue for independent accommodation owners where each room is so much more precious. To put some numbers on it I looked at our statistics from the last 10 months and they show that certain OTAs have an average cancellation rate of 26.5% compared to 8% on direct bookings.

Our advice here is to make sure you have a cancellation policy that does not penalise direct bookings. If you can maximise your direct bookings you will also lower your cancellation rate because direct bookings are more than three time less likely to cancel.

Hilton has responded by increasing their cancellation deadline from same day to 48 or 72 hours and made sure that their direct booking cancellation policy is always the best.

High levels of commission

OTA commission risesMany of our customers tell us about the rising commission bills which seem to get larger every year as OTA bookings keep rising. Hilton mentions a lack of competition “More competition would have the effect of driving down distribution [commission] costs.” We have seen less competition as the OTAs take over rivals leaving only two major OTAs (Bookingcom and Expedia, who own most of the others).  Nassetta, of Hilton, thinks that Airbnb could change to become a competitor for the OTAs and help drive down commissions.

Is there a place for another OTA with lower commission? Hilton certainly thinks or maybe hopes so. In common with many independent owners Hilton feels the pressure from very dominant sources of bookings and hope for a path to lower commission.

Airbnb is not competition

Hilton sees Airbnb as catering to “different travel or trip occasions” this may be true for Hilton because a big hotel chain clearly has little in common with a bedroom in a home. Airbnb feels far closer to the independent small businesses that are our customers.  We also know that many of our independent customers already use Airbnb as a channel for low cost bookings so they can be an ally for everyone.

In summary, it seems that there is a surprising amount in common between Hilton and independent accommodation owners. A closer look does reveal that the same issues are faced by everyone irrespective of size along with a hope for more competition in the online travel agent space.

Previous related blogs on direct bookings

3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

Why should I book directly ? Answer this question in your customer’s mind and you will increase your direct bookings. Use some subtle “book direct” images and text to show that booking directly on your website is the best thing that guests can do.

Customers need to be convinced that they should book directly, it can’t be taken for granted. Present a message that re-assures your potential guests at the exact point they are thinking about where to book. As a little gift we have created some images, please help yourself to some “book direct” images, use them freely and share them widely. Link to “Book Direct” images

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

A potential guest has made it on to your website, so make sure that they can easily find your book now button. Is your booking button in a prominent position on all your web pages ?

Book Now
Book Direct

Your “Book Now” button or “Search Availability” should be easily identifiable and should be on every page of your website, not only on the Home Page. If potential guests can’t find it easily you are pushing them away and they could proceed to some other property or end up booking through an Online Travel Agent (OTA). Make it easy to book so you don’t lose the direct booking.

Typical errors include putting the booking button too low down on the page forcing customers to scroll to find it, others hide it under tabs and menus like Accommodation, Rates or even Contact. Show your booking button clearly, simply and prominently to increase direct bookings.

3. Reward direct bookings

Reward guests who have or are about to book directly with you. Display a special offer for direct bookers using an offer for everyone or if you want to be a bit more selective use a promo code.

special offer for rooms
special offer

With a special offer you can ensure guests can book your best rates directly via your own website. This could be for a selected period or for a minimum stay, or simply make it available for all stays, it’s up to you. Creating a reward for direct bookers will certainly increase your chances of getting the booking direct. When I do a booking directly I’m always looking for that little reward to clinch the deal.

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

Using Promo codes is more selective, the customer needs to know the promo code. There are various types of offer from the simple discount to complimentary drinks or a room upgrade. A little something that shows you are willing to reward direct bookings on your website. It’s a win for everyone, guests will feel special, rewarded and will more than likely mention it in their reviews. This helps the overall book direct message because future guests learn of the benefits of booking direct when reading the great reviews the rewards have generated.

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

To find out more about some of freetobook’s direct booking benefits take a look at Promo Codes, which can help you encourage customers to book with you again, and facebook book now button using a facebook call to action button.

Keep an eye on our blogs for tips on how to improve your direct bookings and start cutting into that commission bill.

Group website at zero commission

Get a Together group for direct bookings

direct commission free bookings
grow your direct bookings

Here at freetobook we are continually looking to make it easier for small independent accommodation owners to thrive. One message we hear again and again is that the large OTAs are taking more and more commission.

Well, here’s  the good news, it’s never been easier to fight back with zero commission direct bookings from your group’s website. A group website can be created for a few nearby properties who want to work together or for bigger groups like a local association or marketing group.

Get together and co-operate to reduce commission.

Key Advantages:

1) Zero commission for all your group’s bookings.

2) Easy to refer phone bookings when you are full, revenue stays local.

3) Professional online booking and mobile site improves the image of your group.

4) Simple to administer, each property handles their own availability, rates and information.

5) It’s your group – you own the website so you can invest in it and grow it.

If you want to start fighting back against all the high commission bills this is a great place to start.

Read about the together group that reached £500,000 in commission free bookings

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

Find out more from those already doing it with their “Together” websites.

Video showing how “together” can work for you

Join Together for more zero commission bookings from freetobook on Vimeo.

 

Together group benefit circle