Category Archives: Websites

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.

Careful with Victoria Tourism & www.victoriatourism.com.au listing renewals

A number of accommodation managers in Victoria have been receiving unsolicited emails requesting that they renew their listing on the Victoria Tourism website at www.victoriatourism.com.au.

Before going any further, it is very important to note that Victoria Tourism is in no way related to the official government tourism organisation of Tourism Victoria.  In fact, the company behind the confusingly named Victoria Tourism website is Accommodation Find Pty Ltd – one of several companies based in Queensland who have a history of false billing scams.

Instead of past practices of sending out what resembled bills in the mail for advertising on their websites, their tactic for the Victoria Tourism website is to send out emails requesting authorisation for continuing an apparently existing listing.

A copy of a typical email sent out by Victoria Tourism (Accommodation Find Pty Ltd) is shown below, with the personal details of the recipient removed.

Victoria Tourism bill

The email is rather strange, being a screenshot of a letter which isn’t very clear and is not easy to read.

Notable features of the email are:

  1. It is issued by Victoria Tourism (not Tourism Victoria), with a green and blue “V” logo
  2. The company behind the website is listed as Accommodation Find Pty Ltd
  3. The ABN on the email is 18 086 159 195
  4. The contact phone number is 1800 199 863 which also relates to the companies Special Days Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd – all based in Queensland
  5. The cost to advertise is specified as $95 for a 12 month listing

Many accommodation providers who receive this email never signed up for a listing on the Victoria Tourism website and may be unaware that they even had a listing on there.

The email implies an existing business relationship by stating:

“It has come to my attention that your listing on our Victoria Tourism website is due to expire…”

Also:

“Please forward through your authorisation for its continuation for the next 12 months.”

This implies that the recipient of the email has already authorised and paid for at least one 12 month advertising period and is being asked to pay $95 to renew it for another 12 months.

However, these implications are false. The Victoria Tourism website has only been running in its current form since the end of 2015.  How can all these accommodation providers who are receiving this renewal email be at the end of their 12 month advertising period in March 2016?

The organisation behind the Victoria Tourism website also previously created the Vic Tourism website at www.victourism.com.au. Read about the history of the Vic Tourism website for further information.

While the Victoria Tourism email does not resemble a bill like other letters that Accommodation Find Pty Ltd has sent out in the past, all accommodation owners that receive it should not submit their authorisation to renew without careful consideration.  Keep in mind that:

  1. The email is an unsolicited offer to continue a service that was most likely not ordered in the first place
  2. The email implies a past business relationship and existing advertising authorisation
  3. The website title of Victoria Tourism is an exact reversal of the two words which constitute Victoria’s official government tourism body of Tourism Victoria.  Such word tactics are a common method used to try and confuse people into thinking they are dealing with an official organisation or popular brand.

If you have inadvertently provided authorisation to Victoria Tourism to bill you for an accommodation listing that you thought was with Tourism Victoria, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

Update for 2017

A number of accommodation providers have received unsolicited emails from the Victoria Tourism website requesting that they check their listing and review the details.  An example of such an email is below.

Victoria Tourism

It is unclear if there is a cost involved in updating such a listing when invited to do so via email, however when examining the advertising page, an annual cost of $99 is mentioned.

Curiously, the contact details for the Victoria Tourism website have changed since the original email that accommodation providers received last year.  In particular:

  • The phone number has changed from 1800 199 863 to 1300 656 789
  • The postal address is now listed as “Inter Find”, located at P.O. Box 309, Oxenford, QLD, 4210
  • The ABN on the original email (18 086 159 195) is not the ABN the website’s domain was registered with (37 086 159 211)

For those who may at first glance assume that Victoria Tourism is in fact Victoria’s official tourism body, then the Queensland postal address they provide should make it clear that is not the case.

Another update for 2017

The organisation behind the Victoria Tourism website has recently began sending out more emails, requesting businesses check their details on a new website titled HotelFind – www.hotelfind.com.au.

An example of one of the Hotel Find emails is below:

HotelFind

Again, it is unclear if there is a cost involved in claiming or updating a listing.

On its website, HotelFind claims that it is:

“a trusted brand that helps promote accommodation and tourism Australia wide”

This is quite a bold statement given that the website has only been online for a few months, and that the website owner, Amanda Stichbury, was fined and convicted by a court of law in 2014 and also in 2017 for breaching Australian Consumer Law over a series of false billing charges.

Anyone who receives an invitation from HotelFind to check their business details should confirm if there are any costs associated in updating or maintaining their listing.  If costs are involved, the benefit of having a listing on the HotelFind website should be carefully considered.

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!

Holiday Great Ocean Road & www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com false billing scam

Accommodation businesses operating within the Great Ocean Road region in Victoria have been on the receiving end of a false billing scam. It has been operating since 2012, resulting in bills being sent out for unauthorised advertising on a tourism website.

Invoices are being sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road for advertising on the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website.  A sample of a typical invoice they post out in the mail is shown below.

Invoice - Holiday Great Ocean Road - www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com
An example of an invoice sent out by Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. Their FAX number is 1800 198 388
  6. The invoice amount is $108.90 (i.e. $99 plus GST)
  7. The advertising commencement date, conclusion date or duration is not stated
  8. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box states the name of who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with Holiday Great Ocean Road.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive more of the same invoices in the future.

Despite the fact an advertisement on Holiday Great Ocean Road has usually never been ordered by the recipient of the invoice, a cover letter is included which includes the following claims:

  1. “I emailed you several times and phoned your business but I was unable to get a  response.”  This statement is generally false as most accommodation providers have never been contacted by phone or email prior to the invoice arriving in the post.
  2. “Once the listing is deleted you can lose your ranking on holidaygreatoceanroad.com for key words as well as your Google ranking as the site is optimized for your establishment.”  This is a very misleading claim. Firstly, the www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com website receives so few visitors (not even Alexa.com has any data for it at the moment) so it is unlikely that a listing, or lack of one, will make any difference to a business. Secondly, because www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com is so poorly ranked in Google, there is only minuscule Google ranking value provided in the form of a link to an accommodation provider’s own website.

Accommodation listings on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the Holiday Great Ocean Road website.

Unfortunately, some accommodation providers have paid the invoice for advertising they never ordered due to confusion over business names. The Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com name and website address may be confused with a well-established business with exactly the same name but different website address – Holiday Great Ocean Road / www.holidaygor.com.au. It must be stated that the latter (www.holidaygor.com.au) is an award-winning and reputable accommodation booking service which has operated with the utmost of integrity since its commencement in 2002.

It is extremely important that accommodation providers keep current list of all organisations they are advertising their accommodation with to ensure that any false bills, particularly those with similar names to reputable businesses, are quickly identified. Should there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the sender and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Holiday Great Ocean Road, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

VIC Tourism & www.victourism.com.au false billing scam

A new false billing scam is actively targeting those who manage accommodation properties in Victoria. Bills are being posted out for unauthorised advertising on a website which bears a name very similar to Tourism Victoria – Victoria’s official tourism body.

Unauthorised bills are being sent out by VIC Tourism for advertising on the www.victourism.com.au website.  Below is a sample of an invoice they post out in the mail to many accommodation businesses.

Invoice - VIC Tourism – www.victourism.au
An example of an invoice sent out by VIC Tourism – www.victourism.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Accommodation Find which trades as QLDTourism.com and is located in Queensland
  2. The company’s ABN is 18 086 159 195
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 1601 Oxenford QLD 4210
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1800 199 863
  5. The invoice amount is $95.00
  6. The advertising period is not specified, just the vague mention of a “12 month subscription”
  7. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, there is a box titled “authorisation name” that specifies the name of who has supposedly authorised the listing, usually without a surname

To ensure that in the eyes of the law this tax invoice is regarded an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice like this never actually signed up for a listing with VIC Tourism.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they may receive subsequent invoices at regular intervals in the future.

Accommodation listings on the VIC Tourism website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to view your listing on the VIC Tourism website.

Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria
Leigh Harry, CEO of Tourism Victoria, urges all Victorian businesses not to fall for the ‘VIC Tourism’ false billing scam.

The way the advertising bills have been sent out has convinced some accommodation providers into thinking that VIC Tourism is the Victorian government’s official tourism organisation Tourism Victoria. This has resulted in some people paying the bill because they believe they are registering their accommodation for world-wide exposure and endorsement through the state’s official tourism body.

The chief executive officer of Tourism Victoria, Leigh Harry, has issued a strong warning through several media outlets to all businesses in Victoria to be on the look out for what he describes as “a dodgy letter and invoice” which seeks payment for an unsolicited 12-month listing on the unofficial and low-traffic Vic Tourism website.  Mr Harry has warned that the letters and invoices being sent out by Vic Tourism are “a scam”, and they are not related in any way whatsoever to Victoria’s official tourism organisation.

It is critically important that all accommodation providers keep an accurate list of all organisations they advertise their accommodation with. This ensures that any false bills, particularly those with names very similar to official organisations, are quickly identified. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, contact the issuer immediately and ask for proof of authorisation.

For further information, refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you have inadvertently paid money to VIC Tourism, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

Accommodation VIC & www.accommodationvic.com.au false billing scam

A false billing scam which began in 2010 is still targeting accommodation providers in Victoria. It involves sending out bills for unauthorised advertising on a travel website.

The unauthorised bills are sent out by Accommodation VIC for advertising on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website.  Refer below to a sample of the invoices they post out in the mail to accommodation businesses.

Invoice - Accommodation VIC - www.accommodationvic.com.au
An example of an invoice sent out by Accommodation VIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (recipient’s details blanked out)

Note the key characteristics of this invoice:

  1. It originates from a company titled Special Days Pty Ltd which is based in Sydney
  2. The company’s ABN is 37 086 159 211
  3. Their postal address is PO Box 4050 Parramatta NSW 2124
  4. Their billing enquiry phone number is 1300 656 789
  5. Their FAX number is 1800 198 388
  6. The invoice amount is $99.00
  7. The advertising period is not stated, just a mention of an “annual website listing”
  8. In order to convince the recipient of its authenticity, the “reference” box lists the name of the person who has apparently authorised the listing, usually without a surname

In order to legally disguise this tax invoice as an optional invitation to advertise, there is wording on the invoice which states “this invoice is only payable if you wish to subscribe or renew your existing subscription for the product”.

Most people who receive an invoice of this type have never signed up for a listing with Accommodation VIC.  The first they find out about it is when a bill arrives in the mail. If they ignore the bill, they will typically receive another one sometime in the future, despite the fact wording on the letter attached to the bill states that the listing “automatically expires if unpaid”.

It has been reported that at least one business who actually did end up paying the $99 annual listing fee then received another bill in the mail only 6 months later for another $99. As there are no starting and ending dates for the listing period specified on the invoice, just vague wording of an “annual website listing”, it is unclear exactly what period the listing fee covers.

Accommodation listings on the Accommodation VIC website are typically created by copying information, including wording and photos, found on other websites that an accommodation provider is listed on.  This process may be automated which means vast numbers of listings can be created with very little time and effort. If this data collection process occurred a long time ago, it may mean information they are displaying can be quite out of date. This may negatively impact upon your business or mislead people who do happen to come across your listing on the Accommodation VIC website.

Some people simply pay the bill they receive because:

  1. They have recently taken over the business. When the bill arrives, they assume the advertising must have been ordered in the past by the previous owners and therefore the listing is effective and good value.
  2. The website name is similar to one that they currently list with.  In the confusion, they simply pay it, wrongly assuming it’s their authorised advertiser.
  3. They are too busy to spend much time investigating it.  Given that the bill is for a relatively small sum, they decide it is more cost-effective just to pay it and get it out of the way rather than conduct an extensive assessment of it.
  4. Competition with other accommodation listed. If other accommodation in their local area is displayed on the www.accommodationvic.com.au website, they may feel pressured to keep the listing.  However it is important to realise that not only are many of listings on Accommodation VIC unauthorised, but that website receives only a small number of visitors compared to other similar websites.

It is important that accommodation providers keep an up to date list of all organisations they have advertised their accommodation with to ensure that any unauthorised bills are quickly detected. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of a bill, simply contact the issuer and ask for proof of authorisation.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

If you’ve unintentionally paid money to Accommodation VIC, or even if you just receive one of their unauthorised bills in the mail, you can lodge a report with the ACCC by visiting their report a scam page.  Specify “false billing” as the scam type in your report.

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.

Tips on dealing with freelance web designers or developers

asleep
Is your freelancer asleep at the job again?

When you’re in the travel business, having a good website is very important as most people use the internet to research and arrange their holidays. Therefore travel businesses find they will require the services of a web designer or developer to create their website initially, then in the future to extend, enhance or completely redevelop it.

Web design or development can be an expensive business. If you choose an organisation with a street office and reception desk, you will certainly feel comfortable about dealing with an organisation that has a solid presence and reputation.  However, a significant part of the fees you are charged will have to pay the rent of the premises, the wages of support staff, and of course the upkeep of that colourful tropical fish tank and fancy espresso coffee machine in the foyer.

A significant amount of money can be saved by getting the work done by a skilled freelancer. They typically work from home, and thus don’t need to rent an office or pay wages to support staff. You would generally interact with a freelancer via the internet or phone, perhaps meeting in a public place if there needs to be face to face contact.

Like with all industries, there’s good and bad, and the freelancers of the world are no different.  You’ll find some really responsive, talented, hard-working people, and equally, you’ll find some lazy ones whose sole aim is to get as much money out of you as possible, and deliver as little as possible.

It is highly recommended that if you hire a freelancer, you do so through a respected freelance online employment platform such as Elance, Odesk or Freelancer. These systems allow you to track a freelancer’s progress and only pay when the job is completed to your satisfaction. There is also a comprehensive dispute resolution system in place to ensure that at the end of the day, everyone should walk away happy with the job outcome.

Another option is to deal with a freelancer directly. You’ll typically find them by searching on Google and ending up on their website.

When selecting a freelance web designer using the internet, ensure that you:

  1. Look at their website.  If they can’t design their own website, what hope do they have of doing yours?
  2. View their portfolio. See if you like their style of work. Take particular note of the dates of the items in their portfolio to ensure you aren’t dealing with someone that’s not done much work for a long time.
  3. Check the web designer’s social profiles. Look at their Facebook and Twitter streams to gauge their character.
  4. Do an internet  search of the web designer’s business name, personal name, website address and ABN. Then re-do the search followed by negative words such as “problem”, “scam”, “fraud”, “untrustworthy”, etc. This may uncover any unfavourable dealings people have had with this person.
  5. Check if the web designer is an active contributor to popular technical forums. Someone who regularly contributes to such a forum will typically value their reputation in public and will be likely to do the right thing by their clients.

If you’ve taken the plunge and chosen a freelance web designer from the internet, here are some important tips on dealing with them.

  1. Only do business with freelancers from your own country. It makes things easier if you’re both in the same or similar time zone when it comes to communications. Also, if something does go wrong, it is much easier to resolve disputes when you’re both operating under the laws of the same country.
  2. Never, EVER, pay up front for the work. After all, what stops the freelancer then disappearing with your money, never to be seen again? If the freelancer does insist on a payment to kick-start the project, ensure that the payment is done in such a way that you can reverse it. For example, pay with a credit card, so that you have the option of disputing the transaction if the services you’d paid for aren’t provided. Alternatively, use an escrow service such as Australian-based Escrow Angel so that your funds are held by an independent third party and only released to the freelancer once everyone is in agreement over the work completed.
  3. Draw up a clear contract for the project. This contact must stipulate exactly what work needs to be done, any intermediate milestones, and a final delivery date. A clause should also be included to specify that you (and not the web designer) own the intellectual property created for the website. The contract should also state what is to happen if milestones or the delivery date is not met. Do NOT treat an invoice from the freelancer as a contract. Invoices for services are generally vague, lack delivery dates, and are non-binding.
  4. Keep in regular contact with your freelancer. Don’t be afraid to phone, text or email them, requesting details of their progress. After all, you are employing them, so you have every right to know how they are spending the time you pay them for.

There are a number of warning signs to watch out for that can indicate you are dealing with an unreliable freelancer.

  1. Unrealistic promises. The freelancer promises the impossible when taking on the project.  Telling you that their work will be so good that you’re bound to win awards galore for their stunning website design may simply be nothing more than hot air to secure your business which they wouldn’t normally have any hope of getting otherwise.
  2. You caught them in between large jobs. The freelancer tells you that normally they are so busy, but by pure chance you’ve approached them at the exact instant that they’ve completed a massive project for a high-profile client. Are you really that lucky? More likely it’s a freelancer that’s been out of work for a while, and they are just trying to create an impression that they are in high demand and that you’re extremely lucky to hire them.
  3. The “too good to be true” quote. You may think that you’ve been very fortunate in receiving an unbelievably cheap quote for your project. However, this may be part of a freelancer’s plan to lock in as many jobs as possible so they have a steady source of work and income during quiet times. There are some freelancers who have serious issues with time and money management. So if they have bills to immediately pay, then any work that has been pre-paid or not due to earn them income for a while, will simply be put on hold. You will be given a smorgasbord of excuses for the delay in your project in order to string it along into the future when they do eventually find they have the time and financial freedom to do some work on it. Keep in mind that if you think your project has been under-quoted, then it will be first in line for being put on the back-burner indefinitely.
  4. Lack of communication. While the project is underway, the freelancer keeps losing your emails or never receives your text messages. If this is happening on a regular basis, it may indicate that they are just stringing your project along while they are doing other things that are earning them more money. Depending on the circumstance, a project that should only take a few weeks to complete may end up taking months or even a year if the freelancer manages to dodge most of your communication.
  5. Requests for progress payments in advance. Progress payments are exactly that – payment after a certain amount of work has been completed. Be very cautious of a freelancer that not only wants a hefty deposit up front before they even start their work, but also demands progress payments in advance for work they are yet to complete. Would you really pay someone that you’ve not met before for something they haven’t supplied yet?
  6. Fake discounts. Watch out for those so-called “discounts” offered by a freelancer during the course of the project if they’ve failed to reach a milestone or project delivery date. While it may seem like generous compensation, you need to keep in mind this is not the same as handing you a cash gift. They are simply offering to take a little less of your money for the project in order to cover up their incompetence. Everyone would much prefer their project to be completed on time rather than receiving a slight discount if the work is delivered months or even a year late. This could all be part of their ploy to string your project along while they attend to more profitable work.
  7. Would you like a free set of steak knives with that? If your freelancer isn’t offering you a “discount” in order to compensate for missing deadlines, another trick is to offer a bonus package of services that you didn’t order and probably don’t want. Be prepared to be showered with offers of free SEO (search engine optimisation) and other services to enhance your website, which you’ll be told are worth thousands of dollars, but which you’ll receive for free. All this is simply part of their plan to string the project along and keep you happy for a bit, without them having to do any work in the short term.
  8. The “I’m a perfectionist” excuse. It’s reverse psychology at work here. Instead of the freelancer confessing they have fallen way behind in their work, they buy almost infinite more time by telling you they are a perfectionist and are putting in so much extra effort to produce something so awesome and amazing for you. In cases like this, you’re made to feel that you should be apologising to the freelancer for pressuring them over the delay, rather than them apologising to you.
  9. Playing the sympathy card. Like most people, a freelancer may have personal problems or situations they have to deal with that can impact on their work. Because you’re employing just one person, any problem a freelancer has will cause the whole project to grind to a halt as there’s no one else to take over. As human beings, we naturally sympathise with others that are enduring personal hardships. However, if the freelancer says they are an only child and have to care for their sick mother this week, how do you know they aren’t in fact down at the beach every day as the weather forecast promised ideal surf conditions?

Using a freelancer can potentially save you a lot of money when it comes to website projects. However, like with all industries, there are a few incompetent freelancers out there, so choose one carefully.

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

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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.