Covid-19: Preparing To Open Again!

As accommodation businesses start to enter the next phase of managing COVID-19, guests are looking for reassurance that the accommodation they are booking is as safe as possible, and the people operating it will be taking measures to protect them. 

It is important that properties start to put measures in place now to deal with the new way their businesses will be operating. Then, most importantly, communicating that to their guests… do not assume that they know what you are doing… you need to tell them.

enjoy your stay in safety covid prepared
We are covid ready (free image click to save)

Here are the three things we think are worth considering now. Many properties have already done this so there’s lots of great examples out there.

1. CONDUCTING A COVID RISK ASSESMENT OF YOUR PROPERTY

Take advantage of the time you have now to conduct a thorough risk assessment of your business.  A risk assessment will allow you to identify the COVID-19 related risks to you, your staff, and your customers.  Once you have identified those risks, you can then set protocols to mitigate that risk. 

Guidance that has been issued tends not to be a prescriptive list as it would be impossible to cover all accommodation types, so common sense and knowledge of your own situation would seem to be the best route right now.

Only by conducting a thorough risk assessment of your property will you then be able to clearly communicate this to your staff and your guests. Examples of things to consider are;

  • What risk do you and your staff pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
  • What risk do your customers pose to the business in bringing COVID-19 into the premises?
  • What measures will you take if an infected person has been on your premises?
  • What additional cleaning measures will be taken in rooms and communal areas over and above the norm?
  • What cleaning materials will you need to source? (Do you need to update your assessments e.g. COSHH for the UK?)
  • Where you will position hand sanitisers and the like?
  • How you will manage check ins and breakfasts?
  • What you will require customers to do when on site and how will you communicate this?
  • How will you protect yourselves?
  • What can you remove from the property that would be an unnecessary source of contamination? i.e. books and board games.
  • Identify frequently touched areas.

This is not an exhaustive list and you can find guidance all over the internet that may be more relevant to your specific situation.

book with confidence covid
Book with us we are Covid prepared (free image click to save)

Our own facebook group has plenty of things that people are doing in their own business so make sure you are part of that. Freetobook customers ONLY facebook group

N.B There has been talk of various COVID-19 Safety accreditation or certificate schemes – regardless of who may be issuing these, it is clear that a written assessment will form the basis of obtaining these.

For those in the UK, this Government HSE website Risk Assessment is the place to start

2. COVID-19 INFORMATION ON YOUR WEBSITE

All properties should be looking at their website and finding effective ways to communicate to their guests, now, how they will be operating after they reopen.  This could be with a pop-up box on entering the site, a page dedicated to COVID-19 related issues and FAQs or a video.  Examples of things that you should consider highlighting are;

  • Cleaning Protocols that you have brought in to ensure the property is safe.
  • Use of hand sanitiser/masks (Personal Protective Equipment etc.).
  • Social distancing measures they can expect from you and you will require from them.
  • Changes to breakfast or eating arrangements where those apply.
  • Changes to the use of communal areas/equipment.
  • Contactless/virtual payments where those apply.
  • Check in times and how these will be handled.

All businesses are different so your list will be specific to your property, but the main point here is that the customer is informed and reassured before they even make their booking.  People are booking now for the future, so those businesses who have made this information available on their website are more likely to get a booking. This could also be the difference between them booking your property or someone else’s which appears safer.

book with confidence covid safe
Book with confidence we are Covid19 safe (free image click to save)

There are some super videos that properties are posting on their websites and social media and if you can, we would recommend this wholeheartedly.

Blue Sky retreat (their facebook page) New Mexico

Laggan Glamping (YouTube)

Pebble Beach (facebook page) Llandudno

Covid19 prepared
Covid19 ready for bookings (free image click to save)

3. PRE-ARRIVAL COMMUNICATION

Bookings could have come from anywhere at any time, so it is important that you communicate to all guests how you will be working before they arrive.  This is best done with a pre-arrival email outlining what the guest can expect when arriving at your property… and what you will require from them.  It may be that you need them to check in at a specific time to avoid everyone arriving at once or that you will not be able to personally greet them at the door.  Whatever it is good communication is key.

If you are using Messaging in freetobook you set this up via the automated ‘before arrival’ message to be sent ‘X’ days before arrival, containing all this information… you can also include a request for their arrival time.

If you are not using Messaging, you can use the Email tab in the booking to send an email to the guest (you can build a template for this in the main Email tab).

Consider also adding information about local restrictions where they apply.

The key thing to remember here is BE PREPARED.  Whilst dates may change and lockdowns may be lifted in different places/countries at different times, these are measures you will need to have in place at some point.  So, use the time you have now, to get everything organised so you are good to go as soon as your bookings are.

All of the above is non-expert opinion we hope you find it helpful BUT you are wholly responsible for your own safety and that of your guests. We are NOT experts, if you follow any actions above you do so entirely at your own risk. Stay safe.

Building A Communication Line With Your Guests

freetobook heart

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!

Find out more about Messaging in your freetobook account here

New Feature: Introducing Smart Messaging

As technology develops so do your guests’ expectations.

freetobook Smart Messaging
Smart Messaging

In the last 5 years messaging apps have flourished and entered our everyday lives. This has again accelerated in the last few months as we’ve have had to find ways to communicate with loved ones that we can’t visit. Family and work WhatsApp and Messenger groups have really come into their own.

These tools all have two things in common – they are conversational, less formal and richer in content. Adding images, links and other attachments means you’re able to share so much with so little effort.  That sharing helps create stronger bonds and brings us all closer.

So how does that fit on a business level?  Well, for starters it means our guests are familiar and comfortable with messaging as a technology.  With such a big part of the service you offer guests driven by communication, why wouldn’t you take every opportunity to finesse that communication?

That’s why we built Smart Messaging.

How you communicate with your guests before, during and after their stay is changing. The ease with which you can schedule key messages for your guests makes Smart Messaging invaluable.  And those automatic messages can be rich in content, so attaching images and links makes them not just interesting but also very useful to guests. We know this because the guest replies say it all.

freetobook messaging
Get Better Replies

What’s also fascinating is that guests respond quickly (because it’s easy) and they become more engaged with the host.  So building that relationship is a natural process. Guests even use emojis in their responses, who doesn’t love seeing a 😊 in a response! 👍

There’s lots and lots more on offer, so click here for more… We have built Smart Messaging from the ground up ourselves so it’s fully integrated with all your bookings and continually being added to. It’s also why we can offer it at such a low price of just £4/month (£49/yr + VAT)…. ridiculous value yet again from a family business that enjoys building things that make your life easier.

freetobook messaging

Spread Your Bookings Across Multiple OTAs

Diversity is security. Relying on just one source of bookings is a risk to any business.

Your first priority is maximising direct bookings and it’s what we do best at freetobook. You simply can’t ever have too many direct bookings!

Channel Manager
Channel Manager

Next in importance, if you need more bookings than just your direct ones, is your channel bookings and your meta bookings**. Freetobook does the whole range of channels: Bookingcom, Expedia, Airbnb, Hotelscom, Agoda, HostelWorld, HRS, Pitchup and a few others in the wings.

For Meta you can use Google Ads (UK only, world-wide by summer) and TripAdvisor (worldwide).

The 3 biggest channels are Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb. If you only work with one then you’re in danger of that source being too dominant, one channel is not a healthy spread. Some customers prefer to only book with certain sites (like Airbnb) so you may just not be reaching them if you’re not on that channel. Also a specific channel may do something you disagree with (it’s not unheard of!), so having alternatives will help in these situations by providing resilience.

High Connection Quality

Freetobook is regarded as one of the most reliable and high service channel managers in the world. There’s a lot of high tech in action, making sure it works all of the time. On the service side, unlike most, we do all your rate plan mapping and pro-actively manage connections once in place. This hands-on human support and advice makes the all difference. We also provide you with tools to ensure your direct rates and direct availability are the best they can be.

A good healthy business mix includes a majority of direct bookings alongside a diversified strategy with Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb.

Google Ads in the UK

OTAs are not for everyone, some properties can manage to fill up without them and we support those efforts. If you want more exposure but at a lower cost than the OTAs we suggest Google Ads at 7% advertising. In our experience TripAdvisor advertising works best if you are not with any OTAs, if you are with OTAs then TripAdvisor is too high a cost.

If Google Ads and direct are not enough to fill up your property we would suggest a diversified selection of OTAs. These channels can be managed in a way that prioritises your direct bookings, you would expect nothing less of a family company like freetobook.

Google meta search
This is what Google Hotel Ads looks like – we call this **meta search

**Meta is a source of direct bookings from rate comparison systems. Examples are Google and TripAdvisor – They are NOT Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and you pay for advertising rather than commission. Your direct rates are shown alongside the OTAs (only if you are with the OTAs). Meta is most powerful when you are not with any OTAs – your direct rates then become the only rate Google shows !!

Google Hotel Advertising is here
Channel Manger details and pricing on freetobook is here
TripAdvisor advertising is here … (TripAdvisor is DIY you do it with them)

Links related
Freetobook 7 pledges for online booking (this shows how we are different)
Book direct images for your website, signature, facebook etc…

Email Confirmations Are Old News….Speak To Your Guests Directly!

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 🙂

Guest Messaging: Using It To It’s Full Potential

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.

Stripe: Why Should You Use It For Card Payments?

Stripe, is fast, secure and easy to use. It enables businesses all over the world to transact credit cards. Freetobook’s customers just love our integration with Stripe (Over 90% said it was good for their business)

Over two thousand freetobook customers use Stripe as their card processing system, it accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and recently added ApplePay and GooglePay.

Top 5 reasons to use Stripe for your card payments:

  1. Quick and easy to setup – Just head to the “Pay” Tab in your freetobook account and get started !
  2. Low Cost – In Europe charges are 1.4% for European cards and 2.9% for non-European cards plus 20p per transaction
  3. No Monthly charges – Stripe only charge for the transactions you make , simple Pay-as-you-go, with no tie ins.
  4. Secure – 100% PCI compliant for all transactions, no horrible forms to complete.
  5. All Cards – Transactions can be online, by phone or via Bookingcom and Expedia, Stripe works for all cards.

At freetobook we rarely rave about anything quite as much as we do about Stripe. You might ask why ? The answer is simple, because our customers love it ! We even offer a 30 day money back guarantee* so you have no risk in trying it.

Feedback from our customers

“It has reduced our costs and offers peace of mind.” (The Cardinal’s Hat)

“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)

“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)

*freetobook charges an annual integration fee of £89 which provides you with all the great functionality of Stripe from within your freetobook account.

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.

Coming Soon: Upgrades in the pipeline include pre-auth functionality so you can automatically pre-auth a card to make sure the customer has the funds to cover their booking before they arrive.

Stripe with ApplePay and GooglePay

Stripe on freetobook is now upgraded to include ApplePay and GooglePay

ApplePay and GooglePay

ApplePay and GooglePay are so convenient for customers, they simply pay using their fingerprint on their smartphone. Freetobook has been busy working to integrate the new functionality so your customers can now pay with ultimate ease.

This fantastic functionality makes it easier for customers to book so you get more direct bookings. “Paying for a booking is now as easy as paying for a cup of coffee” said Ele at the office..

There is no extra cost, the card transaction charges are the same low cost as they always are with Stripe and we have implemented this with no extra costs.

  1. When customers book online, we detect if their mobile device has ApplePay or GooglePay enabled and offer them an option to pay that way.
  2. If you send a payment request by email and they receive it on their phone with GooglePay or ApplePay they can simply pay with a single click.
ApplePay GooglePay Stripe Freetobook

There are no extra costs whatsoever so we have automatically enabled it for all customers already using Stripe.

This adds further brilliant functionality to the Stripe product on freetobook. It already has over 90% approval rating with freetobook users, just as a reminder these are the 5 reasons to use Stripe for card payments.

  1. Quick and easy to setup
  2. Low cost
  3. No monthly charges
  4. Secure and PCI compliant
  5. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, ApplePay and GooglePay
  6. All cards including channel cards from Booking.con and Expedia

Coming Soon: Upgrades in the pipeline include pre-auth functionality so you can automatically pre-auth a card to make sure the customer has the funds to cover their booking before they arrive.

TripAdvisor Ranking Tips: Why & How To Get Reviews

Recent research on reviews makes interesting reading and helps guide you on how to improve your ranking within TripAdvisor, Google and any other review sites.

TripAdvisor for business
Tripadvisor

Good reviews are important, we all know potential guests read and compare reviews before making a decision to book. Maintaining this good reputation has a significant bottom line impact.

Giving good service is always going to be the best way to get great reviews. As the host you’re the one in front of the guest and that makes all the difference … giving you a real advantage over corporate hotel chains. There are however a few tricks that can help bend the curve in your favour because having brilliant service on its own might not generate enough reviews. There may be some gentle prodding required to keep a fresh flow of reviews.

Let’s take a look at a few of the issues. Firstly, WHY you should have a good set of recent reviews, HOW to get them and finally a trick or two to encourage those that you know will REVIEW YOU WELL. We’ll also touch on the danger of putting review links on your website that take possible guests off to another website (where they’re encouraged to book an alternative!)

Why should you try to get a good set of recent reviews ?

1) Fresh reviews are the most important, about 40% of customers only look at reviews from the last few weeks (huge increase from only 18% in 2017). This has a positive impact on hosts that encourage guests to review because they tend to have a constant stream of recent reviews.  

2) TripAdvisor gives higher weighting to the most recent reviews and lowers the importance of older legacy reviews. Favouring newer reviews makes sense because guests want the most up-to-date picture of their potential stay.

3) Getting lots of recent reviews acts as a kind of insurance policy against the (inevitable) odd bad one. If you are unlucky enough to get a poor review amongst all your brilliant ones, it’ll soon sink out of sight if you keep getting new reviews.

4) Properties with more recent reviews will rise-up the ranking compared to those with the same score but older reviews.

How do you encourage guests to post reviews?

A certain number of guest will be regular reviewers and won’t need any nudging, but the majority might need a little prod to post a review. There is no shame in asking for a review, every business needs to know how they’re performing – your guests understand this.

To encourage reviews you could print little business cards with your TripAdvisor link (and maybe an direct booking discount offer for next time they book). Alternatively, you could email or message them after their stay. A little bait sometimes helps so why not use a PromoCode to give them a special returning guest discount?

How do I filter out the best customers to ask for a review?

Your booking system may have its own automatic guest feedback built in? A very effective strategy is to use this initial feedback by thanking them for the great review and asking it to be placed on TripAdvisor. By doing this you are filtering out the best reviewers which will over time boost your review score.

Top Tip: Respond to your reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and others.

Did you know that 89% of guests read the responses to reviews? Replying shows you care and helps you understand precisely what made the difference in the eyes and words of your guests … marketing gold.

This is great news for independent properties because it’s usually the “hosts” that are the differentiator, it’s not the free wi-fi, parking or the marble lobby that get mentioned, it’s YOU the host that makes the stay truly memorable.

Top Tip: Use technology to free yourself to do the important things.

The best hosts use technology to the max – they let their booking engine do the bookings, process payments, update channels etc. investing the time saved delivering a unique memorable experience.  This pays off with a great reputation, more bookings and higher prices.

Top Tip: Review widgets on your website can be tempting…. and costly!

We all want to show off our great review scores but please make sure your review widgets don’t lead guests to a page where they book another accommodation. So many properties just put the review link on their website, leading potential guests off to book with an OTA (at commissionable rates) or not at all. Check your website today, follow the links to see what your web visitors see and where they go, you might be shocked.

Direct booking review widgets are good and freetobook have just launched their new responsive and customisable review widget. 

At freetobook we’re constantly working to free up your time so you can spend it giving guest an amazing experience. We automate payments, guest feedback, online bookings, sending messages, channel management… and so much more.

share best practise

We’re family run and independent to the core, always searching for ways to support direct bookings.

Smart Messaging: Benefits Compared To Email Communication

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.

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.)

How Do I Sign Up?

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.