Holiday Great Ocean Road & www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com false billing scam

Accommodation businesses operating within the Great Ocean Road region in Victoria have been on the receiving end of a false billing scam. It has been operating since 2012, resulting in bills being sent out for unauthorised advertising on a tourism website.

Invoices are being sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road for advertising on the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website.  A sample of a typical invoice they post out in the mail is shown below.

Invoice - Holiday Great Ocean Road - www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com

An example of an invoice sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. The invoice amount is $108.90 (i.e. $99 plus GST)
  6. The advertising commencement date, conclusion date or duration is not stated
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box states the name of who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with Holiday Great Ocean Road.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive more of the same invoices in the future.

Despite the fact an advertisement on Holiday Great Ocean Road has usually never been ordered by the recipient of the invoice, a cover letter is included which includes the following claims:

  1. “I emailed you several times and phoned your business but I was unable to get a  response.”  This statement is generally false as most accommodation providers have never been contacted by phone or email prior to the invoice arriving in the post.
  2. “Once the listing is deleted you can lose your ranking on holidaygreatoceanroad.com for key words as well as your Google ranking as the site is optimized for your establishment.”  This is a very misleading claim. Firstly, the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website receives so few visitors (not even Alexa.com has any data for it at the moment) so it is unlikely that a listing, or lack of one, will make any difference to a business. Secondly, because www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com is so poorly ranked in Google, there is only minuscule Google ranking value provided in the form of a link to an accommodation provider’s own website.

Accommodation listings on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website.

Despite the fact that the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website has been created mainly by cutting and pasting content verbatim from other websites, including some information which is years out of date, they make this further claim on the invoice about the value of their product:

“Tired of stale and outdated websites? So are we! That’s why we are constantly updating and adding new content on a regular basis. Like the Great Ocean Road, this site is always growing!”

Unfortunately, some accommodation providers have paid the invoice for advertising they never ordered due to confusion over business names. The Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com name and website address may be confused with a well-established business with exactly the same name but different website address – Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygor.com.au. It must be stated that the latter (www.holidaygor.com.au) is an award-winning and reputable accommodation booking service which has operated with the utmost of integrity since its commencement in 2002.

It is extremely important that accommodation providers keep current list of all organisations they are advertising their accommodation with to ensure that any false bills, particularly those with similar names to reputable businesses, are quickly identified. Should there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the sender and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Holiday Great Ocean Road, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

VIC Tourism & www.victourism.com.au false billing scam

A new false billing scam is actively targeting those who manage accommodation properties in Victoria. Bills are being posted out for unauthorised advertising on a website which bears a name very similar to Tourism Victoria – Victoria’s official tourism body.

Unauthorised bills are being sent out by VIC Tourism for advertising on the www.victourism.com.au website.  Below is a sample of an invoice they post out in the mail to many accommodation businesses.

Invoice - VIC Tourism – www.victourism.au

An example of an invoice sent out by VIC Tourism – www.victourism.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Accommodation Find which trades as QLDTourism.com and is located in Queensland
  2. The company’s ABN is 18 086 159 195
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 1601 Oxenford QLD 4210
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1800 199 863
  5. The invoice amount is $95.00
  6. The advertising period is not specified, just the vague mention of a “12 month subscription”
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, there is a box titled “authorisation name” that specifies the name of who has supposedly authorised the listing, usually without a surname

To ensure that in the eyes of the law this tax invoice is regarded an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with VIC Tourism.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive subsequent invoices at regular intervals in the future.

Accommodation listings on the VIC Tourism website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the VIC Tourism website.

Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria

Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria, urges all Victorian businesses not to fall for the ‘VIC Tourism’ false billing scam.

This false billing scam has tricked some accommodation providers into thinking that VIC Tourism is the Victorian government’s official tourism organisation Tourism Victoria. This has resulted in people paying the bill because they believe they are registering their accommodation for world-wide exposure and endorsement through the state’s official tourism body.

The chief executive officer of Tourism Victoria, Leigh Harry, has issued a strong warning through several media outlets to all businesses in Victoria to be on the look out for “a dodgy letter and invoice” which seeks payment for an unsolicited 12-month listing on the unofficial and low-traffic Vic Tourism website.  Mr Harry has warned that the letters and invoices being sent out by Vic Tourism are “a scam”, and they are not related in any way whatsoever to Victoria’s official tourism organisation.

It is critically important that all accommodation providers keep an accurate list of all organisations they advertise their accommodation with. This ensures that any false bills, particularly those with names very similar to official organisations, are quickly identified. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the issuer immediately and ask for proof of authorisation.

For further information, refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you have inadvertently paid money to VIC Tourism, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

Accommodation VIC & www.accommodationvic.com.au false billing scam

A false billing scam which began in 2010 is still targeting accommodation providers in Victoria. It involves sending out bills for unauthorised advertising on a travel website.

The unauthorised bills are sent out by Accommodation VIC for advertising on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website.  Refer below to a sample of the invoices they post out in the mail to accommodation businesses.

Invoice - Accommodation VIC - www.accommodationvic.com.au

An example of an invoice sent out by Accommodation VIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. The invoice amount is $99.00
  6. The advertising period is not stated, just a mention of an “annual website listing”
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box lists the name of the person who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

In order to legally disguise this tax invoice as an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice of this type have never signed up for a listing with Accommodation VIC.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they will typically receive another one several months later, despite the fact wording on the letter attached to the bill states that the listing “automatically expires if unpaid”.

It has been reported that some people who actually do end up paying the $99 annual listing fee then receive another bill in the mail only 6 months later for another $99. As there are no starting and ending dates for the listing period specified on the invoice, just vague wording of an “annual website listing”, it is unclear exactly what period the listing fee covers.

Accommodation listings on the Accommodation VIC website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to come across your listing on the Accommodation VIC website.

Some people simply pay the bill they receive because:

  1. They have recently taken over the business. When the bill arrives, they assume the advertising must have been ordered in the past by the previous owners and therefore the listing is effective and good value.
  2. The website name is similar to one that they currently list with.  In the confusion, they simply pay it, wrongly assuming it’s their authorised advertiser.
  3. They are too busy to spend much time investigating it.  Given that the bill is for a relatively small sum, they decide it is more cost-effective just to pay it and get it out of the way rather than conduct an extensive assessment of it.
  4. Competition with other accommodation listed. If other accommodation in their local area is displayed on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website, they may feel pressured to keep the listing.  However it is important to realise that not only are the majority of listings on Accommodation VIC unauthorised, but that website receives only a small number of visitors compared to other similar websites.

It is important that accommodation providers keep an up to date list of all organisations they have advertised their accommodation with to ensure that any unauthorised bills are quickly detected. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, simply contact the issuer and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Accommodation VIC, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

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.

Tips on dealing with freelance web designers or developers

asleep

Is your freelancer asleep at the job again?

When you’re in the travel business, having a good website is very important as most people use the internet to research and arrange their holidays. Therefore travel businesses find they will require the services of a web designer or developer to create their website initially, then in the future to extend, enhance or completely redevelop it.

Web design or development can be an expensive business. If you choose an organisation with a street office and reception desk, you will certainly feel comfortable about dealing with an organisation that has a solid presence and reputation.  However, a significant part of the fees you are charged will have to pay the rent of the premises, the wages of support staff, and of course the upkeep of that colourful tropical fish tank and fancy espresso coffee machine in the foyer.

A significant amount of money can be saved by getting the work done by a skilled freelancer. They typically work from home, and thus don’t need to rent an office or pay wages to support staff. You would generally interact with a freelancer via the internet or phone, perhaps meeting in a public place if there needs to be face to face contact.

Like with all industries, there’s good and bad, and the freelancers of the world are no different.  You’ll find some really responsive, talented, hard-working people, and equally, you’ll find some lazy ones whose sole aim is to get as much money out of you as possible, and deliver as little as possible.

It is highly recommended that if you hire a freelancer, you do so through a respected freelance online employment platform such as Elance, Odesk or Freelancer. These systems allow you to track a freelancer’s progress and only pay when the job is completed to your satisfaction. There is also a comprehensive dispute resolution system in place to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone should walk away happy with the job outcome.

Another option is to deal with a freelancer directly. You’ll typically find them by searching on Google and ending up on their website.

When selecting a freelance web designer using the internet, ensure that you:

  1. Look at their website.  If they can’t design their own website, what hope do they have of doing yours?
  2. View their portfolio. See if you like their style of work. Take particular note of the dates of the items in their portfolio to ensure you aren’t dealing with someone that’s not done much work for a long time.
  3. Check the web designer’s social profiles. Look at their Facebook and Twitter streams to gauge their character.
  4. Do an internet  search of the web designer’s business name, personal name, website address and ABN. Then re-do the search followed by negative words such as “problem”, “scam”, “fraud”, “untrustworthy”, etc. This may uncover any unfavourable dealings people have had with this person.
  5. Check if the web designer is an active contributor to popular technical forums. Someone who regularly contributes to such a forum will typically value their reputation in public and will be likely to do the right thing by their clients.

If you’ve taken the plunge and chosen a freelance web designer from the internet, here are some important tips on dealing with them.

  1. Only do business with freelancers from your own country. It makes things easier if you’re both in the same or similar time zone when it comes to communications. Also, if something does go wrong, it is much easier to resolve disputes when you’re both operating under the laws of the same country.
  2. Never, EVER, pay up front for the work. After all, what stops the freelancer then disappearing with your money, never to be seen again? If the freelancer does insist on a payment to kick-start the project, ensure that the payment is done in such a way that you can reverse it. For example, pay with a credit card, so that you have the option of disputing the transaction if the services you’d paid for aren’t provided. Alternatively, use an escrow service such as Australian-based Escrow Angel so that your funds are held by an independent third party and only released to the freelancer once everyone is in agreement over the work completed.
  3. Draw up a clear contract for the project. This contact must stipulate exactly what work needs to be done, any intermediate milestones, and a final delivery date. A clause should also be included to specify that you (and not the web designer) own the intellectual property created for the website. The contract should also state what is to happen if milestones or the delivery date is not met. Do NOT treat an invoice from the freelancer as a contract. Invoices for services are generally vague, lack delivery dates, and are non-binding.
  4. Keep in regular contact with your freelancer. Don’t be afraid to phone, text or email them, requesting details of their progress. After all, you are employing them, so you have every right to know how they are spending the time you pay them for.

There are a number of warning signs to watch out for that can indicate you are dealing with an unreliable freelancer.

  1. Unrealistic promises. The freelancer promises the impossible when taking on the project.  Telling you that their work will be so good that you’re bound to win awards galore for their stunning website design may simply be nothing more than hot air to secure your business which they wouldn’t normally have any hope of getting otherwise.
  2. You caught them in between large jobs. The freelancer tells you that normally they are so busy, but by pure chance you’ve approached them at the exact instant that they’ve completed a massive project for a high-profile client. Are you really that lucky? More likely it’s a freelancer that’s been out of work for a while, and they are just trying to create an impression that they are in high demand and that you’re extremely lucky to hire them.
  3. The “too good to be true” quote. You may think that you’ve been very fortunate in receiving an unbelievably cheap quote for your project. However, this may be part of a freelancer’s plan to lock in as many jobs as possible so they have a steady source of work and income during quiet times. There are some freelancers who have serious issues with time and money management. So if they have bills to immediately pay, then any work that has been pre-paid or not due to earn them income for a while, will simply be put on hold. You will be given a smorgasbord of excuses for the delay in your project in order to string it along into the future when they do eventually find they have the time and financial freedom to do some work on it. Keep in mind that if you think your project has been under-quoted, then it will be first in line for being put on the back-burner indefinitely.
  4. Lack of communication. While the project is underway, the freelancer keeps losing your emails or never receives your text messages. If this is happening on a regular basis, it may indicate that they are just stringing your project along while they are doing other things that are earning them more money. Depending on the circumstance, a project that should only take a a few weeks to complete may end up taking months or even a year if the freelancer manages to dodge most of your communication.
  5. Requests for progress payments in advance. Progress payments are exactly that – payment after a certain amount of work has been completed. Be very cautious of a freelancer that not only wants a hefty deposit up front before they even start their work, but also demands progress payments in advance for work they are yet to complete. Would you really pay someone that you’ve not met before for something they haven’t supplied yet?
  6. Fake discounts. Watch out for those so-called “discounts” offered by a freelancer during the course of the project if they’ve failed to reach a milestone or project delivery date. While it may seem like generous compensation, you need to keep in mind this is not the same as handing you a cash gift. They are simply offering to take a little less of your money for the project in order to cover up their incompetence. Everyone would much prefer their project to be completed on time rather than receiving a slight discount if the work is delivered months or even a year late. This could all be part of their ploy to string your project along while they attend to more profitable work.
  7. Would you like a free set of steak knives with that? If your freelancer isn’t offering you a “discount” in order to compensate for missing deadlines, another trick is to offer a bonus package of services that you didn’t order and probably don’t want. Be prepared to be showered with offers of free SEO (search engine optimisation) and other services to enhance your website, which you’ll be told are worth thousands of dollars, but which you’ll receive for free. All this is simply part of their plan to string the project along and keep you happy for a bit, without them having to do any work in the short term.
  8. The “I’m a perfectionist” excuse. It’s reverse psychology at work here. Instead of the freelancer confessing they have fallen way behind in their work, they buy almost infinite more time by telling you they are a perfectionist and are putting in so much extra effort to produce something so awesome and amazing for you. In cases like this, you’re made to feel that you should be apologising to the freelancer for pressuring them over the delay, rather than them apologising to you.
  9. Playing the sympathy card. Like most people, a freelancer may have personal problems or situations they have to deal with that can impact on their work. Because you’re employing just one person, any problem a freelancer has will cause the whole project to grind to a halt as there’s no one else to take over. As human beings, we naturally sympathise with others that are enduring personal hardships. However, if the freelancer says they are an only child and have to care for their sick mother this week, how do you know they aren’t in fact down at the beach every day as the weather forecast promised ideal surf conditions?

Using a freelancer can potentially save you a lot of money when it comes to website projects. However, like with all industries, there are a few incompetent freelancers out there, so choose one carefully.

Some tourism operators are not taking the internet seriously

cruise

Cost cutting by removing your tourism website is not the answer

Isn’t it frustrating when you see some tourism operators dismiss the value of an internet presence when most travellers are now using the web and social media to plan and book their trips?

Consider this recent example.  A cruise operator that takes passengers on wilderness cruises through a remote part of Gippsland surrounded by a rugged national park (we won’t name them here to protect their privacy) has had their details and website listed on many tourism websites including that of Parks Victoria. Recently, the cruise operator’s website went off-line, so we found their email address and alerted them to the fact.  The reply we got back (we’ve edited it for clarity) is below:

Unfortunately our web site has been discontinued -
not enough hits to justify the cost

What an unexpected reply!

Firstly, the cost of a .com.au domain name, plus simple web hosting with a reputable Australian provider, will set the cruise operator back around $70 per year. How can this tourism business justify removing their internet presence to save the tiny annual website operating cost of $70? You may wonder how many thousands of dollars they were instead spending on brochures to put on the shelf of the local visitor information centre or the big bucks they were splurging on colour newspaper ads.

Secondly, their statement that the number of hits didn’t justify the web presence is unqualified. How many hits did they want? Looking at the counter they used to have on their website, we estimate they got about 1,000 visitors (real people, not web robots) per year.  For a small operator in a remote area, that’s not too bad, particularly as there’s much potential for future growth if they start doing some more active promotion on the web.  All they needed was the right people to come across the website, and they could have had booked out cruises galore.

Let’s be really clear about this – an internet presence in the form of a website is one of the cheapest ways of giving your tourism business exposure in the travel market.  Once you have a website, people will have something concrete to reference on related websites. Here at Travel Victoria, we showcased their business on our tours and cruise pages, for free, giving them good exposure. Now we have nothing to link to, so their listing gets deleted as we have no authoritative source of information to present to our website visitors.  Same goes for social media.  People who want to discuss or share details of this amazing cruise through one of Victoria’s most pristine wilderness areas simply have nothing official to refer others to. People want to instantly see the cruise schedule, costs and photos of the journey so they can see if it is of interest to them.  The cruise operator’s website could also be used to inspire other people who wouldn’t normally do that sort of thing to actually experience it.

With the low cost of domain registration and website hosting, tourism businesses should consider an internet presence as being mandatory for their survival. The last thing they should be doing is wielding the cost-cutting axe to save a tiny $70 by killing off their website and effectively their entire internet presence.

Data limits on your website can affect your travel business

limited

Your web hosting data limit – is it killing your business?

In this day and age, the number one source of travel information is the internet, yet some businesses just don’t get it.  They pour thousands of dollars into making sure their brochures and other print promotional material are 100% perfect, yet they skimp on the reliability of their website.

We recently discussed website monitoring, to ensure website owners are notified almost immediately if their website becomes unavailable.

An issue which affects some websites during busy high-traffic times of year, such as the summer and Christmas holiday period in Australia, is data transfer limits. Many website hosting plans have limits on how much data a website can send and receive. This data includes uploads people make to a website and any downloads they make, including viewing web pages.

So what happens if a website gets really busy and exceeds its allocated data transfer quota?  Some hosting companies ensure a website’s service is not compromised and automatically bill the owner an excess data fee. This is similar to the excess data usage that users of mobile phones may encounter after browsing or downloading in excess of their allocated monthly allowance. Other web hosting companies simply block access to websites which consume data beyond the limits of their plan, taking the site off-line until the next data allowance cycle arrives. This is similar to pre-paid mobile phone plans – if your credit runs out, your service stops.

An example of such a website being blocked has happened today with a popular caravan and holiday park on Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, whom we won’t name to protect their privacy.

data limit reached

Bandwidth Limit Exceeded – your website is now off-line right in the middle of the busy travel season

Summer in Victoria is all about warm weather, long days and of course the beach. For those managing a caravan park overlooking one of Victoria’s most famous coastal areas, you simply cannot have your website off-line just before Christmas.

Having your website go off-line periodically due to data transfer limits is detrimental on your business. Ensure that:

  1. Your hosting plan includes a generous data limit, well in excess of what you’d ever expect to be used. Some plans even have unlimited data allowances.
  2. Your hosting plan has automatic provisions for your website to continue running even if you exceed your data limit. Never allow it to go off-line or your business will suffer, usually at the worst possible time.
  3. Regularly monitor your website’s data usage to ensure you haven’t out-grown your existing web hosting plan.

The importance of website monitoring

Out of order

If your website is down, will you promptly know about it?

Many people assume that their website automatically remains up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  This is usually the case with reputable web hosting organisations that have staff monitoring the services they provide around the clock. However, if you’re hosting your site with a small organisation that only provides support during limited hours, the onus is on you to ensure your website is running every minute of the day.

As an example, let us relate what happened earlier today – this Saturday morning – which is outside of traditional business hours.

As a complimentary service to all those that advertise accommodation on the Travel Victoria website, we provide a monitoring service that checks each day at 6am to see if an accommodation provider’s own website is up and running. If there are any issues, we are emailed a report for further investigation.

This morning, our monitoring service alerted us to 6 accommodation provider websites which were not up and running. As it turned out, all were hosted with the same organisation in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat which we won’t name to protect the privacy of themselves and their clients. That organisation provides website design for small businesses and they also offer web hosting on web servers they manage themselves.  It sounds like this business provides an ideal combination of services – a one stop shop.  However, when you realise that web design is the delivery of an end product, and web hosting is a hands-on 24/7 service, then those two operations are incompatible with a business operating from 9am to 5pm weekdays and not on weekends or during holiday periods.

We sent out notices to our 6 clients about their web services being down.  We couldn’t email them as all were using email services tied to their off-line web hosting services, so notices were sent out via SMS and FAX.

At round 12 noon, web services to our clients were restored.

The important point here is that if wasn’t for the complimentary monitoring service that we at Travel Victoria provide, some of our clients wouldn’t have been aware that their website and email services were not working from 6am this morning as they had no other website monitoring in place.

All this illustrates the importance of having some sort of website monitoring.

If you’re with a large, reputable website hosting company that operates every hour of the day and every day of the year, they will usually be quickly on top of any general and widespread downtime with their clients’ websites unless it relates to the specific configuration or traffic flow to your own website. But if you’re with a smaller organisation that does not operate around the clock, particularly one whose primary service is something other than web hosting, then it is wise to have some third party website monitoring in place.

There are many organisations that specialise in monitoring of websites.  We only do it for our clients for free, and only a simple once a morning check in order to detect extended periods of downtime.  One example of a more fully-featured service is UptimeRobot - they can check your website every 5 minutes.  Their service is free and they’ll notify you by email if your site goes down.  There are more upmarket monitoring services that can do quite in-depth checks of your website’s status and they can even send you alerts directly via SMS if you prefer.

Your clients or customers expect your website to be up and running every minute of the day.  But your web hosting provider may not be monitoring it 24 hours a day.  Therefore, it’s recommended you have a third party monitoring service looking over your site, alerting you promptly when something goes wrong.

Penny pinching can drive your customers away

Cost cutting

Schemes that cut your costs could also cost you customers

One of our busy local restaurants has been implementing a number of cost saving measures in order to eliminate what they perceive as dispensable expenses. Their latest idea has seen all EFTPOS and credit card facilities removed, requiring customers to pay cash only, thus saving them fees on the EFTPOS terminal and their credit card merchant facilities.  If you don’t have enough spare cash on hand to pay your food bill, they have a non-bank ATM outside their door which you can use for a $2 fee.

In the grand scheme of things, a busy restaurant like this is not going to save a huge amount of money with this cost cutting idea, especially when you compare the savings to their good income levels. However, this scheme may in fact cost them business in the long run.

What is starting to happen is that people are thinking twice about eating there, particularly if they don’t carry enough cash on them or they are paying for a family or group. Not only are they then inconvenienced with using the ATM outside the door to get money to pay their bill, but they are being slugged $2 to do so.

The actions of this restaurant might save a small amount of money in the short term, but it is unlikely to off-set the business they lose by imposing such a restrictive scheme that is guaranteed to alienate some of their customers.

The are many examples of other businesses adopting harsh cost-cutting schemes. You only need to look at some budget airlines that charge you fees well in excess of their actual expenses if you pay your fare by credit card. Then there are those airlines that make you pay a hefty surcharge to select your seat at booking time rather than when checking in at the airport, which surely can’t make any more work for them, but is simply used as a method of raising additional revenue at no cost.

When you look at our website advertising rates, you could well be forgiven for thinking that Travel Victoria is also a low-cost, penny-pinching operation, intent on slashing to the bone any expenses and trying to extract the most money out of our clients. In fact, we are quite the opposite, as we know that the best way to alienate your clients is to hit them with additional fees and charges on top of what they expect to pay.

  • We do not charge fees to pay accounts by credit card.
  • We do not charge a fee to have renewal invoices printed and posted out rather than emailed.
  • We do not charge fees to update any advertisement with us. We make updates for our clients as often as they like, at no cost.
  • We use one of Australia’s fastest and most reliable web hosting providers on their highest level of service plan, thus paying a premium cost to ensure any business listed with us has the best web presence possible.
  • We do not outsource any work related to running Travel Victoria to people or organisations outside of Australia in order to cut costs. Everything is done locally.

It can be quite easy to identify areas where your business can save money. However, it is very important to keep in mind that the effect of implementing such savings could actually drive customers away, thus costing you significantly more than the actual savings you make in the long run.

An off-line website implies you’re closed for business

closed

People may assume if your website is down then you’re closed for business

It’s remarkable that in this day and age of the internet, where information about virtually anything anywhere in the world is available online, that some businesses in the travel and tourism industry regard a reliable web presence as something of little importance.  This is particularly relevant to those businesses whose operations pre-date the internet – some simply don’t appreciate how many travellers nowadays expect to instantly find information on the internet, at any time of the day or night.

Consider this example we experienced with a tourism business in Victoria.

A river cruising company (which we won’t name specifically), has operated on one of Victoria’s great scenic rivers for many decades.  Up until 2009, they had a simple website detailing their cruise schedule, what you’ll see along the way and a photo gallery. They let their web hosting expire (cost cutting in the height of the global financial crisis perhaps?), and since then they have had no dedicated web presence.

Many travel websites gave free exposure to this cruising company, (including us here at Travel Victoria), inviting people to click on the link to their website for further details about their cruises, their timetables and contact details. However, because the cruise company abandoned their web presence in 2009, these links went nowhere, and many people were simply left with the impression that the company was no longer operating. And if people think a business is not operating, they will just try elsewhere for what they need.

We cannot emphasise this enough – if your website goes off-line for an extended period of time, people will simply assume you’re no longer in business.

And if people think you may still be in business, you really cannot expect them to take on the role of a web detective, trying to piece together bits of information from various sources, in order to find out what should have been on your website.

As an experiment, using ONLY the internet, we attempted to find out the cruise timetable of this Victorian cruise company which took their website off-line in 2009.  Many websites where this company was mentioned simply provided a link to the off-line website for further information, so that was useless to us.  Others detailed prices and timetables that were dated from many years ago, as they obviously couldn’t get up to date information from the web.  This raised questions as to how accurate the information was, given it was years old.  We even tried the website of the local visitor information centre where the cruise company is based, but alas, they had few details other than a link to the off-line cruise company’s website. So we ended up emailing the visitor information centre asking for details about the cruises. We got a reply back two days later as they probably had to try to contact the cruise company to get the latest information, although to be fair, we did email the visitor information centre on a weekend. But still, one may ask if someone planning their trip is willing to wait two days for information that they could have in seconds if the cruise company continued their web presence? Many people would have probably tried another business in the area or maybe somewhere else in Victoria. That’s tourist dollars lost to that business and also to the town.

We then decided to email the cruise company directly and advise them that their website was off-line to see their response. To begin with, this became another intensive web detective crusade as we tried to find out their email address and we had no idea if the email address they published 3 years ago was still the one they used.  As it turns out, they did get our email, and said they said they are working on a new website. We can only assume they’ve been working on it on for the last 3 years!

Of course, one has to wonder why they didn’t just let their old website continue to run beyond 2009, update only the most critical information as needed, and then replace it once they’d finalised their new site?

With web hosting by reputable Australian companies at very affordable prices, many offering plans of less than $90 per year, there is simply no way to justify a cost-cutting exercise of having your website off-line for 3 years when you’re in the very competitive tourism industry and one in which people expect instant access to information when planning their travels.