Celebrating TripAdvisor’s Best of the Best 2021

TripAdvisor awards 2021 – Best of the Best Use freetobook

Tripadvisor awards 2021
Best of the best on Tripadvisor

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 …

**Best B&B & Inns Category**
The Toulson (World Number One)
The Torcroft (World Number Three – UK Number Two)
Dorset House (World Number Four – UK Number Three)
Torlinnhe Guesthouse (World Number Six – UK Number Four)
Haven Cottage (World Number Twelve – UK Number Five)
Avenue Guest House (UK Number Thirteen)
Rudha-Na-Craige (UK Number Twenty Two)

France
La Villa De Mazamet (France Number Twenty Four)

**Best Small Hotels***
The Ship Inn (UK Number Eight)
Rowborough Hotel (UK Number Twenty One)

TripAdvisor website grab

TripAdvisor makes a grab for your website content.

grab for your unique 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.

Review Widgets Stealing Direct Bookings

Our friends over at cobooking.com have shared their recent blog on the danger to direct booking posed by third party review widgets.

Cobooking exposes review widget dangers.

leaking pipe bad review widgets leak direct bookings
Bad Review widgets leak direct bookings

For far too many years we have put up with dodgy review widgets that cheat properties out of direct bookings. Widgets, badges and awards touted by large “reputable” businesses and placed on websites in good faith “trusting” these big corporations that pretend their main function is to “display” reviews, nonsense they are not to be trusted.

Cobooking and many others know that accommodation owners have been cheated because the hidden effect of these widgets is a significant loss of direct bookings. We are dedicated to the promotion of direct bookings so together lets call out the cheats and help remove these bad widgets.

Reviews are good but not all review widgets are good.

The value of having great reviews is undeniable. Almost all guests looking to book are keen to know what others think and reviews do a great job, so naturally you want to display them with widgets, buttons and awards.

However, there is a real danger of losing direct bookings from review widget links on your website and these could cost you a lot more than a bad review!

What do you mean, how do I lose?

The most common loss occurs when a review widget or badge is put on your website. Your guest naturally clicks the widget and is then led off to the review website. Now “your” guest is away on the review website where that website earns money by encouraging “your” guest to make a commissionable booking.

When you feed these review websites “your” guests (via the review widget) you lose direct bookings. In fact, it’s worse than that because they don’t care if “your” guest books your accommodation on their website, they earn commission on any booking “your” guest makes. So most websites offer your guest other accommodation options in order to increase their conversion.

Simply put, you sent your guest there to look at your reviews but they end up booking while there and not on your website. You’ve now lost a direct booking and have to pay commission, or worse still, they book somewhere else and you lose the booking entirely.

What is a direct booking unfriendly widget?

An unfriendly widget has links away from your website to another site where they offer your guest somewhere else to book or encourage them to book with a commissionable agency.

A friendly widget shows your reviews but does not send guests away to book with commission.

How do I know if the widgets, awards and buttons on my website are unfriendly?

Visit your website and follow the links just like a guest. By thinking and acting like a potential guest you’ll see exactly what your guests would see. Ask yourself what you’re being encouraged to do on that site and you’ll see just how direct booking unfriendly the process is.

Review widgets, buttons and awards are free?

Yes, they are free because the review website wants to get your customers onto their website. Is the cost of losing your customers worth the value of displaying reviews on bad widgets ? We are certain it is not.

Trojan horses have much in common with review widgets.

yellow trojan horse bad widget

These buttons, awards and widgets are just like Trojan horses. They look like a gift, displaying your fabulous reviews but they contain a link that costs you direct bookings. Your great reviews are a result of your hard work and dedication so please don’t lose out from your hard work.

Review websites play heavily on the temptation to show off your reviews and that’s when they get you to put their Trojan horse on your website and you start leaking direct bookings.

How to fix it …

The simple rule is to never have a widget on your website that takes guests away to book with a commissionable source.

Remove widgets, badges and awards that lose direct bookings.
Replace unfriendly review widgets with friendly ones.
Show your review score or awards in an image with no links away from your website.
If you don’t understand how to fix it you should give your web designer a link to this blog, they will be able to fix it for you and stop you losing direct bookings …

At cobooking we believe that review websites have been abusing the good will of accommodation owners for many years by requesting they put bad acting widgets on their websites without adequately explaining their function.

Let’s campaign to spread the word and encourage companies to create direct booking friendly widgets, good honest widgets. Lets stop this loss of direct bookings.

Cobooking will be looking to create a direct booking friendly widget to help accommodation owners fight back.

Get going, become a partner and join cobooking if you have not already done so – sign up !

If you have already joined cobooking you can get involved in helping on the cobooking users facebook group (closed group for cobooking users only)

Include More Automation In Your Processes

automation robot with 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

freetobook 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..

freetobook messaging system

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

freetobook stripe integration
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 …

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.

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.

Special Offers – Three Top Tips

We all love getting a great deal – and the same goes for potential bookers on your website! The truth is Special Offers drive direct bookings; that’s why we make it super easy to create them in freetobook. Simply visit tab “Specials” and create a new offer; it’s live and available in seconds.

Here are Three Top Tips to help you create a successful Special Offer:

1. Keep the Offer Active

Special Offers help differentiate you, help you stand out against the competition….. so try to keep an offer running all the time.

2. Give a good deal

The best offers give guests a great deal, but don’t worry if you don’t have a big budget even a small amount can make all the difference.

3. Better deals in low season

If you think you have periods where you are not selling then focus your offers on those dates eg. off-season, weekdays or other low demand dates.

How Do I Create Special Offers?

On freetobook you can easily open and close your offers (in Close-Outs under the tab “Availability”), so why not set-up a couple now and just open/close them when you need them most. Remember, if you don’t need to have the offers open on peak dates…. just close the high dates out.

Packages help direct bookings

Packages: the latest update on freetobook.

Using freetobook packages you can now offer your customers extra value added inclusions and change the board basis for any specific package you wish to create.

Types of Package:

Added Meals – for example you may have a standard rate with Bed and Breakfast and want to offer a “Dinner Bed & Breakfast” rate, or a rate which includes a packed lunch.

You can also remove meals in a package, so if your standard rate is including breakfast you might want to have a package that does not include breakfast.

Value Added Service –  Alternatively you might create a package which incudes bike hire or some other value added service special to your business. For example, you may collaborate with other local businesses and offer a golf  or spa package, cookery or photography class, or tickets to a local attraction such as a theme park.

How you setup your packages is very flexible; you can change the board basis and add extra services -it’s completely up to you.

Packages are a fixed rate and can be restricted by:

  • dates of stay
  • minimum stay duration and
  • nights of the week.

If a package is available for a customer to book during their search they will see a new tab with the package title you have created. They can then easily switch between your package and your standard availability.

 

Packages are exclusive for your direct bookers so they also potentially give a great way to offer more value to your direct customers where you pay zero commission.

To start creating your own unique packages, head to the ‘Specials’ tab on your freetbook diary and select ‘Packages’. Click ‘Create Package’ and start filling in all your package details – simple!

 

 

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.