Categories
Advertising Bookings Holidays Web technology Websites

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.

Categories
Advertising Bookings Websites

Evaluating internet advertising offers for your accommodation

Evalute
Evaluate and compare advertising offers before signing up

If you’re an accommodation provider, you will no doubt be regularly swamped with offers from websites wanting you to advertise your business with them. You may receive these offers via letters in the post, email (some of those may even contravene the Australian Spam Act of 2003!), phone calls or even people visiting your business personally.

These days, having exposure for your accommodation on the internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity if you want to attract a significant number of guests. But how do you choose where to advertise?

It’s important to evaluate the website that your accommodation will be advertised on to ensure you’ll get decent exposure and you are dealing with a reputable organisation.

  1. Ask how many visitors come to their website per month. Don’t be mislead by statistics related to the number of “hits”. A “hit” is triggered when a distinct item, be it a page of text or a single image, is downloaded off a website. If one page has a large number of embedded images, then someone viewing only that one page can trigger something like 50 hits instantly. A more meaningful measurement term is the number of “visitors” which provides a guide to the number of real people who browse the site. For example, during October 2011, there were over 162,000 visitors to the Travel Victoria website, which generated about 10.5 million hits – quite a difference in those numbers!
  2. Don’t just take their word for their claimed website visitation statistics. A very rough guide you can use to examine the performance of a website is to enter the website address at Alexa. Alexa records statistics of website visitors through those who use the company’s toolbar in their web browser. The lower a traffic rank, the more visitors it gets. Other statistics are available, including the average number of pages visitors view and how long they stay on the site. Note that the results are more accurate for high-volume sites as more data is collected. Also use it to compare different websites against each other to see which performs best.
  3. Ask the website operator to supply a list of search terms in Google that lead people to their site and thus to your advertisement. If you rent out a holiday house in Venus Bay, then you’d want their website to catch people who would be typically be searching for terms like “Venus Bay”, “Venus Bay accommodation”, “Venus Bay holiday”, “beach accommodation”, etc. If searching for terms like that in Google isn’t giving at least one entry for their site in the top 5 results returned, you’ll want to question them about how people will find your property’s advertisement. Keep in mind that search engines such as Google are the major way people find information on the internet unless you’re advertising with an organisation that is a recognised household name whereby people will go directly to their website instead of searching.
  4. Ask for a complete list of all advertising costs. The advertising rates may appear cheap, but then you may have to pay a set-up fee, a maintenance fee each time you want to make changes to your advertisement, or maybe there’s extra costs for add-ons like displaying extra photos or a link to your own website. Some websites may charge a commission on enquiries or bookings, which can potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.
  5. Check the website owner’s credentials. View details relating to the website owner by doing a lookup on the website address using Whois. If the website is based in Australia, search for the website owner’s Australian Business Number (ABN) or if they are a company, the Australian Company Number (ACN) using the details you found in the “whois” search. Also search for their business details within the business register of the state or territory the website is based in.
  6. Verify there are no consumer warnings or significant negative information regarding the website in question on the internet. A good way of doing this is to use Google to search for the website address or name (put quotes around it) followed by the word “scam”, “warning” or “fraud”, and see what comes up. Click the links that come up and carefully read the content, as some websites (including us at Travel Victoria) publish actual reports of scams and fraud, which doesn’t mean they (or us!) are the actual source of them.
Categories
Web browsers Web design Web hosting Web technology Websites

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.

Categories
Advertising Web promotion Websites

Reach a greater audience by advertising on more than one website

For sale
The more places you advertise, the more people will see you

A few years ago, one of our staff here wanted to sell their car privately, so they looked for the most popular car selling website to advertise on. At the time, it was Car Sales (carsales.com.au), so they placed their advertisement in there.

More than 2 months passed, and during that time they dropped the price, but there were only a couple of casual enquiries from what were probably “tyre kickers”.

The staff member then decided to add their car for sale onto another website – Trading Post (tradingpost.com.au). While Trading Post wasn’t as popular as Car Sales, it covered a lot more items for sale than just vehicles, and it was still a website that was visited by a large audience and recognised by name.

Within 24 hours of listing on Trading Post, an enquiry came through from an excited buyer who had found exactly what they were looking for in this car, and the deal was settled.  When the buyer was informed that the car had been advertised on the No.1 website Car Sales for over two months, they simply said they hadn’t searched on there.

The lesson here is, no matter how popular a website is, there are still going to be buyers who look on competing websites to make a purchase, and that may be the exact buyer you are after.

This can be applied to our Travel Victoria website. We are obviously not the biggest website to advertise accommodation on if you are targeting those travellers coming to Melbourne and Victoria. However, with 1.7 million website visitors in 2010, and an expected 2.0 million during 2011, we are clearly being seen by a significant number of people planning their trip through Victoria on the internet. Our advertising rates are also very good value, which reflects the fact that we’re not the biggest, but what we charge is very reasonable for the exposure you’ll get.

If you’re thinking of advertising your accommodation property in Victoria on the internet, be it a motel, resort, bed & breakfast, apartment, holiday house or backpackers lodge, keep in mind that not everyone immediately goes first to the high profile websites like Visit Victoria, Wotif, Stayz, Take A Break or Rent A Home. Also keep in mind that when conducting searches on Google, Travel Victoria often ranks higher than those websites when searching for particular destinations in Victoria.

So cover a greater audience for a nominal cost by also advertising your property with Travel Victoria.

Categories
Copyright Web design Web hosting Web promotion Websites

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.

Categories
Bookings Holidays Web technology Websites

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?

Categories
Search engine optimisation Web design Web promotion Websites

Design your website for people, not computers

Computer - no humans
Is your website designed for computers or for humans?

We get the opportunity to view many websites for accommodation properties due to their details being listed on the Travel Victoria website. There’s all different types we see – some spectacular ones, some fairly run of the mill, and the occasional one which is just plain odd.

One website we came across recently was for a bed and breakfast in country Victoria which was simply not designed for people like you and I to view, but structured in such a way to appeal to search engines like Google and absolutely nothing else.

Upon browsing the contents of the website in question, we went away with an infinitely greater knowledge of every possible way of rephrasing the words “bed & breakfast”, “romantic escape”, “luxurious property” and “boutique accommodation”, without learning very much about what they were actually offering to their guests. Navigation of the site was provided using menu items which were bursting with superfluous strings of words where just one simple word would have done. And to make matters worse, information on the local area was provided in the form of slabs of text copied directly from Wikipedia, despite the fact the B&B hosts would have been in a much better position to write their own unique description of the town and its attractions from first hand experience of running the property and living in the district for years.

Now comes the crucial bit. It’s quite possible this attempt at search engine optimisation (SEO) may in fact encourage Google to rank that property’s website highly for many varied search terms, and thus deliver a good stream of visitors looking for B&B accommodation to that site. However, you can be guaranteed that most of those visitors will be so put off by being confronted by a site which appears dedicated to rephrasing every word in existence related to “bed & breakfast”, that they will simply move onto another site rather than trying to extract any useful information that is buried deep within what it little more than a smorgasbord for search engines.

So, is it really worth building a website which ranks highly in Google if it only provides very little useful information and results in visitors clicking off to another website almost immediately?  Wouldn’t it be better to build a website with content that is interesting for humans to read and spend time on, even if you don’t get quite the same number of initial visitors as a site designed only for search engines?

This is not to say that websites shouldn’t be optimised for ranking by search engines However, if such optimisation is done, it should be done in subtle ways so as not to ruin the experience for the website visitors.  After all, the ultimate aim is to get people engaged in your accommodation and make a booking, not showcase a scoreboard of how many people visited your website.