30 June 2005

50% visitor increase - hooray

The Travel-Lists redesign which launched on 6th June seems to have had a big impact on stats at least, if not the bottom-line.

I only got the visitor tracking module started on 10th June so I have a week of missing numbers for unique visitors, and I should be doing this tomorrow (1st July) so I have a day (today) missing at the end of the month too, but if I take the daily average unique visitors for the remaining days of the month (503), multiply it for the missing 10 days (5,030) and add it to the monthly total (10,373), I get over 15,000 unique users for June 05.

I can't compare unique users month-on-month because I didn't have them before. The old design wouldn't let the tracking module code work. But I can compare pageviews. Adding averages of 3,377 per day for two missing days (today and a day at the beginning of the month when the stats server went down) I get 108,082 pageviews for June.

May's pageviews were 72,136 so the increase (35,946) is 49.8%.

Quite a change.

27 June 2005

Bye Bye WAP

I've been providing content for WAP phones (and in a simple xhtml format for other mobile devices) for over a year now.... and I've had enough! Too much extra work for no income!

The WAP pages are supposed to sell (through Bango.com) at .20p for access, but there has been little interest even with the site listed on numerous WAP directories.

The great micro-payment fortunes talked about, and promised to those who get on board the mobile Internet, do appear to exist, but only for those who sell ringtones and porno pictures.

I started with a sub-section of around thirty travel directory pages, but it was a nightmare to maintain and didn't get much interest so I then tried just a simple page of 'Travel Bargains and Late Availability tip-offs'. Still no interest.

I should have dropped it ages ago but my plan had been to convert the whole Travel-Lists directory to xml and then apply an xslt stylesheet to render them for each platform - normal web, xhtml mobile and WAP. Unfortunately I discovered that Google Adsense won't work in XML (see blog on Google & xml) and since Google ads are a revenue stream, unlike WAP, I abandoned that project.

So, bye bye WAP

It's the wrong business, Gromit

I'm completely mystified about how many overseas companies appear to not understand what an online travel directory is. I get emails on a daily basis (today's first is from Ghana) from incoming tour operators who wish to introduce their company and do business with me; handling the ground arrangements, tours, excursions, transfers and accommodation bookings for my tour groups...

Where on earth do they get that idea from? Travel-Lists is a directory.... period ... not a travel agent or tour operator.

I suppose so many portals & quasi-directories have 'book this' buttons that they assume every directory operates affiliations, taking a commission on refered sales.

20 June 2005

Another reason to use independent travel directories

I knew there was a delay getting a new website to register on Google, but I hadn't really taken in its significence until I read this comment (thread) from Jill Whalen, Head Honcho at HighRankings.com, who was suggesting Yahoo et al might like to use it for advertising copy...

Did you know that when you search at Google, you won't find any sites that are less than a year old? But at Yahoo you will! Don't you want to find the latest and greatest results when you're searching?

More detail here.

18 June 2005

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it an airport hotel?

Somebody has been asking about our definition of an airport hotel.

Well, as we all know airports and hotels are inclined to categorise anything within 15 miles / 30 mins of the airport as an airport hotel.

To us though, that's not an 'airport hotel', just a 'hotel near an airport' (shuttle or no shuttle).

An airport hotel is located within the perimeter fence or butting up to it. Anything else is a quasi-airport hotel.

It's the Internet, stupid! (2)

Another It's the Internet, Stupid! moment.

I'm looking around the mighty Carnival Cruises website checking which areas they are cruising to these days. Only to discover that if you use the 'Find a Cruise' search facility, you are required to register!!!!

What! That kind of thinking disappeared from the Internet six years ago, when the likes of expedia, lastminute.com, et al realised that nobody was visiting their sites to just browse.

Ask yourself. If you walked into a shop and at the door were met by a shop assistant who asked you for your name and address before letting you browse their shelves, what would you do?

17 June 2005

A little praise goes a long way

I've always tried to make a point of phoning or emailing - a boss if possible - to say 'thank you' when somebody does something special; provides a special service or goes "above and beyond".

In these days of consumer power and litigation, companies and organisations are so braced for complaints it can really be a bit of a shock if somebody just calls to say 'well done'.

Anyway... I've just been on the receiving end.

Out of the blue, a phone call from the Wendy Wu of Wendy Wu Tours - an Australian specialist tour operator to China that has just recently opened an office in London - to say she has just had a customer who found them through my listing on Travel-Lists and 'thank you very much'.

That's cheered up the afternoon!

Tourism Marketing Organisations can pay to launch directory pages

Now that I've got the new Travel-Lists site up & running I'm keen to start expanding the directory again, which is always difficult because I have to spend so much time keeping the main pages fresh with news and bargains, and the existing lists up-to-date. It leaves little time to create and publish new lists. And, of course, as the directory expands, so does the problem!

Obviously the solution is to have more people working on them. Sadly I don't have the budget for that. But I began to wonder the other day whether there wasn't a symbiotic relationship I could exploit between tourism promotion organisations (national, regional, local), fellow travel journalists and Travel Lists.

For that reason I'm starting a Fast-Track system, allowing tourism and marketing organisations to pay for a list or lists to be 'fast-tracked' into existance. This way I can afford to drop what I'm doing to work on a new list or pay for somebody else to create it.

  • The tourism organisation gets a permanent, continuously updated page of riads in Rabat, chalets in Carpathia, breweries in Bruges, nightclubs in New York, or local travel operators & agencies in Toronto on Travel-Lists.
  • The journo, who's probably already done the research/been there, gets a commission (half the fast-track fee) to create the list (which won't clash with any other commissioned articles).
  • I get half of the fast-track fee (I've still got to organise it, edit it, mark it up, and build it into the site structure) and more content for the site.

I've put the details on the site. It'll be interesting to see how it works.

16 June 2005

The First , Only, Biggest and Best

Naturally enough PR folk love to use the "world's first" variety of description whenever they can in order to attract attention, but such phrases need to be used judiciously not only to avoid diluting their impact, but also to avoid being caught out.

I had to smile at the carefully constructed sentence in a press release today from Travel City Direct's PR company. Announcing a new early check-in service for their charter flights back to the UK from Florida which enables their passengers to spend a luggage-free last day before flying out of Orlando in the evening, the release claimed it was "the first UK tour operator to provide this service for its charter flight passengers".

Technically true, but a little unfair on their scheduled airline rivals, Virgin, who have been offering the same facility on their Orlando flights for years.

Still, I can also remember smiling at a Virgin press release which claimed it was the first airline to offer personal in-flight video screens in all classes..... when several years earlier I had flown in the launch aircraft for Emirates all-classes in-flight video facility!

What goes around....

12 June 2005

Some groups are not worth antagonising

Ouch! I hope the editor of the Sunday Times Travel section doesn't find himself/herself 'reaping the whirlwind' when they open their in-tray tomorrow.

As a travel editor, it's a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago. You can push at the envelope of journalistic prudence in pretty well any direction you like, but there are two groups in particular that you really don't want to upset: the Greek Cypriots (never feature northern Cyprus unless you have to, and never call it 'Turkish Cyprus') and animal lovers.

The lead picture on today's 'Directions' page in the travel section is a photo of a pretty ugly-looking dog (a pug?) on a leash getting out of a New York cab and the paragraph underneath reads as follows...

This one survived his flight to New York, but new figures suggest that one in every 100 flying Fidos fails to make it alive. A source from one American carrier said: 'Technical delays are the real killer. We pulled a pooch from its box that had been stuck on the tarmac in a blizzard at Vancouver - it was just a furry lollipop.' Container crushes and slow-roasting in hot loading areas are other hazards. Step forward Virgin Atlantic, which has never had a fatality in the two years it has been carrying pets. In its new Flying Paws scheme, pets are accompanied on board and even get T-shirts. Too late for the lollipop, though.
I fear the author may find the Sunday Times has some readers who will consider that there is a little too much levity in the treatment of this story, and who don't share his/her sense of humour!

07 June 2005

Eurotunnel - can they dig themselves out of a hole?

I feel really sorry for Eurotunnel, and mystified about their predicament (they are struggling to keep up payments on their loans). The whole gargantuan project seemed so obviously the right thing to do all those years ago; a permanent, fast connection with the continent un-affected for the first time in all our history by the weather. How could it not work?

Nobody anticipated how cut-throat competition from the ferries and the spectacular growth of budget airlines would take customers away from the tunnel in their droves... but it has. Something like two thirds of short sea Channel crossing traffic still goes by ferry and Eurotunnel's figures have been declining for several years now. I still can't quite believe it. (Eurostar has been doing ok, but we're talking 'Eurotunnel' here, which operates the tunnel itself and the car/lorry shuttles)

I should have seen the writing on the wall a few months after the tunnel opened. The whole idea of the tunnel was that it should be a simple shuttle operation: you drive into the terminal and onto the next departing train. But oh no. Mr & Mrs British holiday-maker, after a lifetime of being made to queue for everything and generally being treated like children rather than paying customers (anyone remember flying with British Airways in the 70s & 80s?), couldn't get their heads round that and insisted on being able to pre-book themselves onto a specific train! So Eurotunnel had to introduce a reservations system!

Still, nobody would want to cross the channel, taking up to three times as long to get there, on a potentially vomit-inducing ship that might or might not make the crossing if the 1) wind wasn't right 2) sea wasn't right 3) engines weren't right, or more likely 4) the French fishermen were blocking Calais. Would they?

Well,apparently 'yes'!

In fact, when my family and our friends (two families travelling together) go for our hols in France, we all have to go on the ferry.... because one of our party doesn't like tunnels!

Today, hoping to claw back some customers from the ferries (though obviously not us!), Eurotunnel have announced price cuts of their own. They are introducing a budget airlines pricing structure with low lead-in fares that get sold first leaving the higher fares for those booking closer to departure.

Let's hope it works.

Finding the perfect listing

One of my favourite things is finding a specialist travel company that I hadn't heard of before.

With the arrogance of a journalist whose been covering the travel industry since 1988, (and one who runs the BGTW's Travel Industry Database) I tend to think I know of pretty much every UK operator in some of the niche markets... and then up pops a company that's been around for several years offering something a bit special, that I didn't know about.

So then I think (same arrogance) that if I hadn't heard of them, not many other people will have either (!) and I can't wait to tell them... with Hermione Graingeresque arm-waving zeal - "oh! oh! Sir? Please..."

Yesterday's discovery was Foot Trails, a small business in the South-West run ("passionately" as Alison says) by Alison & David Howell.
They offer gentle guided or self-guided walking weekends and holidays staying in character inns and cosy hotels.

The classic example of a perfect listing for Travel-Lists

03 June 2005

A new day, a new style

Phew! It's been a busy few weeks. I've been re-designing, rebuilding, and re-populating the Travel-Lists site, and now it is finally 'live'.

The basic thinking behind the redesign and the new business model is explained here, but it's also a long-overdue change of style.

The old site dates back to 1998 when it was designed for the Travel News Organisation. Ever since I changed the logo to travel-Lists and re-labeled a few bits I've been fighting the site. The navigation was never intuitive and because it was a 'frames' site visitors were always arriving from search engines on isolated pages (I couldn't use the javascript self-referencing frames hack for technical reasons). All in all it was an old-fashioned looking bodge job and I'm delighted to have a simple speedy site that does more or less what I want.

The new CSS-driven site looks business-like and is ruthlessly efficient. I can't tell you how liberating it is to strip out all the graphics! Anytime I want to change the design I can just fiddle around with the stylesheet. I'm not restricted by images of lines, boxes, corners, etc - the usual Fireworks flotsam & jetsam!

The original stylesheet comes from Ruthsarian (open-source, free copyright) and is a work of genius! It does two really clever things: it is multi-browser friendly (IE, Firefox, Opera, etc) and arranged so the centre-column content comes first in the source page, which makes it spider-friendly too.

Anyway, back to work. There are still a few little dead links and other minor glitches to sort out.