Tuesday, July 10, 2012

VisitScotland Urged to Change Online Booking Policy

Over the past three or four months we have tried very hard to keep our comments private with regards to the new VisitScotland.com website and extranet. However as deadlines come and go with increasing regularity we have sent the following content to all of our booking engine clients explaining the situation. The content is relevant to all accommodation providers throughout Scotland and we are asking for support in ensuring that the current situation regarding the VS booking process is changed.

Dear Accommodation Provider

You will all no doubt be aware that in April of this year VisitScotland launched their new website and supporting extranet package.

As part of the contracted proposals VisitScotland should, at the same time as launching the new website designs, have launched an integrated channel management style process which was to allow for the integration of the accommodation’s availability and price direct from their own preferred booking engine. This was in fact one of the major changes to the system and was to ensure that accommodation providers could compete fairly and utilise their own booking engine without being forced to use VisitScotland’s proprietary system.

Whilst it was denied at that time by VisitScotland themselves, it became clear to us in late 2011 that this was clearly behind schedule and the programme for integration of SuperControl, FreetoBook, Bookassist and others was not likely to be ready for the March launch; it was then put back to the first week in June and we now have no definite date for this most important integration.

At a meeting in May of this year we were advised by the VisitScotland digital team that the intention to create in-house “channel management” software to allow operators to link their own availability directly was being seen as extremely expensive and problematic - a position that had been made clear to them on several occasions over the previous two years – and that they were now in discussions with English based Eviivo to utilise an off the shelf channel management solution. Whilst we still have serious commercial concerns over this option it was, we were advised, a solution that could be implemented quickly.

Nearly two months on from that meeting and in the middle of the tourism season we have now been advised that there are still no timescales for this integration and the position remains that the only way to update availability on VisitScotland.com is through a single system charging commissions and increased cost of sales at a time when everyone is feeling economic pain.

It was a critical part of the new website development plan that has taken place over the past two years that the integration of third party booking engines was put in place to ensure that accommodation providers were able to sell their rooms direct at the lowest possible cost. VisitScotland have failed in this important commitment to the accommodation sector and as a result hotels and B&B’s are being once again forced to use a VisitScotland booking engine tool that is neither fit for purpose nor offers any completion.

Bookassist in line with other booking engine providers have become increasingly frustrated with the position that VisitScotland are taking and we now believe that they are impacting directly on the revenues (and costs) of the accommodation providers by not offering the promised integration.

We believe that the current position should not be allowed to continue and call on VisitScotland to implement the easiest of solutions, and one that could, and should, have been in place at the relaunch of the new website. We are simply asking for a direct link to the accommodation providers own booking page to replace the Book Now button currently in situ.

Having been involved in various meetings with VisitScotland through the development process we are aware of how this could easily be done with little or no cost nor time delay and we are calling on the industry to get behind this call.

What is Being Requested

Currently there is a Book Now button on accommodation providers page that links ONLY to VisitScotland’s availability.

We are proposing that where the accommodation provider chooses this button should be replaced with a Book Direct button that opens a new frame opening up the booking page of the accommodation provider directly.

The link would be inserted by the accommodation provider in the current Extranet area. This would only require a simple insertion of a field and button by VisitScotland in the current extranet.

This may not provide the integrated search that VisitScotland wish to have but it does in the short term allow the visitor to access the best available and rates direct from the accommodation provider. This in the end reduces cost and improves service for both the visitor and supplier and increases the attractiveness of the VisitScotland distribution channel.

At a time of difficult market conditions, booking direct remains the lowest cost of sale for all Scottish operators and we think it is incumbent on the national tourism body to facilitate ease of booking for the site visitor and where possible assist in reducing the costs of sales to accommodation providers. Given the comments we have had from accommodation providers in relation to the problems updating the new booking extranet this may be a very popular decision amongst accommodation providers.

We believe that the inclusion of the Booking button could be implemented without any disruption to the new site layout with the addition of a different field pointing the booker to a window or frame. VisitScotland currently link to third party booking sites already without warning the visitor that they are leaving the site so this need not even be seen as a change of strategy and be a quick, convenient and logical fix to an issue that otherwise appears complicate, convoluted and expensive.

We have been pushing for the integration of the Bookassist booking engine for two years now and with the latest delays we felt we now had to seek your support in applying pressure on VisitScotland to change their processes. This can only be of benefit to both the site visitor and accommodation provider.

We are therefore asking you to reply with your own comments indicating whether your support the above statement.

Please add any comments you may have regarding the new VisitScotland extranet as this may assist in producing a stronger case.

Thank you in anticipation for your time.


Mark Linklater said...

Totally agree, see no reason why a direct link cannot be set up straight away. Not on anything like the same scale but on our site Scotland's Personal Hotels (www.scotland-hotels.com) all hotels have a direct link to their own online booking system or a direct email request for those that do not have an online system. Mark Linklater owner Scotland's Personal Hotels.

Peter Shearn said...

We are a competitor to BookAssist (CaterBook) and I could not agree more with this post.

We have been fighting for a level playing field from National Tourism Authorities since 2005! this situation never appears to improve. What is unfathomable to us is why? There is no logic to having a publicly funding system that effectively creates a monopoly.

Not only is this very likely to be illegal but more importantly it works against the interest of the industry as a whole.

Well done for speaking out on this, its well past time that something is done.