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.

7 pledges of internet booking

Our promises

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 ?”

It is a tough question (if you really care about it) and after this long in business we had better have a good answer! In a perverse kind of way it’s actually taken 21 years to really find out who and what we are.

Some soul searching and chat in the office led us to seven key points that we would love to share with you as “pledges”. We believe what makes us a great company to work with is that we genuinely (and always) pledge to:

  1. listen, care about, support and advise you whilst building things to the highest standards both morally and technically
  2. continually develop, upgrade and improve for your business
  3. build booking technology that maximises direct bookings above all other bookings
  4. protect you from powerful corporations that seek to manipulate and plunder your revenue
  5. be the best booking system possible, to study and learn from other booking systems
  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

Note: the order of these pledges are as they came to us, we’ll shortly be asking our customers which are the most important to them then re-order accordingly.

These aren’t some corporate bull, in fact they have always been guiding us we just haven’t really thought much about it. 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.

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.

Airbnb Channel Manager connection – Summer launch

A full two-way Airbnb Channel Manager connection is being developed for freetobook customers. Airbnb will soon join the many other channels available on freetobook including Bookingcom, Expedia, Hotelscom, TripAdvisor, Agoda, Hostelworld and many more.

Over the last few years we have watched Airbnb grow. Many freetobook customers are already using Airbnb and more would probably like to.

This month we started a full integration for a two-way channel manager exchange so that bookings, rates and conditions on your Airbnb account can be managed from within freetobook.

We expect to be ready with the Airbnb integration within two months so if you are interested in connecting keep an eye on our emails and sign up for a listing if you don’t have an Airbnb account.

Recent releases

New group booking process is live. When you go to add manual bookings in your freetobook diary you will find a slick new process to add bookings for any number of units making it quick and easy to add single unit or group booking.

 

Mobile app for Apple and Android will notify you of new bookings, modifications and cancellations. While the mobile app is very simple (it’s a first release) it’s perfect if all you want is to get booking alerts on your smart phone.

Other developments 

We also have a fabulous automated messaging system in the development queue for release in the next few months. The new messaging system will enhance your ability to communicate with your guests and save you invaluable time with automated messages.

 

#digibiz Award Win

 

The digital industry is booming in Scotland, with our small country becoming a world-leader in pushing technological boundaries. Since 2008, the Herald has been recognising and celebrating the most innovative, creative and commercially successful digital work in Scotland with the annual Scottish Digital Business Awards. Every year Scotland’s finest digital talent, companies and campaigns are honoured at a prestigious ceremony in Glasgow, where this year, for the first time, we were honoured to be finalists in the ‘business to business’ category!

The ‘business to business’ award is given to the organisation that can “best demonstrate the effective implementation of digital platforms and tools in a business capacity”, with judges looking for evidence of “how the technique was adopted and has delivered consistent results in unpredictable market conditions”.  At freetobook we constantly strive to deliver cutting edge technology to help independent accommodation providers thrive in their business – and we think we’ve been pretty successful so far! But we were up against some tough competition from Digital Parade, The Digital Age and xDesign, so we arrived at the awards night quietly confident and optimistic, but also thrilled just to be finalists in such hotly contested category.

The freetobook team got our glad rags on (not a common occurrence!) and joined more than 250 other guests from the Scottish digital sector at the Radisson Blu hotel for a champagne reception, dinner and (finally!) awards. The drinks were great, the food delicious, and then it was time for the results! Our category was first up, and to say we had butterflies is an understatement!

And the winner is….drumroll….freetobook!!

We were absolutely delighted, and the freetobook team were loudly celebrating as our co-founders Iain and Craig went up to accept the award. The rest of the night was a bit of blur for some of the team (not everyone, Iain had to fly to Isle of Wight in the morning for a Workshop!), but there were some excellent speeches (Michael Docherty from Skyscanner was particularly good), and it was really inspiring to hear about so many different kinds of companies thriving in the Scottish digital sector; we were honoured to be a part of the event amongst such talented company, and thrilled to win our category!

 

 

We’re a family company, and the values and business style that come from that are key to our business and success. But so is the technology that we bring to the table. At freetobook we’re constantly innovating and updating our system, connecting to new channels and delivering new services – this is our passion, and we’re thrilled that the digital business technology we provide to our freetobookers has been recognised at the Scottish Digital Business Awards.

Huge thank you to all our freetobookers for your support, well-wishes and congratulations – it honestly means the world to us!

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

Card payments : fast, secure, and easy with Stripe

Stripe: online payments made easier, faster and more secure. Freetobook’s integration with Stripe makes payments possible at the click of a button, keeping things simple for you – and your customer. 

 

Thousands of freetobook customers use Stripe as their credit card payment system – this is one bandwagon you want to hop on!

 

Top 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments:

1. Quick and easy to setup

Just head over to the PAY tab in your freetobook account to get started!

2. Low Cost

In Europe, Stripe charges 1.4% for European cards (2.9% for International cards) and a mere 20p transaction fee!

3. No monthly charges 

Stripe charge per transaction, a simple pay-as-you-go system so you’re not out of pocket!

4. Secure 

PCI compliance fitted as standard, no lengthy forms to complete

5. 92% approval rating

Thousands of freetobook customers using Stripe love it! We introduced Stripe in 2015 and have since had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the service. In fact, we are so sure it will be good for your business that we offer a 30 day money back guarantee on the freetobook integration charge.

 

 

Still not convinced that Stripe will work for your business? Take a look at what your fellow freetobookers are saying…. A staggering 92% of freetobook Stripe users are very happy with the service! Check out some of their feedback below:

“Absolutely love it (Stripe). It has changed my life. It is so easy, great when people cancel, works fantastic… Much less admin for me. It’s a win, win all the way”

Holly Tree Cottage

“Love it – all automatic, and you know if cards securing reservations are valid cards, you can also charge guest stays using the system. Well done freetobook! It so easy to set up and maintain even older users like me have mastered it simply like all freetobook products we use…”

– Avlon House B&B

“It has reduced our costs and offers peace of mind.”

– The Cardinal’s Hat

 

We’re positive that you’ll love using Stripe for your accommodation payments! But just in case, we offer a full refund within 30 days of paying your subscription. Freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 for providing you with this great payment functionality, which can be accessed quickly and easily through your freetobook account.

So what are you waiting for?! Join thousands of freetobook users and improve the speed and ease of your payments today by adding freetobook Stripe integration! Click the PAY tab when logged in to your freetobook account.

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