Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Getting across the channel is getting easier for some, but not for others

Payment options for NorfolkLine Ferries
I recently read an article that NorfolkLine Ferries (who operate a 2 hour crossing service from Dover to Dunkerque) have agreed to accept Paypal as a payment mechanism for online ticket reservations.

And looking today on the NorfolkLine website looks like they've already got it up and working, and from a consumer perspective it looks to be a great option.

If you pay by Electron or Solo cards, they're free; by debit card there's a £1 card handling charge, by credit card the charge rises to £4; and for American Express it's a mighty £6 surcharge.

By comparison therefore Paypal looks to be a no-brainer choice as there's no payment handling fee from NorfolkLine and you can fund your Paypal purchase using a credit card registered to your Paypal account which also doesn't cost you.

See the original Trading Markets announcement for the full press release.

At the other end of the spectrum I was amused by the story I read on of a Pensioner who was caught smuggling £56,550 out of the UK - in his underpants!.

Apparently he was stopped at Dover ferryport by customs officers and a sniffer dog discovered the cash in his crotch !

The whole story sounds a bit bizarre to me but according to the news item it's suspected that he's smuggled some £3.7 million overseas since April 2005.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Half a day's holiday cottage availability looks better than no availability

I've been fiddling with our holiday cottage website again, making what I hope is a useful but effective tweak to the holiday availability calendar.

Old-style holiday booking calendar for our Brittany Gite
When I first created the website I was in a bit of a quandry as to how to show what dates were booked and what were free. I settled on graying out and drawing a line through the booked dates which looked OK but on the day that our guests left or arrived I had a bit of a problem as to how to represent this.

In the end I settled on graying out the nights that the cottage is booked, so the day that our guests were leaving was always left as showing available (because the guests leave in the morning).

This kind of works OK but still has a problem with the first day of the holiday booking because it makes it look like that date is completely booked. In reality the afternoon and evening are booked for our new set of guests but the Gite is still available for the morning.

Where this really becomes a problem is as the diary starts to fill up and there's less and less availability. In the example above from June 2010 we've actually got a free week available from Saturday 5th June through to Saturday 12th June, but as the 12th is marked as booked it's not all that obvious that this is the case. Sometimes I do get booking enquiries where the diary is mis-read, so for instance I'll get an enquiry asking for Saturday 5th June through to Friday 11th June, and I always reply back to offer the extra half day as well.

And of course if I get some customers mis-reading the diary I'm sure there are also some potential customers put off because they think we've not got availability for when they want their holiday.

New-style booking calendar showing half-day holiday cottage availability
Well I've found a solution to the problem and rather than just using a solid colour to show whether a particular date is available or not I've hit on the idea of using a background image to show the half-day availability.

Now by appropriate colouring of the left and right halves of the holiday calendar date I can show much more clearly what dates are available and what are already booked. So using the example week in June you can see much more clearly that we're vacant from Saturday afternoon through to the following Saturday morning.

I experimented with different types of half-and-half shading, with diagonals and with vertical and horizontal shading before ending up with this design. I also asked the boss (Liz) what she thought and was given the official "seal of approval" that this was clear and simple.

Full (and clearer) availability for our holiday cottage is now showing on our booking diary!

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bookings starting to pick up for 2010 after a very slow start

Josselin Medieval Chateau; close to our Brittany Vacation Rental Home
Maybe the recession is over and things are looking up?

The cynic in me says that the only reason that the press have started writing about how the recession is over is that they've got bored of writing about how bad the recession is.

But looking at the evidence I reckon things are looking up.

Bookings for our holiday Gite were definitely affected last year and I noticed a slow down in bookings as we moved into 2010. In previous years we've seen most of September, some of October, and Christmas/New Year booked in the cottage. In 2009 though once the peak summer and September season had finished that was it and we had no bookings at all after 25th September and we've been empty since then.

Also in previous years we've seen most of July and August booked in advance well before the end of the preceding year, and I've written for example about receiving holiday bookings up to 360 days in advance.

The bookings have definitely been slower this year and we didn't really start getting any 2010 bookings until January this year.

However things are now starting to look up and I'm seeing an increase in booking enquiries over the weeks so most of August is booked as is June 2010. July 2010 still has some holiday weeks free and we've taken one rental booking for May. I've also just confirmed our first booking for a couple who will be going over house-hunting in Brittany in March, and one week of Easter is now confirmed as well.

All in all 43 nights have now been booked in our holiday home which is great news.

Current available dates in our France holiday cottage are shown on our website.

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