JackRabbit Systems Book>Direct: Adding Hops to Making Reservations

JackRabbit Systems Book>Direct at VisitBigBend.com: Not “direct”, doesn’t “book”, just more hops to make a reservation.

JackRabbit Systems Book>Direct: Adding Hops to Making ReservationsThe Brewster County Tourism Council (BCTC) has just spent several months and several thousand hotel occupancy tax dollars – as well as sacrificed significant website performance – to embed the JackRabbit Systems Book>Direct booking engine in the web pages of VisitBigBend.com (VBB). They did so, no doubt, with good intentions – but in this case good intentions may have once again paved the way to you-know-where.

JackRabbit Systems promotes Book>Direct as “a powerful referral engine [that] allows visitors to search for accommodations directly from a destination website and book directly with the destination’s lodging partners”. They claim Book>Direct helps DMO (destination marketing organization) websites like VBB “become relevant” with benefits for lodging vendors and consumers alike. But in the case of VBB, at least, we believe their “BOOK A ROOM” booking engine embeds more bother than benefit.

For example…

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to Big Bend National Park and want to book a night’s stay in Marathon along the way. From the VBB home page you might hover over “LODGING” then select “Marathon” to land on the Marathon Lodging page. Upper right (or bottom) you note the “BOOK A ROOM” form and then start browsing through the Marathon area lodging options. You eventually choose “Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast”, then scroll back to the “BOOK A ROOM” form to book your stay:

JackRabbit Systems Book>Direct: Adding Hops to Making ReservationsFirst you enter your “Check-In” and “Check-Out” dates. Then not knowing how “Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast” is classified, you accept the “All Lodging” default and click “SEARCH” (as there’s no other choice). A new window opens up – not just for “Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast”, and not just for Marathon area lodgings, but for every matching vendor in the VBB database.

All your keystrokes up to now have taken you nowhere – except to a point where you can start your lodging search over again…

Let’s say you’re patient enough to do so. Again you select “Marathon” as your Location and filter the results, which you browse through until once again you find “Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast”, then click “BOOK>DIRECT” to make your reservation. Yet another window opens up – but it’s not a reservation screen: It’s the home page of “Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast”.

Which you could’ve gone to with one click from the Marathon Lodging page by avoiding the “BOOK A ROOM” form altogether.

Choose any lodging venue or vendor VBB BOOK>DIRECT has to offer, and your experience will likely prove similarly – and irritatingly – inefficient. In fact, of the 34  BOOK>>DIRECT  listings we tested, 33 required we restart our booking from scratch:

  • 22 linked to lodging vendor web pages but passed no parameters;
  • 7 linked nowhere;
  • 2 linked to error pages;
  • 2 linked to reservation pages but passed no parameters; and only
  • 1 linked to a reservation page with our check-in/check-out parameters passed.

We concede there might be some marketing benefit to having a “book a room” pitch on every VBB web page. But from both presentation and performance perspectives, the VBB BOOK>DIRECT form is more wart than widget. And if all it’s doing is linking to lodging vendor web pages, there are many cleaner and faster ways to accomplish that.

Performance Ratings for VisitBigBend.com Drop from A/B to D/E in 12 Months

From 8 August 2016 to 5 August 2017 GTmetrix performance ratings for VisitBigBend.com dropped from “A/B” (Pass) to “D/E” (Fail).

Brewster County Tourism CouncilOriginally established as the Brewster County Tourism Board by an Order of the Brewster County Commissioners Court dated 23 September 1997, the mission of the Brewster County Tourism Council (BCTC) is to promote tourism and put “heads in beds” of lodging venues located in Brewster County Texas outside of the City of Alpine: To that end, the BCTC is charged with planning for the disbursement of a Countywide Hotel Motel Tax with a current annual budget in excess of $1 million:

The BCTC is also charged with keeping Brewster County Hoteliers informed about the Hotel Motel Tax and the activities of the BCTC Board and Staff. To that end, it holds meetings which are open to the public and which all Brewster County Hoteliers and others with an interest in promoting travel to and tourism in the West Texas Rio Grande Big Bend Region in general and Brewster County in particular should attend. The last BCTC meeting was scheduled for 1:00pm CT Thu 7 Sep 2017 at their office location:

Brewster County Tourism Council (BCTC)
Val Clark Beard County Courthouse Office Complex
203 N 7th St
Alpine TX 79830-4615
Map & Directions

Visit Big BendLast but not least, the BCTC is mandated to “administer” Brewster County’s flagship destination marketing website VisitBigBend.com (VBB). WLWeb.US would like to give them a hand with that. We believe VBB would benefit greatly from a total (or at least incremental) speedy secure responsive web design (SSRWD) makeover:

To be assured that a website is leveraging speedy secure responsive web design, its web pages must pass the 12 tests of SSRWD validation. About a year ago, we ran those tests against the home page of VisitBigBend.com. At that time, it failed 7 of the 12 tests. Here are screenshots documenting the results:


We recently ran the SSRWD validation suite again. As of now, VisitBigBend.com fails 8 of the 12 tests. Telling is that from 8 Aug 2016 to 5 Aug 2017, the overall GTmetrix performance ratings for VisitBigBend.com dropped from “A/B” (Pass) to “D/E” (Fail). Here are screenshots documenting all results:


Robert Alvarez | Age 46 | Executive Director | Brewster County Tourism CouncilThe web marketing advantages of SSRWD are manifold – not the least of which include improved website user experience and higher search visibility. And yes, VisitBigBend.com already ranks high on search terms like “big bend”, but we would expect that even if the BCTC did nothing to boost it…

At some point, however, the BCTC might want to expand their search marketing focus to target qualified prospects who’ve never heard of “Big Bend” and therefore wouldn’t know to search for it – terms like “texas vacations”, “texas vacation destinations” or “texas vacation spots”, where in Góógle as of this writing VBB is out of the running. Unlike “big bend”, for search terms like these VBB has serious competition, and in contexts like that SSRWD can make all the difference. That focus might prove more fruitful for BCTC Executive Director Robert Alvarez than feeding hungry jackrabbits or hopping the pond on DMO junkets.

Legal Status of the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce

Big Bend Chamber of Commerce corporate registration with the State of Texas is forfeit.Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2017 20:08:25 +0000
From: T.R. Shirley WLWeb.US
Subject: Re: Legal Status of the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce
To: Jim Milburn <***>

Hi Jim,

Thank you for providing me with a copy of the ByLaws of the Big Bend Chamber of Commerce (BBCOC) and a roster of its current five-member Board of Directors. I had a chance to read it and noticed a few areas of concern I wanted to bring to your attention. The issues as noted in the attached PDF include the following:

  1. The BBCOC corporate registration with the State of Texas is forfeit.
  2. The BBCOC 501(c)(6) tax exempt status was revoked several years ago.
  3. The ByLaws make no provision for a five-member Board of Directors.
  4. The ByLaws make no provision for selection of a Board Chairperson.
  5. The current Board of Directors may have committed ultra-vires acts.
Jim Milburn: Unelected Chairman of the Unchartered Big Bend Chamber of Commerce

Jim Milburn: Unelected Chairman of the Unchartered Big Bend Chamber of Commerce

I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on television. That said, you might want to seek legal counsel regarding the status of the BBCOC and any exposure the current Directors may have. A big concern might be the disposition of any monies or benefits received directly or indirectly from any federal/state/county governmental agencies during the period for which the BBCOC may not have existed as a legal entity.

I have in the past expressed an interest in serving the BBCOC as a director or officer. Please note that any such service would be contingent upon seeing these issues have been addressed and are not likely to recur.