Some accommodation owners in denial about the internet

Internet
The internet has changed the world

We received an interesting phone call a few weeks ago from a motel in Lakes Entrance, in Victoria’s beautiful Gippsland Lakes area.

This motel had been advertising  on our website for the last 5 years.  In fact, when their annual renewal was due last year, they paid their subscription and sent us an email thanking us, including this comment:

“Travel Victoria is excellent value”

It’s always nice to receive positive feedback from clients, particularly when they feel the return on their small investment with us is good. After all, how many times do you hear people instead complaining that fees are too high!

Anyway, the caller from that motel announced that he had recently taken over ownership of the property.  He said that he was unhappy with how the former owners were paying for all this advertising with multiple websites on the internet, and that he was going to change all that.  While he said our $70 annual fee was not large, he said all these small internet advertising expenses do add up.  Therefore we were told that our services, along with a number of others, were no longer required.

Today we did a search for that motel on Google, and found that the new owner had pulled it off virtually every single website that the motel used to have paid advertising on.  Some of the search results Google currently shows are to websites the motel has been removed from, but those those pages are now non-existent, so Google will eventually stop showing those listings.  So all that is really left is the motel’s own dedicated website, a range of free listings on low quality directory websites, and of course it can be found on TripAdvisor.

If potential guests wanted to do further investigation on the internet about that motel, they could be easily forgiven for thinking it had closed down.  The last review on TripAdvisor was 6 months ago, and so the only thing of any significance left for that motel on the internet is its own website, which people may assume hasn’t been updated for a long time.

One possible theory we have is that the new owner is someone that has little faith in the usefulness of the internet.  Perhaps one of those old school of motel owners who always placed advertising within magazines or in brochures that you see at a local visitor information centre, and still believes that’s the only useful way to promote accommodation.  The world has changed, and these days people of all ages, from all over the world, use the internet as their preferred method of planning travel and browsing accommodation to stay in.  Sure, there is a place for advertising in print media, but accommodation owners are living in the past if they think the internet can simply be ignored as a fad or purely an entertainment medium.

Another theory we have is that the new owner may have knowledge and appreciation of the internet, but not about internet marketing.  So they may simply assume is all they need for their motel is a website to cater for those people using the internet. The problem with this way of thinking is that unless someone does a specific search for this motel by its exact name, its website will not be found.  People will tend to do more general Google searches, like Lakes Entrance accommodation or motels in Lakes Entrance, and thus it is extremely unlikely the motel’s small website is going to feature anywhere near the top of the search results returned.  In fact, the Google results for those search terms will be dominated by some of websites which this motel has specifically withdrawn from advertising on!

Another point to consider is that more and more accommodation providers are offering potential guests the convenience of instant, real-time online booking facilities, either via their own website or through a third party agent.  A motel owner, such as our former client from Lakes Entrance, who is actively reducing their internet presence, is bucking the trend of consumer demand for online information and booking facilities.

When it comes to promoting an accommodation business, the internet should be embraced, not dismissed. We live in a changing world, and businesses need to keep up with the times.

 

 

Fined and convicted – Amanda Stichbury & Special Days Pty Ltd false billing scam

Over the years, a significant number of businesses in Australia, including accommodation and tourism operators, have received unsolicited bills in the mail for advertising they never ordered.   This is known as “false billing” and its aim is to trick businesses into paying money.  It is similar to someone unexpectedly turning up at your door with a bag of goods and requesting that you pay for it, even though you didn’t place an order.

A group of companies that are based in Queensland – Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd – have set up a large number of Australian travel tourism websites, as well as websites covering industries such as child care, education, churches, accountancy and entertainment.  The director of those companies is Amanda Stichbury and a significant number of business listings featured on her company’s websites were never ordered by the business owner.  Many business owners first learn about their listings on those websites when they receive a document that looks similar to a bill, with payment instructions.  Due to the fact some businesses are listed without their knowledge on multiple websites, there are some business owners who end up receiving many separate documents that resemble bills, causing them confusion and even distress.

Special Days Pty Ltd and Accommodation Find Pty Ltd have published a number of websites that specifically  relate to the tourism industry in Victoria including:

  • VicTourism – www.victourism.com.au (see our post about VicTourism)
  • AccommodationVIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (see our post about AccommodationVIC)
  • Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (see our post about HolidayGreatOceanRoad)

The Checkout is a consumer affairs show produced by the ABC.  It aired a segment on 11th June 2015 about false billing scams, including those perpetrated by Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd. A video of the relevant segment (from series 3, episode 9) can be viewed at https://dl.dropbox.com/s/06ecfueoibuyv8y/FUTube.mp4 which also includes an interview with a recipient of an unsolicited bill sent from their Church Find website.

In terms of prosecution for these sorts of activities, Special Days Pty Ltd, and its director Amanda Stichbury, were fined $18,000 for breaching Australian Consumer Law in regards to an unsolicited invoice issued to Griffith University EcoCentre for advertising on the “Education QLD” website.  The laws breached include:

  1. Assertion of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services (Australian Consumer Law, section 162(3))
  2. Making a false or misleading representation that the person making the representation has a sponsorship, affiliation or approval (Australian Consumer Law, section 151(1)(h))

As well as the monetary fine, Amanda Stichbury was ordered to pay almost $1,600 in professional and court costs.

The Department of Fair Trading also gained recorded convictions against Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd in relation to that matter.

While this is a good result for those businesses who keep receiving unsolicited requests for payment in the post or via email, it appears that Special Days Pty Ltd and its director Amanda Stichbury are still operating their network of websites in question.

The accommodation industry publication, AccomNews, published a special report today, strongly warning businesses to beware of being scammed by bogus invoices. Their special report includes a detailed analysis of the false billing scam perpetrated by Amanda Stichbury and her companies using their network of websites.

Amanda Stichbury, Special Days Pty Ltd
Beware of being scammed – Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd fined and convicted under Australian Consumer Law

 

This is a timely reminder for businesses not to blindly pay any advertising bills they receive, and ensure they really have ordered what they are being invoiced for. It is important for all businesses to maintain a careful record of all advertising arrangements in place and to check all incoming renewal invoices with their records to verify the authenticity and authorisation of those bills.

Businesses also need to carefully look at who is issuing the invoices, as many of Amanda Stichbury’s websites have very similar names to organisations with well-know names, creating confusion between them.  For example, a number of business owners have reported they thought bills from Amanda Stichbury’s Vic Tourism website were directly related to Victoria’s official government organisation Tourism Victoria, and that is certainly not the case.

References and related false billing reports:

Unsolicited emails being sent to industry
Visit Canberra
“…a company by the name of Internet Find Pty Ltd is once again sending unsolicited emails to tourism operators…(for listings on) acttourism.com.au and tourismcanberra.com… Amanda Stichbury, the director of these companies, was fined almost $20,000 earlier this year for breaching Australian Consumer Law…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2015/09/unsolicited-emails-being-sent-to-industry/

Important notification for tourism operators
Visit Canberra
“…tourismcanberra.com (is) sending an email to an ACT tourism operators requesting payment of a 12 month subscription fee…other State/Territory Tourism Offices have reported similar communications being sent to tourism operators either via email or post…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2013/01/important-notification-for-tourism-operators/

Warning to A.C.T. tourism operators – Special Days Pty Ltd
Visit Canberra
“…tourism operators across several states and territories are once again being targeted with unsolicited emails requesting them to claim their business listing on a number of directory listing websites…Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…(we) strongly advise against paying any fees to companies you are unfamiliar with…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2017/02/warning-to-act-tourism-operators-special-days-pty-ltd/

Why do I keep receiving invoices from Special Days / Internet Find / Accommodation Find / Travel Guide / etc asking for payment?
Australian Tourism Data Warehouse
“…these are scam invoices and should be discarded immediately…Special Days Pty Ltd operate under a variety of names and continue to make contact with ATDW members seeking payment for having a listing on one of their many websites…”
http://atdw.com.au/tourism-operator/operator-support/faq/

Special Report: Beware of being scammed
AccomNews
“..a number of accommodation providers have…(received)…invoices for unauthorised website and advertising listings…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading and it has gained convictions of Special Days P/L and Amanda Stichbury…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2015/08/special-report-beware-of-being-scammed/

Unauthorised website listings worry resorts
AccomNews
“…receiving invoices for unauthorised website listings…invoices, overdue notices and reminders for one accommodation provider dating back to 2009…letter of demand that threatened legal action if the amount claimed was not paid…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2014/03/unauthorised-website-list-ings-worry-resorts/

Important News From Tourism Victoria
Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism
“…some Victorian tourism operators are receiving a letter from victourism.com.au, together with an invoice asking for payment of a 12 month listing…victourism.com.au and Vic Tourism are not related in any way to Tourism Victoria…”
http://industry.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/NewsEvents/LatestNews/TabId/618/ArtMID/1589/ArticleID/14/Important-News-From-Tourism-Victoria.aspx

Vic Tourism scam
Travel Daily
“…a dodgy letter and invoice…seeking payment for a 12-month listing on a Vic Tourism website…the letter is a scam…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/vic-tourism-scam/149814

Dodgy invoices in Qld
Travel Daily
“…shonky invoices are being sent from Queensland Tourism… payments for an annual website listing on QLDTourism.com are sought, which are not legitimate…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/dodgy-invoices-in-qld/172163

South Australian Tourism Commission invoice scam alert
Travel Daily
“…unsolicited bills for a listing on southaustraliatourism.com.au…which come from a business confusingly called South Australia Tourism…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/satc-invoice-scam-alert/215638

Scams and Frauds
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices…seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which started with the word accommodation…the listings were not authorised…this is a fraudulent practice…lodge a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Scams-and-Frauds.aspx

Fraudulent Invoices
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices are again being sent to members throughout Australia seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which are registered to a company named Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have not authorised a listing for your business then the charge is fraudulent…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Fraudulent-Invoices.aspx

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Destination NSW
“…carefully check any invoices relating to instances of this domain,
www.accommodationnsw.com.au…”
http://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Digital-FAQs-2013-14x.pdf

Important update – warning notification
Destination NSW
“…have received several complaints…requesting payment for product listings featured on www.newsouthwalestourism.com…(it) is not part of the Destination NSW greater distribution network…if you have received an invoice from this company, simply disregard it…”
http://www.portstephenstourism.com.au/important-update-warning-notification-nsw-tourism-operators/

Important Advice
eTourism
…an email requesting renewal of a subscription for etourismaustralia.com…
http://www.etourism.com.au/news/important-advice-etourismaustraliacom/20

Special Days Pty Ltd – scammers
Alligator Creek Bed & Breakfast
“…alerting you to a scam…received a letter and tax invoice for $99…”
https://www.facebook.com/alligatorcreekbandb/posts/444330738965127

Received a remittance advice from Internet Find Pty Ltd
Adrian’s Autos
“…never requested to be on this site (Internet Find)…be careful you don’t pay invoices you never requested…”
https://www.facebook.com/adriansautos/posts/804666259631467

Another scam invoice from QLD Tourism
Sandgate Historical Society
“…Amanda Stichbury, please note that we will not be paying this one either…we hope the QLD Department of Justice and the ACCC come calling very soon…”
https://www.facebook.com/sandgatehistorical.soc/posts/500520660004764

Be wary of SouthAustraliaTourism.com.au
The Original Open Market Inc
“…that web site is duping people by the almost exact name…(we) fell for it and got billed for a listing on their site…”
https://www.facebook.com/originalopenmarket/posts/906162669405971

Scam alert – beware!
Hahndorf Hill Winery
“…please note that this (request for confirmation and payment for a website listing) is NOT from the South Australian Tourism Commission…”
https://www.facebook.com/HahndorfHillWinery/posts/1213582885335063

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Randwick City Tourism
“…several complaints from tourism operators in relation to tax invoices requesting payment for product listings featured on www.sydneytourism.com.au…these websites have no affiliation with Destination NSW nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice from any of these websites, please do not pay it…”
https://www.facebook.com/randwickcitytourism/posts/1181937995174938

Complaints from tourism operators
Goulburn River Valley Tourism
“…complaints from tourism operators in relation to emails from Victoria Tourism asking to review business details on their website – www.victoriatourism.com.au…this website has no affiliation with Visit Victoria nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice or an email from any of these websites, please disregard it…”
https://www.facebook.com/goulburnrivervalleytourism/posts/1402717523085659

Warning
Queensland Tourism Industry Council
“…industry operators received hoax invoices from ‘Qld Tourism’ website…”
https://twitter.com/TheQTIC/status/687502431924674560

Warning: Hoax Email From Qld Tourism
HiRUM Software Solutions
“…some Gold Coast Tourism members have received an invoice from an organisation calling themselves Qld Tourism (www.qldtourism.com) for $95…using unapproved photos and content…”
http://www.hirum.com.au/blog/hoax-email-qld-tourism/

False billing scams
The Checkout – ABC TV
“…deliberately misleading and designed to look like an invoice to get people to pay…”
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/thecheckout/episodes/s03ep09.htm

Accommodation Gold Coast – 1300 656 789
Reverse Australia

“…these people are frauds…you get these bills in the mail for advertising you never signed up to…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1300656789/

Accommodation Find – 1800 199 863
Reverse Australia

“…us and many other businesses received bills for advertising we simply did not sign up or agree to…it’s not fair billing people for stuff they didn’t ask for…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1800199863/

Warning to all small businesses
Books Alive Bookkeeping
“…there is a company that is putting businesses onto a website without legal permission and then invoicing them for this privilege – www.accountantfind.com.au – it is hard enough with budgeting dollars as it is with companies like this acting illegally…”
https://www.facebook.com/BooksAliveBookkeeping/posts/1145148798842557