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Posted on: Monday, 19 August 2013

7 Essential Tips When Choosing A Place To Stay Online

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There is no one way to choose accommodation online. Obviously your needs are going to influence your search – if you’re single and on a budget then you’re after backpackers, and if you’re a family you’re probably after space and self-catering.

But the internet has raised the bar to such an extent that even if you’re trying to find a B&B in the remoteness of Pofadder, South Africa your anticipated hosts will have pulled out all the stops and at the very least advertised in an online guide like SA-Venues.com, where there are pictures, a detailed description and some idea of activities available in the area.

Here are a few pointers I use when searching for accommodation on the internet:

BE SPECIFIC

Refining your search terms on Google will allow you to drill down and find what you’re looking for really fast. Typing something as vague as ‘accommodation South Africa’ is going to disappoint you. Accommodation is big business. As a result those companies who can afford it will have paid Google to appear at the top of page one for the search terms ‘accommodation’ and ‘South Africa’. Others who feature will probably be hotel chains or accommodation portals, some of which you’ll want to look at. But the little guys (those in Pofadder), who may have a website but haven’t the time or the inclination to look into Google Adwords’ campaigns are not going to feature unless you go looking for them.

 

Bateleur Theresa
Room with a View at Bateleur Theresa in Camps Bay, Cape Town

START WITH THE BIG GUYS

Have a look at the bigger travel guide websites first. Venues have paid to feature on their websites, and they are more likely to have what you’re looking for. They’re also really easy to search – usually by map or by area.

SNEAK IN THE BACK DOOR

Don’t tell anyone that I’ve let you in on this bit of advice, but one often has to book through the bigger websites (those that don’t work this way will make it clear that you’re dealing direct with the venue using their online contact form). When booking through an accommodation website that acts as a travel agent there is usually a fee involved (even if it’s as subtle as a slightly higher cost per head at the venue).

I also find it irritating not to be able to deal directly with the venue right from the start. So I do a search on Google for the name of the venue I think looks like the ticket, to see if they have their own website. And if they do, I contact them myself (it is difficult to find them otherwise, as the larger accommodation portals have such an SEO (search engine optimisation) advantage).

 

Entabeni Safari Conservancy

Dining at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the Waterberg, Limpopo

SKIM THE URLS

If you’ve exhausted the bigger accommodation portals and still haven’t found what you’re after, then do a finer search, for instance: ‘family friendly self-catering, Pofadder, Northern Cape‘. One can spend hours opening different sites only to find that they’re anything but accommodation (there are a lot of websites simply after ‘hits’ to their pages, and they set up bogus pages with town names only to refer you to the weather in Kakamas, rather than anywhere to stay in Pofadder). Skimming the URLs will give you a good idea as to a site’s authenticity.

SCAN THE PICTURES

Photographs are the most compelling way to assess if a place is right for you or not. It never fails to amaze me that some venues either don’t use more than one picture or they opt for the view. When looking at a venue, at the very least you want to be able to see a picture of each of the main bedrooms, to gauge the size of the beds, the comfort of the rooms and the style of the venue. You also want to be able to see if there is a veranda or a swimming pool, see the lounge and kitchen and the garden, if there is one. Venues worth their salt will have added extra touches that will be fairly obvious from the photos.

ASK QUESTIONS

If you think that the double bed advertised looks a little small, the ask the venue how wide it actually is. If you are anxious about driving on dirt roads then find out what conditions the farmer’s roads are in before staying on a farm. Be logical and make sure you understand what your rate per night includes (things like wood or linen is sometimes not available or is charged out at extra).

 

Emily Moon Country Lodge
Luxury Retreat at Emily Moon Country Lodge in Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route

LOOK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS

This is another good reason to use the internet to do a search for accommodation. The bigger hotel chains and even smaller venues will have been stayed in before by someone only too eager to share their opinions. Websites like tripadvisor are filled with reports and recommendations. If that yields little, then do a search with a term like ‘name of establishment review recommendation’ to help you scour something up. You won’t always find something. Often you will need to trust your instincts.

Popular Pages to get you started:

WRITE A REVIEW

To help others make decisions online, write a review of the venue after the holiday.

Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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1 comment about 7 Essential Tips When Choosing A Place To Stay Online
  1. August 26th, 2013 at 09:45
    Amelia says:

    Very helpful! I plan most of my travels online, so thanks for the useful advice.