Wednesday, September 23, 2009


On a hot day in June, Gillian and I thought to stay on Tiree for a few days. We had heard about it so often on the weather forecasts, we just wondered....

We got a Scottish Tourist Board catalogue. The Island looked nice. The book showed three self catering properties and a couple of hotels - one of them on Coll I think.

We didn't think there would be much to choose between the islands, silly us. we were young and ignorant. It was 1978 after all.

There were only three ways to find B&Bs or self catering in those days. You sent off for the Scottish Tourist board (later VisitScotland) catalogue or you called in at one of their many Tourist offices around the country. Their catalogues were then, and are to-day beautfiully designed. The third way was to go there and take pot luck in finding somewhere. That's more my style, but not Gills. We had a lovely time.

I've just looked up Coll and Tiree on the VS website. Two hotels and one self-catering. Both islands together. Then I looked up the community website for Tiree alone. 18 self catering owners and many more properties.

VisitScotland had done nothing wrong to lose that share of the market. The market shattered into fragments.

They lost their monopoly on accommodation, because more and more property owners started to do their own marketing using the web. As a visitor to-day you can still take the VS catalogue, you can still respond to small ads in the Travel Sections of the papers, you can still get referrals from friends, and pick up leaflets, you can still drive past and hope for luck - well, not for self catering maybe, but for B&B certainly. But the proportion of visitors doing things in this traditional way is getting smaller by the minute. One large modern commercial holiday facility with a world-wide reputation reports that only 17% of its business involves "literature" For them, and for most, past users and referrals are still big, but the biggest is the web.

Even the web itself is fragmented. You can find agencies which will book you into properties, charging owners from 25% to 35% and making a surcharge on the buyers as well. VS does this, but at lower cost. Owners often don't like agencies. We got shot of the only one we ever used within six months.

You can find directories which list the property details and the website together with photos and you can contact the owners direct. For this owners only need simple and cheap websites but the owners rely heavily on three or four listing directories plus repeats and referrals.

You can find community sites where everyone gets together for marketing their
area. Or you can search Google or Yahoo and find property owners websites for yourselves.

I love it. I've spent 53 years full time at the highest levels of marketing, around the world and I've never ever imagined a medium so rich, so quick, so responsive to ideas.

I made a change to our website last week and already I am excited to see the initial response. Last week? The web is wiping out industries as we speak and will wipe out more. VS was caught in the turmoil.

It is no good owners complaining that VS does not get them as many bookings as they feel it should. It can't. I can list our site openly on for about £70 a year, and also give them our late availability weeks to push. If they get me only three bookings a year that is an ad cost of under 4%. Sign up to three or four others and I'm in business with that kind of cost ratio. I'd still rather get my own visitors.

Are visitors who use VS happy with the grading facilities? I think they are very happy indeed in the main. We use it ourselves to find B&Bs, (but we do not book through it) My pal booked a two week tour of Scotland for four people through it, and each of us was very happy with the properties.

But practically all owner-members have complaints about VS, and these days if VS inspectors start getting stroppy with what they want, then owners tend to shrug their shoulders and
leave. When they do so they tell everyone they know about it, so the rot spreads.

The VS marketing and the grading systems need re-engineering. At one time so did ship building, textiles, gas lighting, candlestick makers, monocles, coal mines, horse and carriages, peat gathering, girdles, snuff taking, musket balls, right back to flint knapping. It never comes back in the way it was.

I'll suggest how to re-engineer in another piece.
John Winkler

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