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

3 Ways to Power Direct Bookings

1. Show the benefits of booking directly

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

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

2. Don’t hide your Book Now button

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

Book Now
Book Direct

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

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

3. Reward direct bookings

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

special offer for rooms
special offer

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

Direct Bookings using Promo Codes
Promo Codes for Direct Bookings

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

Get creative and invent original rewards for direct booking.

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

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

Group website at zero commission

Get a Together group for direct bookings

direct commission free bookings
grow your direct bookings

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

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

Get together and co-operate to reduce commission.

Key Advantages:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case study of Fort William Bed and Breakfast group

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

Video showing how “together” can work for you

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

 

Together group benefit circle