Category Archives: Web hosting

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.

Data limits on your website can affect your travel business

limited
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

closed
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.

Are you wrongly assuming all your website visitors use Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer may not be No.1 for too much longer

You’ve got a great website – either created by yourself or by someone else – but can everyone actually see it as they should and use it properly?

Some PC or Windows users may be forgiven for thinking that the only way to visit websites is using Internet Explorer. However, there are in fact more than 50 different web browsers that people could use. While it is impractical to test the operation of your website fully in each one, you should consider how widely used certain web browsers are to ensure compatibility with your site for the vast majority of users.

Over the last year, Internet Explorer has lost almost 10% of the overall market share of desktop web browsers, seeing its penetration drop to 52.6%. Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome browsers now command a combined total of 40.1% of the desktop market share. See Net Market Share for current web browser rankings.

Based on the fact that nearly half of those who visit your website won’t be using Internet Explorer, it is important not to ignore Firefox and Chrome. Test your website in those browsers, both of which are available for use at no cost. Compare font styles and sizes, page layout, interactive menus and the general appearance of your website. If you’ve designed your website to certain standards, there should ideally be no difference between them.

It’s not just web browser software that’s the issue. Almost one in 10 desktop computers accessing the web is not a Windows PC, but a computer running an alternative operating system such as MacOS or Linux. So if your website has features that require a Windows PC to make use of it (such as special plugins only available for Windows), you may be excluding 10% of your visitors.

You’ve gone to a lot of effort to create a great website and get people to visit it. Don’t alienate them by making your website incompatible with browsers other than Internet Explorer.

Do you really own your website and its contents?

Copyright
Who really has copyright over your website and its contents?

A few years ago, we had a rather eye-opening experience with some holiday property owners in a popular Victorian coastal town who were advertising their accommodation with us. They originally requested that we use text and photos from their own dedicated websites to create their advertisement. They were photos the property owners had taken themselves and wording they’d supplied to their web development and hosting company (let’s call them “Sneaky Internet Promotions“) to set up and maintain their website.

Imagine our surprise when “Sneaky Internet Promotions” threatened to sue us for multiple incidents of copyright infringement for re-using material on their clients’ websites!

What was happening here is that unbeknown to the poor property owners in this town, whenever they hired “Sneaky Internet Promotions” to create and maintain their website, they signed over complete ownership and copyright of all their material to this company. This meant that when the accommodation owners in this town took photos of their properties and gave them to “Sneaky Internet Promotions” to update their websites with, they lost all copyright of the photos and any information that appeared on their website.

Why any web development or hosting company would want complete copyright ownership of its clients’ text and photos is something we’ll leave to your speculation, although it’s pretty obvious.

The lesson here is that if you pay a web development company to create and/or maintain your website, ensure that the contract specifies that YOU own the resulting product and that the copyright for all material you supply (even if it is modified by them) remains with you. Otherwise you will run into problems galore if you instruct other websites, newspapers or magazines to copy text and photos from what you believe is “your” own website to create additional advertising for you.

Why showcase your internet provider in your business email address?

Email address
Your business name or Telstra in your email address – you decide

Say a business has their own domain and website. How many times do you encounter businesses that publish their email address as being the one they were allotted by their internet service provider?

For example, let’s say “Melbourne’s Best Apartments” has a website at www.MelbournesBestApartments.com.au. On their website, they advertise their email address as being melbapart33@bigpond.com.au.  They receive enquiry emails okay, so what’s the problem?

  1. Portability. Not every business sticks with their same internet service provider for life. In fact, changing the company you use to access the internet should be a simple process when you decide to look for a better deal or extra features. Imagine all the extra work you’ve made for yourself in terms of updating your email address if you’ve been publishing the one supplied by your internet provider. There’s changes to make on your website, reprinting of stationery, contacting everyone that’s ever emailed your business to advise of the change, updating listings on other websites which display your email address, and so on.  It’s a mammoth task, fraught with the real risk of neglecting to make changes somewhere. Yet it’s a task that can be easily avoided.
  2. Professionalism. It looks a lot more professional to display your email address as something like bookings@MelbournesBestApartments.com.au than an email address that your internet provider has given you. After all, why would you want to advertise an organisation like Telstra Bigpond in your email address rather than your own business?
  3. Flexibility. By using email addresses based on your business’s domain name, which you directly control yourself, you can then create email addresses with meaningful names, and as many different ones as you like. This adds to the professionalism of your organisation if the manager can be reached by emailing manager@MelbournesBestApartments.com.au rather than the address allocated by your internet service provider, such melbapart33@bigpond.com.au.

Keep your business looking professional and be independent of your internet provider by publishing email addresses based only on your domain name.

If the only reason you’re using the email address supplied by your internet provider is because you can’t rely on your web hosting company to provide rock solid service for receiving and managing email, then you really need to look elsewhere for your web hosting services.

Hosting your website in Australia? Read the fine print.

Australian flag
An Australian based web hosting company doesn’t always physically host websites in Australia

The merits of hosting a website within Australia, for an Australian business that expects most of its web traffic to come from Australia, are well known. Hosting in Australia has become much more affordable in recent years, so the question about where to host is now a no brainer.  However, do you know what you’re really getting?

While you may choose an Australian-based web hosting company, your data and the server that makes it available to the world, may in fact be located overseas, possibly somewhere geographically distant from Australia, such as the United States.

There’s an interesting comparison by Netregistry of some Australian web hosting companies for their popular business grade hosting packages.  Interestingly enough, Melbourne IT, with a name that geographically cements its base in Australia, hosts its business packages on overseas servers, which may be an issue for you if most of your traffic comes from Australia. See the comparison table (you’ll need to click on the tab “NR vs the Rest” towards the bottom of the page).