Members will be aware that early in 2018 the Search by Date facility was removed from the accommodation pages on our website and that it is proposed to replace it by a new availability functionality. Members have asked a number of questions about this proposal and this FAQ page has been created so that we can share the responses and new answers can be posted as further questions are raised.
1 Does the proposed calendar mean that users can find accommodation that is available on specific dates?
Yes. Currently the left panel of the accommodation pages contains all the filters, accommodation, type, locations, features etc. A date picking tool will be added at the top of this panel. Users can enter a start date and end date (or the number of nights).
2 What will the proposed new availability calendar look like?
It will be a simple calendar for members to show their availability and not visible to the user.
3 If you have more than one self-catering property must you merge all calendars to work out when there is availability?
Availability will be set up on per listing basis. If your listing on our website covers more than one unit, then you must “merge” calendars. Your listing will be considered available, if any of your units are available.
4 Will the proposed availability calendar be just for our own business on its page only or will there will also be a collective availability page replacing the previous “Together” Freetobook page? Please clarify.
Each business ‘Listing’ will be able to declare their availability as per their business listing. The calendar will not been seen by the user. The system will then only display the preview page, as now eg:
but only those listings showing availability. This then works with all the other existing filters operating on the same basis. So, to give examples:
Company A’s Listing has 9 individual listings covering 8 properties. The 9th listing is a pseudo entry covering 5 properties sold together. They will have to maintain their availability for up to 9 individual calendars.
Company B’s Listing is only one listing which has three cottages on it. Company B will only have to declare one availability and will be available if any of the three cottages has a vacancy on a specific date.
5 Will users still be able to browse accommodation without entering dates?
6 Is participation in the proposed system compulsory or optional?
It will be optional. However, it will only be effective if a high proportion of accommodation members choose to use it. It benefits users as it makes it easier for them to find accommodation on specific dates and members will be found more easily. If you don’t use it, you will not be included in date searches. However, the board will take this into consideration when discussing and voting. The calendar will not be implemented unless there is a very high % of members using it. The users experience is top priority.
7 If we choose not to use the system, can we continue to be listed on the website?
Yes, but remember that you will be at a disadvantage compared with members that are using it.
8 We are a small business with our own online booking system and it is not practical to update another system.
Our proposal is for a very simple availability system and not a full booking system with rates. Any booking links will be displayed as currently. It will be extremely easy to use and quick to update. Remember if you choose not to use, you will not be included in any date searches.
9 Wouldn’t it be easier if accommodation by default was marked as “free”?
Possibly. However, it is important that the data seen by users is accurate. If your property was always free there would be no incentive for members to maintain accurate data. It’s very irritating when searching any website for something specific, when a selection has been made and the item has been added to the basket to find at check-out that ‘no stock’ or ‘nothing available’. Showing properties on availability when they are not available will just bring the whole website into disrepute.
10 Why does availability have to be updated weekly?
It is important that the data presented to users is accurate therefore we need members to regularly update their calendar. The update period has not been finalised and can be readily amended if one week appears too onerous.
11 When I get the weekly email to update my availability, will I have to re-enter all my data?
No, your availability will be maintained from one week to the next and you will only have to make amendments if you have taken a new booking or had a cancellation. The update process will be very quick, probably with a “no changes” option.
12 Is availability searching by single and/or range of dates?
Searching is by a date range. Users will have to enter a start date together with a leaving date (or the number of nights).
13 Can you confirm that the availability is in addition to the current filters eg self-catering, number of guests etc?
14 When browsing accommodation how will the properties now be ordered? Are they rotated and what is the criteria? Is there still a hierarchy depending on what you pay for membership?
The current criteria is listed on our website and is the same for all categories of membership eg attractions or accommodation. Membership has been recently reviewed, so at the moment there are no plans to do this again.
15 What about the end of the year as the calendar advances?
As the calendars advance the period at the end of the year will be set “unavailable” until you mark it as free. There will probably be a quick option to do this unless you are actually booked.
16 We have some bookings 18 months to 2 years ahead. So, we would have to remember that when they come within the 365 days they will need to be closed. The calendar should be endless, there is no reason to limit it to 365 days.
Correct. The period is somewhat arbitrary and a whole year seemed sensible. However, we are aware that some visitors do book a year ahead. We will review this to see if there are any adverse implications of a longer period.
17 The mentioned booking facility might be OK for those that book self-catering accommodation for weeks on end with little or no changes by customers. However with B&Bs , Hotels etc this could be a nightmare.
We agree that B&Bs and self-catering are different. In the case of B&Bs and hotels availability is based on the whole establishment and they will only be unavailable when all rooms have been let. Somewhere with 10 rooms may well be free all the time and the update process will be very quick.
18 You say you are looking into using Booking.com – we would be very unhappy with this. Perhaps working with them is useful for the larger hotels but their anti-competition stance, the way they dictate what prices you can display (even on your own website) and their prescriptive cancellation policies would mean that we would not consider working with them again. It is worth noting that they are currently under investigation by the CMA.
We currently have no intention of using Booking.com. The idea was suggested by a member, as a possible revenue stream, and it will be considered.
19 If your calendar solution was ical based, perhaps people using FreetoBook could auto upgrade availability from their booking system (see https://en.freetobook.com /plus/ical) it would be worth asking whoever you get to do the calendar.
The board will consider this.
20 Accommodation providers have been asked to pay for the development of the availability calendar, but we think this is unfair as bringing visitors to the area benefits the whole membership and not just accommodation.
All members bring visitors into the area. Our key attractions have a far higher number of day visitors and very often those day convert into stay for example Puzzlewood welcomes 65% day visitors. As the development is costly and finances are tight all options will be discussed by the board.
21 All accommodation providers are being asked to pay £25. As a member with only a single listing we feel that we are being penalised as those with multiple properties will pay the same.
The board consider this.
22 If accommodation providers are being asked to pay, could we have a breakdown of costs spent on promoting attractions as opposed to promoting accommodation?
We do not promote any section of the membership separately. The only individual category expenditure was Freetobook. All costs are presented to our members at the AGM.
23 You ask for an agreement to share the costs of the website development- what if half the providers refuse? Where will that leave us?
All sections of our membership are represented equally using the existing filters. The board will discuss and decide depending on the response from the accommodation providers.
24 If accommodation members are to be asked to pay for having an availability display why are we looking at sharing the cost of £4000 when we could in fact share the £1800pa which Freetobook were charging? We know their system works.
The visitor experience is the top priority and Freetobook is not suitable for all accommodation members.