Your hotel contact and reservation requests arrive from all over the world and throughout the day to your inbox. For the independent hotel, B&B, and tour operator, it is simply not possible to respond to email requests immediately. And there is no reason to if you set up an automated response message for when you are not at the reservation answer desk. So is turning on the auto-responder message a smart idea for your hotel or tour contact email address?
Why Set Up an Auto-Responder for your Hotel or Tour Booking Website
There are many reasons why someone who reaches your tourism website fills out the contact form, booking inquiry (or enquiry) form, or sends you an email message. It makes no difference why they contacted you, only that you have an obligation to respond promptly. Doing so will demonstrate your responsiveness and encourage their booking.
Key Concept: The purpose of the auto-responder message is to instantly email back to confirm receipt of a message and communicate response times.
Telling visitors that you got their message and promise to reply promptly is a professional gesture. It reflects positively on your hotel or tour company and the way your business operates. Your automated effort is appreciated only if it is done right. When your auto-response (also called auto-reply or out-of-office message) to a tour question or room reservation request is poorly implemented, you risk turning away potential customers. Use this opportunity to create a positive first impression and set your tourism business on a path to earning their booking.
What to Say in your Hotel or Tour Auto-Responder Email
You can include anything in an (out-of-office) auto-reply email, but it helps to follow a few basic rules of hotel and tour email marketing. Remember that an auto-responder isn’t meant to be an email newsletter. Nor should it overwhelm the recipient with information that is likely to be irrelevant. Once again the primary goal is to tell people that you received their message and a representative will personally respond soon.
In addition to the general welcome and thank you message, include a selection of the following items in your email body.
- Hours of operation and when representatives are able to respond to email, social media, and phone calls.
- Link to your booking or reservation system online in case the person wants to go ahead and book travel right away.
- A copy of their message (if your auto-responder system offers this feature) as a reminder of why the visitor was getting in touch.
- An anti-spam statement explaining that the message is in response to their request and the recipient was not added to any mailing lists.
- Full contact information for your travel business, again to remind visitors who they contacted and that you are trustworthy.
- Other contact information such as phone numbers (local and international), Facebook page, Twitter stream, Skype handle, and chat information.
- A brief statement about why booking direct offers the best price and travel booking service.
- A signature that includes the names of the people that run a B&B or independent tour company to showcase your personal touch.
Once you are done make sure to spell check and have someone else review the wording and grammar of both subject and body text. When your message contains spelling errors, potential bookers may assume your travel services lack the same attention to detail.
Guidelines for Effective Booking Auto-Responder Messages
You want to avoid spam filters and have your booking inquiry response make it to the inbox successfully. So the first rule is to avoid those keywords that suggest that your message is salesy, not expected, or not welcome. That means avoiding terms like “free” and “act now” or using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and including too many hyperlinks. There is no foolproof solution so search Google for ways to avoid the spam folder using proven guidelines.
Most recipients will look at the name of the sender (the FROM email address and display name), the subject line, and possibly the preview text to determine whether to open, mark as spam, or delete your message immediately. Make sure you use a recognizable name that appears as the sender and not “noreply” or the name of a staff member who would not be known to your potential customers. If you do use the name of a staff member, always include the name of your company as part of the display name such as “Laura at Travel Company XYZ.”
It is a good idea to use a combination of the subject line and first sentence or two (what appears as the inbox preview text) to remind people that the email was auto-generated. For example you can use “Travel Company XYZ received your message” or “Auto-response from Travel Company XYZ” as the subject line. The preview text can thank the recipient for contacting them and serve as a reminder of their recent visit to your travel site.
You may feel tempted to respond back with a list of all your special booking deals and load up the message with the answer to every possible question. This is a common tactic used to avoid getting back to your visitors with a personal message, but it is less useful when you run an independent hotel or tour business. You want to encourage visitors to contact you to ask travel and booking questions. Since you have no idea what they might be asking, sending the answers to every possible question appears lazy and impersonal.
Setting Up an Auto-Responder in your Email Software
Before you turn on the auto-responder message that was crafted using the advice above, make a list of every email address that is promoted by your tourism business. Designate one or two email accounts as the ones that accept booking inquiries and requests for hotel or tour information. You do not want the automated response to be sent to everybody nor do you want it to be sent out to the same person more than once. Use one email address for all incoming inquiries from your site (contact form and email hyperlink) and turn on the auto-responder just for that inbox.
However when you respond back to people that contacted you, use a separate address that has no auto-responder. The reason is that once you are emailing back and forth with a potential customer, the auto-responder feature is no longer necessary or relevant. Of course you must examine the booking contact patterns to decide if sending automatic email replies are helpful in every contact situation or just the first time. Some auto-responder systems offer advanced options that limit or prevent multiple sends so consult with your IT vendor for help.
To find out how to edit the auto-reply message and turn it on, read your email software user guide. All email clients such as Microsoft Outlook (Exchange), Google’s Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and web-based mail from most major domain hosts have this feature as standard. This feature may be referred to as the “Out of Office Assistant” or “Vacation Responder” message. Search online if you are having trouble finding where in the inbox or email settings the automated response feature is located.
Once configured and turned on make sure to test it by sending yourself a booking email and completing your own contact form. Make sure the formatting as well as the sender header and subject line are appearing as expected. Conduct these tests and review the appearance of the reply email in several popular email clients including smart phones and mobile devices.
It should be evident that the email auto-reply or vacation response feature is a powerful tool in the online travel marketing toolbox. Follow these guidelines to let potential customers know that you run an independent hotel or tour company which responds promptly and professionally. Travelers have different expectations when researching and booking travel online. When you can’t get back to someone planning a trip right away, configure and turn on the auto-responder. This marketing technique will make it more likely visitors to your site will wait for your return email before looking and booking at your competition.