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Accommodation Advertising False billing Payment Scams Websites

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 If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date.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.

The way the advertising bills have been sent out has convinced some accommodation providers into thinking that VIC Tourism is the Victorian government’s official tourism organisation Tourism Victoria. This has resulted in some 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 what he describes as “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.

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Accommodation Advertising False billing Payment Scams Websites

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. Their FAX number is 1800 198 388
  6. The invoice amount is $99.00
  7. The advertising period is not stated, just a mention of an “annual website listing”
  8. 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 sometime in the future, despite the fact wording on the letter attached to the bill states that the listing “automatically expires if unpaid”.

It has been reported that at least one business who actually did end up paying the $99 annual listing fee then received 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 many 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.

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Accommodation Caravanning Holidays Tourism Travel

Off the beaten path in Melbourne & Victoria

Melbourne and Victoria offer a wondrous number of destinations ripe for exploration and enjoyment. While the city of Melbourne holds many different popular attractions, research the possibilities of going off the beaten path. Journey through the countryside and visit unique locations and experience once-in-a lifetime adventures.

THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Great Ocean Road
The 12 Apostles rock formation on the stunning Great Ocean Road

Considered one of the most scenic areas in southern Australia, the Great Ocean Road lies south-west of Melbourne along the coast. Driving on the road, visitors see an array of unusual rock formations jutting out of the shoreline or out of the water. One of those not be missed are the famous Twelve Apostles – although due to wave erosion, there are only 8 of these limestone stacks left standing. The area has sandy beaches and camp sites where holiday makers enjoy canoeing and kayaking or just exploring and photographing the landscape. Venture to the Great Otway National Park and hike through gorges while witnessing cascading waterfalls and encounter a series of caves. The park also serves as home to a myriad of wildlife including kangaroos and koalas.

Great Ocean Road tours & activities

HANGING ROCK

Hanging Rock
The view from Morgan’s Lookout near the summit of Hanging Rock

The Hanging Rock Recreation Reserve lies in the middle of the Macedon Ranges, east of Woodend. This unique rock formation rises 718 meters above sea level and features a massive boulder suspended between other massive structures. A pathway leads into the expansive cavern beneath the hanging rock. The location remains a favourite destination for climbing and gaining a bird’s eye view over the landscape. The park also has a forest, creek and picnic grounds along with an interpretation centre and cafe. While hiking around the park, guests often see eagles, koalas and kookaburras along with possums and wallabies. The local Hanging Rock Winery welcomes visitors to sample a number of locally produced wines while enjoying the view of the Macedon Ranges and lush green rolling hills.

HEALESVILLE SANCTUARY

Koala
A koala at the Healesville Sanctuary

Unlike conventional zoos, the Healesville Sanctuary strives to defeat species extinction through a number of breeding programs. Set in a rural bush setting on the outskirts of Healesville, the sanctuary features animals native to Australia that range from cassowaries to Tasmanian Devils. The park offers various live demonstrations and feedings throughout the day to the delight of guests. Watch the abilities of the birds of prey or cuddle a koala. The facility hospital also provides an opportunity for viewing the newest park residents.

TRAVELLING THROUGH VICTORIA

Rather than flying to Melbourne or another location in Victoria, staying in a hotel and relying on public transport or tours for seeing the sights, consider creating a holiday while driving a campervan. Having a personal vehicle provides greater freedom to leisurely come and go wherever desired. Enjoy the great outdoors and spectacular scenery while staying in and exploring the many national parks around the area. Save money and calories while indulging in a home-made BBQ in the fireplaces provided at the camp sites. Caravanning also offers privacy. Sleep in without awakening from the noise created by other hotel guests. Conversely, when staying in rural locations, families or groups of friends need not worry about disturbing other guests. Take a road adventure in a caravan and make lasting memories.

Campervan hire is a great way to explore Melbourne and Victoria. When thinking of campervan hire in Melbourne and Victoria, also take into consideration the state has quality camping parks with convenient facilities where people can rent a space for the night.

Campervan
Create the ideal holiday experience in Victoria by hiring a campervan
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Accommodation Bookings Reviews Web design Websites

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.