Spread your OTA bookings

OTA selection

Select more than one OTA

Are all your eggs in one Online Travel Agent’s (OTA) basket? We see a number of independent accommodation owners who rely on just one OTA. Business wisdom and common sense suggest that an over reliance on one source of sales is risky. Spreading your sales sources will give you a more reliable, robust and diversified stream of bookings.

So what are the risks of working with just one OTA? At some future point that company may decide to implement something you disagree with; it could be a policy about commission or some way that they deal with guest data, reviews or customer relations. There’s no way to say what the future holds but with only one source you will have to follow their rules without any backup relationships.

Biggest OTAs in the World

World’s Biggest OTAs

Each of the biggest three worldwide travel websites (and they keep growing), Expedia, TripAdvisor and Booking.com all have their own customer databases and their own advertising strategies. By working with more than one you both maximise your exposure and diversify sources of potential customers. Remember that some customers only ever book with Expedia and others only Booking.com so by working with both you get seen by them all.

Customers also visit many websites during their research process so featuring on the big three means you have more chance of catching their eye. Again each of these booking sites will place a different emphasis on your property so you will appear in different positions and places on different searches and pages.

Having only one OTA is a bit like a farmer getting a giant contract from a major supermarket. The initial glow wears off when you have had to turn down all other distribution opportunities and tailor your processes to that single source, and then you realise that losing the contract would likely mean instant business failure. It’s a horrible question to ask but an important one, if your biggest OTA stopped working with you would your business survive?

Fortunately in the accommodation business you can spread your risk far more easily than some farmers can. You can share your availability across multiple channels and benefit from a bigger and more diverse spread of bookings whilst increasing your negotiating position. Then, if at some future date one OTA ever demands something you don’t want to give you can always move business to another.

A good healthy business mix includes plenty of direct bookings so your OTA policy should always go hand-in-hand with a strategy to increase direct bookings. In our next blog we cover ways to increase direct bookings, so you can make the most of the existing customers that have booked via the OTAs.

Find out more about our Channel Manager

Posted in bookings, channel management, digital marketing, marketing, online, OTAs, sales, winning strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great, Gratis and Glorious digital marketing ideas to boost direct sales

Gonzo Marketing

Gonzo Marketing

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 the 2015 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:

  1. TripAdvisor (42%) is the most downloaded mobile app amongst travelers, followed by Priceline (15%), Expedia (14%) and Orbitz (13%)
  2. There are 139 reviews written every minute on TripAdvisor
  3. You lose 25-60% of visitors with each click on the mobile path to purchase.
  4. 69% of travelers begin their search online…via a mobile device!
  5. Average mobile users check their device 150 times per day!
  6. Of the average six daily hours US adults spend on digital media, 3 hours is on mobile.
  7. Twitter on Travel: in the past year, 60M tweets mentioned hotels, 21M tweets mentioned vacations
  8. 70% of followers have taken some action after seeing travel content on Twitter
  9. 70% of Instagram users have looked for a brand online
  10. 3/4 of consumers are frustrated when online content doesn’t relate to their interest
  11. In 2016, 50% of total travel sales will involve more than one device
  12. Ritz Carlton Hotel sees 18% conversions from email campaigns. Email is not dead, folks!
  13. 92% of visitors to a website will never return. Thus, remarketing is key!
  14. Only 27% of hotels send automated emails prior to arrival (and after departing)
  15. According to Google, 1/3 of people with a smartphone would give up sex instead of their phone. Sad.

Visit Frederic Gonzalo’s website for further insights

 

Posted in digital marketing, facebook, marketing, mobile, online, OTAs, sales, social media, technology, tips, tourism, TripAdvisor, website, winning strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

bestPriceDoes Your Website Tell Customers WHY They Should Book Directly ?

We were chatting with one freetobook customer this week who was alarmed at the growing number of rooms sold via booking.com rather than her own website and to make matters worse, a returning customer had re-booked using the OTA! With a few clicks all became clear. The property’s website was overly cluttered, out of date with offers from the Christmas holidays and it wasn’t clear there was an online booking facility.

Does your website tell potential customers WHY they should book directly with you?  The OTA’s do a brilliant job at converting lookers to bookers. From the ‘last room, last chance’ popups in red lettering, they create a sense of urgency to drive through that final click to book.

It’s worth saying once again …
Place your BOOKING BUTTON on the top left hand side if you possibly can. Advertisers pay a premium for this ‘sweet spot’.

HIGHLIGHT to potential bookers that they will get the BEST POSSIBLE PRICE (with no commission) by booking on your website.

Add in fresh, positive reviews onto your front page. Update very regularly!

Other general website design tips to remember …
How well do other folk feel you are marketing your accommodation? Ask friends and business associates whose opinions you trust to spent time on your website. Their feedback may highlight some great new suggestions or angles.

Make your website look as professional as possible, it’s your number one marketing tool. It’s worth considering giving it a timely overhaul with the help of a website designer.

Beautiful images SELL.  Refresh images of your property seasonally, there is nothing more off-putting than searching for a summer retreat only to find the main photos on the property’s website show a winter wonderland!

Write concise (less is more!), appealing copy about your property and what visitors can expect on arrival.

Posted in booking button, marketing, OTAs, sales, tips, updates, winning strategies | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

OTAs – Rise of the Giants

Rise of the giants

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.

connect to freetobook channel manager

 

Posted in bookings, channel management, marketing, OTAs, sales, TripAdvisor | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

B&B marketing tips from Karen

hopton house“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;

guest reviews tripadvisor1. 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.

online travel agents2. 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.

social media3. 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.

advertising4. Advertising:
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).

online booking5. 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/

Posted in channel management, marketing, sales, social media, technology, TripAdvisor, website | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How to win on TripAdvisor

Win on TripAdvisor

Winning on TripAdvisor

It’s great to see so many small businesses flourishing on TripAdvisor with the recent Certificates of Excellence. What does it take to get one? We are privileged to have a special view of the accommodation business chatting to thousands of owners across the world. On the whole customers openly share their success to help others get ahead.

When you look around at the independent B&Bs and guest houses that are winning there are a few things that seem to make all the difference to their guests.

Their welcome is warm, friendly, unique – it sets the tone for the stay. You, the host, make all the difference…. unlike some large corporate hotel chains where you’re “checked-in” by a machine ! That’s a huge advantage straight away, use that encounter to understand the guest, they are all different – some want to chat, take advice etc. others may not.

They have a small “flourish” at check-in that’s worth it’s weight in gold….a fresh pot of tea, some home baking, interesting events for them to see, something local ?

Their “wow factor” often comes from plain old attention to detail. Having everything spotless is a good starting point and then its lots of very small things done well….that add up.  In elite sports it’s called “marginal differences” i.e. the type of bed the athlete sleeps on, the liquids they drink, the make up of their diet, added together all of these 100s of things can mean the difference between a gold or silver medal on the day!

They are “great” at something (most people are!) and they show it off, differentiating themselves from the “crowd” and creating a memorable experience…something guests want to tell their friends about.  It could be flower arranging, local history, gardening, baking bread, carpentry, telling jokes….

They think of their guest all the way, anticipating their needs….if they are in a “walking Focus on Successarea” they provide advice or maps, if guests need to eat out they know which restaurants do what food best.  By spending time with their guests they are better able to understand how to make their stay just that little bit more memorable.

If you do all this you need to understand that although this level of “service” is natural to you it is also a real part of your marketing plan, so make the most of it.  Ask for a review and respond to them on TripAdvisor (all types), it shows you care but it’s also a fantastic source of marketing information. You will find out what “made the difference” in the eyes (and words) of your guests.

Essentially, “the host” seems to make the difference, not the free wi-fi or parking, so organising your time around the guest is critical. The best in the game know this, they clear their “admin” desk, use technology to the max – they don’t waste time processing bookings, typing in payments, updating booking systems …. instead they invest the time saved delivering a friendly, unique and memorable experience… it pays off!

Some winning accommodation owners case studies for further reading

Maxwell’s Piece B&B in Cotswolds
Glangwili Mansion in Carmarthen
Millgate B&B in Masham
Lincoln Yurts Glamping

Posted in awards, bookings, marketing, TripAdvisor, website, winning strategies | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

TripAdvisor direct bookings TripConnect explained

TripConnect explained

TripAdvisor for business

Many accommodation businesses are confused about TripAdvisor’s direct bookings, are you one them?  Let’s try to explain, so find a nice quiet spot to sit down with a glass or mug of your favourite drink.

In the last year TripAdvisor has changed its business model a number of times leaving many potential customers confused and even locked out. We have created a couple of videos to help you understand these changes (skip to these at the foot of the article…if you like) but it’s probably worthwhile seeing some of the basic facts first. Like them or not, here they are;

  1. TripAdvisor is a booking website used to book accommodation online.
  2. Accommodation businesses can receive bookings directly from the TripAdvisor website using a booking engine i.e. Freetobook.
  3. If you are already working with an OTA (Online Travel Agent) like Expedia or Booking.com you may find that the OTAs advertise your availability on TripAdvisor. These bookings will come through the OTA (not directly from TripAdvisor) and look like any other OTA booking and you pay your agreed commission to the OTA, as usual.
  4. The OTA pays to advertise on the TripAdvisor website, each OTA decides if they want to advertise your availability. You have no control over this.
  5. TripAdvisor lists availability and prices prominently so properties that don’t have online rates will be more difficult to find and if they are found they’ll be surrounded by images and popups directing customers to nearby available properties.
  6. Available to accommodation owners worldwide except if you have a holiday rental on HolidayLettings or FlipKey

In short, if you don’t have online rates you will receive less traffic and fewer bookings than in previous years.

Direct bookings via TripAdvisor

Direct bookings via TripAdvisor

If you do want bookings this way then you choose your route, direct with TripAdvisor or through an OTA – either way there is no requirement for any fixed upfront costs, no subscriptions or annual fees.

To get bookings direct you will need an account with TripAdvisor and an approved booking engine (or connectivity partner i.e. freetobook). Simply login to your TripAdvisor account and setup your direct advertising via their TripConnect service. Most approved booking engines charge for this service but with us it is completely free.

To advertise directly on their website you will need to pay TripAdvisor. In their wisdom they have created two models for payment (hence our two videos mentioned earlier).

Model One: Pay Per ClickTripAdvisor CPC video
Here you pay TripAdvisor a click fee each time a customer clicks on your advert, on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. However, you DON’T pay for a search, you only pay when the customer searches AND then clicks on your available price. If you are not available on the dates the customer searches or they don’t click the price then you don’t pay.

Cost Per Click model facts:
You pay when a customer clicks on your available price.
TripAdvisor sets the click costs and from feedback they are generally quite low (but we can’t see or know the cost, they are only visible in TripAdvisor).
You can vary what you pay per click (your bid). If you bid too low then TripAdvisor will remove the advert and you would have to increase your bid to show again.
If you work with an OTA they might also advertise alongside your CPC advert.
You set the budget and pay TripAdvisor and can switch it on/off as you please.

In this model you pay for the advertising and you measure the bookings that come from the clicks. Bidding higher for clicks will make you show at the top of any adverts on your property and bidding too low will mean you don’t show. You make the judgement as to the cost effectiveness of your advertising by totalling up the bookings versus the click costs.  Ideally that return has to better than any other booking options i.e. OTA commissions.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Cost Per Click model.

Model Two: Pay Per Booking model (Instant Booking)Instant Booking video for TripConnect
In this model you only pay TripAdvisor for bookings. There is no cost for each click, instead you pay a commission amount on realised bookings. You set this up by logging into TripAdvisor account and activating an Instant Booking campaign. You pay TripAdvisor a commission fee only after the customer has completed their stay. At the time of this blog Instant Booking is not available to all properties. Use the Instant booking link below to check.

Pay Per Booking model facts:
You pay either 12% or 15% commission after the customer has stayed.
If you bid 12% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 25% of the time.
If you bid 15% then TripAdvisor will show your advert 50% of the time.
No other OTAs will show if your advert is showing.
There is no payment/commission due on bookings that cancel.

Enjoy the youtube video on the Pay Per Booking model

By now you are either asleep or completely up to speed on direct bookings from TripAdvisor….. that is before it changes (only joking!)  As always, please share your experience of this service or any other relevant news, let us know how it has or hasn’t worked for you.

Other relevant pages:
List of premium partners (booking engines) with TripAdvisor
TripConnect CPC on freetobook
TripConnect Instant Booking on freetobook
TripAdvisor TripConnect on their site
TripAdvisor Instant Booking on their site

World's Best B&B 2015

World’s Best B&B 2015

Millgate B&B was awarded the best B&B in the World 2015, why not have a little read about how Sue did it along with a few tips to learn from.

If you’re a historian or an online booking nerd and want to see some old blogs on how TripAdvisor has changed since we first started reporting and connecting way back in July 2013

Posted in bookings, instant booking, marketing, sales, technology, tips, TripAdvisor, TripConnect, updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Google Mobile Friendly deadline

Mobile friendly deadline

Google Mobile Friendly deadline

In a candid announcement a few months back Google let the world know that mobile friendliness has a deadline. From the 21st April onwards Google will actively favour mobile-friendly websites in mobile searches. If your website is mobile-friendly it is likely that you will rise in Google search results for mobiles as those that aren’t slip down the ranks.

Mobile-Friendly tag on Google

Mobile-Friendly tag on Google

In their words “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” The Google announcement can be found here

This makes total sense, Google is in the business of delivering high quality relevant searches to their customers. If a customer is using a mobile device they will want to see mobile-friendly websites above the websites that do not look good on mobile devices. As a useful guide Google has made free tool to check if your website is mobile-freindly click here to check your website.

Mobile-Friendly websites for hotels

Get a great mobile website

Accommodation businesses should look to be mobile-friendly before the 21st April. There is help at hand with freetobook mobile website and mobile booking. Our mobile websites are continually updated for the latest mobile versions and they update when you change your details in your freetobook account.

For more information on Mobile websites on freetobook click here or watch the video below.

Posted in Google mobile rank, Google rank, marketing, mobile, online, sales, updates, website | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Google Mobile-Friendly websites

Mobile friendly website

If you get this your website is mobile friendly

If Google speaks we all have to listen and when the world’s search giant lets us know that it now labels websites as “mobile-friendly” the message is clear. (read Google announcement)

Labeling websites as mobile-friendly will help Google rank them higher for users on phones. The message from Google is loud and clear so any late arrivals need to get serious about mobile. Simply put there is now a penalty on Google for not having a mobile website.

Not Mobile Friendly

You don’t want to see this message ! It’s bad news.

Google says “Have you ever tapped on a Google Search result on your mobile phone, only to find yourself looking at a page where the text was too small, the links were tiny, and you had to scroll sideways to see all the content? This usually happens when the website has not been optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone. “

 

Google now offers a free tool to check if your website is mobile-friendly. Check your website here.

Frankly, it’s frustrating to visit a website with a phone and have to scroll to find things, read tiny print and wish that your fingers were the size of matchsticks as you try to click the correct link or back track from the wrong link.

Elegant, simple, mobile booking solutions have been part of freetobook from our birth. It’s easy and low cost to get your website and booking process mobile.

Mobile websites for accommodation providers need to designed specifically for accommodation, you need something that fits your business. All our mobile sites are automatically updated when you update your details in freetobook.

 

 

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Together in Gatwick

Together for accommodation ownersJust back from a quick trip down to Gatwick to see the Gatwick Guest House Association (GGHA). I was invited to give a short presentation on the Together service after a few of their proactive members thought the service may help their website generate more bookings.

Like many other associations they need to upgrade their website and in assessing the options it became obvious that a booking engine on the website would be a great benefit…and that’s where Together comes in. Freetobook are always happy to visit groups and explain face-to-face who we are, where we came from and what we do.

Gatwick guest house association

Gatwick guest house association

I was really impressed with the positive and proactive attitude of everyone at the meeting, I was made to me feel very welcome.

A big thank you to everyone and especially to Carmel at the Cumberland House for her warm hospitality…..the perfect host.

 

To find out more about how to get together click here.

Short video on the together system

 

 

Posted in booking button, bookings, cooperation, group booking, hospitality associations, marketing, online, sales, technology, together | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment