Caravans and motorhomes in Victoria

CaravansSome travellers seek holidays where they can truly charter their own destiny and who want to take their accommodation with them as they travel around Victoria. Caravans, campervans and motorhomes are an ideal option for this purpose.

Caravans

A caravan is a mobile home on a trailer, towed behind a vehicle. It is equipped with bedding and cooking facilities and many also feature a shower and toilet.

When travelling in Victoria with a caravan, you can stay overnight at designated camping areas with basic facilities, or pull into one of the state’s hundreds of caravan or tourist parks. These parks vary widely in their facilities, but all provide, as a bare minimum, electric power connections, communal cooking and bathroom facilities. Some provide ensuite sites where your van is parked beside a private bathroom reserved for your use only.

Many caravan parks have developed into fully-appointed resorts set within landscaped grounds that also offer luxury cabin accommodation, a huge range of family-friendly recreational facilities and onsite activities for guests.

Locate caravan parks in Victoria by going to accommodation search and selecting caravan park in the preferred accommodation style box.

Campervans and motorhomes

Campervans and motorhomes are vehicles which provide transport and accommodation all in one.

A motorhome is typically built on a truck or bus chassis and provides fully self-contained and reasonably spacious accommodation including kitchen and bathroom facilities. A campervan is generally a smaller vehicle in the style of a van, a bit tighter on space, which is fitted out with basic living facilities.

Motorhome and campervan rentals range from budget to luxury and can sleep between 2 and 6 people. Motorhomes usually do not require anchor to a caravan park-type facility because they are fully self-contained, whereas some of the smaller campervans are more suited to the traveller who expects to end each day in a caravan or camping ground spot where they will find toilet and shower amenities that are not contained within their campervan sleeper.

Some campervan and motorhome hire companies which have depots in Victoria are:

If you’re thinking about planning a campervan holiday, have a read of 101 Campervan Tips.

Accommodation in Victoria for disabled or mobility impaired travellers

DisabledIf you or your family have mobility impairments, there are a number of accommodation options throughout Victoria that may suit your needs.

Hotels and motels are often able to cater for disabled and wheelchair-bound visitors thanks to their modern layout, lifts and the use of ramps instead of stairs.  A growing number of larger hotels, motels and apartments will have certain rooms designed to accommodate those who may need extra space or aids.

One of the biggest issues for those seeking suitable accommodation is the huge variability in what is classified as “disabled access”, “wheelchair accessible”, or other similar terms. As such, it is always advisable to contact these establishments prior to making a booking to ensure that the facilities are suitable for your level of mobility and requirements.

When enquiring about room suitability, you may want to ask about:

  • Doorway widths – both internal and external
  • How easy doors are to open
  • The height of door handles and light switches
  • The height of the bed – some may be too high
  • Whether there is enough space on the side of the bed to permit you to easily get into it
  • Easy to reach hanging space in closets
  • Hand rails in the bathroom
  • Shower chairs and raised toilet seats

As well as enquiring about the suitability of the room you plan to stay in, you may also need to ask further questions about the property as a whole.  For example:

  • Is there suitable parking close by or designated disabled parking spots in a convenient location?
  • Can you access the reception area easily?
  • Are there automatic opening doors at the entrance and throughout the property?  This may be an issue for those who are travelling alone and don’t have someone on hand to help them with heavy or large doors.
  • Is there elevator access to all public areas in multi-storey properties?  You may be able to easily get to your room, but you may not be able to easily get to some of the facilities if access is poor.

To find accommodation in Victoria which offers facilities for those with disabilities, go to accommodation search page on the Travel Victoria website and in the facilities section select disabled access along with other requirements you may have. This will list all establishments which can cater, to some extent, for guests with mobility impairments.  Don’t forget that when enquiring or booking your accommodation, it is important to make mention of your specific access requirements to ensure the establishment is able to meet your needs.

 

Car hire in Melbourne and Victoria

Car hireVictoria is a diverse state with a multitude of attractions in both Melbourne and the state’s regional areas. When it comes to getting around, public transport isn’t always able to take you everywhere, and it may not always be convenient.  So if you come to Victoria without your own vehicle, hiring a car is a good option to get the most out of your visit.


Arriving by air

Most people coming to Victoria by air will land at Melbourne Airport which is located around 20 kilometres north-west of the city. This is Victoria’s only international airport and a major hub for domestic flights.

The major international hire car companies of Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty all have booking desks inside the airport terminal buildings, along with Australia’s own Redspot.

Compare car hire at Melbourne Airport

 

Car hire depots are also located at several smaller regional airports in Victoria:


Arriving by boat

If you are coming to Melbourne by sea, you will dock at Station Pier in Port Melbourne. Most arrivals will be aboard the Spirit of Tasmania which is a passenger and car ferry that runs services to and from Tasmania on almost every day of the year and sometimes twice a day during peak season.

While there are no car hire depots located at Port Melbourne, cars can be hired from depots nearby which are easily reached either by taxi or public transport.

Car hire near Port Melbourne

 


Arriving by train

There are two interstate passenger train lines that enter Victoria and extend to Melbourne. The Overland service runs between Adelaide and Melbourne while the XPT runs between Sydney and Melbourne. All these trains terminate at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne.

Car hire depots for Avis, Budget and Europcar are located at Southern Cross Station, while depots for other car hire companies are located very close by, either walking distance or a short tram or taxi ride away.

Car hire near Southern Cross Station

 


Getting the best deal

Most people don’t have too much loyalty to car hire brands, so whoever offers the best deal which matches the renter’s requirements will usually get the deal.

To save individually comparing rates between all the major car hire companies in Melbourne and Victoria, simply use the comparison tool below. Using your specified pick-up location and hire dates, it will display car hire availability from all the major providers.

Compare all car hire in Victoria

 


Should you pick up a hire car from the airport or elsewhere?

For those arriving by air, obviously the most convenient option is to pick up your hire vehicle at the airport. Car hire check-in desks are located within the terminal building, and the car you book is waiting for you at one of the closest car parks, usually just a few steps away.

Airports are regarded by most car hire companies as premium locations, so you will end up paying extra for the convenience of picking up your vehicle there.  If you want to save a bit of money, compare the cost of picking up your hire vehicle at the airport with a location that is either convenient to where you are staying or easily accessible by public transport.  Particularly for long rental periods, the savings can be quite substantial, even when you factor in the cost of transport between the airport to the depot.


Will others be driving your hire vehicle?

It is important to consider whether people other than yourself will be driving the rental vehicle. This may be relevant if you are planning a trip away with your partner, family, friends or business associates.

Some hire car companies allow you to nominate additional drivers at no cost, while others will charge extra fees.

Hire car company Fees for additional drivers Exemptions from fees
Avis None
Budget None.
Europcar $5.75 for each additional driver, capped at $28.75 for the whole rental period.
Hertz $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $27.50 for the whole rental period. Immediate family members, employers or employees.
Redspot $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $33.00 for the whole rental period. If the rate level you have selected is the “top dog” all inclusive rate.
Thrifty $5.50 for each additional driver, capped at $27.50 for the whole rental period. Corporate club and auto club members hiring vehicles pay no additional driver fees.

What sort of insurance should you take?

All cars you hire are insured against accidents. They also include roadside assistance for use in emergencies.

If your vehicle is involved in an accident, you will need to pay an insurance excess fee, which can be several thousands of dollars depending on the type of vehicle and if it was a single vehicle accident.

As well as accidents, any damage you cause to the vehicle that requires repairs, such as windscreen or tyre replacement, will also need to be paid for.

Hire car companies usually offer add-ons whereby you can pay an extra daily charge to reduce or completely eliminate the cost you would normally occur in the case of an accident or vehicle damage. These add-ons can inflate the daily hire charge by up to 50%, so it is important to consider some economical options if you wish to avoid paying out large sums of money in the event of an accident or damage to the vehicle.

If you only have the vehicle for a day or two, the simplest and cheapest way may simply be to accept the hire car company’s offer of paying more to eliminate excess charges.

If you are hiring a vehicle for more than a couple of days, a cheaper option is to take out independent travel insurance.  Most general travel insurance plans include hire car excess charges, although you will need to verify they will cover the full amount as they usually set a limit. In fact, you may already have travel insurance arranged for your trip, so why not take advantage of all its features, including coverage for hire car excess fees.


How to pay for toll roads

In Melbourne there are several toll roads which you may use during your travels. Fortunately you shouldn’t have to worry about paying those tolls as vehicles hired through most hire car companies are registered with toll road operators.  This ensures you will be automatically billed for toll road usage.  This billing process will differ between hire care companies.

For Avis, Budget, Europcar and Thrifty, as well as incurring the actual cost of using a toll road, there is also a $3.30 daily service fee which is charged only on the days you use a toll road.

Redspot simply add a $1.43 fee to every toll charge you accumulate.  For a single trip in a day this is good value, but it can end up getting expensive if you make multiple toll road trips within a day. Note that when booking a vehicle, if you select the “top dog” all inclusive rate, then all toll road usage is covered an no additional cost.

Hertz operate quite differently and offer unlimited toll road usage with a fixed daily charge of $14.30 which applies to every day of rental period whether you use toll roads or not.  Alternatively, you can opt for an arrangement whereby you pay an upfront $16.50 administration fee and then you are automatically billed only for usage. This is recommended for longer term hiring or when you don’t expect to use toll roads every day.


Fuel options

When picking up the vehicle, it will have a full tank of fuel. Three options are usually available when returning the vehicle.

  1. Pay for a whole tank of fuel. This mean the hire car company assumes you will return the vehicle with an empty tank, so you will be charged for a full refueling, no matter how much is left. In reality, it is impossible to return a vehicle with not one drop of fuel left in it, so this can be an expensive option, particularly if you have a significant amount of fuel left in the vehicle, although usually the cost charged for a whole tank of petrol will be very competitive.
  2. Pay a “fill up” charge.  You can return the vehicle with any amount of fuel left in the tank, and you will only be charged to fill it up. While this may seem an attractive option, the cost per litre and fill up charge will be much more than what it would cost for you to buy fuel yourself.
  3. Return the vehicle with a full tank.  This is the cheapest option if you have the time, and if a petrol station is located not too far away from the car hire depot. That way you only pay for exactly the quantity of fuel you use.

Are you guaranteed to get the car you booked?

When looking at types of cars offered by the rental companies, they will tend to classify cars by their size, style, number of seats and luggage capacity by using terms such as “compact”, “intermediate”, “standard” or “full size”.  They usually provide an illustration of an example car that fits that size.

It is important to note the clause that says “or similar”. Car hire depots usually have various models within each category, so depending on availability, you can’t be guaranteed to get exactly the model advertised.  If you do have a specific preference for a model or a vehicle colour, make the hire car company aware of that at the time of booking and they may be able to arrange it when you pick it up.

There are some vehicle models which you can be guaranteed to get when booking, but these are usually if you hire prestige or sports vehicles.

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 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 remarkable 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 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!

Some accommodation owners in denial about the internet

Internet
The internet has changed the world

We received an interesting phone call a few weeks ago from a motel in Lakes Entrance, in Victoria’s beautiful Gippsland Lakes area.

This motel had been advertising  on our website for the last 5 years.  In fact, when their annual renewal was due last year, they paid their subscription and sent us an email thanking us, including this comment:

“Travel Victoria is excellent value”

It’s always nice to receive positive feedback from clients, particularly when they feel the return on their small investment with us is good. After all, how many times do you hear people instead complaining that fees are too high!

Anyway, the caller from that motel announced that he had recently taken over ownership of the property.  He said that he was unhappy with how the former owners were paying for all this advertising with multiple websites on the internet, and that he was going to change all that.  While he said our $70 annual fee was not large, he said all these small internet advertising expenses do add up.  Therefore we were told that our services, along with a number of others, were no longer required.

Today we did a search for that motel on Google, and found that the new owner had pulled it off virtually every single website that the motel used to have paid advertising on.  Some of the search results Google currently shows are to websites the motel has been removed from, but those those pages are now non-existent, so Google will eventually stop showing those listings.  So all that is really left is the motel’s own dedicated website, a range of free listings on low quality directory websites, and of course it can be found on TripAdvisor.

If potential guests wanted to do further investigation on the internet about that motel, they could be easily forgiven for thinking it had closed down.  The last review on TripAdvisor was 6 months ago, and so the only thing of any significance left for that motel on the internet is its own website, which people may assume hasn’t been updated for a long time.

One possible theory we have is that the new owner is someone that has little faith in the usefulness of the internet.  Perhaps one of those old school of motel owners who always placed advertising within magazines or in brochures that you see at a local visitor information centre, and still believes that’s the only useful way to promote accommodation.  The world has changed, and these days people of all ages, from all over the world, use the internet as their preferred method of planning travel and browsing accommodation to stay in.  Sure, there is a place for advertising in print media, but accommodation owners are living in the past if they think the internet can simply be ignored as a fad or purely an entertainment medium.

Another theory we have is that the new owner may have knowledge and appreciation of the internet, but not about internet marketing.  So they may simply assume is all they need for their motel is a website to cater for those people using the internet. The problem with this way of thinking is that unless someone does a specific search for this motel by its exact name, its website will not be found.  People will tend to do more general Google searches, like Lakes Entrance accommodation or motels in Lakes Entrance, and thus it is extremely unlikely the motel’s small website is going to feature anywhere near the top of the search results returned.  In fact, the Google results for those search terms will be dominated by some of websites which this motel has specifically withdrawn from advertising on!

Another point to consider is that more and more accommodation providers are offering potential guests the convenience of instant, real-time online booking facilities, either via their own website or through a third party agent.  A motel owner, such as our former client from Lakes Entrance, who is actively reducing their internet presence, is bucking the trend of consumer demand for online information and booking facilities.

When it comes to promoting an accommodation business, the internet should be embraced, not dismissed. We live in a changing world, and businesses need to keep up with the times.

 

 

Fined and convicted – Amanda Stichbury & Special Days Pty Ltd false billing scam

Over the years, a significant number of businesses in Australia, including accommodation and tourism operators, have received unsolicited bills in the mail for advertising they never ordered.   This is known as “false billing” and its aim is to trick businesses into paying money.  It is similar to someone unexpectedly turning up at your door with a bag of goods and requesting that you pay for it, even though you didn’t place an order.

A group of companies that are based in Queensland – Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd – have set up a large number of Australian travel tourism websites, as well as websites covering industries such as child care, education, churches, accountancy and entertainment.  The director of those companies is Amanda Stichbury and a significant number of business listings featured on her company’s websites were never ordered by the business owner.  Many business owners first learn about their listings on those websites when they receive a document that looks similar to a bill, with payment instructions.  Due to the fact some businesses are listed without their knowledge on multiple websites, there are some business owners who end up receiving many separate documents that resemble bills, causing them confusion and even distress.

Special Days Pty Ltd and Accommodation Find Pty Ltd have published a number of websites that specifically  relate to the tourism industry in Victoria including:

  • VicTourism – www.victourism.com.au (see our post about VicTourism)
  • AccommodationVIC – www.accommodationvic.com.au (see our post about AccommodationVIC)
  • Holiday Great Ocean Road – www.holidaygreatoceanroad.com (see our post about HolidayGreatOceanRoad)

The Checkout is a consumer affairs show produced by the ABC.  It aired a segment on 11th June 2015 about false billing scams, including those perpetrated by Special Days Pty Ltd, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd and Internet Find Pty Ltd. A video of the relevant segment (from series 3, episode 9) can be viewed at https://dl.dropbox.com/s/06ecfueoibuyv8y/FUTube.mp4 which also includes an interview with a recipient of an unsolicited bill sent from their Church Find website.

In terms of prosecution for these sorts of activities, Special Days Pty Ltd, and its director Amanda Stichbury, were fined $18,000 for breaching Australian Consumer Law in regards to an unsolicited invoice issued to Griffith University EcoCentre for advertising on the “Education QLD” website.  The laws breached include:

  1. Assertion of right to payment for unsolicited goods or services (Australian Consumer Law, section 162(3))
  2. Making a false or misleading representation that the person making the representation has a sponsorship, affiliation or approval (Australian Consumer Law, section 151(1)(h))

As well as the monetary fine, Amanda Stichbury was ordered to pay almost $1,600 in professional and court costs.

The Department of Fair Trading also gained recorded convictions against Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd in relation to that matter.

While this is a good result for those businesses who keep receiving unsolicited requests for payment in the post or via email, it appears that Special Days Pty Ltd and its director Amanda Stichbury are still operating their network of websites in question.

The accommodation industry publication, AccomNews, published a special report today, strongly warning businesses to beware of being scammed by bogus invoices. Their special report includes a detailed analysis of the false billing scam perpetrated by Amanda Stichbury and her companies using their network of websites.

Amanda Stichbury, Special Days Pty Ltd
Beware of being scammed – Amanda Stichbury and Special Days Pty Ltd fined and convicted under Australian Consumer Law

 

This is a timely reminder for businesses not to blindly pay any advertising bills they receive, and ensure they really have ordered what they are being invoiced for. It is important for all businesses to maintain a careful record of all advertising arrangements in place and to check all incoming renewal invoices with their records to verify the authenticity and authorisation of those bills.

Businesses also need to carefully look at who is issuing the invoices, as many of Amanda Stichbury’s websites have very similar names to organisations with well-know names, creating confusion between them.  For example, a number of business owners have reported they thought bills from Amanda Stichbury’s Vic Tourism website were directly related to Victoria’s official government organisation Tourism Victoria, and that is certainly not the case.

References and related false billing reports:

Unsolicited emails being sent to industry
Visit Canberra
“…a company by the name of Internet Find Pty Ltd is once again sending unsolicited emails to tourism operators…(for listings on) acttourism.com.au and tourismcanberra.com… Amanda Stichbury, the director of these companies, was fined almost $20,000 earlier this year for breaching Australian Consumer Law…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2015/09/unsolicited-emails-being-sent-to-industry/

Important notification for tourism operators
Visit Canberra
“…tourismcanberra.com (is) sending an email to an ACT tourism operators requesting payment of a 12 month subscription fee…other State/Territory Tourism Offices have reported similar communications being sent to tourism operators either via email or post…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2013/01/important-notification-for-tourism-operators/

Warning to A.C.T. tourism operators – Special Days Pty Ltd
Visit Canberra
“…tourism operators across several states and territories are once again being targeted with unsolicited emails requesting them to claim their business listing on a number of directory listing websites…Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…(we) strongly advise against paying any fees to companies you are unfamiliar with…”
http://tourism.act.gov.au/industry-link/2017/02/warning-to-act-tourism-operators-special-days-pty-ltd/

Why do I keep receiving invoices from Special Days / Internet Find / Accommodation Find / Travel Guide / etc asking for payment?
Australian Tourism Data Warehouse
“…these are scam invoices and should be discarded immediately…Special Days Pty Ltd operate under a variety of names and continue to make contact with ATDW members seeking payment for having a listing on one of their many websites…”
http://atdw.com.au/tourism-operator/operator-support/faq/

Special Report: Beware of being scammed
AccomNews
“..a number of accommodation providers have…(received)…invoices for unauthorised website and advertising listings…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading and it has gained convictions of Special Days P/L and Amanda Stichbury…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2015/08/special-report-beware-of-being-scammed/

Unauthorised website listings worry resorts
AccomNews
“…receiving invoices for unauthorised website listings…invoices, overdue notices and reminders for one accommodation provider dating back to 2009…letter of demand that threatened legal action if the amount claimed was not paid…complaints have been made to the Department of Fair Trading…”
http://www.accomnews.com.au/2014/03/unauthorised-website-list-ings-worry-resorts/

Important News From Tourism Victoria
Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism
“…some Victorian tourism operators are receiving a letter from victourism.com.au, together with an invoice asking for payment of a 12 month listing…victourism.com.au and Vic Tourism are not related in any way to Tourism Victoria…”
http://industry.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/NewsEvents/LatestNews/TabId/618/ArtMID/1589/ArticleID/14/Important-News-From-Tourism-Victoria.aspx

Vic Tourism scam
Travel Daily
“…a dodgy letter and invoice…seeking payment for a 12-month listing on a Vic Tourism website…the letter is a scam…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/vic-tourism-scam/149814

Dodgy invoices in Qld
Travel Daily
“…shonky invoices are being sent from Queensland Tourism… payments for an annual website listing on QLDTourism.com are sought, which are not legitimate…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/dodgy-invoices-in-qld/172163

South Australian Tourism Commission invoice scam alert
Travel Daily
“…unsolicited bills for a listing on southaustraliatourism.com.au…which come from a business confusingly called South Australia Tourism…”
http://www.traveldaily.com.au/news/satc-invoice-scam-alert/215638

Scams and Frauds
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices…seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which started with the word accommodation…the listings were not authorised…this is a fraudulent practice…lodge a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Scams-and-Frauds.aspx

Fraudulent Invoices
Hosted Accommodation Australia Ltd
“…invoices are again being sent to members throughout Australia seeking payment for the amount of $99 for listing on websites which are registered to a company named Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have not authorised a listing for your business then the charge is fraudulent…”
http://www.hostedaccommodationaustralia.com.au/news/Fraudulent-Invoices.aspx

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Destination NSW
“…carefully check any invoices relating to instances of this domain,
www.accommodationnsw.com.au…”
http://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Digital-FAQs-2013-14x.pdf

Important update – warning notification
Destination NSW
“…have received several complaints…requesting payment for product listings featured on www.newsouthwalestourism.com…(it) is not part of the Destination NSW greater distribution network…if you have received an invoice from this company, simply disregard it…”
http://www.portstephenstourism.com.au/important-update-warning-notification-nsw-tourism-operators/

Important Advice
eTourism
…an email requesting renewal of a subscription for etourismaustralia.com…
http://www.etourism.com.au/news/important-advice-etourismaustraliacom/20

Special Days Pty Ltd – scammers
Alligator Creek Bed & Breakfast
“…alerting you to a scam…received a letter and tax invoice for $99…”
https://www.facebook.com/alligatorcreekbandb/posts/444330738965127

Received a remittance advice from Internet Find Pty Ltd
Adrian’s Autos
“…never requested to be on this site (Internet Find)…be careful you don’t pay invoices you never requested…”
https://www.facebook.com/adriansautos/posts/804666259631467

Another scam invoice from QLD Tourism
Sandgate Historical Society
“…Amanda Stichbury, please note that we will not be paying this one either…we hope the QLD Department of Justice and the ACCC come calling very soon…”
https://www.facebook.com/sandgatehistorical.soc/posts/500520660004764

Be wary of SouthAustraliaTourism.com.au
The Original Open Market Inc
“…that web site is duping people by the almost exact name…(we) fell for it and got billed for a listing on their site…”
https://www.facebook.com/originalopenmarket/posts/906162669405971

Scam alert – beware!
Hahndorf Hill Winery
“…please note that this (request for confirmation and payment for a website listing) is NOT from the South Australian Tourism Commission…”
https://www.facebook.com/HahndorfHillWinery/posts/1213582885335063

Warning Notification to NSW Tourism Operators
Randwick City Tourism
“…several complaints from tourism operators in relation to tax invoices requesting payment for product listings featured on www.sydneytourism.com.au…these websites have no affiliation with Destination NSW nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice from any of these websites, please do not pay it…”
https://www.facebook.com/randwickcitytourism/posts/1181937995174938

Complaints from tourism operators
Goulburn River Valley Tourism
“…complaints from tourism operators in relation to emails from Victoria Tourism asking to review business details on their website – www.victoriatourism.com.au…this website has no affiliation with Visit Victoria nor do their parent companies Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd and Special Days Pty Ltd…if you have received an invoice or an email from any of these websites, please disregard it…”
https://www.facebook.com/goulburnrivervalleytourism/posts/1402717523085659

Warning
Queensland Tourism Industry Council
“…industry operators received hoax invoices from ‘Qld Tourism’ website…”
https://twitter.com/TheQTIC/status/687502431924674560

Warning: Hoax Email From Qld Tourism
HiRUM Software Solutions
“…some Gold Coast Tourism members have received an invoice from an organisation calling themselves Qld Tourism (www.qldtourism.com) for $95…using unapproved photos and content…”
http://www.hirum.com.au/blog/hoax-email-qld-tourism/

False billing scams
The Checkout – ABC TV
“…deliberately misleading and designed to look like an invoice to get people to pay…”
http://www.abc.net.au/tv/thecheckout/episodes/s03ep09.htm

Accommodation Gold Coast – 1300 656 789
Reverse Australia

“…these people are frauds…you get these bills in the mail for advertising you never signed up to…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1300656789/

Accommodation Find – 1800 199 863
Reverse Australia

“…us and many other businesses received bills for advertising we simply did not sign up or agree to…it’s not fair billing people for stuff they didn’t ask for…”
http://www.reverseaustralia.com/lookup/1800199863/

Warning to all small businesses
Books Alive Bookkeeping
“…there is a company that is putting businesses onto a website without legal permission and then invoicing them for this privilege – www.accountantfind.com.au – it is hard enough with budgeting dollars as it is with companies like this acting illegally…”
https://www.facebook.com/BooksAliveBookkeeping/posts/1145148798842557

Dog-friendly holiday accommodation

Did you know that in Australia, there are more pets than people?

Pets are very important to people in today’s society. Among other things, they provide companionship and positively influence the lives of their owners and families.

When it comes to dogs, Australians love their canine friends. In fact, 39% of households across the nation own a dog.

Dog on beachAbout 20% of dog owners take their pets with them on holidays, and this percentage is on the rise. If people take their dogs to parks, the beach, or on day trips, why not for overnight stays away from home? It also means there is no need to use pet-minding services or expensive boarding facilities when pet owners want to go away.

One of the issues when going on holidays with a pet is finding suitable dog-friendly accommodation. Properties that advertise themselves as being dog-friendly can actually be quite varied in the facilities provided and the rules that apply to pets staying with their owners.

It is important to keep in mind that accommodation that is specified as being dog-friendly doesn’t automatically permit dog to come inside and snuggle up in bed with their owners. Not everyone sleeps with their pets, and some don’t even let their pets inside the family home, so accommodation that has strict conditions may actually be perfectly suitable for some holidaymakers.

OUTSIDE ONLY DOGS

Outside dogAround 24% of pet dogs are exclusively kept outside the family home. Therefore accommodation which permits dogs, but only if they are kept outside, can offer a very suitable place to stay for a significant number of dog owners. These properties may provide pets with a kennel in a sheltered outdoor area and a securely fenced area for dogs to run around within.

INSIDE & OUTSIDE DOGS

65% of pet dogs spend time both inside and outside the family home. Some of those dogs may be permitted inside the home only under supervision and may actually still sleep outside. There are a significant number of holiday properties that welcome pets inside, but only in designated areas, such as within rooms that have hard floors. They may also have restrictions with regards to dogs sleeping on soft furnishings or on beds. For a dog that spends time both inside and outside, these restrictions may be quite suitable.

INSIDE ONLY DOGS

Inside dogAbout 11% of pet dogs are always kept indoors. In such cases, it is important to find dog-friendly accommodation that not only allows pets to come inside, but also to sleep inside. Such accommodation may either provide a designated area inside where the dog can sleep, a dog bed, or even allow dogs to sleep on human beds with their owners.

CARAVAN PARKS

Caravan ParksA number of caravan parks or holiday parks are dog-friendly. However, restrictions can vary significantly. Managers need to balance the needs and comfort of those guests with pets and those without, particularly due to the size of some of those parks and the large number of guests. Some parks may only permit dogs with site bookings, so guests would need to keep their pet on a leash within the area around their caravan or tent. A few parks have dedicated dog-friendly cabins which not only permit pets inside, but also provide a private fenced area around the cabin for dogs to run around in.

HOTELS & MOTELS

Hotels & motelsIt can be challenging to find a  hotel or motel that allows you to bring your dog inside with you, however some managers have set aside rooms which are dedicated for those with pets. If you are happy for your canine companion to stay outside, a number of motels can cater for pets, with sheltered and secure outdoor areas, although owners may need to bring their own pet bedding.

BED & BREAKFASTS

Bed & breakfastsBed & breakfasts can be quite welcoming of people travelling with dogs as often their managers have pets of their own living on the property with them. As most dogs are fairly social, it might be quite a treat for your pet to have a new companion to interact with during their stay. While you may develop a friendship with your B&B host, your pet may end up bonding closely with the resident canines.

HOLIDAY HOUSES, UNITS & COTTAGES

Holiday houses & cottagesSelf-contained accommodation, such as holiday homes and cottages, usually have plenty of room inside and outside, making them an ideal choice for those travelling with dogs. Many holiday homes are welcoming of those with pets, and usually they have a securely fenced yard so your pet can wander around the garden safely. Some properties also allow pets inside, however you should always confirm if there are any out of bounds areas or rules that need to be adhered to.

WHAT DOG-FRIENDLY MEANS

Keep in mind that dog-friendly doesn’t always mean dogs can come inside, sleep on furniture, or be provided with complimentary bedding and treats. There may be a number of conditions that a property owner puts in place for the comfort and benefit of current and future guests, as well as other people in the vicinity.

Different dogs and their owners have different needs, so not every property listed as being dog-friendly is suitable for you and your pet. That’s why it is important to contact accommodation managers prior to booking to discuss you and your pet’s specific requirements.

Statistics related to pets in this posting are relevant to Australia only, and have been taken from the Animal Health Alliance (Australia) report which uses a number of resources, including Galaxy Research and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Increasing business exposure through Facebook

With the high proliferation of social media usage these days, any business that wishes to increase their market share needs a visible social media presence.

Facebook is currently the world’s largest social network, having been first launched in 2004. For most businesses, Facebook should be at the top of the list when looking to increase exposure through social media.

A business page on Facebook prominently displays the number of “likes” by people visiting the actual page or its embedded feed on other websites.

Some business owners treat the number of Facebook likes as a status symbol whereby a large figure is a clear statement that not only is the business well-known, but that it is also much loved by the public. They also believe that an increasingly large number of likes will create snow-ball effect in terms of popularity, as visitors to the Facebook page will be impressed by the significant number of likes and feel that they too must join the masses and also like the page.

In order to increase the number of like on a business Facebook page, business owners may employ a number of methods. In terms of gaining popularity through use of the internet, owners can:

  1. Include links to their Facebook page on their own website, thus providing an easy way for website visitors to also add to the tally of Facebook likes. This method is particularly effective for websites that receive a good number and diverse range of visitors.
  2. Highlight their Facebook page through email postings, blog postings, or comments by their Facebook page on other Facebook pages.
  3. Promote their Facebook page through Facebook’s promotional services. If provided with a daily advertising budget, Facebook can target Facebook users whom it thinks might find a business page interesting, as well as allowing the business owner to restrict the promotion to a certain demographic. A “suggested page” box promoting the page will appear on Facebook for designated people, encouraging them to view and/or like that page.
  4. Buy Facebook likes. There is a whole industry that is devoted to selling businesses Facebook “likes” in bulk for an insanely small amount of money. For example, one such service we came across promises to deliver 10,000 page likes for just $200. Using Facebook’s official promotional services could typically cost 20 times that amount, or $4,000.

While buying Facebook likes from third parties may seem to be a great cost-effective solution to build up a business profile, it can either be a waste of money or cause a business credibility issues. This is because those bulk bought likes usually come from a massive pool of fake Facebook profiles that promoters have at their disposal. The actions of these fake Facebook accounts look even more dodgy when many are of a completely different demographic that would typically like a particular page. Would you really expect that a 70 year old grandmother from Iceland is going to like the Facebook page of a skateboard shop in Mildura?

The consequences for businesses buying artificial likes are:

  • It can put genuine people off liking that page. Since all these profiles are fake, there will be no further interaction on that business’s page other than the initial like. Interested people visiting a Facebook page may be very suspicious of liking it if they see it has something like a staggering 50,000 likes with virtually no one liking or interacting with specific posts.
  • It does nothing for brand exposure. After all, exposing a business to tens of thousands of people who don’t exist is pointless. They can’t even tell their Facebook friends about it as they are fake too!
  • It won’t generate any engagement with a target audience. A business may have some amazing photos or information to share on Facebook, but with no genuine people listening, what’s the point?
  • No generation of leads or sales. Fake people don’t buy things nor do they visit websites linked within Facebook postings. So if the ultimate aim of the business is to generate income, then marketing to fake people is not going to generate any return.
  • Many likes that were paid for may disappear overnight. Facebook regularly runs checks to weed out and remove likes by what it deems to be fake people. Businesses may be wasting money buying what ends up being very short term likes.

You can easily identify a business Facebook page that has built up most of its likes by purchasing likes in bulk from people that don’t really exist.

Compare these two examples of Australian travel Facebook pages, illustrated below. They are business pages with a similar number of likes and regular daily postings. The big difference between those pages is the “people talking about this” figure which refers to the number of people actually engaged with that page and its postings.

In general, a page with a good level of engagement gets a figure of between 5% to 10% of the total number of likes. Anything beyond 10% is outstanding. In this first example, the engagement figure is 9.5% which is quite good. It appears to be a Facebook page which has been built up from a genuine and real user base with an ongoing interest, so the number of likes is a good representation of its popularity. In the second example, the ratio of engagements to likes is an appalling 0.2%.  You can be almost guaranteed that most of those likes are generated from fake profiles which have no interaction with the page other than the initial like.

Facebook business page
A Facebook business page with likes by real people that interact with the page.

 

Facebook business page
A Facebook business page which appears to have most of its likes bought in bulk using fake Facebook profiles that obviously don’t interact with the page.

 

For businesses who want to increase their exposure on Facebook, don’t bother with fake people and likes – after all, they cannot buy anything, they won’t interact, nor can they spread the word to their friends. Facebook pages that are mainly made up with fake likes can be easily identified and may create a negative impression of that business. Businesses who want to build up a good Facebook profile should therefore only seek real likes by real people.

Thoughts from us at Travel Victoria. A range of content for either travellers or visitors to Victoria and Melbourne, and for those working in the tourism industry.