Archive for the ‘Inns’ Category

The ups and downs of offering free holiday accommodation listings

We’ve been offering free listings for holiday accommodation for over seven years now with quite a few changes to what we offered over that time.

Initially, we did the site by hand, taking in emails with the text and a photo then adding the property to what was then a simple list. That worked just fine ’til we got over 50 properties when it started to become a bit of a chore to keep up with the growing number of updates. That’s when we moved to the original database driven version of the sites (which had become plural by then) with a rise in the amount of text and the number of photos. As the years went on, we filled out the sites by offering more options for text and photos and variations on how we presented them with the general aim of producing a professional site but without the cost overheads. Depending on how you count them, we’re now on the fourth or fifth version of the site and possibly the sixth if you count the Android version that we’re trialling out at the moment.

One problem that we have which fully commercial sites don’t is that we need people to upgrade their entry now and again as we implement new facilities on the sites. Most noticeable is the resolution of the photos where we’ve moved from 150 pixels wide to 500 pixels at the moment yet still have some of the early properties using photos at the original low resolution. However, we’ve added heaps of sections from room descriptions, through local attractions to GPS co-ordinates which also need attention. We do prompt people to update their entry in our, slightly irregular, newsletters but it’s an uphill battle: people won’t update their entry without receiving more bookings yet they won’t get the extra bookings without updating their entry!

Along the way we’ve grown from the initial band of 20 property owners to six or seven thousand across the various sites. Although the original game plan was to offer totally free listings, we were prompted by a number of owners to add a charge. No, really! They felt that “free” meant that the listing had no value and there are a number of people who feel that way if the quality of the adverts we receive when we mention “free” is anything to go by. What we do these days is to say that it costs £40 or so but that there’s a free trial period. In practice, our listing is actually better than free as we do a free SEO review of your own website and we tidy up your entry so that it’s well presented on our sites. That free SEO review has been enough to increase the traffic on a fair number of sites around 30 fold so it’s definitely worth having!

The timing of the arrival of the adverts is still confusing though! I would expect them to turn up when the properties aren’t that busy so in principle we should have had next to no new entries over Easter but we received a good deal more than we normally do and pretty high quality entries at that too.

One big advantage that we offer over commercial sites is that all the development work is in-house.  The effect of that will be increasingly clear over the coming year or two as we will be rolling out a series of updates. Commercial sites generally contract out their development work and therefore only update their sites every three to five years. In principle, that should mean that we will gradually overtake more and more commercial sites in the markets in which we operate. For example, we’re in the process of writing a native Android app that would ordinarily cost around £15,000 or so which is a lot of money even for fairly large listings sites.

What’s been particularly sad to see over the last year is the massive rise in the number of people dropping out of the business. For us the drop out rate has historically been tiny but it’s around ten times the normal rate over the past year or so. Equally sad is the jump in the number of listings sites which have ceased operations: up from one to over 20 in a year.


Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

A busy run-up to Easter

The last couple of months have proved to be a very hectic time indeed.

The web design course finished at the end of February and turned out to be far more helpful than I could have imagined. What it let me do was to implement a massive upgrade to the inns sites and alongside that to similarly improve the SEO. Both tasks are still ongoing but only because the initial upgrade made it a whole lot easier to implement subsequent improvements. That in turn has made it viable to really ramp up the promotion of the sites and we’re pulling in new additions pretty much as fast as we can cope with them.

Following on from that course there’s a placement with a web company. In my case, it turned out to be what was seemingly the perfect job for me, aside from the salary. Unfortunately in many ways a full-time job came up just a couple of weeks after I started there so I was off to that at the start of April. Not nearly such an inspiring job but the pay is welcome.

In between the two we managed to finally get around to our major moving exercise from France. Somehow our estimate of half a Luton van of stuff (which we took from the photos taken when we first arrived in France) was way off and not only did we have pretty much a full Luton van but also a very packed car and still need a final car-run to clear out what we had to leave behind.

The job is causing a major readjustment for us all. For John, it’s the first time in his life that Daddy hasn’t been around all day every day for him. James is nearly as bad as he was only two when we moved to France. It’s an adjustment for Wendy too as I’m not around to look after the kids. And for me, notably in the study time which just ain’t there which is going to make the next few months very difficult indeed as the study doesn’t drop down to part-time until September.

To easy us in a little, I’ve taken the Easter week off which, hopefully, will give me a chance to catch up on some things.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Experimenting with the adsense

The web applications course threw up an interesting possibility for the adsense last week which looked potentially really profitable so I thought I’d try it out.

Basically the theory is that if the ads on your site are more visible then people will click on them more often and therefore increase the income. There are limits to this though as it’s easy to move from “more visible” to “too visible” and thereby lose visitors.

What the course showed me was a way of keeping the ads on-screen all the time but in a not overly annoying way. As the screen concerned is sometimes very long and the current ads were simply scrolling off it, this seemed like a sure-fire way to increase the income.

What it didn’t allow for is a quirk of adsense which has the effect that the highest paying adverts are inserted into the first adblock that adsense finds on the page. This meant that those ads went straight into the new adsense block. Not necessarily a disaster in itself but the snag was that the click-through for the new block was less than half that of the original block. Moreover, the clicks were split between the two of them. The net effect was that the income dropped somewhat.

Whilst you might think that this was a failed experiment, it wasn’t. What it showed me was that keeping the ads visible is, in principle, a good thing. However, what I need to do is to keep the big paying block on-screen rather than adding a new one so that the highest paying ads stay there rather than introducing a lower click-through ad that captures the higher paying ads.

I think a bit more thinking is required before the next experiment.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Renewal of development on the listings sites

One of my objectives in doing the web applications courses was to provide the knowledge to let me do a bit of a revamp of the various accommodation listings sites that I run.

Whilst it’s early days, this weeks session provided an increasingly necessary minor improvement in the data entry form for the site. As with seemingly most HTML code, that minor change in the code will provide a substantial improvement in the look and feel of the website. So far, I’ve only been able to apply it to the more recent coding but I’ll be retrofitting it to the remainder in due course.

That’s probably going to be how the course changes the overall look and feel flow from the computing courses initially… minor changes in code with big improvements for the users of the sites.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Thinking of buying a gite in France?

When people think of moving to France their first thought as to how to generate an income is to buy a gite complex and rent it out to people from back home.

It sounds like an idyllic lifestyle, doesn’t it? You work one day a week and the rest of the week you can be sunbathing by the pool.

The snag is that you need to wash all the sheets and towels and carry out maintenance work during the week. OK, so two days work and five at the pool? In theory, you might get away with that though, of course, the guests will be using the pool too and, usually, expect you to do things for them like organise tours or the area, tell them all the best places to go and so on.

What’s frequently forgotten about in all this is the financials that go along with this lifestyle. From a typical six or seven person gite you can probably get around 700€ a week in the peak season. That size of gite equates to a small three bedroom house in size and, of course, amount of work to look after. In reality most people aim for a gite complex of around four or five gites. On the whole, you’ll eventually reach an occupancy of around ten weeks per year for the gites which translates into around 35,000€ a year of an income.

However, there’s the matter of expenses to consider. Bearing in mind that you only have four or five hours to reset the gite between guests you’ll end up hiring a cleaner to help you which eats into the income somewhat and you may need someone to look after the pool. There’s also the business of maintenance: unlike a normal house rental you’re getting a new set of tenants virtually every week and that tends to be quite hard on the furnishings so you’ll need to renew at least some items pretty much every year.

Oh, and don’t forget the taxes!

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.