Category Archives: Bookings

Booking accommodation direct – is it really cheaper?

Over the last few years, there has been a push in the Australian travel and tourism industry to encourage travellers to book their accommodation directly with the property owner or manager, rather than through an online booking agent. The advantages in doing so include:

  • Cheaper rates
  • Dealing directly with the provider makes it easier to reserve a particular room, satisfy any special requirements you may have, and handle cancellations or rescheduling directly
  • Instead of booking commissions (typically between 15 to 30 percent) being paid to overseas online travel agents, those commissions are retained by property owner, thus helping the local economy
  • Those booking direct may receive bonuses to reward them for this, such as free breakfast or free vehicle parking.

While booking accommodation directly has many benefits, let us consider just the cost of the room and conduct a small experiment with online booking rates. Note that booking over the phone directly with a property may offer better rates, but for the purposes of this experiment, we shall limit ourselves to online booking only, either directly with the property’s own reservation system or an online travel agent like Booking.com.

We shall try booking three very different holiday properties in Victoria on a weekend for two nights, from Friday 17th May to Sunday 19th May. We have chosen:

  1. A 5-star Melbourne city hotel with luxury rooms
  2. A family beach resort that offers holiday apartments
  3. A romantic mountain cottage retreat for couples

Luxury hotel – The Langham Melbourne

The Langham Hotel in Melbourne is one of the city’s most exclusive hotels and is consistently ranked by Tripadvisor as one of the top places to stay in the city, where opulence meets unparalleled service. It is situated in Southbank, across the Yarra River from Melbourne’s CBD.

Choosing a superior king room for two adults, we were quoted a total of $740 ($370 per night) when using the hotel’s own reservation system on their official website. Choosing to book the same room via booking.com gave the exact same quote – $740.

The verdict: same cost whether booking online direct or through an online travel agent.

Online booking at The Langham Melbourne using booking.com
Online booking at The Langham Melbourne using their own reservation service


Family beach resort – Silverwater Resort

One of Victoria’s most loved beach holiday destinations is Phillip Island. It is close enough to Melbourne to be within an easy drive, and far enough out of the city to feel like you are really on holiday.

The gateway to Phillip Island is the tourist town of San Remo, which is located at the start of the bridge which goes across the water to Phillip Island. There are several cafes, restaurants and hotels in the town, and some lovely beaches in the area. However, the town is most famous for the daily pelican feeding on the main beach, near the jetty.

One of the most family friendly places to stay at San Remo is Silverwater Resort. Spread out across this large property are 170 resort rooms and self-contained apartments. The resort’s many on-site facilities include an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, jumping pillows, games room, gymnasium, extensive grounds to explore and a bar and restaurant.

We have chosen a two bedroom apartment for a family of four – 2 adults and 2 children. Going through the reservation system on the resort’s official website, the total cost for two nights was quoted at $526. Using booking.com, this was reduced down to $518.

Why is there an $8 difference? If you use an online booking website, they generally absorb credit card fees. However, if you book direct with Silverwater Resort, they charge you the credit card fees on top of the cost of the accommodation which is priced at the same rate at booking.com. It is quite surprising that Silverwater Resort is happy to give 15 to 30% of their revenue (between $77 and $155 for this specific booking) to booking.com, yet if you bypass the booking agent and book directly with them, thus meaning the resort gets to keep the $77 to $155 booking fee, they actually penalise you for this act of generosity and make you pay an $8 credit card fee.

The small print on the booking page explains the credit card fee if you book online directly with the property. “Payments made with with Visa or Mastercard will incur a 1.5% surcharge, and Amex will incur a 3% surcharge. This surcharge is not displayed on your reservation it is added automatically when your credit card is processed.”

The verdict: go through booking.com for a better rate than booking directly, due to the credit card fee.

Online booking at Sliverwater Resort using booking.com
Online booking at Silverwater Resort using their own booking system


Mountain retreat – Forest Edge Cottage

For those looking for seclusion and privacy in the mountains, but not too far from Melbourne, then Mount Dandenong is a great choice. Less than an hour’s drive from the city centre, the lush Dandenong Ranges are home to a number of romantic holiday cottages and we have chosen Forest Edge Cottage which is part of the Merrow Cottages group. This private holiday rental is suitable for couples and is an excellent weekend getaway.

The managing booking agent for this property quotes a weekend stay at $620 ($310 per night). However, the rate on booking.com is significantly more, coming in at $700 for the weekend, or $350 per night.

The verdict: book direct with the property for a much better rate than with online booking agents.

Onlike booking at Forest Edge Cottage using booking.com
Online booking at Forest Edge Cottage using their direct booking manager.

The verdict

Whether you book online directly with the property, or whether you use a third party online travel agent booking service like booking.com, the cost may sometimes vary. This depends specifically on the accommodation property chosen. Booking directly with the property may be cheaper in some cases, but in other cases it actually may be slightly dearer.

To encourage direct bookings, we urge all property owners to ensure those booking through their official website and booking system are offered the same or cheaper rates than they advertise through third party online travel agents.

Accommodation in Victoria for disabled or mobility impaired travellers

DisabledIf you or your family have mobility impairments, there are a number of accommodation options throughout Victoria that may suit your needs.

Hotels and motels are often able to cater for disabled and wheelchair-bound visitors thanks to their modern layout, lifts and the use of ramps instead of stairs.  A growing number of larger hotels, motels and apartments will have certain rooms designed to accommodate those who may need extra space or aids.

One of the biggest issues for those seeking suitable accommodation is the huge variability in what is classified as “disabled access”, “wheelchair accessible”, or other similar terms. As such, it is always advisable to contact these establishments prior to making a booking to ensure that the facilities are suitable for your level of mobility and requirements.

When enquiring about room suitability, you may want to ask about:

  • Doorway widths – both internal and external
  • How easy doors are to open
  • The height of door handles and light switches
  • The height of the bed – some may be too high
  • Whether there is enough space on the side of the bed to permit you to easily get into it
  • Easy to reach hanging space in closets
  • Hand rails in the bathroom
  • Shower chairs and raised toilet seats

As well as enquiring about the suitability of the room you plan to stay in, you may also need to ask further questions about the property as a whole.  For example:

  • Is there suitable parking close by or designated disabled parking spots in a convenient location?
  • Can you access the reception area easily?
  • Are there automatic opening doors at the entrance and throughout the property?  This may be an issue for those who are travelling alone and don’t have someone on hand to help them with heavy or large doors.
  • Is there elevator access to all public areas in multi-storey properties?  You may be able to easily get to your room, but you may not be able to easily get to some of the facilities if access is poor.

To find accommodation in Victoria which offers facilities for those with disabilities, go to accommodation search page on the Travel Victoria website and in the facilities section select disabled access along with other requirements you may have. This will list all establishments which can cater, to some extent, for guests with mobility impairments.  Don’t forget that when enquiring or booking your accommodation, it is important to make mention of your specific access requirements to ensure the establishment is able to meet your needs.

 

Car hire in Melbourne and Victoria

Car hireVictoria is a diverse state with a multitude of attractions in both Melbourne and the state’s regional areas. When it comes to getting around, public transport isn’t always able to take you everywhere, and it may not always be convenient.  So if you come to Victoria without your own vehicle, hiring a car is a good option to get the most out of your visit.


Arriving by air

Most people coming to Victoria by air will land at Melbourne Airport which is located around 20 kilometres north-west of the city. This is Victoria’s only international airport and a major hub for domestic flights.

The major international hire car companies of Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty all have booking desks inside the airport terminal buildings, along with Australia’s own Redspot.

Compare car hire at Melbourne Airport

Car hire depots are also located at several smaller regional airports in Victoria:


Arriving by boat

If you are coming to Melbourne by sea, you will dock at Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Most arrivals will be aboard the Spirit of Tasmania which is a passenger and car ferry that runs services to and from Tasmania on almost every day of the year and sometimes twice a day during peak season.

While there are no car hire depots located at Port Melbourne, cars can be hired from depots nearby which are easily reached either by taxi or public transport.

Car hire near Port Melbourne


Arriving by train

There are two interstate passenger train lines that enter Victoria and extend to Melbourne. The Overland service runs between Adelaide and Melbourne while the XPT runs between Sydney and Melbourne. All these trains terminate at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.

Car hire depots for Avis, Budget and Europcar are located at Southern Cross Station, while depots for other car hire companies are located very close by, either walking distance or a short tram or taxi ride away.

Car hire near Southern Cross Station


Getting the best deal

Most people don’t have too much loyalty to car hire brands, so whoever offers the best deal which matches the renter’s requirements will usually get the deal.

To save individually comparing rates between all the major car hire companies in Melbourne and Victoria, simply use the comparison tool below. Using your specified pick-up location and hire dates, it will display car hire availability from all the major providers.

Compare all car hire in Victoria


Should you pick up a hire car from the airport or elsewhere?

For those arriving by air, obviously the most convenient option is to pick up your hire vehicle at the airport. Car hire check-in desks are located within the terminal building, and the car you book is waiting for you at one of the closest car parks, usually just a few steps away.

Airports are regarded by most car hire companies as premium locations, so you will end up paying extra for the convenience of picking up your vehicle there.  If you want to save a bit of money, compare the cost of picking up your hire vehicle at the airport with a location that is either convenient to where you are staying or easily accessible by public transport.  Particularly for long rental periods, the savings can be quite substantial, even when you factor in the cost of transport between the airport to the depot.


Will others be driving your hire vehicle?

It is important to consider whether people other than yourself will be driving the rental vehicle. This may be relevant if you are planning a trip away with your partner, family, friends or business associates.

Some hire car companies allow you to nominate additional drivers at no cost, while others will charge extra fees.

Hire car company Fees for additional drivers Exemptions from fees
Avis None
Budget None.
Europcar $5.75 for each additional driver, capped at $28.75 for the whole rental period.
Hertz $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $27.50 for the whole rental period. Immediate family members, employers or employees.
Redspot $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $33.00 for the whole rental period. If the rate level you have selected is the “top dog” all inclusive rate.
Thrifty $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $27.50 for the whole rental period. Corporate club and auto club members hiring vehicles pay no additional driver fees.

What sort of insurance should you take?

All cars you hire are insured against accidents. They also include roadside assistance for use in emergencies.

If your vehicle is involved in an accident, you will need to pay an insurance excess fee, which can be several thousands of dollars depending on the type of vehicle and if it was a single vehicle accident.

As well as accidents, any damage you cause to the vehicle that requires repairs, such as windscreen or tyre replacement, will also need to be paid for.

Hire car companies usually offer add-ons whereby you can pay an extra daily charge to reduce or completely eliminate the cost you would normally occur in the case of an accident or vehicle damage. These add-ons can inflate the daily hire charge by up to 50%, so it is important to consider some economical options if you wish to avoid paying out large sums of money in the event of an accident or damage to the vehicle.

If you only have the vehicle for a day or two, the simplest and cheapest way may simply be to accept the hire car company’s offer of paying more to eliminate excess charges.

If you are hiring a vehicle for more than a couple of days, a cheaper option is to take out independent travel insurance.  Most general travel insurance plans include hire car excess charges, although you will need to verify they will cover the full amount as they usually set a limit. In fact, you may already have travel insurance arranged for your trip, so why not take advantage of all its features, including coverage for hire car excess fees.


How to pay for toll roads

In Melbourne there are several toll roads which you may use during your travels. Fortunately you shouldn’t have to worry about paying those tolls as vehicles hired through most hire car companies are registered with toll road operators.  This ensures you will be automatically billed for toll road usage.  This billing process will differ between hire care companies.

For Avis, Budget, Europcar and Thrifty, as well as incurring the actual cost of using a toll road, there is also a $3.30 daily service fee which is charged only on the days you use a toll road.

Redspot simply add a $1.43 fee to every toll charge you accumulate.  For a single trip in a day this is good value, but it can end up getting expensive if you make multiple toll road trips within a day. Note that when booking a vehicle, if you select the “top dog” all inclusive rate, then all toll road usage is covered an no additional cost.

Hertz operate quite differently and offer unlimited toll road usage with a fixed daily charge of $14.30 which applies to every day of rental period whether you use toll roads or not.  Alternatively, you can opt for an arrangement whereby you pay an upfront $16.50 administration fee and then you are automatically billed only for usage. This is recommended for longer term hiring or when you don’t expect to use toll roads every day.


Fuel options

When picking up the vehicle, it will have a full tank of fuel. Three options are usually available when returning the vehicle.

  1. Pay for a whole tank of fuel. This mean the hire car company assumes you will return the vehicle with an empty tank, so you will be charged for a full refueling, no matter how much is left. In reality, it is impossible to return a vehicle with not one drop of fuel left in it, so this can be an expensive option, particularly if you have a significant amount of fuel left in the vehicle, although usually the cost charged for a whole tank of petrol will be very competitive.
  2. Pay a “fill up” charge.  You can return the vehicle with any amount of fuel left in the tank, and you will only be charged to fill it up. While this may seem an attractive option, the cost per litre and fill up charge will be much more than what it would cost for you to buy fuel yourself.
  3. Return the vehicle with a full tank.  This is the cheapest option if you have the time, and if a petrol station is located not too far away from the car hire depot. That way you only pay for exactly the quantity of fuel you use.

Are you guaranteed to get the car you booked?

When looking at types of cars offered by the rental companies, they will tend to classify cars by their size, style, number of seats and luggage capacity by using terms such as “compact”, “intermediate”, “standard” or “full size”.  They usually provide an illustration of an example car that fits that size.

It is important to note the clause that says “or similar”. Car hire depots usually have various models within each category, so depending on availability, you can’t be guaranteed to get exactly the model advertised.  If you do have a specific preference for a model or a vehicle colour, make the hire car company aware of that at the time of booking and they may be able to arrange it when you pick it up.

There are some vehicle models which you can be guaranteed to get when booking, but these are usually if you hire prestige or sports vehicles.

The background behind the major online accommodation websites

When searching on the internet for accommodation, it can be quite a daunting task with many options available, particularly in large towns and cities. So a quick way to get an overview of these many options is to use an online travel website. They can display availability and pricing for many hotels at once, so at a glance you may be able to find something suitable without individually going to each hotel’s website.

There are many online travel websites which feature listings for accommodation in Australia and throughout the world, but most belong to either one of two large groups.

Online hotel booking brandsThe Priceline Group runs a number of websites including:

Expedia Inc is the owner of these popular websites:

It is important to realise that searching for accommodation within a specific accommodation group will yield the same results. So, for example, search for somewhere to stay on wotif.com, and you will get exactly the same results as if you had searched on expedia.com. What may be different is the layout of the website, the search mechanism, loyalty reward schemes, and the ways guests can get customer support.

Between the two major groups listed above, there may be price differences between individual accommodation properties. However, in general, they are limited to special offers or campaign sales. For example, we did a search for a one night stay at a specific hotel in the popular Melbourne inner northern suburb of Brunswick on several websites within these two major groups. For most room types, the tariffs were identical. But within the Expedia group, they were promoting a sale at the hotel of our choice on deluxe queen rooms, which resulted in the nightly pricing dropping from the standard $145 down to $108 on all the websites within that group.

Based on that, one could conclude that best way to get the lowest pricing when using online travel websites is to pick one from each of the two major groups and search those.

Another option is to use what is known as a meta search engine website. These gather pricing for accommodation through a large number of booking websites and present the combined results.

Meta hotel searchSome major meta search engines for hotel bookings are:

A few years ago, using meta search engines was really the way to go. That was because many of today’s popular online travel booking sites were actually independantly owned and managed, with their own arrangements between suppliers of accommodation. This meant there were many instances of wide variability in pricing and the presence of some hotels across those sites. But in the last few years, many popular online travel booking sites have been bought out by big groups, including Australia’s Wotif which was acquired by Expedia in late 2014. What exists now is basically a duopoly between the websites that are part of Priceline Group and those that Expedia Inc runs.

Is this the end for hotel meta search engines? Yes and no.

While Priceline and Expedia control many of the world’s most popular accommodation booking sites, there are a few smaller ones out there which are still independant and do offer unique deals, so using a hotel meta search engines can easily sniff these out for you.

Australian-based HotelsCombined is an interesting meta search engine. Like Trivago and Kayak, it searches websites belonging to the major online travel groups and combines the results. However, it also has arrangements in place with some hotel chains, like Best Western for example, such that it can get pricing directly from the hotel, rather than through the major online travel websites that the hotel has listed itself on. While this sounds good in practice, it may not actually mean you get a room cheaper when booking direct.  There is usually a rate parity arrangement in place which prohibits a hotel from advertising a cheaper rate on its own website than through the major online travel groups that it distributes room availability through.

The Wotif grid is back

Wotif was established during 2000 in Australia as an online hotel booking service. It was bought by United States travel giant Expedia during late 2014.

Up until recently, what set Wotif apart from other online booking and comparison service was its grid or matrix of hotel prices and availability.  Many other competing services required a traveller to provide their exact check-in date and duration of stay before they were presented with a matching list of hotel availability options.  In striking contrast, Wotif simply presented an availability and pricing grid across all hotels so travellers could see at a glance their options. This particularly suited people who were flexible with their travel arrangements or who were hunting for the best deal.  See the example below.

Wotif availability grid

At the time, Wotif’s executive general manager underlined the difference between Wotif and other online booking services by these quotes in regards to its availability and pricing grid / matrix:

  • “It’s one of those things we know has a big fan base…and continues to provide an easy way to compare rates for price sensitive travellers who have flexibility about when they want to travel.”
  • “The grid layout is now also somewhat unique. On most sites, customers would have a hard time knowing if the next or previous day or week offered a better deal.”

In early 2015, Wotif changed their availability display style to match the theme of Expedia which meant travellers needed to specify specific dates and stay durations before they could search for availability. This caused the following issues:

  • If someone was wanting to find availability or the best rates for a weekend stay, but had flexibility about which weekend, it would require them to conduct a separate search for each weekend and write each one down to compare. With the Wotif availability grid, a traveller could see instantly the availability across a range of hotels, and simply flick the calendar forward to get to the next weekend
  • Someone with flexibility in regards to the duration of their stay would now need to conduct separate searches with different durations to see the availability and tariffs.  Whereas with Wotif’s former matrix, travellers could see, at a glance, whether they could change the length of their stay and which hotels could accommodate them.

Many people have some degree of flexibility when it comes to their travel plans, particularly if it is for leisure purposes, so having to go through a time consuming process of trying various combinations of check-in dates and stay durations can seem very cumbersome with Wotif’s new Expedia interface than simply casting one’s eye over a availability grid which covers a range of accommodation properties, dates and prices.

Like many others, we here at Travel Victoria missed the Wotif availability grid.  So we did something about it!

As an official Wotif affiliate partner, we had the opportunity to request access to the Wotif API through Expedia, which would allow us to extract availability and pricing from their live database without having to go through the web interface.  This meant we could build a customised table of availability across a range of hotels. Thus we were able to recreate a simplified version of the much loved Wotif matrix, as shown below for our St Kilda accommodation list:

St Kilda accommodation

We do have a few limitations:

  1. It is not a real-time availability matrix as it actually takes a few hours to build up the matrix of availability for the several hundred hotels in Victoria we have chosen to feature in the grid.  At the moment, it is automatically updated once a day, with this process concluding in the late afternoon.
  2. It only covers 3 months. People looking for accommodation more than 3 months into the future will still need to do a traditional (and cumbersome) search by date.
  3. It only shows availability for stays which have a minimum duration of 3 nights or less, as testing for longer minimum stays would slow down the database update significantly.
  4. It only shows the base or minimum rate for the cheapest room.  To get the rates for all room types and numbers of guests, people will still need to go through the regular Expedia style interface.  Wotif actually had a second level grid which would open up if you restricted your search to a specific hotel, thus showing all room types and rates.

So the Wotif grid is back, alive and well, although in a much simpler form,  now on the Travel Victoria website!

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.

 

 

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 Holidays 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 Holidays 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.