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.

TripAdvisor Ranking Tips

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

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.

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.

Switch tips for new customers

Switching your booking system can be a lot easier than you think with our switch team.

User friendly websites
User friendly freetobook

Reliability, trust and cost savings can all make a big difference to your business and your happiness!

1. No Monthly standing charges

As a family business we believe all customers should pay for what they want and that nothing is hidden. Our pricing is optional, clear and openly listed on our website, it has always been this way. Prices and what you get for free

(other companies don’t show prices on their website because they want to charge you more or pay oily sales people high commissions to get the sale!)

2. No Minimum contract terms.

At freetobook we guarantee you will love our service, but just in case you don’t you’re not locked in, you can leave whenever you wish; we will never make it difficult, our customers stay because they want to.

(other companies tie you in to make it difficult to leave without penalty, that’s a trick we would never play – it just would not be trust worthy)

3. UK based support system

Customer service at freetobook is second to none – give us a ring and you will be connected straight to our expert support team in Glasgow.

4. Free online booking system

Unlike other booking systems we provide a high quality booking system free of charge so you get to fully use our system before you decide to opt in for any of the paid services which are completely optional and include a brilliant channel manager (Bookingcom reliability score 99.97% on 13 Jun 19) or a great low cost payment system.

5. You’re in control

Your business, your decisions. With freetobook you have control over all aspects of your online booking. You can decide to sell lower prices on your own website or have better availability on your direct booking channels…plus so much more.

 

” Wow this is amazing!! We have just reached 100 bookings in the last 30 days on the freetobook system. Thanks for starting it all off, and can you thank the ladies in the office for help setting up. I wish we had moved years ago!! ” (Adrian at Seed Hill)

Thinking about switching to freetobook ? why not try it out today …

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.

 

World Social Media Day

Social Media is a brilliant way for B&Bs and independent hotels to connect with their customers, build relationships and promote themselves. In celebration of World Social Media Day, here are freetobook’s top ten social media tips for B&Bs:

Make visuals a social media priority

Give future guests a virtual experience of what it will be like staying at your B&B – share pictures of your rooms, the delicious breakfasts you offer, the awesome view from your property, that speciality cake you make for new arrivals…get creative!

Destinations change based on the time of year, remember to show off how awesome you are year round with pictures reflecting seasonal changes.

Play with your Facebook cover photos

 It’s the first thing that prospective guests see when they visit your page and influences their perception of your brand. Make sure your cover photo is as awesome as your business, and remember that you can change it frequently if you want to.

Engage Your Followers

Platforms like Facebook are a great way to engage with existing and new customers. Take the time to respond to questions, and also sometimes ask your own – “we’re preparing our new afternoon tea menu, what should it be, lemon drizzle or Victoria sponge?”

Get Guests Involved

Create a hashtag for your B&B to get your guests talking online. Guests can use it when they post about their holiday on Twitter and Instagram and is great bit of free PR for your business. It’s also a rich source of material that you can re-post on your own social media channels (with the guest’s permission!).

Speaking of hashtags…

When you post on Twitter and Instagram remember to include a few relevant hashtags. An important one to include is your location – holiday makers will often search for their planned location via hashtag on social media, for inspiration and ideas. Using it on your posts can draw them to your page and showcase how great your property would be for their holiday.

Promote your special offers and packages, but…

Have you just launched a brand new package? Got a new promo offer? Advertise it on social media! Get your great deals out there and encourage people to book direct.

Remember the Seven and One Rule

Too many promotional or ‘salesy’ posts are a turn off for your followers. Make sure you get the balance right by posting around seven posts that are interesting, beneficial and relevant to your customers for every one post where you advertise your B&B.

However, you can (and should) still do some ‘soft promotion’ on your posts by including a link to your website at the end of your posts.

Post Interesting Content

Consider topics and ideas that would be interesting and useful for your guests and incorporate them into your social media plan. Interesting or fun event coming up in town? Post about it! Is there a great country walk nearby? Post about it! Is there a brilliant local restaurant that your guests should try on their trip? Post about it!

Repeat Posts

So you’ve made an awesome post about family activities in your area…but it’s been a few months and now it’s hidden far down your page where your followers won’t see it. Time to repost!

Social media has a very short shelf life – if your followers don’t see your post the day you make it, chances are they won’t see it at all. Repost interesting content (as long as it’s still relevant) every few weeks or months.

Direct Bookings through Facebook

Turn your facebook page into a great booking tool with our free facebook app. Incredibly simple to set up and use, this is a brilliant way to convert all the hard work you’ve done creating an awesome facebook page for your business into more direct bookings.

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.

Maximum Direct Bookings 2018

New year, new direct booking updates!

Direct bookings save you commission, time and are three times less likely to cancel than bookings made through an OTA. As always, freetobook has your back – our new SearchPro upgrade can increase your direct bookings by up to 40%! Here are our top tips to make the most of your free SearchPro upgrade and maximise your direct bookings:

 

1.Customise your booking page

Your business is unique – your booking page should be too! Head over to your My Direct Booking page and select icons to appear which reflect the amenities you offer, such as wifi and breakfast. Replacing text with icons optimises your booking page, making it super clear to your guests the benefits you offer.

2.Reward booking direct:

Special offers are a brilliant way to incentivise and reward your guests for booking direct. Always make sure that you offer the best deal on your own                  website, even if that is the same as rates offered elsewhere – don’t miss out on direct bookings because OTAs are offering a better deal! We have a selection of Book Direct Images, try one or design your own – displaying a neat “Best Price Guarantee” sticker on your website will go a long way to increasing your direct bookings.

Using Promo codes is a more selective way to reward booking direct; the customer needs to know the promo code. Your offer can vary from a complementary drink on arrival to a discount – get creative! Your guests will feel special and rewarded and will likely mention it in their review, encouraging future guests to book direct when they hear about the benefits!

Providing a non-refundable special offer booking option for your guests ensures that they are getting a great value deal, and you are reducing your cancellations and securing guaranteed income – it’s a win-win!

 

3.Review your cancellation policy

Take some time to review your cancellation policy – always make sure that your cancellation policy is equal to or better than the OTA offer! This is another way to show that booking direct offers the best deal.

 

4.Website check up

The new year is a perfect time to review your website and optimise it to increase your direct bookings:

  • Update your content – is all the information still accurate? Do you provide information on local attractions and events?
  • Good quality, professional pictures of your property are important in showcasing your business and are worth investing in.
  • Is your website mobile responsive? 27% of accommodation bookings are made via mobile – your booking page is responsive; your website should be too!
  • Is your ‘Book Now’ button visible and in more places than just your homepage? Quick and easy ability to ‘Book Now’ will help increase your direct bookings

 

 

Stay tuned for tips and advice throughout 2018 – we will soon be hosting our first webinar where we will guide you through the ins and outs of SearchPro via live video, keep an eye on our social media and emails for more details!

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