TripAdvisor awards 2021 – Best of the Best Use freetobook
Congratulations and jubilations to all of the UK properties that have been featured in this year’s Travellers’ Choice Awards. We all know the incredible hard work and effort that’s required to achieve excellent guest feedback so it’s wonderful that you have been acknowledged for this. We have also spotted some of freetobook’s international properties highlighted in this year’s awards, again a huge round of applause. We are so very proud to be working with each and every one of you. (full list at the bottom of the blog with links to accommodation, if we have missed you out let us know in the helpdesk and we will add you in)
While we can’t claim any of the credit for the hard work that went into earning these fabulous reviews and awards, freetobook does provide the smooth running, all-in-one booking solution that provides seamless guest service and frees up properties owners to focus on what’s important to their guests – top notch hospitality.
If you too want to get into the top hotel or B&B listings on TripAdvisor or Google here are a few tips about how to handle reviews in articles that we posted some time ago …
Who can take part? The free booking link is part of Google’s Hotel Ads system, so you can see right away that Google are looking for “hotel” type accommodation. Hotel type includes guest houses, bed and breakfasts, hostels but it specifically excludes vacation rental type accommodation, cottages, villas, lodges.
YES: for hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfast, hostels and apart hotels (hotel type).
NO: for cottages, chalets, villas, lodges (vacation rental type)
What do you need? You will need a booking system like freetobook that’s connected to Google, that connection (feed) sends your rates and availability with a link directly to your booking process. Freetobook have been providing this feed to Google Hotel Ads since September 2018
The situation NOW: Remember there are two parts to Google Hotel Ads the free bit with, we reckon, about 10% of the traffic and the paid section with roughly 90% of the clicks. (Read the blog for further details)
Google Hotel Ads on freetobook : freetobook are already connected to Google Hotel Ads (since 2018) and we provide a managed advertising service for more than and thousand properties in the UK. This advertising service is active now and we’ll continue managing it.
Good news: All properties using the Google Hotel Ads to advertise automatically get the Google free booking link. You can see how that works on this Google blog…
I want free booking links now: if you are eligible (i.e. Hotel type accommodation) and in the UK you can subscribe for our Google Hotel Ads service in your Plus tab this will give you paid and free feeds.
Only free booking links (Zero): You will need to wait a week or so for us to make this option available for you.
HOW? Google Zero will be available in the Tab “Plus” shortly.
The situation SHORTLY:
We’re already busy creating a Google free ONLY
service that’ll be available worldwide. This will use our existing feed to
provide Google with your rates and availability and the link for bookings at Zero
cost. You will not have to pay Google anything for the bookings.
This will be available shortly to all eligible (Hotel type) accommodation worldwide. We will charge a small annual subscription to provide the feed to Google (from freetobook) and deliver the bookings directly into your freetobook diary with reporting.
Just over a week ago Google made a big announcement about free advertising. It’s fair to say it shook up the meta search hotel booking space like a gorilla with a rattle. We all like to have something for free and from an advertising giant like Google, we would surely love it.
But let’s pause for a minute, what is this? We know that the OTAs typically
spend in excess of $6 Billion a year with Google on advertising. Are they
giving all of this away? No, I’m sure they are not doing that.
So, if it’s not a total giveaway then what is it? What is the free
advertising Google are offering and how good is it for accommodation owners?
More to the point, WHY have Google done it?
As a Google Hotel Ads feed provider and Ads manager for nearly two years, here at freetobook we have seen the progress and have a few insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the Google Hotel Ads as it stands, and, as it might develop alongside its competitors – chiefly TripAdvisor – in this meta search space.
What is the free bit that Google offer? The new free listing of the rates and availability feed is a section at the foot of the advertising block. It fits in below the paid or sponsored listings and looks a bit like this …
For those of you familiar with search engine terms this new “free” block is
analogous to “natural” listings. Natural listings are the opposite of paid
listings, they are free and they are ordered based primarily on customer
preference. If many customers pick a certain supplier for that property it is
likely that supplier will float to the top.
Anyone providing a feed to Google can be listed in the free or natural
section and the order they are presented will be a secret algorithm known only
to Google which is 100% independent of any payment to Google. No advertising
payment can ever influence a natural listing, that is certain.
How good is this free “natural” advertising? This is the tricky bit to answer but I think I can. In short, the reality is that it’s as good as Google wish to make it. They are the universal masters of natural listings vs. sponsored or paid listings. Their whole business model has, at its core, the advertising auction to get to the top of the page (where the clicks are) vs. the natural listings that give more authentic content and customer satisfaction.
The answer is probably about 10%. Google is giving away about 10% of the
traffic to natural listing. We know this roughly from volumes of bookings and
it kind of makes sense as a natural vs. paid split.
It sounds small but to accommodation owners this is a fantastic opportunity. If you are not currently paying Google to advertise in their feed (and the majority are not) then this 10% is actually 100% of something you didn’t have before and for free. If you remember the $6 Billion dollars, they are giving away a chunk of that to massively improve their customer offering and bring in new potential advertisers. Not a bad price for them and remember Google controls the prominence of natural listings (as they always have), so that 10% might not always be 10%, the structure/visibility of that display will continue to change.
What’s in it for accommodation owners? Our feed to Google is direct so it
shows to the consumer as “Official site”, this puts properties at an advantage
against the OTAs in the natural listings (free section). This is because
consumers are drawn to the direct channel when everything else is equal. Every
property’s direct feed should by “rights” be at the top of the natural listings
and so you could get the 10% of clicks for free. But beware! The OTAs are all
also in the free feed and if any OTAs were to have a better rate than yours
they would almost certainly come above you in the natural listing. If you are
not at the top, it is likely you have given a special offer to an OTA and your
direct rates are higher than the OTA rate.
Now this is the bit worth paying attention to … here are our tips to
being top of the natural listing:
a) Have the best rate direct b) Keep the best availability for your direct bookings c) Do not accept OTA virtual cards or they will undercut your direct rate d) Make sure your Google My Business listing is as unique and rich as it can be with reviews, photos, amenities etc. In other words if your direct feed is not at the top it is your fault and you need to fix it – which is as easy as a,b,c,d.
So yes, this is a massive opportunity for the direct booking feed, if you
are managing your rates properly you will benefit. For the small number of
properties that do not list with the OTAs this is even better news because they
will have no competition for their direct bookings, a “no-brainer” as they say.
Why are Google doing this?
Lots of good reasons. Google really cares about the user experience. You use
Google search because they are the best search engine. They want you to say you
also book via Google meta because it is the best place to find the best rates
1) Google can only show the best rates and availability if they have all of
the properties in the world on board and feeding them with the best on offer.
So, on one level, this is a ‘land grab’ to get the whole world’s accommodation
listed and bookable.
2) As a customer on Google you want to find the best rate. In the sponsored
listing the best rate is not at the top, the top spot is for the highest
bidder. This is sub-optimal as a user, why is the best rate hidden down the
list of OTAs? Not a good user experience. The natural listings solve this issue
because the most popular link comes to the top (most likely the best rate).
3) New advertisers become possible. As google advertising is an auction, these
always work better with more bidders. Google would like you to play in the 90%
of traffic that isn’t free so they will get you on board with the 10% free and
take it from there.
4) Great authentic natural listings are what customer’s ultimately desire. They
want to see what the best link is and the only way to do that is to remove the
paid side of it.
5) Google probably know that by having all the small independent properties
(the “longtail”) on board they will increase their overall bookings including
those with the larger chain hotels. Guests want choice and that’s why the OTAs
want to have all properties listed.
6) Reviews and content are becoming a bigger part of what Google offers. Having
availability next to their accommodation reviews is a very smart move. We have
seen the growing importance Google and Facebook place on collecting reviews…
another blog in itself.
Google knows how to juggle the supplier’s desire for customers “traffic” with the customer’s desires. They know that if their meta is to work it must work for customers and the most authentic way for it to work is with natural listings providing by definition; what the customer wants at the top of the list.
We know Google has the best tech, they can do the math on advertising bidding better than any other company. They soon will have most of the rates and availability, a very good set of customer reviews and other content, making them the “go-to” place to book a hotel and other travel-related services. If I was a review website or an OTA I would be looking hard to see how I could keep my revenue. If I was an accommodation provider I’d take advantage of the free offer and see what plays out – Google vs. OTA vs. Big review site.
PS: Where Google goes and makes a success, Facebook and Amazon watch to see
how its done!
TripAdvisor makes a grab for your website content.
Late last week TripAdvisor sent out an email advising of a change in their terms and conditions. This was no trivial change, they demand access to all text and images on your website which they can harvest anytime and have perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable rights over. This is a grab for all the content on your website forever. TripAdvisor can then use any of those images and text as they see fit and for their potential profit without any payment to you (A copy of the terms at the bottom of the page).
Why is your website content so important ? The unique descriptions and photos that you put on your website are one of the few places that a small independent business has an advantage. Search engines value unique content, if you give this over to TripAdvisor or anyone else, it will impact your uniqueness and harm your ranking on the internet. Conversely it will improve the ranking of the website that takes it for their own use. In short: giving away your website content will harm your internet ranking and help that of TripAdvisor. A likely result of losing your unique content would be your website going lower on Google and others going higher.
What is really striking about this request for “agreement” of content access is that it is perpetual (forever), it is irrevocable (can’t reverse it), it is transferable (can be given or sold to anyone else), royalty-free (you get no payment) and sub-licensable (they can make money from it). This is just about the worst possible outcome you could ever agree to, it is completely and utterly in the favour of TripAdvisor. I don’t think its possible for there to be a worse agreement for independent accommodation owners.
Do not undervalue your website content. The material on your website is a result of your hard work. With your toil over time it has become your very valuable brand/name/image, it is literally what marks you out as different. I cannot image what has possessed TripAdvisor to think they can grab it so blatantly from your website and take it forever to do with as they please with just one click. There is no option to refuse the terms, (only a button to close the pop up – see below) this looks more like a diktat, “a take it or take it”, than it does an agreement. You can close the popup but it keeps coming back until you agree, if you agree then you lose your unique content rights and the pop up goes away.
TripAdvisor say in their popup that they want to improve traveller experience on their website. Fine do that, but that is their business to make the experience better for customers on their website. Unique content costs effort, it costs money, it is valuable and it is certainly not free. TripAdvisor profits from their website. They sell OTA advertising that is a major part of their income which is paid for by commissionable bookings. Why would a independent property give over its unique content (under extremely bad terms) in order to increase the profit of TripAdvisor. The nett result of which is fewer direct bookings and again, and again, yet more commission.
It is extremely sad and disappointing that TripAdvisor have such low ethical values in this action. This is no relationship of mutual benefit, they take everything and you get nothing. Surely this has to be totally withdrawn by TripAdvisor with a big apology. All properties that have agreed these terms should have the agreement reversed with an assurance that these kind of terms should never be sneaked back in. The damage has been done, we have now seen the disregard they have for accommodation businesses and sadly trust lies shattered.
Congratulations to all the winners of TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award 2017! They have all worked so hard to get this recognition so let’s celebrate their achievements. Here is a list of the best hotels and B&B’s that are using freetobook…there are quite few! A special congratulations to the Marine Court Hotel for being number 15 in the top 25 small hotels in the world. On the B&B front, a big congratulations to Swallows Rest Bed & Breakfast (number 5 in the world) and West by Five Guest House (also in the top 10).
Each year the list gets bigger and bigger, with 7 out of the UK’s top 25 B&Bs currently enjoying freetobook. Well done to everyone, including the 100s with a certificate of excellence.
See the full list below and let us know if you found your name!
At 12% TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking connection has a lower commission than big online travel agents. Is it time you looked into how to get your share ?
Why not start by checking out your own listing on TripAdvisor to see how they promote the booking links. You can’t fail to notice that visitors are asked for dates of stay and encouraged to search and book.
The connection to TripAdvisor through your freetobook diary is free (you do have to pay TripAdvisor).
6 Advantages to TripAdvisor Instant Booking
1) Lower commission, from 12%
2) You only pay commission on completed bookings
3) No upfront costs, no signup costs, no fees from freetobook
4) You receive all of the customer’s direct details, including email address
5) Simple to do, just login to TripAdvisor and connect
6) You don’t need a Business Listing to get these TripAdvisor bookings
The connection simple, just activate it in your TripAdvisor account to enable direct bookings on your TripAdvisor page. If you already have a freetobook account you don’t even need to contact us.
Most of freetobook’s benefits are free with a few optional charged services, find a complete list of our charges on our pricing page, what does freetobook cost ?
Sue Burrell, owner of the Millgate B&B in Masham, recalls the excitement and media frenzy and tells us why she will always be indebted to her local dentist and freetobook.
“Sometime in January 2015 I answered the telephone to James Kay, Senior Media Relations Manager for TripAdvisor who said, “Remember me from last year? You won an award as one of the Top 10 B&B’s Inns and Lodges in the World. Well, this year we have a special award for you”. I thought he was talking about my scones. You see every new guest arriving at our B&B is greeted with freshly baked scones in their room and most of our TA reviews since we had started in business (just 2 years 10 months previously) had mentioned our scones.
I waited. ‘You have been voted TripAdvisor’s number 1 B&B in the World. But you cannot tell anyone” James said. “Can I tell my husband?” I whimpered. “I think you probably will have to tell your husband” he said. I could tell he was smiling as he said that and I began to cry.
The next few days were just a blur. James would be telephoning to book in journalists from the UK’s national press for overnight stays while interviews with numerous TV and radio stations, local press reporters, newswire photographers and cameramen were lined up in total secrecy, ready for the day the news was to be announced to the world at the end of January 2015.
We had to stand in the little lane outside our home shaking bottles of sparkling wine (not champagne!) whilst photographers said “Just one more” for hour upon hour. Tourists passing in the street were curious and I’m sure our neighbours thought we were Lottery winners as we stood together for the TV cameraman.
Standing in the cold for around six hours we opened up around four bottles of fizz posing for photographs. By 6pm I told Andrew we should eat out as by this stage I was ‘twinkling’ after drinking on an empty stomach.
It was Steak Night when we arrived at The Bruce Arms in Masham. Two steaks with all the trimmings and a bottle of wine for a bargain price. After weaving our way home Andrew opened another bottle. I was just about to take a slurp when I missed my mouth and hit my front teeth with the glass, knocking off a porcelain crown which hit the terracotta tiles in the kitchen and shattered like a Ming vase. “Oh crikey, we have got telly again tomorrow” were my last words that night.
The following morning was the day the news of our award was announced to the world at 0500 hrs UK time. The first booking came in at 0509 and after BBC 2 radio show host Chris Evans began telling everyone to book Millgate B&B they were coming in at the rate of four a minute. We had BBC Radio York broadcasting live from 6 am from our home.
I did radio interviews about our award from as far away as Cambodia, to Spain and Cambridge. We had to unplug our telephone as it was ringing constantly and I couldn’t take the bookings fast enough. We relied on freetobook for over a month to take the bookings for us as we had 1,427 email enquiries on the first day alone. It took just four days for us to be booked for almost the full year ahead!
I was still worrying about not being able to smile on our ITV This Morning appearance because of my missing tooth when I received a text from my dentist asking for a radio ‘shout out’. My response clinched the deal, “As long as you do a temporary crown for me by 12 o’clock today”. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat for the cameras later that day.
I wish the winners for 2016/2017 all the very best and hope that they have an on-line booking system like freetobook to take the strain.
With hindsight, I wish we had booked some days off for ourselves as we only had 7 days off until October of 2015.
CNN wanted to make a film about us and wished to come over in March 2015. We only had one day off that month and the next break was just two days off in May. Despite their global audience of 240 million I turned down their kind offer (much to the consternation of TripAdvisor who wanted the extra publicity for their awards). As I said to Andrew at the time, we would never have been able to have our telephone plugged in as there were so many time zones, calls would have been coming in 24 hours a day. Although on the upside, I am able to say I turned down CNN and it sounds very flash!”
Sue Burrell, Millgate B&B
Winners TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Award 2015
Number 1 B&B IN THE WORLD
TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2015
Bookingcom Award of Excellence 2014
Sunday Times Ultimate 100 British Hotels 2015/2016 – Top 10 B&B’s.
Our guest blog and interview is with Frederic Gonzalo, founder of Gonzo Marketing. With over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere, he is passionate about marketing and communications.
Frederic recently attended the EyeForTravel event in Miami as a speaker, panelist and participant to the2015 edition of Online Marketing Strategies in Travel.
Here Frederic generously shares his industry insights and expertise with freetobook. As he pointedly states, having no marketing budget is no excuse for not having a dynamic online presence!
What is the most important trend in online room booking?
It’s about going mobile. More than 51% of travelers now research their next destination, accommodation and transportation from a mobile device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet. And more importantly, an increasing proportion of them are now booking via their mobile device: in fact, it is estimated that 25% of all online travel revenue in the US will come from mobile devices in 2015.
How can a property get more direct bookings?
1- Have a “best online rate” guarantee and feature it, big and bold, on your home page. People will shop around no matter what, but if they can have the confidence that by booking direct they will get the best deal, well… you got it!
2- Have a relationship marketing approach in place. This can be through a rewards program or simply by capturing emails from clients and visitors to your site and/or blog. Sending out regular newsletters and promotional offers to this base can ensure retention and direct booking through time.
3- Promote deals and best rates across your various social accounts. I see hotels mention a promo code for 10% off best rate… on their Twitter bio. Others do Facebook offers, or mail push to group databases. Think outside the box, and make sure you crossover information from newsletter to blog to social media.
Having no marketing dollars is not an excuse not to have a dynamic online presence.
The first step is to have a professional-looking website, and this can be done with various solutions that cost a fraction of what it used to 3-5 years ago.
Sending out emails? MailChimp is free up to 2,000 email addresses, and other providers offer similar low-cost solutions.
Social media? It’s not free, contrary to what many believe, because someone has to manage it, but you can have impact and reach on Facebook with minimal investments. It’s more a matter of having a strategy in place to begin with, then finding the resources (human and financial) to manage this new reality. Knowing 87% of travel decisions now begin with an online search, do we even really have a choice here?
15 key stats to consider:
TripAdvisor (42%) is the most downloaded mobile app amongst travelers, followed by Priceline (15%), Expedia (14%) and Orbitz (13%)
There are 139 reviews written every minute on TripAdvisor
You lose 25-60% of visitors with each click on the mobile path to purchase.
69% of travelers begin their search online…via a mobile device!
Average mobile users check their device 150 times per day!
Of the average six daily hours US adults spend on digital media, 3 hours is on mobile.
Twitter on Travel: in the past year, 60M tweets mentioned hotels, 21M tweets mentioned vacations
70% of followers have taken some action after seeing travel content on Twitter
70% of Instagram users have looked for a brand online
3/4 of consumers are frustrated when online content doesn’t relate to their interest
In 2016, 50% of total travel sales will involve more than one device
Ritz Carlton Hotel sees 18% conversions from email campaigns. Email is not dead, folks!
92% of visitors to a website will never return. Thus, remarketing is key!
Only 27% of hotels send automated emails prior to arrival (and after departing)
According to Google, 1/3 of people with a smartphone would give up sex instead of their phone. Sad.
A huge amount of internet change is currently impacting independent accommodation providers.
Online travel agent (OTA) consolidation puts the vast majority of bookings into the hands of just 2 or 3 players. Together they dominate the online space through aggressive marketing and huge pay per click spends with Google and other high volume websites. This continues to make it increasingly challenging for independent accommodation owners trying to maintain the same volume of direct bookings.
If you find yourself in this situation the best strategy is to avoid over reliance on a single OTA as that level of dominance creates obvious business risks, no business wants all its eggs in one basket. So make sure you have a spread of booking sources and always be on the look out for new, more efficient ways to distribute.
Don’t be afraid to invest in technology that improves your direct commission free bookings and also enables you to diversify your booking sources i.e. a channel manager and booking engine that connects to all three big players…Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor.
Remaining fiercely independent and open to multiple sources of bookings becomes more crucial as the dominance of the biggest grows. In other words the most successful strategy will be diversified and independent – keep your eggs in baskets you can trust.
“If anyone knows about B&B, Karen does.” (Guardian) Karen owns Hopton House, a converted granary in Shropshire offering three bedrooms. Alongside her own bed and breakfast business, she runs regular courses for potential B&B owners. Here Karen shares her business expertise and thoughts on TripAdvisor, the ‘Marmite’ of the B&B world.
“I’ve been running Hopton House for nearly eleven years now and the B&B courses for a couple of years less than that. I’m often asked what the biggest changes I’ve seen in that time are. In terms of the running of the B&B it’s very much about guest expectations, they tend to be more widely travelled and the lines between hotels and B&Bs are getting a bit blurred. Internet access is one case in point – ten years ago it wouldn’t have been required or maybe it was just a nice to have, but in 2015, with the amazing growth of smartphones, it’s pretty much a necessity for many people. From my own travels I know that if there are choices of similar accommodation in an area, I’ll always go for the one with Wi-Fi access. I think the biggest changes I’ve seen are the ways in which B&Bs market their businesses.
Here are the top 5 areas that I think have been game changing;
1. Guest Reviews:
Tripadvisor; the marmite of the B&B world! All guests these days are potential amateur reviewers. Whilst having lots of great reviews is heart warming for the B&B owner, a negative review has the potential to cause serious damage to a business. Even now my heart skips a beat whenever I see I have a new review come through. Whilst receiving a bad review can ruin the owner’s day, it’s important to address the review and respond constructively. Tripadvisor reviews have shown that potential guests are more likely to choose to stay at a B&B if they’re taken to respond to negative feedback in a positive constructive way.
2. Online travel agents:
The OTAs such as booking.com are changing the way people book accommodation, and many B&Bs can have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. OTAs can bring us a lot of business with no upfront joining fees but the commission they charge is high and the guests haven’t always understood what they should expect in their B&B. I think B&B owners need to make a decision about whether they will use the OTAs and then how will they use them. Whilst I don’t use them myself (I’m on booking.com but haven’t yet released nights to them), I think they can be very useful ( and possibly essential ) to some types of accommodation providers.
3. Social Media:
Many B&Bs have always relied on word of mouth to promote their business for years, and social media is the ultimate word of mouth. Social media, be it twitter, facebook, Instagram or even blogging, provides B&B owners with a great way to attract new guests, meet suppliers and keep in touch with repeat guests. I filled a room last minute following a cancellation using a promoted Facebook post last week. Better still, when you attract someone on social media and they like what you offer, they’ll then go back and recommend you to all of their followers.
Whilst paper advertising in magazines and tourist guides has been steadily declining, digital advertising has been on the increase. I find both Facebook promoted posts and Google adwords are an effective way of marketing my B&B.
Google adwords particularly are becoming quite complicated to manage these days. I’d always suggest getting a recommendation for a digital marketing company to help you get started (although avoid those that cold call you offering top place on Google).
5. Online Booking:
I’ve had online availability since I opened my B&B, I was one of the first in my area to get online booking. I do think online booking is an essential for any tourism business these days. About 85% of my bookings come through online via freetobook. Taking the deposit, blocking the calendar and sending confirmation are all handled seamlessly without me having to do a thing (the hours I used to spend on holiday looking for an internet café so I could sign into my email and respond to guest bookings with my old booking system!)
These days marketing is as an essential part of running a B&B as cleaning the rooms or cooking the breakfast. If it’s something you enjoy then great, if not then find someone who can help you. There’s lot of support out there locally via local tourism associations and groups.
Hopton House B&B, Hopton Heath, Craven Arms, Shropshire, SY7 0QD
Check availability and book online at www.shropshirebreakfast.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hoptonhousebnb
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hoptonhouse
Check out our Pins at http://pinterest.com/hoptonhousebnb/
Read our Breakfast Recipes at http://shropshirebreakfast.blogspot.co.uk/