Monday, January 23, 2012

Latest VisitScotland Surprise Yourself TV Advert

Just in case you hadn't seen it here's the latest video piece and the press release in full that accompanied the launch by a Scottish Minister a couple of weeks back. Expect a lot more of this style of video in the run up to The Official 2014 Homecoming Scotland Referendum Campaign. There'll be no politicising of that then will there?? God you can hear the arguments from both sides of the argument about the misuse of Scottish iconography, immoral claiming of the flag as a symbole, etc, etc, etc.

For now let's just enjoy a really good addition to the series of Surprise Yourself videos started last year.

And if we have one gripe it's that there isn't information on how to use the video on your own website. If you know how to embed code you can get it here or if not send it to your web developer or drop the link into your social media -

"VisitScotland has launched its latest Surprise Yourself television advert to mark the start of the Year of Creative Scotland 2012. Unveiled at Edinburgh Castle by Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, the advert will support the year-long celebration and promotion of Scotland’s cultural and creative strengths on a world stage.

Directed once again by renowned Glasgow-born photographer David Eustace and voiced by popular television historian Neil Oliver, the advert features everything from the Edinburgh International Festival to a dazzling Northern Lights display in the Northern Isles. It also highlights Scotland’s wealth of creative activity, including a performance of Macbeth at Glamis Castle, the Pittenweem Arts Festival in Fife and Robert Burns storytelling in Ayrshire.

The new advert, which is part of a £4m campaign and includes additional funding by the Scottish Government, will be broadcast for the first time on television on Friday January 13. It is part of VisitScotland’s highly successful Surprise Yourself campaign which last year generated additional tourism income of £90m for the Scottish economy. This year’s campaign will continue to focus on the country’s surprising twists on familiar backdrops while also showcasing its well-known culture and creativity.

The Culture Secretary said: “Scotland is a creative nation and our culture is one of our greatest strengths. Our wealth of world-class events, festivals, cultural collections and organisations are already a major draw for visitors and the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 offers the opportunity to highlight new ways to see and experience this in every corner of Scotland. VisitScotland’s spectacular new advert is a fantastic way to promote this year-long celebration of our culture and creativity that is taking place in communities right across the country.”

VisitScotland Chairman Mike Cantlay added: “We are entering a tremendously exciting time for Scottish tourism. The Year of Creative Scotland heralds the start of the Winning Years - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity featuring eight major events and milestones, including the release this summer of Disney-Pixar’s Brave and the Olympic Games in London. By highlighting some of the highly dynamic and contemporary things Scotland has to offer, our stunning new television advert will capture the imagination of millions of potential visitors and help ensure that the Winning Years get off to a winning start.” The Year of Creative Scotland 2012 is a Scottish Government initiative in partnership with EventScotland, VisitScotland, Creative Scotland and VOCAL.

Through a dynamic and exciting year-long programme of activity celebrating the country’s world-class events, festivals, culture and heritage, the year puts Scotland’s culture and creativity in the international spotlight with a focus on cultural tourism and developing the events industry and creative sector in Scotland. The new TV advert will be shown throughout the UK until the middle of March and is part of a campaign which will see the spotlight on the Year of Creative Scotland throughout 2012, investing over £4 million in the first six months of 2012 to encourage potential visitors from within the UK to take a trip to Scotland.

The campaign includes using a direct mail campaign to nearly ½ million people, promotions with media partners and well known brands, radio activity featuring Neil Oliver and online activity encouraging people to go to and take advantage of over 300 offers from tourism businesses across Scotland.

Highlights of the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 programme include innovative collaborations between the tourism and culture sectors such as:

Traquair House in the Scottish Borders will host a Celebration of Contemporary Scottish Printmaking between July and September 2012. Working in partnership with Edinburgh Printmakers, the Celebration will introduce contemporary printmaking to a wider audience and support tourism development in the Scottish Borders. An ambitious series of commissions reflecting the historic surroundings of Traquair House, alongside a new visitor programme will improve local residents’ and incoming visitors’ access to high-quality new work in print.

The City of Literature Trust will enlighten the streets of Edinburgh in early 2012 with spectacular building-sized dynamic projections, using material from the Scottish Enlightenment period, through their enLIGHTen project.

Plans to create a RockNess Express, a bespoke train service to the annual Rock Ness festival from Kings Cross station featuring on-board music and the best of Scottish food and drink.

Scotland’s largest traditional music festival, Celtic Connections, will head to Chicago in September 2012, as the Ryder Cup takes place at the nearby Medinah Country Club. The trip will be an opportunity to showcase the best of Scottish music and attract international visitors to Celtic Connections 2013 as part of a wider Scottish presence in Chicago.

VisitScotland Digital Scotland Project On Schedule

The latest update from VisitScotland on their digital project was published over the past couple of days and featured in the newsletter from Chief Executive Malcom Roughead. The following is taken from their update page on

"Throughout 2011, the Digital Scotland project has reached some important milestones and successfully delivered in a number of key areas. The Digital Scotland project aims to provide consumers with a single digital gateway enabling them to experience all Scotland has to offer.

It also aims to build trust with Scottish businesses through accurate reporting, simple and effective extranet systems and a digital platform that positions their products and services to the appropriate consumer at the right time.

All of this will ensure VisitScotland can implement an enduring platform that inspires visitors and residents to experience Scotland’s unique and quality offerings online.

Recap on what we want to deliver
  • Mapping – improved mapping across the website, offering visitors dynamic ways to explore Scotland
  • Extranet System – existing Tiscover system will be retired and a new and improved extranet made available to businesses
  • Event Engine – promotion of events across Scotland and access to comprehensive event data for all areas of Scotland
  • Central Relational Database – work on the new website will be greatly aided by the work done on ‘data-cleansing’ and ‘data categorisation’, categorising all Scotland’s products and services so they can be searched for on the site. This will allow a ‘what’s nearby’ facility for consumers.
  • Web Listings – better quality web listings for all businesses with larger images, location maps, clear contact details
  • VisitScotland Information Centre / Contact Centre Booking Applications – all internal accommodation booking systems will be upgraded giving our Information Centres a more effective system
  • Project update - what’s next?
There are two important areas
  • Implementing the new DMS (which covers the content on the site as well as the booking engine, the ‘extranet’ where businesses can upload their details, as well as programmes used by the Information Centres and Contact Centre)
  • ‘Content migration’ - moving all the content from the current site to the new DMS
Work has begun on both of these, working towards launch in April 2012.

The new site will have the new look and feel premiered in the Dumfries & Galloway and Edinburgh & the Lothians sites - as well as the new ‘back-end’ system (the new DMS).

The remainder of 2012 will see more VisitScotland websites integrated into the main site, including all the regional websites"

The one thing we're most impressed by is that VisitScotland are communicating more fully on how the project is progressing. Regardless of what we may feel about the objectives.

New 91 bedroom Malmaison Planned for Dundee

Malmaison The MWB-owned Malmaison hotel brand is to open its first new hotel since concluding a refinancing agreement last year and the appointment of Gary Davis as the hotel group’s new Chief Executive.

The agreement is for a 35-year lease on a new 91-bedroom hotel in Dundee, Scotland’s fourth largest city.

The new Dundee Malmaison is being developed on the site of the old Tay Hotel, a listed city centre landmark building, and forms part of the £1bn Dundee Central Waterfront Development. Malmaison will not own the new Dundee hotel outright, but will take a 35-year lease with rent reviews every five years and options to extend for a further 35 years.

The redevelopment will start in spring 2012 with completion expected in May 2013. On completion it will create 120 new jobs and become Malmaison’s 13th hotel.

“The regeneration on the Dundee waterfront is underway and we are delighted to have secured the lease on this property that will enable us to create a prestigious hotel on the site," said Davis who noted his objective was to oversee an expansion of the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin business.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said: "MWB’s decision to open a new Malmaison in Dundee reflects the significant opportunities for development and growth in the city. The city’s successful games sector and the creation of the V&A at Dundee strengthen its reputation as a centre for the creative industries and its ability to attract new investment and visitors.”

According to the Dundee City Council Property schedules, "The Tay Hotel is a large Listed Building strategically located within Dundee City Centre. The property was originally built as a hotel and was in such use until the 1990’s, when it was used briefly as a hostel. The building has lain vacant for a number of years, but offers an excellent opportunity for redevelopment, directly adjacent to the City’s Waterfront Masterplan area. The redevelopment of this site will be based on the reuse of the existing Category B Listed Building which forms an important landmark within the Central Conservation Area."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Major Change in VisitScotland Strategy?

It's one of those subjects that is guaranteed to now induce rapid progress into sleep for the vast majority of the hospitality sector in Scotland. It is somewhat tragically viewed as an increasing irrelevance to many businesses in the country and just lurches from one missed redesign and deadline to another.

However for those who are still awake, did you know that VisitScotland have formally confirmed the decision to remove direct on line bookings from their website. And that decision was confirmed at the Board meeting more than two months ago.

It must have been the Christmas period and the focus on repairing my storm damage so maybe is it was just me who missed the big public announcement indicating this major change in strategic direction by VisitScotland? I'm sure there must have been a big press hullaballoo about it somewhere and that our wonderful investigative press have uncovered who's going to take the heat for the unsustainable strategy in the first place.

You missed it too did you?

Well here it is, the big announcement confirming a change of strategy after a decade of mis-direction - and all in a single sentence. Midway through the report from the Director of Corporate Services at the November Board meeting this was announced;

"He also reported that in respect of concerns around state aid the decision has been taken to remove the on line direct booking functionality from the site. While this will result in a loss of revenue, it is envisaged that this will be replaced with new revenue streams from the new website. A briefing paper will be provided to the Board in due course."

(Now already it seems that there is some clarification necessary on the above minuted statement.  During a conversation with the director of the VS Digital Media team we were told that the removal was not for "state aid" reasons but for strategic reasons. However until we're told otherwise it is "officially" for the reasons printed. See at the foot of this article for more)

For those who haven't been involved in this whole process over the past ten years it may just be another one of those issues but we think it's a lot more than just another "typical" cock up - it is a shedload of public money that has been consistently spent with little or no consideration given to those criticising it. Various bodies have indicated throughout that period that what VisitScotland were doing was anti competitive and breaking EC legislation and that it would impact on the sustainability of other distribution channels such as tour operators, agents and even destination websites.

VisitScotland and their partners continued regardless with the strategy of trying to become a world class online sales channel offering world class one-stop-shop online booking functionality. It was never going to be a reality but they carried on regardless of the oft stated and clearly legitimate concerns, creating a new Public Private Partnership to manage and develop the project - and get round some of the competition worries.

And then when that failed and lost millions the project was taken back in house again with a new Digital Marketing team overseeing it as part of a wholly public sector project.

We have continued to raise the issues since the new Digital team were appointed but the responses until now remained dismissive and a host of unanswered questions just float around regarding the strategy and the ability to implement on time on budget and still without due regard to competitive positions.

The fact that large scale tourism portals may actually have had their day is just not a consideration for VisitScotland's team. It is they who should be found first in the search engines, it is they who should be publishing destination websites, it is they who should be shaping the online message.There are many better qualified than we are who would highlight the folly of such a strategy particularly when public resources are tight.

What astonishes us most  is that this announcement has just slipped under the radar. VS may argue that this is not news but it has never been formally stated anywhere that we can before this announcement to the board that this was the strategy. It was certainly under discussion but had never been verified.

Is it right that a disastrous strategy nurtured over ten years which continued to feed the industry with the myth that VisitScotland had a (lead) role in online sales should be consigned to history with a single sentence from Corporate Services that the party's over?

This strategy, it can be readily argued, has impacted, at least in part, on the Scottish private sector's ability to develop new systems and distribution channels of its own. It has undoubtedly kept software developers from competing to create online solutions of their own for Scotland's hospitality sector and for others has fragmented the market impacting on their potential for growth.

For small web developers across the country the linked strategy of developing subsidised "Web in a Box" websites with online reservations built in has displaced business from north to south, east to west. For hoteliers using the system they have been caught in a spiders web of poor software functionality and no upgrading of systems and poor support.

If Scotland is seeking to encourage (inward) investment and as the First Minister said last week creative industries then perhaps the public sector should desist from getting involved in areas where the private sector are perfectly capable of producing better results.

It may just sound like an indignant rant at this point but there are serious issues of corporate responsibility in place here and it reflects no good at all on the Board, the senior executives and indeed the Scottish Government that this major long term strategic investment is to be written off quietly and off stage.

I am pretty certain that this will be continue to be played down by the key players as just part of the progression of strategy and that the changes were always going to happen. Such platitudes may actually satisfy many in the sector but perhaps we should be stepping up the pressure a little more in light of the closure of another disastrous foray by the public sector into private market places. Anyone remember Homecoming? When is it going to filter through to politicians that the hospitality sector would operate more effectively and efficiently with less intervention and less of a share of already scarce public funds.

The overall digital project has a full time in house team and is also working with external consultants on a project that simply doesn't add value. They talk jargon of the investment being justified because of "market failure". The search for market failure shouldn't take long to identify.

As for the simple act of communications when were they going to get around to announcing this new direction? No opportunities since the Board meeting? What about over ninety articles in two newsletters from the Chief Executive's office and a New year statement from the Chairman?

We have page long press releases for a Disney Movie, or the World Cross Country championships but nothing anywhere on the ditching of a key element of a multi-million pound public sector project. Are our press and politicians awake?

The current digital strategy has many similar areas within it that can and do raise similar concerns and the list of public tenders and expenditure going against it must surely now be put under independent scrutiny. We understand that at the time of writing the tender offer to North West England company New Mind to provide Destination Management software and services has yet to be signed - project date was June 2011.

In the current climate the justification for carrying on with these levels of expenditure in areas where failure has become systemic must surely be questioned by someone in power.

Or then again perhaps not.


Ahead of publishing the article above we sought clarification from VisitScotland on the key premise and were advised of the following.

  • It was stated the the decision to stop online direct sales is not related to State Aid but is strategic.
  • The decision "to stop online direct sales" will not happen for a further "eighteen months"
  • The current software contract (with Tiscover) for online sales ends in April.
  • Once the Tiscover contract comes to an end VisitScotland will provide ongoing direct online sales through a replacement extranet service on the same basis as the current model.
  • That in line with this time period VisitScotland will continue to offer a limited web service through the Web in a Box project. More details from VisitScotland.
  • VisitScotland have a timeline for the integration of accommodation providers own online reservations systems into to commence at the beginning of April with integration into the VisitScotland channels by the middle of May.
  • The costs of using their own choice of booking engine is still being finalised but will be offered as one of the services at the renewal date for website entries later this calendar year.
Any questions or comments?