Staycation Tsunami 2021

When lockdown ends, bookings dramatically spike

Get ready for a tsunami of bookings this summer. #StaycationTsunami Savings levels are at a record high. Through the lockdowns money that would have been spent has been saved. International travel is likely to be difficult/impossible.

Staycations at unprecedented levels are predicted and most likely to happen this summer. Added to this, there’s been far fewer bookings this year so there’s loads of availability to book into when things open up.

Frustrated, locked down bookers are out there waiting for somewhere to go. The instant that lockdown is lifted you’re looking at a situation never seen before.

Lockdowns have devastated accommodation businesses so here’s a great opportunity to rebalance that, but only if you’re ready for it by being prepared.

Summer 2021, are you ready for it?

Get ready for a record summer

Maximising your profit will help recover such a terrible past year. Minimise commission paid. Demand will likely outstrip supply so don’t pay commission when you can get more direct bookings.


Preparation Checklist

  1. Get your booking technology in order now. If you don’t have it running efficiently you’ll lose out on that record number of bookings coming in. Get your payment system setup and have your messaging fine-tuned. Reduce the risk for double bookings by getting it lined up and ready now.
  2. Think about your prices for summer now, should you increase them? Inflation is likely in your costs and you’ve lost a year of income so use the demand to recoup some losses. Businesses that have increased their prices understand they can reduce them later if it’s necessary.
  3. Get available now for direct bookings, prioritise early direct bookers. Give a preference to getting your early bookers in direct. Use commissionable bookings to fill gaps later. There will be a record number of bookings, you want them to be direct. You can always open to non-direct bookings later if you have to. Check you minimum stays and cancellation policy always entice direct bookings.
  4. Makes sure all the housekeeping, renovation and services are ready for a record summer. Is your accommodation physically ready? Do whatever you can do now so you’re ready for the biggest ever summer.
  5. Your website should be ready to encourage direct bookings. Ensure your COVID cleaning policy is visible and up to date, guests want to feel safe booking.  Update your website with any changes/updates you’ve made, you need to look your best and guests will not book on a bad website. free covid ready images

Last year was both terrible and tragic with losses of every kind, personal, national, social and economic.

It will end at some point so be ready for a reversal of fortune…it’s likely to happen this summer in the accommodation sector!

#StaycationTsunami 

Covid-19: Preparing To Open Again!

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.

enjoy your stay in safety covid prepared
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. 

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.

book with confidence covid
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

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.

book with confidence covid 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.

Spread Your Bookings Across Multiple OTAs

Diversity is security. Relying on just one source of bookings is a risk to any business.

Your first priority is maximising direct bookings and it’s what we do best at freetobook. You simply can’t ever have too many direct bookings!

Channel Manager
Channel Manager

Next in importance, if you need more bookings than just your direct ones, is your channel bookings and your meta bookings**. Freetobook does the whole range of channels: Bookingcom, Expedia, Airbnb, Hotelscom, Agoda, HostelWorld, HRS, Pitchup and a few others in the wings.

For Meta you can use Google Ads (UK only, world-wide by summer) and TripAdvisor (worldwide).

The 3 biggest channels are Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb. If you only work with one then you’re in danger of that source being too dominant, one channel is not a healthy spread. Some customers prefer to only book with certain sites (like Airbnb) so you may just not be reaching them if you’re not on that channel. Also a specific channel may do something you disagree with (it’s not unheard of!), so having alternatives will help in these situations by providing resilience.

High Connection Quality

Freetobook is regarded as one of the most reliable and high service channel managers in the world. There’s a lot of high tech in action, making sure it works all of the time. On the service side, unlike most, we do all your rate plan mapping and pro-actively manage connections once in place. This hands-on human support and advice makes the all difference. We also provide you with tools to ensure your direct rates and direct availability are the best they can be.

A good healthy business mix includes a majority of direct bookings alongside a diversified strategy with Bookingcom, Expedia and Airbnb.

Google Ads in the UK

OTAs are not for everyone, some properties can manage to fill up without them and we support those efforts. If you want more exposure but at a lower cost than the OTAs we suggest Google Ads at 7% advertising. In our experience TripAdvisor advertising works best if you are not with any OTAs, if you are with OTAs then TripAdvisor is too high a cost.

If Google Ads and direct are not enough to fill up your property we would suggest a diversified selection of OTAs. These channels can be managed in a way that prioritises your direct bookings, you would expect nothing less of a family company like freetobook.

Google meta search
This is what Google Hotel Ads looks like – we call this **meta search

**Meta is a source of direct bookings from rate comparison systems. Examples are Google and TripAdvisor – They are NOT Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and you pay for advertising rather than commission. Your direct rates are shown alongside the OTAs (only if you are with the OTAs). Meta is most powerful when you are not with any OTAs – your direct rates then become the only rate Google shows !!

Google Hotel Advertising is here
Channel Manger details and pricing on freetobook is here
TripAdvisor advertising is here … (TripAdvisor is DIY you do it with them)

Links related
Freetobook 7 pledges for online booking (this shows how we are different)
Book direct images for your website, signature, facebook etc…

TripAdvisor Ranking Tips: Why & How To Get Reviews

Recent research on reviews makes interesting reading and helps guide you on how to improve your ranking within TripAdvisor, Google and any other review sites.

Good reviews are important, we all know potential guests read and compare reviews before making a decision to book. Maintaining this good reputation has a significant bottom line impact.

Giving good service is always going to be the best way to get great reviews. As the host you’re the one in front of the guest and that makes all the difference … giving you a real advantage over corporate hotel chains. There are however a few tricks that can help bend the curve in your favour because having brilliant service on its own might not generate enough reviews. There may be some gentle prodding required to keep a fresh flow of reviews.

Let’s take a look at a few of the issues. Firstly, WHY you should have a good set of recent reviews, HOW to get them and finally a trick or two to encourage those that you know will REVIEW YOU WELL. We’ll also touch on the danger of putting review links on your website that take possible guests off to another website (where they’re encouraged to book an alternative!)

Why should you try to get a good set of recent reviews ?

1) Fresh reviews are the most important, about 40% of customers only look at reviews from the last few weeks (huge increase from only 18% in 2017). This has a positive impact on hosts that encourage guests to review because they tend to have a constant stream of recent reviews.  

2) TripAdvisor gives higher weighting to the most recent reviews and lowers the importance of older legacy reviews. Favouring newer reviews makes sense because guests want the most up-to-date picture of their potential stay.

3) Getting lots of recent reviews acts as a kind of insurance policy against the (inevitable) odd bad one. If you are unlucky enough to get a poor review amongst all your brilliant ones, it’ll soon sink out of sight if you keep getting new reviews.

4) Properties with more recent reviews will rise-up the ranking compared to those with the same score but older reviews.

How do you encourage guests to post reviews?

A certain number of guest will be regular reviewers and won’t need any nudging, but the majority might need a little prod to post a review. There is no shame in asking for a review, every business needs to know how they’re performing – your guests understand this.

To encourage reviews you could print little business cards with your TripAdvisor link (and maybe an direct booking discount offer for next time they book). Alternatively, you could email or message them after their stay. A little bait sometimes helps so why not use a PromoCode to give them a special returning guest discount?

How do I filter out the best customers to ask for a review?

Your booking system may have its own automatic guest feedback built in? A very effective strategy is to use this initial feedback by thanking them for the great review and asking it to be placed on TripAdvisor. By doing this you are filtering out the best reviewers which will over time boost your review score.

Top Tip: Respond to your reviews on TripAdvisor, Google and others.

Did you know that 89% of guests read the responses to reviews? Replying shows you care and helps you understand precisely what made the difference in the eyes and words of your guests … marketing gold.

This is great news for independent properties because it’s usually the “hosts” that are the differentiator, it’s not the free wi-fi, parking or the marble lobby that get mentioned, it’s YOU the host that makes the stay truly memorable.

Top Tip: Use technology to free yourself to do the important things.

The best hosts use technology to the max – they let their booking engine do the bookings, process payments, update channels etc. investing the time saved delivering a unique memorable experience.  This pays off with a great reputation, more bookings and higher prices.

Top Tip: Review widgets on your website can be tempting…. and costly!

We all want to show off our great review scores but please make sure your review widgets don’t lead guests to a page where they book another accommodation. So many properties just put the review link on their website, leading potential guests off to book with an OTA (at commissionable rates) or not at all. Check your website today, follow the links to see what your web visitors see and where they go, you might be shocked.

Direct booking review widgets are good and freetobook have just launched their new responsive and customisable review widget. 

At freetobook we’re constantly working to free up your time so you can spend it giving guest an amazing experience. We automate payments, guest feedback, online bookings, sending messages, channel management… and so much more.

share best practise

We’re family run and independent to the core, always searching for ways to support direct bookings.

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.

Freetobook Connects With Airbnb

A full two-way Airbnb Channel Manager connection is being developed for freetobook customers. Airbnb will soon join the many other channels available on freetobook including Bookingcom, Expedia, Hotelscom, TripAdvisor, Agoda, Hostelworld and many more.

Over the last few years we have watched Airbnb grow. Many freetobook customers are already using Airbnb and more would probably like to.

This month we started a full integration for a two-way channel manager exchange so that bookings, rates and conditions on your Airbnb account can be managed from within freetobook.

We expect to be ready with the Airbnb integration within two months so if you are interested in connecting keep an eye on our emails and sign up for a listing if you don’t have an Airbnb account.

Recent releases

New group booking process is live. When you go to add manual bookings in your freetobook diary you will find a slick new process to add bookings for any number of units making it quick and easy to add single unit or group booking.

Mobile app for Apple and Android will notify you of new bookings, modifications and cancellations. While the mobile app is very simple (it’s a first release) it’s perfect if all you want is to get booking alerts on your smart phone.

Other developments 

We also have a fabulous automated messaging system in the development queue for release in the next few months. The new messaging system will enhance your ability to communicate with your guests and save you invaluable time with automated messages.

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.