Tuesday 10 January 2017

Facebook won't do your work for you...

At Plan B We're involved in a number of music related projects just now with WinterStorm (our rock festival), South Beach Sessions (a series of acoustic and blues rock gigs) and a new Punk/Indie weekender in the planning for August 2017.

As a result of this we have been involved increasingly with gigs, musicians and artistes over the past year.

We have also found ourselves being much more proactive on Facebook with the promotion of these events to the targeted niche audiences that our events are aimed at. What has become increasingly obvious however is that despite the fact that most businesses are on Facebook they ignore some of the very tools that can work best for them.

Events is the example that I am talking about in this context.

As part of a wider "One Ayrshire" destination marketing project we have been setting up the background info for a One Ayrshire events page on Facebook and the new website in turn and it has opened our eyes to the number of businesses simply neglecting their own and the local events on in the area.

Promoting Events on Your Facebook Page

Sharing events on your own Facebook page should be a given. It is not only simple to do but can drive traffic back to your own web page and booking link as well. It will not fill your venue on its own but if you have a Facebook page use the bloody assets on it!

As an events listing it covers everything from header image, venue, dates. times, description, prices and links to web page and ticket links too.

Not only that you can then invite your friends to attend and you can "Share Events" with appropriate partners and collaborators locally.

Maximise Distribution

Once you've created your event you need to get it out there. You cannot assume that anyone is looking for it so you have to take it to them. That's how Facebook works, you need to get down and dirty and start looking for Businesses, Groups and conversations that will be interested in your offering - and this doesn't just apply to events.

For WinterStorm (a classic rock weekend) we started sharing events and posts with heavy metal, rock and blues Groups that we joined. We shared with Motorcycle Groups and other genre relate pages, we shared the events with local businesses involved in tourism and on every band page performing. We were to use that awful phrase, "fishing where the fishes were" - we were engaging in conversations with people who we already knew had an interest in the subject and we took our message to them rather than waiting for them to stumble upon us. The results were quite incredible with an incredibly launch period and the very quick creation of "brand awareness" and a 30 second teaser video that was viewed more than 12,000 times.

If you have a series of music events then let the local accommodation providers know and share with community groups and business associations - those hospitality businesses should be taking your events and adding them to their own pages as part of their own marketing strategies.let them know what you've got on and encourage them to talk about it.

"If you're coming to Scotland in November what about booking with our hotel in Troon. For rock fans we have a two day event taking place just up the road in the Concert Hall featuring world class bands. Click on the Event below for ticket information and book direct online at our website"

It makes sense doesn't it? You have a hotel with rooms to sell in late November so why would you not add EVERY local events that's taking place onto your own business page. Easy to do as well - click on the Events page, open the event and click on the three dots top right - the drop down will say "Add to Page" - simply select your own page and it will magically be on your events listing.

All hoteliers, all accommodation providers, all hospitality businesses should understand that it is this simple power to share and collaborate that is the real strength of social media. It engages the visitor and gives them additional reasons to come to your area. If every destination could get everyone collaborating at even the simplest of levels such as this there is little doubt that real benefits would accrue.

It's not just Ayrshire for sure but that happens to be what I'm working on just now and it's pretty unbelievable how totally neglected the events listing actually is.

The Gaiety, Ayr Racecourse, South Ayrshire Events, The Palace Theatre, smaller venues, larger venues... All have lists of previous events and not one of them has a list of what's forthcoming.

I am not a flag bearer for Facebook as a wonderful business tool - far from it - but it is a truism that you will only get out what you put in. And if you put in nothing you cannot expect to be found. Facebook, like your website requires content; content requires commitment, and then and only then will that content convert.

If you have twenty events in place for the next year get them into your Facebook page. If you don't know how to do it then make a member of your staff an author on your business page and get them to do it for you.

As I still have a tendency to say, "There's now way but the hard way so get used to it".

For help with Developing your Relationships drop us an email or call us on 01294 233713.

Early season bookings can give you the start you need.

Some days you may struggle to choose a subject to write about but today wasn't one of them.

It opened with an article in my inbox indicating that Expedia had quietly retired Venere from the OTA shelves. Venere was Expedia's equivalent of Priceline's Booking.com and apparently slid away in December.

This was then followed by two calls from clients looking for advice on their booking engine and how they could improve their direct sales. We've just restarted blogging on Tourism Matters again but if you look back to 2008 when we first started the theme was all about improving direct revenues and being wary, VERY wary, of the enticements of the third party online travel agents!

Some things haven't changed.

We ran a search for "Book Direct" in the Tourism Matters blog and found a screed of articles and advice on building direct business  many of which remain highly relevant.

The Importance of January and February for online sales

The first ten to twelve weeks of the year can be the most lucrative of the year and the smart hotels are ensuring that they are stocking up on low cost DIRECT bookings from both new and established clients. As much as 40% of your online business can be generated in these early months and for the advanced bookings the good news is that the majority are not looking for cheap deals.

Loch Lomondside Half Price Offer

Clients such as The Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha have been pushing their January to March rooms with their annual online room sale offering Sunday through Thursday special rates for their direct online bookings. They are filling empty spaces and keeping costs down by not selling through the high costs OTAs.

Half Price Rooms

Five Star Weekend Breaks in Ayrshire

One of our five star clients in Ayrshire started using their own private "Flash Sales" to their closed mailing lists for the first time generating substantial business from a single mail shot via a limited time offer only open for six hours.

The offer price was only visible to their mailing list and didn't undermine the public rate visible on the site. So delighted with the results that they are planning a series of exclusives for quieter dates over the coming quarter.

With your booking engine you can easily create exclusive, added value offers that are not available through the third party sites.

The above two clients are both using Bookassist for their booking engine on their site but even if your engine doesn't have these functions it is essential that you ensure that your rates and availability are set to encourage direct bookings. There are so  many easy ways to convert more direct business that it is almost criminal to just sit back and accept that you can't do anything about it. YOU may not close them down overnight but that's not the objective. You simply want to reduce your cost of sale by taking back more of YOUR direct custom.

So just in case you haven't given it any thought here's what we recommend you look at today!

  • Maximum Availability on your own site - don't close out rooms unnecessarily
  • Best Available Rate throughout the whole year - always, never cheaper elsewhere and ensure your site says Best Rate Guarantee or similar.
  • Plan your seasonal rates and promotions - Valentines, Easter, Mothers Day, Autumn Offers and yes even Festive Packages. Create your packages now and get them up and bookable online as soon as you can.
  • Plan exclusive offers to your mailing list and start filling those spaces with low cost direct offers.
If you're looking for a little more inspiration, we wrote a whole series of Best Book Direct articles more than four years ago for Advent! We are going to redo them but if you want assured that we have been consistent in our approach you could do worse than have a look. Still some great advice in here

Monday 9 January 2017

First Claymore Sites of 2017 Go Live!

It was a very busy Festive period for us in the Irvine office with a number of sites scheduled to go live both sides of the Festivities with our Claymore Sites brand.

We were particularly delighted with the first two Claymore powered sites of the new year, due in no small part to their diversity in both geography and content.

Both sites are what we specialise in - small independent operators with great operating standards matched only by their passion - but they are rather different in products and markets.

At one end is The Harbour Bar in Troon with its seaside location and it is fair to assume an altitude of no more than ten metres above high tide! And at the other we have Chalet Chedaliere perched at 1300 metres in the French Alps.

Diverse indeed but similar too.

Both sites have been developed using our own content management solution Claymore allowing both operators to update their information whenever required creating a much more dynamic vehicle for promotions, offers and news.

Both designs are image rich and mobile friendly with a number of nice touches in there for the users - everything we do has the aim of reducing friction for the site visitor so The Harbour Bar can easily update their live sports and music programmes with the user having easy access on mobile to view dates and times of big matches or the live band for next Saturday.

The Harbour Bar in Troon

The site which is built using a "Mobile First" theme highlights the nautical theme of the pub with easy navigation and user interface. It disproves the notion that any business is too small to have a mobile ready presence on line.

  • PDF menus for download
  • Full Live Sports Listings
  • Multiple image galleries
  • Google Map with Routing

View Harbour Bar Site

Chalet Chedaliere in Courchevel 1300

Chalet Chedaliere may have more desktop users but the ski site has been designed to integrate highly interactive mobile friendly ski maps as well as the usual descriptions of the destination, events and chalet facilities.

  • Full content management
  • PDF Ski Maps
  • Destination Information
  • Google Maps and Routing
  • 3D Piste App Integration

View Chalet Chedaliere Website

The main positive about both of these sites is that the proprietors are taking greater ownership of their digital presence and not leaving it solely to social media channels for distribution.

Visitors to Troon are now much more likely to find information about The Harbour Bar menus and events than they would have with Facebook alone and, similarly, in France, the chalet will be able to build a more effective presence with the creation of new pages during the season and the sharing of guests' experiences.

Websites remain the core distribution channel for hospitality businesses and it is essential that this is adopted as part of a holistic digital strategy for the business. If a promotion or offer or event is available to the customer it MUST be on the website first. Facebook, Twitter and Email marketing can then be used to distribute the message but do not bypass the website or underrate its importance.

If you want to find out more about our digital and web strategy visit Claymore Sites or call us on 01294 233713 for a digital audit.

2017 and Tourism Still Matters!

We first launched Tourism Matters as a blog way back at the beginning on 2008 on the tails of our belief that Content was King. We thought that the world was ready for sharp insight and biting comment on the delivery of tourism marketing.

We were right - the world was ready for insight and comment but we just were good enough to deliver it!

Well after a bit of a rest and some comments at recent hospitality events we are once again going to give Tourism Matters a go! Same format as before as nothing much has changed since 2008 after all has it?!

Tourism Matters will feature a bit of news, comment, guidance and on occasion some deep insight! It is the blog of Plan B and we will therefore highlight work we're doing with our customers, information on our products including Claymore Sites, our music events and festivals and our soon to be launched mobile App, Concierge Plus.

We will also start publishing updates to our popular Tourism Matters Briefings - in over a decade we have remained true to our beliefs about digital marketing in the hospitality and tourism sector; we all need to maximise our direct bookings and take greater control of our own distribution.

To that end we will as ever be pushing that ethos...

Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter or sign up for our newsletters.

We look forward to writing again.

Friday 27 May 2016

Maximise your Conversion with the right Booking Engine

Our three cogs approach has long been a part of our thinking and it does seems to help when trying to change operators' thinking towards on-line marketing.

Build your site; Develop your relationships, Maximise your conversion.

It sounds simple and in actual fact much of it is simple. You can't rely on any one area of your digital presence to do everything for you but create a focussed and achievable plan and you can build more of that all important low cost DIRECT business.

Plan B have been Scottish partners to Bookassist Booking engine for more than a decade now and in that time the message has always remained wholly consistent with simple rules of on-line engagement - ALWAYS

  • have your Best Rate DIRECT
  • have all your off line offers and availability bookable online and DIRECT 
  • Reduce Friction for the site visitor

Implement these three basic rules and there is little doubt that you can start moving the customer away from those pesky, expensive OTAs back to booking more rooms DIRECT.

Best rate and maximising availability are maybe more easily understood but what does Reduce Friction mean and how do you do it?

Well, basically it means taking the customer from where they are to where they want to be as simply and quickly as possible. If we use an example of an event package within your property "reducing friction" would include the following.


  • You are selling a new series of music based packages with dinner, bed and breakfast to fill shoulder rooms.


It is all about content and in this context that is both booking engine content and webpage content. You must have both - a dedicated Music event page is needed for search and focus whilst without online availability it will never convert.

  • Ensure the priced package is live in your booking engine with best rate and maximum availability
  • Create a rich content web page with details and images of the offer 
  • Create a direct booking "deep link" from the web page to the actual package on sale on your site
  • Promote the "deep link" from your email marketing campaign taking the visitor from the email straight to the booking page
  • Promote the same link via your Facebook, Twitter, Google +  and other channels and see the click throughs increase
  • If you have local partners or PR sites that you use engage with their site and social media to promote the link to the page and a Book Now link
Tick the above and you will have reduced friction quite dramatically and if the product and pricing is right you will see increased uptake and conversion.

However as we all know, not all booking engines are equal. Yes it may integrate directly with your PMS or even be good for managing channels but in all honesty is it easy for the customer to book or for you to create packages like the one above? 

Use your Booking Engine Effectively

With Bookassist the above scenario couldn't be easier with the use of Price Groups that allow you to link directly to:
  • Specific packages and offers
  • Room types - standard, suites. single, executive.
  • Specific dates
  • Groups of packages sucj as a Special Offers page
  • Room packages - B&B, Room Only or DBB
Your Bookassist online manager will provide you with a list of your "price groups" and web links connecting to each offer directly for you to drop into your online marketing campaigns. 

Simple and effective and at every stage reduces friction and increases the chance of conversion dramatically. 

Have a look at exactly this with one of our favourite hotels in Scotland, the five star luxury Lochgreen House Hotel overlooking Open Championship venue Royal Troon. 

Click on the Feature to the right and maybe you'll even Book a night out in Ayrshire!

If you recognise that you need to take your own bookings back, and to paraphrase a rather large hotel group stop your customers clicking about, then give us a call on 01294 233713 or email us directly to find out how Bookassist can improve your conversion rates.

Five Star Linlithgow B&B chooses Open Rooms

Arden Country House Bed and Breakfast boast its five star rating from both the AA and Scottish Tourist Board and now they have a five star online presence with the launch of their new Open Rooms website earlier this week

The luxury Bed and Breakfast is located in Linlithgow, near Edinburgh, nestled deep in the heart of West Lothian, Scotland. Belsyde Estate, Linlithgow is an idyllic country retreat,set in 105 acres of stunning wooded sheep farming land and offers panoramic vistas as far as the eye can see.

The new site was trigerred by the work Plan B had already done for Arden and others in putting the Scotland's Best Bed and Breakfast website live at the end of 2015. The site impressed so many of the members that many have already redesigned their sites with the affordable Open Rooms packages and using the bespoke "Claymore" Content Management System designed specifically for hospitality operators,

The new site is based on one of the Open Rooms themes and as well as having full control over content the site also integrates the Bed and Breakfast's blog and social media, integrates their Freetobook booking engine to drive DIRECT bookings and allows easy page and image management with the easy to use content management solution.

View the Arden Country House website here or find out more about Open Rooms

Tuesday 26 April 2016

A Little Music for the Soul at South Beach Sessions

Two years ago I, foolishly, decided to start putting live music on at The South Beach Hotel in Troon - we call it South Beach Sessions.

Since then we've lost far too much money but had a ball doing so in the company of Grammy winners such as Albert Lee and John Jorgenson, herpes of my youth such as Whitesnake legend Bernie Marsden and some wonderful bands including The Chaplins, JJ Gilmour, and Bernie Torme!

The latest wonderful experience was last Sunday night with "The Goddess of Soul" Dona Oxford. With her talented young band she treated the audience to an evening of soul, blues, gospel and an astounding chunk of Boogie Woogie. It had to be shared.

But here's the plea, music promoters all over the UK are struggling for any number of reasons but the next time you see someone putting on live music in your location please think about supporting it. You can be assured that they are doing it for love of the music and not for the money and supporting local business is not just about buying some beef olives and steak pie at the butchers - Live music needs an audience and small venues can offer the most amazing experiences too.

Click if you need proof and enjoy!