With “together” a new solution by freetobook, properties can can easily co-operate to maximise their bookings. It’s great for associations, tourism groups, destination marketing and anyone else that just wants to get together. You can even use it for an independent chain of properties.
All you need is a group of properties that want to work together and we will build a website for your group. We will provide the customised graphics to brand it, we will host it for you and best of all we will provide a professional booking system to generate bookings for your group.
We all know it’s easier to stand out and get noticed as group. Getting a bookable website for your group makes perfect sense in terms of marketing and as a long term asset that you can invest in and grow over time. That’s why it pays to get together.
Collaboration pays with more bookings. From time to time properties get fully booked, so it makes sense to keep the booking within your group. When one is full the chances are that some of the others have accommodation available. This makes the customer’s life easy and means you don’t lose any bookings – more bookings for the group means more bookings for each member. Nothing wasted, nothing lost – that’s why it pays to get together.
Scotland’s Best B&Bs – a highly regarded group of nearly 100 bed and breakfasts, all rated 4- or 5-star by VisitScotland– have awarded Freetobook a major contract to provide commission-free online booking. www.scotlandsbestbandbs.com
Freetobook’s technology enables customers to select from any of the available properties on the group’s website and book them immediately. Thanks to us, Scotland’s Best B&Bs are now open for business throughout the world, 24 hours a day. No potential booking need slip through their fingers just because someone couldn’t answer a phone or reply to an email enquiry. As you can well imagine, a small B&B group like this one doesn’t have enormous resources, so Freetobook’s agency solution is ideal for its members. Set up costs are minimal and bookings are commission-free.
Freetobook has several similar group projects under development, helping independent properties harness the power of cutting-edge technology and benefit from strength in numbers.
On the 17th December 2010 freetobook took it’s very first customer booking…to our customers that makes us 2 years old (even if we were established in 1998), party time! It does seem a long time ago, much has happened and so much has been learnt and applied.
Going forward we will bed down the TripAdvisor link and will very soon finish work on mobile enhanced results. We are in discussions with more channel partners, including Venere.com, Hostelbookers, HRS, BudgetPlaces, Hostelworld, Hotels.com, TravelRepublic and Expedia. We are also starting development on some clever tools, such as a online merchant account and a system that helps you work with other freetobook users! We are also looking to make translations available to all our International customers. These are all designed to help you get the most from your freetobook account.
When we set out to build freetobook (well over 3 years ago) we had one goal in mind; to build the best online booking system in the world for independent accommodation providers. I suppose that in itself is not a such crazy ambition but we also wanted to make it available to all small independent businesses….that created lots of puzzled looks and a good degree of scepticism.
For us building a great service is all about putting our customers in the driving seat, understanding what matters to them and why. We were lucky because we already had 11 years in the “booking business” and had honed processes and systems to create simplicity and maximum efficiency. We had seen at an early stage how powerful the internet would become and then witnessed first hand it’s ability to increase reach and exposure exponentially. We had marvelled at how the linking of the digital world with clever software simply made life so much easier for our customers, it was trend that was clearly going one way…..up. It was perhaps that realisation more than any other that led us make freetobook an open system (available to all).
We invested early in creating our own software development capability by getting in some of the best people available, and keeping them. People like Eleanor who has been with us for over 8 years add tremendous value to the system and service that supports it. Across our team, over 75 years of booking experience has gone into freetobook.
These capabilities gave us a platform to be creative without risk, to understand and experiment without crippling costs. It also taught us that the true value of any software lies in the people that create it and those that use it. Also that the software itself is always “a work in progress”, and that just as with children, you get out what you put in, you need to feed, nurture, care for and cherish them in order to give them the best possible future.
Those values probably derive from us being a family business. As two brothers you can also be sure that there is not always a pleasant nodding of heads and calm contentment, there is belief, there is passion, there is trust and there’s just plain old sibling rivalry! In many senses the differences are our strengths and that’s another lesson we can take and use everywhere, but what unites us is that we have always tried to put the customer at the centre…. simply because it’s the right thing to do.
It has been an exciting 2 years and we have made mistakes that we are only just realising and correcting. We put freetobook out there in the market as “free”, which of course it is (and will always remain so), but perhaps we undervalued our knowledge and experience in building quality systems and services. Our customers use freetobook not because it’s free but because it works well for them and they enjoy and benefit from it.
Customers describe freetobook as …..fantastic, simple, professional, extraordinary, versatile, intuitive, exceptional, comprehensive, unbelievable, hassle free, superb, seamless, brilliant, a blessing, painless, efficient, speedy, first class, secure, helpful, flexible, sophisticated, the best, wonderful, fast, reliable, tremendous, very special……
These words are such a strong encouragement to us and we are very fortunate to have such generous customers. We have not invested in an army of sales people with clever ways of instilling fear and doubt in prospective customers, instead we have tried to build trust and help our customers wherever we can. The vast majority of our rapidly growing customer base have come from other customers recommending and talking about their freetobook experience, be that face to face, on social media or in their various associations.
We also needed to articulate the “freemium” model more clearly to answer the perennial question “how do you make your money then?”. At the start that wasn’t easy because we didn’t have any premium services to offer our customers! The “freemium” model is widely used in many software services and has two parts – a free product or service (i.e. our booking engine/diary) and then premium more advanced features and services that are charged for.
There have been some great achievements; the Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association’s online booking website (a global first?), a great value channel manager, the addition of cottage and hostel style availability, properties in over 80 countries using freetobook, Ways to Sell, being selected as preferred supplier for Punch Taverns….these are just a few and there are many more to come. As we write this there are 10 current/live feedback forms in the freetobook system and every single one gives freetobook 10/10…thank you! Many of freetobook’s achievements are a direct result of your input, your requests, queries, concerns, passions, quirks, suggestions etc. keep them coming!
Thank you for your tremendous support, encouragement and belief. Busy days ahead!
Craig & Iain will be attending the Scottish Thistle Awards ceremony on 9th November 2012 at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. They’re looking forward to seeing old friends and making new contacts, so do drop by their table and say hello if you’re attending.
The “Oscars” of Scottish tourism, the award ceremony is attended by more than 400 guests. In an era when tourism is one of the most promising drivers to get the economy back on track, the Thistle Awards encourage professionalism and promote the quality service and products that reflect all that is great in Scotland’s internationally celebrated tourism industry.
ABBA Case Study : Brochure websites no longer work, your customers want to book online.
Getting your Association online – Ayrshire Bed & Breakfast Association Case Study
Many websites created by accommodation associations are informative but don’t offer a great user experience because the customer can’t search and book accommodation. It’s frustrating for customers who are used to searching, comparing and booking online.
The accommodation sector has been radically transformed in the last 10 years by the internet. Accommodation websites, with their sophisticated booking engines now transact billions of dollars weekly. Customers find these sites easy to use, they provide information, choice and ease of access to accommodation grouped by area. The Online Travel Agents (OTAs) can afford to pay and compete for a strong presence on the search engines by offering a variety of properties, which improve their chances of converting searches into bookings.
As online booking becomes more and more the norm, the OTAs continue to grow their influence. Individual properties cannot compete due to the limitations of their single product offering.
Any marketing Association needs a strong internet presence to improve awareness of their area and member properties. It makes sense to capitalise on these grouped marketing resources by offering customers a direct booking channel, cutting out commissions and increasing efficiency.
For Associations to compete online they need:
a professionally designed website
great local content and quality images on the site
a good number and variety of properties
a simple search and online booking process
Associations have an inherent advantage on content due to their deep understanding of their customers and how their area attracts and fulfils the needs of these customers. They will also have a good range of accommodation covering various local areas and markets.
Finally, it would have been impossible several years ago to access this level of technology as the cost of placing a professional online booking engine on their website would have been prohibitive.
Competition in the online market place is fierce so Associations must use all their resources: Create a bookable website to fulfil your visitor’s needs. Direct traffic to the website so it can be converted and monitored. Use the improved marketing power to earn the Association more visibility and credibility locally.
There are barriers, some real, some perceptual that can all be overcome.
Cost: The cost of sophisticated professional technology is no longer expensive (relative to the past), just look at freetoboook.com, a world class system freely available to the world. This is effectively a marketing exercise (not a technical one) and there are often grants (some involving match funding) that can help reduce the initial set-up cost.
Competition within the Association: Many businesses compete on a day-to-day basis so getting agreement from everyone maybe impossible…. at the outset, but this is nothing new to voluntary organisations!
Project Management: Set clear objectives and get several quotes all based on the same criteria. Selecting the right company to go with may determine the success or failure of the project.
Get the right person in charge from the start, support them and select a strong team to help. They must have executive decision making powers.
Updating rates: Not everyone will agree to use or update just one system, don’t try to force it. Find one that’s : effectively free for everyone to access and use and doesn’t require members to use on their own website, simple to set-up and easy to update well supported, so there’s help and encouragement to those who need it.
It will take time before the website gets into the internet’s “bloodstream”. You can decide to take it slowly and see what comes from free search or create Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. If you opt for PPC, the association can manage it or choose to hire someone to manage it.
Associations must utilise all their local membership connections to build links into the website with surrounding businesses. Collaborating and creating local partnerships benefits the area as a whole, increasing the local spend of customers whilst providing you with access to the most relevant and up-to-date content available.
As with any project, it must work! Ideally, it will be on time and look impressive. That’s easy to test with friends and local businesses, are they keen to link to you? Are members proud of the site, has it encouraged businesses to join the Association. The process may also bring the members closer together and there should be improved partnerships within the local community.
These are the “soft” measures of success but you need hard measures as well: Does the website and system bring in bookings, are your marketing efforts sufficient? How well does the site rank? Remember it takes time and effort to show on key terms. How many visitors is the site getting compared to before? Visitor time on the website should increase, as will page views, monitor this with google analytics. Direct user feedback can be collected by members and fed back in to optimise features. Bookings may generated from any new marketing that directs customers to the site.
There are now opportunities for Association websites to really harness the power of their many members, hitherto this has not been the case.
My bet is that fortune will favour those who realise their strength lies in co-operation, not isolation.
Our Co-Director, Iain Stewart, has written a guest article on travel technology website Tnooz about how technology is having an increasing influence on tourism in South Africa and the wider region, allowing small (and sometimes remote) properties to compete on an international scale.
This year will see a unique global marketing campaign to promote Scottish tourism. Disney-Pixar, the film company behind such modern classics as Toy Story, Wall-E and Monsters Inc will team up with VisitScotland for a series of promotions around the film Brave, due to premier in June 2012. Never before has the company collaborated with a nation’s tourist board on this scale.