Environmentally friendly accommodation in Victoria

Environmentally friendly

We can all take steps to protect the environment when travelling or on holidays

It’s now becoming easier when staying or holidaying in Victoria to ensure that your activities impact as little as possible on the environment. By selecting environmentally friendly accommodation, you can do your bit to reduce waste and conserve the resources of our planet.

Ecotourism Australia provides certification for tourism operators that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. This assures travellers that the accommodation they are staying at, or the tour they are going on, is backed by a strong and well-managed commitment to sustainable practices.

Eco certified operator

The “eco certified” logo

Look out for the Eco Certified logo or visit www.ecotourism.org.au to search for certified operators.

There are several levels of certification, with the highest being Advanced Ecotourism. This is awarded to the country’s foremost and innovative operators.  In Victoria. only a small number of accommodation properties have achieved this certification, and one of them is the very special Venus Bay Eco Retreat.

Venus Bay Eco Retreat

Venus Bay Eco Retreat – a certified nature retreat

Venus Bay Eco Retreat offers a truly unique experience, nestled in secluded native bushland within the Gippsland coastal community of Venus Bay.  It’s well away from the tourist crowds, yet within each reach of panoramic beaches and tranquil wetlands.

The retreat can sleep up to 5 people and is decorated with colours which are inspired by the surrounding forest. It is well-equipped and features a kitchenette, sound system, quality linen, certified organic bathroom products, certified organic breakfast provisions stocked up on arrival, and the use of The Cobb – an eco-friendly outdoor roasting oven and BBQ.  The retreat is ideal for couples, families and small groups.

As the Venus Bay Eco Retreat is a climate-action certified business, guests are encouraged to reduce landfill waste. Vegetable scraps can be composted and recyclable waste is collected.

Yoga mats are provided in the retreat, while massages and organic hair and beauty treatments are available nearby and can be booked in advance for guests.

Blue Wren

A blue wren – one of many varieties of birds you may spy at Venus Bay Eco Retreat

Discover nature when staying at Venus Bay Eco Retreat.  The property is home to kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, abundant bird life, echidnas, lizards and ringtail possums. You may be lucky enough to spot some unusual native creatures including as micro bats, native bees and pygmy possums.

Live simply with respect for nature and stay at eco-friendly accommodation!

Discover more environmentally-friendly accommodation options when staying in Victoria.

Careful with adding TripAdvisor widgets on your accommodation website

TripAdvisor website

Adding TripAdvisor widgets to your website? Think carefully.

TripAdvisor is one of the most popular and influential travel websites. Many accommodation  managers have embraced the TripAdvisor concept, and actively monitor reviews that guests post. This allows them to view feedback and provide a “management response” to any reviews that deserve another point of view, so that prospective guests can make an informed decision.

TripAdvisor allows you to implant “live” widgets on your website. There are a range of different types – some simply show that the accommodation is featured on TripAdvisor, while others go into more specifics, such as showing how many travellers gave a 5/5 rating.  The one you really need to watch out for is the “review snippets” widgets as it shows the last (5 by default) recent reviews.

One of our clients has embedded the “review snippets” widget by TripAdvisor on their website. They are an acclaimed B&B – one of the top ranked their area. 90% of their reviewers have given them an overall “excellent” or “very good” rating. However, at this exact moment in time, this is what their “live” TripAdvisor widget is showing:

TripAdvisor widget

TripAdvisor review snippets live widget

That widget is displayed prominently on every single page on their website for everyone to see.  2 out of the last 5 reviews are unfavourable.  After seeing the phrases “didn’t live up to expectations” and “terrible and over priced”, you can imagine some people won’t spend a second longer to delve any deeper, and they will simply look elsewhere. That means lost bookings.

The problem here is those reviews have been taken out of context. While 2 out of 5 bad reviews are showing there, if you look at the bigger picture, that accommodation establishment has a total of 30 positive reviews out of a total of 33. In fact, half the reviewers gave the accommodation the highest possible score of 5 out of 5. Now that’s a pretty impressive achievement. Delve a little deeper, and each unfavourable rating has been followed up with a management response which casts significant doubt on the version of events described by the guests in question.

It’s a big risk implanting the TripAdvisor recent review snippets widget on your website. Any bad reviews from the 5 most recent really stand out and contain no explanation other than some derogatory catch phrase which is sure to put some people off, no matter how good all the others are.  If you want to implant a TripAdvisor widget on your website, you’d be much wiser to choose one of the safer ones that don’t show the leading catch-phrase of guest reviews up-front. That way, if people want to see your reviews on TripAdivsor, they can go in and see the whole picture.

Travelling with your dog when on holidays

On holiday with your dog

Why not share your holiday with your dog instead of leaving them at home?

In the past, dog owners who wanted to go on holidays had little choice but to either leave their pet at home with someone, take their dog to a boarding kennel, or leave it at a friend’s house.

But did you know that many dogs enjoy holidays too, sometimes even more than their owners? So why not take your pet with you?

These days, accommodation providers have become very sensitive to the needs of those who wish to bring their pet with them.  Some have provided designated rooms or cottages where owners can stay inside with their dog, while others have ensured that their property is securely fenced areas to safely contain pets. Some accommodation managers may not let your pet come inside, but they may provide a kennel on the verandah for your pet to sleep in.

If you’re travelling within Victoria with your dog and are looking for accommodation, take a look at the Dogs On Holidays website. You will find:

What is the most dog-friendly area of Victoria? Based on the number of accommodation listings on the Dogs On Holdiays website, that region is Gippsland. Visitors to Gippsland simply love the pristine beaches – some are so secluded, you literally have them all to yourself. Then there’s the wide open spaces, mountains, forests and rivers – all things that most dogs will love when holidaying with their owners. That’s why there’s plenty of dog-friendly accommodation for both you and your pet when staying in Gippsland.

In which town or city in Victoria can you find the highest concentration of dog-friendly places to stay? Tallying up the accommodation listings on the Dogs On Holdiays website reveals that Rye, on the Mornington Peninsula, is where you and your dog will be spoilt for choice. At Rye, there are beaches where dogs are permitted to run around leash-free year-round at certain times of the day, ensuring your dog can have plenty of fun and exercise during your beach holiday.

So with many accommodation providers now catering for pets, there’s now no excuse to leave your dog at home when you next have a on holiday!

On the beach with your dog

Dogs enjoy holidays too, so take your pet with you!

Will booking your accommodation directly with the property give you the best deal?

booking

Should you book your accommodation directly or via a third party?

When booking accommodation, you can either book directly with the property, or choose to go through a third-party booking service, such as Wotif, Expedia or Agoda.  So which gives you the best deal?  Let’s put this to the test with a real-life example.

Let’s consider the Bairnsdale Motel which is located at Bairnsdale, in eastern Victoria.  We are after a 3 night stay, checking in on Sunday 24th March and out on Wednesday 27th March, in their cheapest room.

  1. Direct booking. If you go to this motel’s website, you’ll discover their direct online booking system.  Nightly stays in their “superior queen” room are listed at $155, but they offer a 3 night rate of just $132 per night. Thus booking directly with the hotel will cost $396.00.
  2. Booking through Wotif.  This motel distributes their accommodation through Wotif, however you will not find any of their special 3 night deals, so we are forced to pay $155 per night for 3 nights. To make matters worse, Wotif charges a non-refundable $5.50 fee for each booking, thus booking through Wotif will cost $470.50.
  3. Booking through Agoda. The nightly rates are identical to Wotif, however because Agoda doesn’t charge a booking fee, the total cost will be $465.00.

So book directly with the motel for $396, go through Agoda and pay $69 extra for exactly the same room, or choose Wotif and pay even more – $74.50 or 18% extra.

But you can’t just look at the room rate only. What if, due to unforeseen circumstances, you need to change or cancel your booking?  How does each booking method deal with that?

  1. Direct booking. You deal with the motel directly and you can simply email or phone them to change or cancel your booking, subject to their change/cancellation policy.
  2. Booking through Wotif. A $25 administration charge applies to any booking change or cancellation. This is because you have to contact Wotif, who then have to deal with the motel to cancel or change your booking. Don’t forget the non-refundable $5.50 fee still applies even if you cancel your booking.  You will also still be bound by the motel’s own change/cancellation policy.
  3. Agoda.com don’t charge fees for changing or cancelling bookings, but if you do cancel, it can take up to 10 days for them to refund your money. Like with Wotif, you will also be bound by the motel’s own change/cancellation policy.

Booking directly with the accommodation provider means you avoid third-party booking fees and you get full access to all their room types and offers. If you need to change or cancel your booking, and you didn’t book directly, your request needs to go through multiple organisations, some of which charge hefty fees in addition to the restrictions imposed by the accommodation property itself.

A good technique for locating accommodation is to use websites like Wotif, Expedia or Agoda to see what’s available, and then when you are ready to book, simply book directly with your chosen accommodation provider, either their own online booking system or by phone. As well as getting the best rates, things are much simpler if you need to modify or cancel your booking.

The most popular online accommodation booking systems for your website

reservation

Book your stay online

There are an overwhelming number of online booking systems available for use by accommodation providers that allow guests to check availability and made a booking at any time, day or night. People are increasingly abandoning the process of phoning up to make bookings, and email bookings are also being shunned with the proliferation of instant online booking systems.

We have tallied up the 5 most popular third party (i.e. not in-house or group developed) online booking systems used by accommodation providers that are listed on the Travel Victoria website and these are the results:

  1. The Booking Button.  This is by far and away the most popular system, used by 25% of our clients that have an online booking facility.  It’s developed by SiteMinder, who have their headquarters right here in Australia, and their product is also used extensively by overseas accommodation providers. Minimum cost is $29 per month. We love the clean interface that The Booking Button provides to guests.
  2. RMS.  They’ve been in business for 25 years and, like The Booking Button, are from Australia and market their product overseas. Around 11% of our clients that provide online booking facilities use RMS. Minimum cost is $35 per month. However, we’ll go out on a limb here and say that the user interface for those booking accommodation using RMS is probably one of the most dated and cumbersome we have seen.
  3. ResOnline. Used by roughly the same number of our clients as RMS, the ResOnline group has had an interesting history with ownership changes and other dramas. Despite that, they offer a solid product priced from $39 per month.  It also provides free exposure for accommodation property owners into their associated RoamFree accommodation search website.
  4. FrontDesk. This is produced by V3 (pronounced as “V cubed”) – an organisation well-known for their venture with the ATDW (Australian Tourism Data Warehouse) in developing a national booking and distribution system for  tourism products called Tourism Exchange Australia (TXA). V3 provide FrontDesk to accommodation providers via a rather complicated fee schedule.  In general, there’s a $39 monthly fee (although for some providers, it may be free), plus there’s a transaction cost on successful bookings. Almost 10% of our clients that use online booking systems are using FrontDesk.
  5. Web Reservation Systems. 8% of our clients that have independently chosen to use an online booking system are with this group that are based in the idyllic holiday location of Byron Bay. Web Reservation Systems employ the easy to use Booking Center hospitality management software and are the preferred supplier for the Golden Chain motel group throughout Australia. They also create websites which are easy to maintain for businesses, so if you’re after both website development and an online booking system, they are your one stop shop.

Travellers are increasingly expecting to book their accommodation instantly online and will seek out those providers that offer that service. So if you don’t already provide an online booking system, what are you waiting for?

Use your website’s on-line booking facility to the max

booking online

Get the most out of your on-line booking system

More and more accommodation providers are adding instant on-line availability and booking facilities to their websites to ensure potential guests can quickly and easily find and book accommodation 24/7. The benefits to the provider and the consumer are numerous, some of which we’ve mentioned in our article why you need a real-time online booking system.

But are you getting the most out of your own on-line booking system?

A couple of months ago, one of our staff members booked a 5 night family holiday at the beachfront town of Cowes on Phillip Island for late November. The apartments they were looking at had an on-line booking system, so they expected using that would be the quickest way to make a reservation and get the best deal. Unfortunately, the apartment provider made their online booking system very unattractive by only offering apartments at the “rack rate”, which is basically the maximum price they’d ever charge without any discounts. In reality, you almost never pay anywhere near the “rack rate” unless it’s right in the middle of peak season or during some local event when accommodation is scarce. Whether you stay one night or 10 nights, the accommodation provider offered the same inflated nightly “rack rate” if you booked online with them.

Upon phoning the establishment directly, our staff member secured a deal for the 5 night stay that was 40% cheaper than booking on-line. Instead of paying the $275 per night online rack rate, they paid $165 per night.  Wow!

The lesson here is that if your on-line booking system is only accepting bookings at the inflated rack rate, then chances are you’re going to be missing many bookings.  Our staff member could have easily been put off by the exorbitant off-peak $275 per night rate shown in the online booking system and tried somewhere else, thus costing the establishment a profitable 5 night booking.

Some useful tips for accommodation providers with on-line booking facilities:

  1. Advertise your best rate within the on-line booking system on your website. You’ll only get one opportunity to secure a booking when someone visits your site as you’re not directly negotiating with them. So don’t scare them off with inflated prices.
  2. Ensure your on-line booking system has discounted packages for multiple-night stays. Most systems should be flexible enough to allow you to discount rates instantly when people enter in the length of their stay. People don’t expect that the nightly rate for a week will be charged at the same rate as just a one night stay.
  3. Don’t undercut your own website’s online rates on third party accommodation distributors like Wotif, HotelClub, etc.  If you can offer those rates to those websites, then you can surely offer them on your own website. In fact, you really want people to book directly on-line with you, to save you paying hefty commissions to those third party distributors anyway. Additionally, people often compare your rates on Wotif and others with your own website for the best deal, so save the commission payment and make your own booking system competitive.

Your on-line booking system is a valuable, time-saving tool, but it can also cost you bookings if used wrongly.

Evaluating internet advertising offers for your accommodation

Evalute

Evaluate and compare advertising offers before signing up

If you’re an accommodation provider, you will no doubt be regularly swamped with offers from websites wanting you to advertise your business with them. You may receive these offers via letters in the post, email (some of those may even contravene the Australian Spam Act of 2003!), phone calls or even people visiting your business personally.

These days, having exposure for your accommodation on the internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity if you want to attract a significant number of guests. But how do you choose where to advertise?

It’s important to evaluate the website that your accommodation will be advertised on to ensure you’ll get decent exposure and you are dealing with a reputable organisation.

  1. Ask how many visitors come to their website per month. Don’t be mislead by statistics related to the number of “hits”. A “hit” is triggered when a distinct item, be it a page of text or a single image, is downloaded off a website. If one page has a large number of embedded images, then someone viewing only that one page can trigger something like 50 hits instantly. A more meaningful measurement term is the number of “visitors” which provides a guide to the number of real people who browse the site. For example, during October 2011, there were over 162,000 visitors to the Travel Victoria website, which generated about 10.5 million hits – quite a difference in those numbers!
  2. Don’t just take their word for their claimed website visitation statistics. A very rough guide you can use to examine the performance of a website is to enter the website address at Alexa. Alexa records statistics of website visitors through those who use the company’s toolbar in their web browser. The lower a traffic rank, the more visitors it gets. Other statistics are available, including the average number of pages visitors view and how long they stay on the site. Note that the results are more accurate for high-volume sites as more data is collected. Also use it to compare different websites against each other to see which performs best.
  3. Ask the website operator to supply a list of search terms in Google that lead people to their site and thus to your advertisement. If you rent out a holiday house in Venus Bay, then you’d want their website to catch people who would be typically be searching for terms like “Venus Bay”, “Venus Bay accommodation”, “Venus Bay holiday”, “beach accommodation”, etc. If searching for terms like that in Google isn’t giving at least one entry for their site in the top 5 results returned, you’ll want to question them about how people will find your property’s advertisement. Keep in mind that search engines such as Google are the major way people find information on the internet unless you’re advertising with an organisation that is a recognised household name whereby people will go directly to their website instead of searching.
  4. Ask for a complete list of all advertising costs. The advertising rates may appear cheap, but then you may have to pay a set-up fee, a maintenance fee each time you want to make changes to your advertisement, or maybe there’s extra costs for add-ons like displaying extra photos or a link to your own website. Some websites may charge a commission on enquiries or bookings, which can potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.
  5. Check the website owner’s credentials. View details relating to the website owner by doing a lookup on the website address using Whois. If the website is based in Australia, search for the website owner’s Australian Business Number (ABN) or if they are a company, the Australian Company Number (ACN) using the details you found in the “whois” search. Also search for their business details within the business register of the state or territory the website is based in.
  6. Verify there are no consumer warnings or significant negative information regarding the website in question on the internet. A good way of doing this is to use Google to search for the website address or name (put quotes around it) followed by the word “scam”, “warning” or “fraud”, and see what comes up. Click the links that come up and carefully read the content, as some websites (including us at Travel Victoria) publish actual reports of scams and fraud, which doesn’t mean they (or us!) are the actual source of them.

Why you need a real-time online booking system

Booking your holiday online

Guests want to book online, so let them or miss out!

You’ve just spent a few great days at Mallacoota and enjoyed the natural beauty of the beach and surrounding national park. You and the family are heading home tomorrow morning, but just before going to bed, you check out the latest weather forecast on the internet – sunny and 30 degrees for the next few days – perfect beach weather! Everyone agrees the holiday should be extended by spending a few nights at Lakes Entrance for some more great beach fun.

But the problem is that school holidays are on, so many places may be booked out. It’s too late in the night to telephone accommodation managers direct, so you head to the internet looking to secure a place to stay.

Searching for Lakes Entrance accommodation reveals some brand new holiday apartments just across the road from the beach and right in the town centre, which will be perfect for the family! Oh no, the only way to make an enquiry is to telephone or email them. There’s no availability calendar or online booking system. You could wait for the morning to phone them, but in the meantime others may get in before you and snap up the remaining apartments. And if you wait till the morning, other vacant accommodation at Lakes Entrance might be taken.

You keep looking and find some more holiday apartments. They are older style, situated one block back from the beach, and a fair walk to the town centre. However, they do have a real-time online booking system and they have one family unit remaining for the next two nights!

As you’re determined to stay in Lakes Entrance, you make the booking. It’s not where you would have wanted to ideally stay, but you can’t risk waiting until the morning to contact the manager of those apartments with no online booking system.

The question for managers of accommodation properties is how many bookings are you missing out on because people can’t instantly check availability or book online 24/7? How many people are instead staying at places that do offer the convenience of online bookings?

It’s not just last minute bookings which you may lose out on. Some people may have a list of places they want to stay in, but to spend time and money making long distance telephone calls, or being prepared to wait a day for email responses to be answered, would put them off booking with you unless they can check availability instantly and then reserve that room in the process.

In this increasingly busy, impulsive, unpredictable and digital age, more and more travellers are expecting to instantly reserve rooms, any time of day or night. Which is why you really need an online booking system.

The best online reservation systems are those which don’t charge you a fee for every booking made (i.e. commission-free bookings), making the booking directly between and you and the guest, and are fully under your control. Some which you may wish to consider that are administered in Australia are:

  1. Web Reservation Systems. Their system gives you total control over pricing, availability and conditions. The bookings are secure and guests can provide credit card details to you through this system. Implant the booking button on your website and on other sites you have your property listed with to allow customers check availability and/or book.
  2. The Booking Button. An intelligent and fully-featured online booking facility which you can use on your website or others you’re listed on. There’s no lock-in contracts, you pay monthly, and pricing varies depending on the number of rooms your establishment has.

If you don’t have an online booking system for your accommodation property, not only is it costing you guests, but also time. While guests organise their accommodation online instantly, you can attend to other tasks instead of being tied up on the phone or answering emails.

What are you waiting for?