Category Archives: Business

Data limits on your website can affect your travel business

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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

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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.

Official tourism websites – Victoria vs. Tasmania

Competition between the states with their tourism websites

Each one of Australia’s states and territories has their own official tourism website.  If you own or manage an accommodation property, it is certainly beneficial to have some exposure on these official sites as they are used by a wide range of travellers.

Victoria’s official tourism website is Visit Victoria, while Tasmania’s equivalent is Discover Tasmania.  When it comes to advertising your accommodation, they are quite different.

Go to the Discover Tasmania website and you will find around around 1,050 accommodation listings for this small state with a population of 495,000 people (2011 Census). Pop over to the Visit Victoria website where there are around 1,400 accommodation listings in a state which is home to 5.35 million people.

So why does Victoria, with more than 10 times the population of Tasmania and being home to the second largest city in Australia (i.e. Melbourne), have only a slightly larger listing of visitor accommodation on its official tourism website? It mainly comes down to cost.  Accommodation listings are free on Discover Tasmania, hence anyone operating an accommodation business in Tasmania can receive, at no cost, exposure on that state’s official tourism website. To do so, they just need to register their business in Tourism Tasmania’s TigerTOUR database.  In Victoria, accommodation listings on Visit Victoria cost $250 per year, although this is reduced to $100 for accredited tourism businesses. This cost therefore discourages some accommodation operators in Victoria from listing on Visit Victoria.

This raises an important question. Should official tourism websites for Australia’s states and territories provide free accommodation listings in order to promote tourism and encourage people to stay overnight and contribute to the local economy?  Tasmania and Victoria appear to have different views on that idea.

Are organisations shunning email communications with the public?

Email
Not getting a timely response to your emails when communicating with organisations? You're not alone.

Email is great for quick and easy communication, however some larger organisations are increasingly treating email from the general public as no more than a nuisance and give low priority to dealing with it.

Let’s consider a recent situation we experienced.  While developing our Dogs On Holidays website, we wanted to create a page containing links to specific pages on the websites of all Victorian coastal municipalities where they define which beaches are dog friendly and any associated conditions visitors had to abide by when bring their pet.

We were able to find the required information about bringing dogs on beaches on the websites of 15 of the 18 coastal municipalities in Victoria, so it was just a simple job to link to their relevant pages. We couldn’t find the information we needed on the websites of the remaining 3 municipalities, which either meant we weren’t looking in the right place, or they simply didn’t publish it.

Our next step was to email these 3 coastal municipalities, asking them where we could access information about bringing dogs on their local beaches.  By doing so, we discovered how responsive these organisations were to fairly straightforward and genuine requests for information.  Our expectation was an email response within 3 working days, however none of those municipalities managed to achieve that, although one came very close.

  1. South Gippsland Shire. With their headquarters Leongatha and covering the coastal communities of Venus Bay, Walkerville, Watarah Bay, Sandy Point and Port Welshpool, they were the quickest to respond.  They managed to reply in just over 4 business days from receiving our request.
  2. Corangamite Shire. Administered from Camperdown, this municipality covers the Great Ocean Road holiday towns of Port Campbell and Princetown. We received a response after 6 business days from the local laws officer.
  3. Colac-Otway Shire. Run from their headquarters in Colac, this shire covers the coastal areas on either side of Cape Otway including Johanna, Glenaire, Marengo, Apollo Bay, Skenes Creek, Kennett River and Wye River. The Colac-Otway Shire performed the worst out of our bunch of three. After 15 business days (3 weeks), we are yet to receive a response.  Too bad if we were planning a visit or holiday in the area. Maybe they want people with dogs to go further along the coast and into another municipality instead?

Of course there’s no excuse for a non-reply after 3 weeks.  Even if the Colac-Otway Shire kept no records of which of its beaches dogs are allowed on, or if the question could have been better answered by another organisation, a quick reply to that effect would have been much more appropriate than simply ignoring the request for information.

Unfortunately, this experience highlights what is sadly becoming all too common these days – organisations taking an eternity to respond to emails or simply not replying at all. Email communications is supposed to save time and money, but instead it seems to be an increasing source of frustration for individuals trying to communicate with organisations, only to endure long delays in receiving a reply or having their communications ignored.

So if you’re working as part of an organisation, treat emails as important as phone calls or letters in the mail. We do here at Travel Victoria, so why shouldn’t you?

Spend more time growing your business than debt collecting

Getting paid without having to take on the role of a debt collector

It’s the bane of any business’s existence – trying to extract payment from those who owe you money. Ideally, you’d prefer to devote your time to actually running and developing your business, yet nowadays in these economic challenged times, many businesses seem to spend more and more time on the unpleasant task of debt recovery. There has to be a better way.

An important piece of advice is not to alienate your customer. Yes, they haven’t paid their bill, so you could go all out and threaten to bring in a debt collector or pursue legal action as a matter of principle. However, this approach may not only destroy the business relationship you have with this person, but they may go out of their way to tell everyone about your heavy-handed approach to payments.

Some options to consider for encouraging people to pay their bills are:

  1. Offer a discount for payments made on time. Some organisations have started doing this, including Australia Post and a few electricity retailers. There’s nothing like a bit of financial incentive to pay bills on time and you’d be surprised how many will make the extra effort just to save a couple of dollars. While you may oppose, in principle, to the concept of paying people to actually do the right thing and pay your invoice on time, think of it another way. What appears to the client as a discount for on-time payment could actually be your standard price, and for those who pay late, they are actually getting charged a penalty for not paying on time which they believe is just the standard price.
  2. Suspend services when a bill is overdue. If someone is purchasing an on-going service, then this is a persuasive form of encouragement to get people into action. If someone’s website suddenly goes off-line, you’d be surprised how quickly people will leap into action to rectify this, even if they’ve been repeatedly warned that non-payment will result in loss of services in the past. Some people tend to ignore warnings, but a suspension will usually get them to instantly rectify any outstanding payments.
  3. Request payment up-front. Here at Travel Victoria, we recently implemented a policy that we don’t start work for new clients unless we are paid in advance for our services. We’ve found this very effective as no time or effort is spent trying to recover payment from a client after we’ve finished our work. It also has the added advantage of weeding out those people that are “tyre kickers” and who aren’t fully committed to a business relationship with us. However, one disadvantage is that new clients must trust us to do the work when they pay in advance, which may deter a few people from dealing with us.
  4. Clearly highlight the terms of their contract and their commitments. It’s unfortunate, but an increasing number of people are simply ordering things or purchasing services with their brain turned off, forgetting who they have signed up with, what they are buying or what the payment arrangements are. Make sure you keep proper records so you can show someone what they have ordered, their acceptance of your conditions, and when payment was due . Most people, when confronted with a simple list of their actions and where they have broken the conditions of sale, will rectify the situation as a matter of pride.

Running a business should be all about serving your customers and growing your business, not the delicate, stressful or unpleasant task of debt recovery. So think about some policies you can implement to ensure that you quickly and easily get paid.