Category Archives: Holidays

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!

Some tourism operators are not taking the internet seriously

cruise
Cost cutting by removing your tourism website is not the answer

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

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

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

What an unexpected reply!

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

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

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

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

The top 5 most under-rated places in Victoria that you should visit in 2013

Victoria is home to many famous sights and places.  However, for the moment, let’s put aside its hugely popular icons such as glitzy Melbourne city with its many attractions, Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill, The Great Ocean Road, The Grampians and Phillip Island’s penguin parade.  We reveal the top 5 most under-rated places in Victoria that you should try and visit in 2013.


No. 5 – Cape Woolamai

Cape Woolamai
Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island

The south-eastern tip of Phillip Island is usually bypassed by those in a hurry to see the penguin parade, watch motor sport events or visit the island’s main holiday town of Cowes. Cape Woolamai boasts some of Phillip Island’s best coastal scenery and is home to the island’s only surf lifesaving club. For walkers, there’s the Cape Woolamai Trail which extends along the cliff tops of untouched beaches. More>


No. 4 – Corryong

Corryong
Corryong, north-east Victoria

Located in Victoria’s remote north-eastern corner, Corryong is at the “pure end” of Australia’s longest river – the Murray. It’s surrounded by national parks and mountain ranges, with local stockman Jack Riley believed to have been the inspiration behind Banjo Paterson’s famous poem “The Man From Snowy River”. There’s even an  annual bush festival to celebrate this connection. More>


No. 3 – Blackwood

Blackwood
Blackwood, Macedon Ranges

This tiny village is nestled in the lush Macedon Ranges where the rest of the world just seems miles and miles away. Blackwood is home to some of the region’s many mineral springs and the fascinating Garden of St Erth. There’s also relics from the town’s former gold mining days. More>


No. 2 – Wandiligong

Wandiligong
Wandiligong, near Bright

Located just 6 kilometres from Bright – one of Victoria’s famous and popular alpine holiday destinations – the entire town of Wandiligong has been classified by the National Trust. Its attractions include an annual nut festival, Australia’s largest living hedge maze and old gold diggings. One of the best times of year to visit Wandiligong is during the autumn when its deciduous trees erupt into a blaze of colour. More>


No. 1 – Golden Beach

Golden Beach
Golden Beach, Gippsland

The isolation of this small community which fronts the pristine sands of the Ninety Mile Beach in Gippsland makes it the perfect destination for those who want to get away from it all. There’s no flash hotels or undercover shopping centres here, just your basic services and a range of self-contained holiday accommodation. The coastline around Golden Beach is also one of few areas in Victoria that offers free foreshore camping. You can even see the remains of a cargo ship which ran aground on the beach in 1879. More>

Identifying those fake TripAdvisor accommodation reviews

True or False
True or false? Spotting those real or fake TripAdvisor reviews.

The world’s largest and most popular holiday review site, TripAdvisor, publishes millions of reviews by those who have stayed at hotels and other types of accommodation around the world. The primary reason for its popularity is that one of the best ways to find out what to expect when staying somewhere is to actually read feedback by those that have been there before. After all, a slick website and the right photos can mask things like poor quality rooms and less than desirable service.

TripAdvisor is not without controversy, as there is no mechanism in place to verify that the writer of a review actually stayed there.  So there may be fake reviews creeping in, either by disgruntled staff or guests, hotels trying to sabotage their opposition, or paid reviews by accommodation providers trying to boost their standing.

One of the ways to possibly spot a fake review is by pasting the text of it into Cornell University’s Review Skeptic. They claim to use sophisticated language models that can identify whether a review is real or fake with an impressive 90% accuracy. They do state that it works best with hotel reviews worded in English.

Give it a go!  Our boss here at Travel Victoria is an avid traveller, so we put his recent TripAdvisor reviews (which we know are absolutely 100% genuine) to the test. We took the 12 reviews he posted for accommodation he stayed at over the last 3 years and plugged them into Review Skeptic. The results were that out of those 12 reviews,  only one was reported as being “deceptive” and the remaining 11 were reported as “truthful”.

With 92% accuracy in our real-world test of Review Skeptic, it’s quite impressive.

While Review Skeptic was able to declare that 92% of our real reviews were genuine, we obviously don’t have any fake reviews to give it to check. So we can conclude that if a review is really true, then Review Skeptic is pretty good at picking that up. We leave it up to the reader to test how well it performs with fake reviews.

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.

There’s more to accommodation reviews than just reading the review

review
Don't just read the accommodation review - ask yourself how it got there

When deciding on a place to stay while on holidays or away on business, many people turn to guest reviews published on the internet for a more realistic picture of what to expect.

When looking at reviews, there’s a bit more to them than just the actual contents. You need to give weight as to whether they have been verified as being written by confirmed guests, and if there’s been any censorship of reviews. So let’s look at some of the more popular websites used by Australians for finding accommodation which publish reviews.

TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com.au)

  1. Reviews are accepted for any accommodation property without the property owner’s knowledge or permission.
  2. Anyone can submit a review without actual proof of staying there.
  3. Property managers cannot remove reviews, just respond to them once only if they are registered with TripAdvisor.

Wotif (www.wotif.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Wotif will have the ability to submit a review for the property they stayed at.
  2. Reviews only include numerical scores for specific items such as location, value, facilities, service and cleanliness. No comments are permitted.

Take A Break (www.takeabreak.com.au)

  1. Only guests who booked through Take A Break will have the ability to submit a review
  2. While all reviews are published, a property manager can get Take A Break to remove a review they demonstrate is unjust

Stayz (www.stayz.com.au)

  1. Anyone can submit a review without proof of staying there
  2. Property manager controls which reviews are displayed in their listing, effectively “censoring” all reviews

What is interesting here is that reviews on TripAdvisor cover very wide ground, from glowing accounts of superb accommodation and impeccable service, to reports of appalling conditions and disgraceful service – often relating to exactly the same property! This is expected, since anyone can submit a review – although TripAdvisor claim they can detect most fake submissions. Those reviews are published independently of the accommodation property, so there is effectively no way for a review to be removed.

At the other end of the scale is Stayz. While anyone can submit a review without verification, the property manager will only release for publication reviews of their choice. As they are unlikely to allow bad reviews to be published, the general public effectively gets to see only the very best reviews and no others, similar to the cherry-picked testimonials that businesses tend to publish on their website. You may get the impression by reading the reviews that every stay at every property listed on Stayz will simply be perfect.

So when reading a review for an accommodation property, also keep in mind how the review got published, who may have written it, and what (if any) censorship may have occurred.

Use your website’s on-line booking facility to the max

booking online
Get the most out of your on-line booking system

More and more accommodation providers are adding instant on-line availability and booking facilities to their websites to ensure potential guests can quickly and easily find and book accommodation 24/7. The benefits to the provider and the consumer are numerous, some of which we’ve mentioned in our article why you need a real-time online booking system.

But are you getting the most out of your own on-line booking system?

A couple of months ago, one of our staff members booked a 5 night family holiday at the beachfront town of Cowes on Phillip Island for late November. The apartments they were looking at had an on-line booking system, so they expected using that would be the quickest way to make a reservation and get the best deal. Unfortunately, the apartment provider made their online booking system very unattractive by only offering apartments at the “rack rate”, which is basically the maximum price they’d ever charge without any discounts. In reality, you almost never pay anywhere near the “rack rate” unless it’s right in the middle of peak season or during some local event when accommodation is scarce. Whether you stay one night or 10 nights, the accommodation provider offered the same inflated nightly “rack rate” if you booked online with them.

Upon phoning the establishment directly, our staff member secured a deal for the 5 night stay that was 40% cheaper than booking on-line. Instead of paying the $275 per night online rack rate, they paid $165 per night.  Wow!

The lesson here is that if your on-line booking system is only accepting bookings at the inflated rack rate, then chances are you’re going to be missing many bookings.  Our staff member could have easily been put off by the exorbitant off-peak $275 per night rate shown in the online booking system and tried somewhere else, thus costing the establishment a profitable 5 night booking.

Some useful tips for accommodation providers with on-line booking facilities:

  1. Advertise your best rate within the on-line booking system on your website. You’ll only get one opportunity to secure a booking when someone visits your site as you’re not directly negotiating with them. So don’t scare them off with inflated prices.
  2. Ensure your on-line booking system has discounted packages for multiple-night stays. Most systems should be flexible enough to allow you to discount rates instantly when people enter in the length of their stay. People don’t expect that the nightly rate for a week will be charged at the same rate as just a one night stay.
  3. Don’t undercut your own website’s online rates on third party accommodation distributors like Wotif, HotelClub, etc.  If you can offer those rates to those websites, then you can surely offer them on your own website. In fact, you really want people to book directly on-line with you, to save you paying hefty commissions to those third party distributors anyway. Additionally, people often compare your rates on Wotif and others with your own website for the best deal, so save the commission payment and make your own booking system competitive.

Your on-line booking system is a valuable, time-saving tool, but it can also cost you bookings if used wrongly.

Why you need a real-time online booking system

Booking your holiday online
Guests want to book online, so let them or miss out!

You’ve just spent a few great days at Mallacoota and enjoyed the natural beauty of the beach and surrounding national park. You and the family are heading home tomorrow morning, but just before going to bed, you check out the latest weather forecast on the internet – sunny and 30 degrees for the next few days – perfect beach weather! Everyone agrees the holiday should be extended by spending a few nights at Lakes Entrance for some more great beach fun.

But the problem is that school holidays are on, so many places may be booked out. It’s too late in the night to telephone accommodation managers direct, so you head to the internet looking to secure a place to stay.

Searching for Lakes Entrance accommodation reveals some brand new holiday apartments just across the road from the beach and right in the town centre, which will be perfect for the family! Oh no, the only way to make an enquiry is to telephone or email them. There’s no availability calendar or online booking system. You could wait for the morning to phone them, but in the meantime others may get in before you and snap up the remaining apartments. And if you wait till the morning, other vacant accommodation at Lakes Entrance might be taken.

You keep looking and find some more holiday apartments. They are older style, situated one block back from the beach, and a fair walk to the town centre. However, they do have a real-time online booking system and they have one family unit remaining for the next two nights!

As you’re determined to stay in Lakes Entrance, you make the booking. It’s not where you would have wanted to ideally stay, but you can’t risk waiting until the morning to contact the manager of those apartments with no online booking system.

The question for managers of accommodation properties is how many bookings are you missing out on because people can’t instantly check availability or book online 24/7? How many people are instead staying at places that do offer the convenience of online bookings?

It’s not just last minute bookings which you may lose out on. Some people may have a list of places they want to stay in, but to spend time and money making long distance telephone calls, or being prepared to wait a day for email responses to be answered, would put them off booking with you unless they can check availability instantly and then reserve that room in the process.

In this increasingly busy, impulsive, unpredictable and digital age, more and more travellers are expecting to instantly reserve rooms, any time of day or night. Which is why you really need an online booking system.

The best online reservation systems are those which don’t charge you a fee for every booking made (i.e. commission-free bookings), making the booking directly between and you and the guest, and are fully under your control. Some which you may wish to consider that are administered in Australia are:

  1. Web Reservation Systems. Their system gives you total control over pricing, availability and conditions. The bookings are secure and guests can provide credit card details to you through this system. Implant the booking button on your website and on other sites you have your property listed with to allow customers check availability and/or book.
  2. The Booking Button. An intelligent and fully-featured online booking facility which you can use on your website or others you’re listed on. There’s no lock-in contracts, you pay monthly, and pricing varies depending on the number of rooms your establishment has.

If you don’t have an online booking system for your accommodation property, not only is it costing you guests, but also time. While guests organise their accommodation online instantly, you can attend to other tasks instead of being tied up on the phone or answering emails.

What are you waiting for?

Putting TripAdvisor reviews into perspective

TripAdvisor
Putting TripAdvisor reviews under review

There’s no arguing about the powerful influence the world’s most popular travel review website, TripAdvisor, has on travellers planning where to stay when away from home. There’s nothing more compelling and revealing than reading about first-hand experiences by independent guests as opposed to the slick and sanitised marketing material on a property’s website. However, some of the reviews may leave people even more confused than when they first started their research.

One of the confusing aspects of reading reviews is the sometimes huge variation in experiences and ratings. Someone may submit a review saying a particular hotel was the pinnacle of luxury, offering unsurpassed service and facilities that were second to none. Yet the next review, perhaps written by a traveller only a few days later, criticises the property as being akin to “Fawlty Towers”, with serious faults in their room, incompetent staff and being the hotel from hell.

How do you make a reasonable judgement in light of such conflicting reviews? There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. There are two sides to every story and somewhere in between is the truth. Look carefully for any “management responses” to reviews guests have made. Some bad reviews can simply have their roots in basic misunderstandings between the manager and guests, simple booking errors, conflicting expectations, or once-off incidents that were beyond the control of all involved.
  2. Compare apples with apples. There’s usually a range of room which are appointed to different standards at an accommodation property, and you should ensure that when assessing the actual room, you only read reviews that pertain to the standard of room you intend to book. If you’re booking an apartment penthouse, the scathing reviews of the small budget rooms are not a good guide as to what to expect. Similarly, reviews of a hotel’s refurbished presidential suite are not very useful if you’re planning to stay in the hotel’s older and cheaper basement rooms.
  3. Some people expect too much from where they are staying. You don’t book into a cheap 2 star hotel in a city’s back streets if you’re expecting a king size bed with luxurious linen, a marble ensuite and silver service meals. Some guests look for the cheapest accommodation, expect it to be as good as 5 star, and when it of course isn’t, unload their frustrations on TripAdvisor.
  4. Fake reviews do exist. While TripAdvisor has methods in place to detect fake reviews, no method is ever 100% fail safe when it comes to dealing with huge numbers of contributions by the general public. There’s around 50 million reviews on TripAdvisor and that figure is growing phenomenally. For a start, TripAdvisor doesn’t verify if guests actually stayed at the place they are writing a review for. Secondly, there is no verification of the unfavourable incidents people report, unless a management response has been posted. And thirdly, given the huge influence TripAdvisor has, the temptation of some property owners to post a few bad reviews of their competitors or glowing reviews of their own establishment may be too great to control.
  5. People are more likely to submit reviews of extreme experiences.  Think about what motivates people to write reviews for TripAdvisor.  Some believe their stay was so horrible that they want to tell the whole world about it and get revenge back on the establishment for ruining their time away.  At the other end of the scale are people so impressed and pleased by their whole holiday experience that they want to provide glowing feedback to the management and tell the world about how wonderful everything was. Yet in the middle of all this are people that have fairly normal experiences where things going smoothly and there is nothing noteworthy to report other than they checked in okay, the room was what they expected, and the staff were pleasant. Not strong motivation for rushing onto TripAdvisor to tell the whole world about, is it?

Consider those points when looking for reviews about where to stay on TripAdvisor.

A worthwhile bit of advice that’s been floating around for a while in regards to TripAdvisor reviews is to ignore the very best and the very worst reviews, and give most weight in your decision-making process to those reviews in the middle ground.