Automation, automation, automation

automate guest messages
make processes contact-less

There are three things we need to recognise about hospitality in these new COVID times; automation, automation and automation.

Automation can make processes contact-less, be used to collect vital information and communicate more easily. All these things help build confidence and trust between you and your guests whilst saving hours on boring repetitive tasks.

Let’s take a look at some examples that are live and some that are on their way.

Messaging your guests

Guest Messaging
Automate Guest Messaging

Our fully integrated guest Messaging system (built last year) makes communicating with your guests easy and fun. With scheduled Automated Messages you don’t even have to think about it, just set it up and every guest gets the right information at the right time… automatically.

Guests love it, after booking they get a friendly “thank you” message with loads of helpful key information (links to key sites) and tips. What a great way to start a conversation and build a relationship… that’s what service is all about. You can even brand our guest Messaging with your logo and colours..

Collect key information

Knowing which guests are arriving, and when, helps you manage social distancing and get prepared for arrival. Messaging has a cool little button making it super easy for guests to provide their arrival times.

Stripe payments

Stripe hotel payments
automate payments

Improve your cashflow by taking upfront payments from guests that book online or offline. When you take a deposit the card is securely stored so that collecting the balance is a simple click of a button. Stripe receives and stores cards from Bookingcom, Expedia etc… and you can even “Pre-auth” cards one week before stay, making sure the money is available. For your guests, Stripe makes payment so easy, using ApplePay and GooglePay payment is literally at their finger tips!

Messaging and Stripe

For the perfect contact-less automation use both Stripe and Messaging together.  Message a guest for payment and they just use their phone to pay – a simple click, no contact, if they have Apple/Google Pay they can pay using their thumb print.

Digital registration

digital hotel registration
digital registration

As part of Messaging we will soon add Digital Registration, enabling your guests to register in advance of arrival (set for release in mid-July).

Messaging was built as a way to automate almost all your digital guest interactions, we’ll continue to roll out more and more for the usual amazingly low prices.

Our new state of the art online diary has all the messaging solutions built-in and that’s just the beginning, it’s due for general release in the coming few weeks.

more for less with freetobook
more for less with freetobook

Here at freetobook we’ve always been about developing new technology, always the first to release new features. Our team of developers are all working flat out to deliver so much more for our growing customer base. As a family business we believe in fairness and due to our many thousands of customers we can deliver amazing services at ridiculously low prices.

Freetobook – great tech solutions – more for less is so much more.

Messaging is £49 per year

Stripe is £89 per year (plus Stripe card handling fees)

All paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go so you never have to pay for anything you don’t use. If you are not already with freetobook why not try it today at no cost …

Getting back open

Operating in the current COVID19 world

Book with confidence Covid19 prepared
this image is free for you to use

Operating in a world with COVID19 is a test for all the accommodation industry and it means having to adapt as things change and new information becomes available. It is initially unsettling for everyone, including guests, but there are basic steps that properties can take that will be the same for the foreseeable future.

Safety

The key word of these times is SAFETY. Your customers will expect it and your business needs to show it takes safety seriously. If you have not done so already, conduct a Risk Assessment of your busines using the guidance issued by your government and make sure your customers know what you are doing at your property. This is the starting point for every business anywhere. There are lots of examples and templates out there (see below) also some images that you can make use of.

Communication

Covid19 ready image
click to use this image and others

We all know that communication is the key to reassuring customers and securing bookings (see earlier blog with essential tips here) and that has proved to be the case in those countries that have opened up already.

Chabanettes Hotel & Spa in France shared this feedback with our Facebook group recently

‘I put a Covid 19 statement on my website almost 2 months ago. It remains my most popular sub-page. And it works. It’s a statement, like all the other big chains, which shows that we acknowledge risks, and have put reasonable steps in to place to reduce these risks. Not eliminate, we can never say that. But it portrays a seriousness that is clearly sufficient for our clientele to convince them to book. Our new booking volumes are now on a par with previous years’

There are lots of great examples of webpages that are both clear and reassuring to guests so do have a look around and then ensure yours is relevant to your guests.

Flexibility

Being able to offer flexibility will help you appeal to some of the more nervous customers. Many of you have already displayed huge levels of flexibility in helping guests move bookings. Looking forward there’s the opportunity to introduce more relaxed cancellation policies, changing traditional minimum stays and nimble pricing. Some have also gone as far as reducing the number of rooms on offer/guests on site to phase in the return to business and offering new customised breakfast arrangements. Consider what is appropriate for your business and guests and what’s needed to attract bookings.

Domestic Travel

Book with confidence Covid19 ready
click to access free Covid19 images

With strict quarantine rules in place for overseas visitors in many countries, businesses who have previously relied on inbound customers will need to modify their marketing to focus on the domestic market….a market that may well be only an hour away from your property. These are potential guests that are concerned about travelling long distances from home but are keen to enjoy some hospitality again!

It is at least comforting to know that literally the whole world is in the same situation, and there’s an understanding that we will all need to adapt as things evolve. It is impossible to say for how long things will continue like this and although we hope they continue to improve we must also be prepared for things to tighten up with little notice.

At freetobook we can see the activity levels increasing both in general system readiness and booking levels. We’ll continue to support and advise where we can as we all navigate our way through this. Stay Safe.

A collection of useful Links which may help (there are many more so please share on our facebook group if you are a freetobook customer)

Freetobook Facebook Users Group
UK Hospitality Guidance for Hospitality in Scotland
Bed and Breakfast Association
PASC (Professional Association of Self-Caterers) Guidelines
UK Government Advice
HSE Risk Assessment
Centre for Disease Control USA
Vacation Rental Management Association Cleaning Advice


Manage Covid-19

As accommodation businesses start to enter the next phase of managing COVID-19, guests are looking for reassurance that the accommodation they are booking is as SAFE as possible, and the people operating it will be taking measures to protect them.  It is important that properties start to put measures in place now to deal with the new way their businesses will be operating. Then, most importantly, communicating that to their guests… do not assume that they know what you are doing… you need to tell them.

Covid Ready
We are covid ready (free image click to save)

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

1. CONDUCTING A COVID RISK ASSESMENT OF YOUR PROPERTY

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

We have seen guidance issued in various countries (some more prescriptive than others) and it looks like similar measures are being recommended across the board.  Here in the UK some local government authorities are starting to issue their guidance e.g. Cornwall.  Visit your government website or contact your local government authority to see what guidance they are issuing 

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

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

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

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

Covid19 safe
Book with us we are Covid prepared (free image click to save)

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

The most important thing is that you DO conduct a thorough risk assessment and are prepared before reopening. 

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

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

2. COVID-19 INFORMATION ON YOUR WEBSITE

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Sky retreat (their facebook page) New Mexico

Laggan Glamping (YouTube)

Pebble Beach (facebook page) Llandudno

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

3. PRE-ARRIVAL COMMUNICATION

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

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

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

Consider also adding information about local restrictions where they apply.

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

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

UK B&Bs need Covid help

Fair treatment for B&Bs

Over 10,000 B&Bs in the UK have had their business ripped from under them as the virus empties bedrooms across the land. Guests that would have come to stay would not only have enjoyed their unique accommodation but all the other popular tourism services connected to the area. 

The knock on effect of not protecting these most British of establishments ripples out to the wider UK tourism economy. Fair protection is all we ask, give B&Bs equal standing to larger hotels and businesses that benefit from 100% small business rate relief.

Same job deserves the same grant.

Sign the petition to save the British B&B for many memorable holidays to come.

Follow the cause on Twitter (Bed and Breakfast Association @bandbassoc and @eighteen97bandb who tirelessly campaign for help #saveukbnbs)

Write to your MP and Rishi Sunak telling them how the initial grant and newly announced scheme will not be enough to save or B&Bs.

Update: B&Bs are still not being treated equally even after the government announcement on 2nd May which looked like a lifeline to struggling businesses but turns out to exclude 95% of those than need help.

  1. B&Bs are excluded from grants that the same businesses get simply because they pay business rates. (Unfair because many B&Bs legitimately pay council tax not business rates)
  2. Recent (2May) £600 million grant scheme was headlined as helping B&Bs paying council tax but turns out to exclude anyone eligible for self employed income support.
  3. Small B&Bs do exactly the same job as hotels, and larger accommodation businesses just on a more intimate unique scale.
  4. Failure to protect these infrastructure businesses risks ruining many other local businesses dependent on their guests.    

Price freeze since 2012

You might not know this but freetobook’s core functionality is exactly the same price as it was in 2012. Yes, we haven’t increased any of our prices ever.

How have we managed to do this? Well, our loyal customer base has grown to over 11,000 businesses world-wide!

Our paid services are optional and pay-as-you-go ensuring you only use what you need, no pressure from us. There are no tie-ins or set monthly costs regardless of your booking volume. You only pay for what you want, all the way from the free service to an all-in one singing and dancing system that does everything but make your morning coffee.

With many accommodation owners facing difficulties as a result of Covid19 you can rest in the knowledge that we are the best value system on the planet.  

Not only that, it just keeps getting better. Over the same period we have continually developed new functionality. It is in our blood to keep improving so almost every week we’re releasing new and better versions of our service, bringing more benefits to our loyal customers.

How do we do it? A key part is the massive savings we’ve made because we’re lucky enough to have customers who are really passionate about us, they’re our sales force. Hence, we don’t need a pushy sales team but instead can rely on recommendations from existing customers. If you’re not with freetobook…. ask someone you know who is!

A price freeze since 2012 with optional low cost services (pay-as-you-go) that are reliable and secure all make for an extremely compelling case to switch to freetobook. Couple this with our family company’s caring service and our 7 pledges of online booking and you’ll know we’re here to help you through these difficult times.

If you’re not with freetobook just register today – get up and running in a couple of hours.

Guest messaging upgrade

Guest messaging for hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and cottages
Smart Messaging

Have you ever thought about how easy it would be for a guest to simply click a reply button to get in touch with you ? In the freetobook labs we have 🙂

Today’s guests expect so much and easy communication is now a given, looking for emails to reply to just isn’t good enough anymore. That’s essentially why we have upgraded the freetobook email system.

With the new smart messaging upgrade (which replaces emails) you can:

  1. Send guests automated messages as soon as they book or a set number of days before arrival or after stay.
  2. You can add gorgeous images to show off and boost your brand
  3. Increases your read and reply rate because its so easy to use.
  4. Quickly spot any failed messages and fix them instantly.
  5. Works with all bookings including OTA fake email addresses.
  6. Conversation thread keeps your chat together.
Smart messaging for automatic messaging of guests
Boost your Guest replies

Smart messaging is getting even better. In the next few weeks we will be adding “guest actions” where guests can interact with their booking through their smart message.

You can send them a guest action and they will be able to change it, the first one will be “arrival time” – guests will be able to click to re-confirm their arrival time and it will change automatically in their booking, no need for you to do any more work.

Smart messaging will keep getting better, just let us know what you want it to do for you. There are so many ideas just a taster includes Stripe payments from smart messages, branding for the messaging page so guests connect with your brand setting the scene for their stay.

Read about the 7 pledges that make freetobook so different. A high tech company with family values is a rare and wonderful thing 🙂

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.

Airbnb fully connected

Hotels, B&Bs and Hostels are welcome on Airbnb!

Airbnb API connection

Airbnb’s changed from its early days so we think it’s worth reflecting on how these changes could attract new customers for you.

Hotels, Guest Houses, Hostels and Glampsites are now joining the Airbnb platform along with Cottages and other self catering accommodations. Its a safe bet to say that Airbnb’s change is all about opening up their listings to provide more choice for their customers.

Getting more bookings often means attracting new and different types of guests and on Airbnb these guests will typically be younger and booking closer to arrival;

  • About 40% of guests that book on Airbnb are aged between 25-34 years, this is quite a bit younger than typical bookers from other sources.
  • Last minute bookings are a big thing on Airbnb with about 40% of bookings being made fewer than 15 days before arrival. A great way to fill some gaps, especially in the quieter seasons.

Many people don’t realise that business people also form a significant part of Airbnb’s customer base. Airbnb is quite an attractive site for a number of business travellers that are looking for the sort of experience only independently run businesses just like yours can provide. These are more likely to be new customers that might not find you if it wasn’t for Airbnb.

Many of Airbnb’s customers are very loyal and will only use their platform to book their stay so being on Airbnb means you’re immediately exposed to them. They’re also looking for exactly what you offer (professionally run independent accommodation) so it’s worth getting in “front of them”.

Many of you are already aware that freetobook and Airbnb are now fully connected for updating rates, bookings and availability so you don’t need to worry about double bookings or double entry. You’ll also get the support and advice that comes with our Channel Manager connections team.

Like all of the services we offer, the Airbnb connection is optional. To get connected and find out more just visit the Tab “Plus” and select the “Airbnb” section.

Stripe with ApplePay and GooglePay

Stripe on freetobook is now upgraded to include ApplePay and GooglePay

ApplePay and GooglePay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.