Friday 22 January 2010

VisitScotland’s £150,000 bonus bill to taxpayer !! Wow

Exclusive article in The Herald has exposed that Visitscotland has paid nearly £150,000 in bonuses to its senior management. VisitScotland has also confirmed that the taxpayer handed out about £75,000 in performance-related enhancements to its chief executive Philip Riddle.

The Herald requested the figures under a Freedom of Information exercise. Apparently under VisitScotland rules, the PUBLIC SECTOR directors are entitled to bonuses worth 10% of their salary, while the chief executive is entitled to a 15% increase. It would seem that Visitscotland are reluctant to talk about the specific targets but did say "that five corporate objectives were relevant when awarding increases based on performance." These included generating income and “in kind” contributions to support the public body’s core activities, helping build a positive corporate reputation, and promoting a successful tourism brand.

The figures reveal Mr Riddle received nearly £75,000 worth of bonuses since 2004, which took his remuneration package last year to nearly £220,000. Part of his latest pay deal included around £36,000 of retrospective bonuses from between 2005 and 2007 whilst his bonus for the last financial year has not yet been approved.

Riddell Graham, director of strategy, partnerships and communication, has benefited from about £9500 in bonuses since 2005 whilst Eddie Byers, director of business engagement, received nearly £14,000 in performance add-ons in the same period. Malcolm Roughead, director of marketing, got almost £29,000 in bonuses since 2004, while Ken Neilson, director of corporate services, received about £11,000. Paul Bush, the chief operating officer of EventScotland, has benefited from payments of about £9000 in the last two years.

The Herald states that the bonusses are controversial because "VisitScotland’s performance has not always pleased MSPs."
Not pleasing MSP's?
Let's put this in perspective here. This covers a period where restructuring saw the removal of area tourist boards and in spite of promises a much greater centralisation of control, it is also the period where the flagship policy of developing a world class online booking strategy failed, it is a period where the call centre function was criticised and ultimately was removed. 

If it doesn't please MSP's how do you think the tourism industry are going to take it!

Even regardless of the merits of VS strategies over the past five years, the revalation that bonusses have been paid whilst our market share has declined will be to many in the industry quite odious.

The industry has never felt more disenfranchised than it does currently and the revalations might just be good timing. If the public sector purse requires tightening then the role and status of the national tourist board must be questioned. Whilst the rest of us are worried about Return on Investment and how we can spend our money more wisely there remains a lack of leadership, of direction of strategy to take Scotland's tourism and hospitality sectors forward in the nedct ten years.
Instead strategy and long term planning appears to have been replaced with short term promotional activity - yes for sure there will be loud shouts about work in emerging markets and the success (sic) of Homecoming Scotland in developing our world profile - but the truth is that the role of VisitScotland, and indeed the public sector as a whole in the second decade, needs a reality check and radical scaling back.
It must get back to basics understand that it's role is in defining the destination and working with other agencies such as SDI to develop a consistent message about Scotland being a great place to live, to invest and to visit.
A single message consistently promoted across the necessary multiplicity of channels. 
Visitscotland should not be a promotions business, it should not be a booking agent, it should stop producing product as if it's a tour operator. It needs to have a simple role in marketing Scotland. The rest, in our opinion is the role of the private sector - hoteliers, attractions, restaurateurs, destination management organisations, marketing associations. 
According to the article, Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said people would be “very surprised” at the revelations, which “need to be investigated” and a spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: “Any bonuses paid at VisitScotland are based on robust performance measures which have to be achieved to a very high standard.” My goodness if I hadn't read the article I would have thought it was the PR company for RBS...
Mr Mather there has never been a better time for a radical review of what Destination Marketing for Scotland really means.


Anonymous said...

Bonuses without accountability. Time now for a full review of what we (taxpayer and tourism industry) are actually getting for our money.

The only good this is that the bonuses would have likely been much higher: if

1) “” had worked
2) “homecoming” had worked
3) “greatgolf give away” had worked
4) Jim Mathers “death by powerpoint” reviews had concluded
5) If….If….If….

Anonymous said...

We have paid many thousands of pounds over the years to be a member of VisitScotland or The Tourist Board and it has been for nothing! Total and utter waste of time and money! When you eventually do get a booking from them they also charge a 10% fee! So, its a win, win for them, not the members! We have cancelled membership now as we can't afford to keep it and really feel that we have been afforded no support at all. I think I will apply for a job at VS and fly around the world enjoying first class travel and perks whilst idiots like us pay for it! VS is a joke, it's time this was realised!

Anonymous said...

Smasll businesses like mine are struggling to survive. It is not very encouraging to hear that these bonuses have been paid out when I am getting ripped off from VS percentages and extortionate local markeing promotions that do not work! Very angry

Anonymous said...

As hoteliers anything we have been associated with directly or indirectly with VS has proved to be a waste of money. In the last year (as a hotel) we have been approached by John West to offer a prize to stay at our hotel - needless to say the advertising and promotion of this was less than adequate, and at times misleading, we have had major issues with their link with that infamous site, Trip Advisor, we have been asked to accommodate 2 journalists (at considerably reduced costs) to promote our area and our hotel, needless to say, the articles have not gone ahead. We have, in the past, paid nearly £1000 a year to advertise with VS, almost a total waste of money each time,and we know this because we keep a record of how each visitor heard about us, we went into the 'book' Hidden Gems 2 years ago at a cost of nearly £1000, needless to say it was about 5 inches tall and about 3 inches wide, not what we would call a 'book' at all - and certainly not a prize winning publication, done on the cheap, and clearly - in my view, the profits were diverted elsewhere.

I can highlight many other instances of being let down by VS, not only by their quality assurance scheme (which is currently the only part of VS that we support - for the obvious reason that we want our high star rating) one adviser stating quite the contrary to the next advisor, ie, no consistancy.

And here I am, reading this article, who at VS can honestly say that these bonuses are deserved? The Homecoming was the biggest anti climax I can think of, we were full throughout last year but not by returning homecomers! is a weak and useless site, and the 'giveaway' packages (such as golf, walking etc) are an insult to this country's superb tourist industry - which currently survives because of its individual hotels, restaurants, b&bs, not because of its Tourist Board (apparantly they no longer wish to be known by this title!!) Scotland depends upon its tourism more than any other industry, and as much, if not more than any oher country, we as accommodaton and activity providers should demand far more for a return of any money.

I read constantly of self promoting hoteliers, activity providers and chefs who claim to support all Scottish produce and products, its garbage! One South African owner has just won a prestigious award and he quite openly claims to have purchased all his wine, furniture and accessories from South Africa directly. The only winners with VS are those who are quite openly self promoting, sucking up to the VS bonus recievers and plainly not the least bit interested in promotion of all things Scottish or support of the less profit making areas of their business.

Just to clarify, we are a VERY successful 4 star hotel, we are always busy, very popular and we no longer pay any monies to VS, or any other large organisation that claims that we cannot cannot function without them. We get good publicity and great support from organisations and places like the Good Hotel Guide, Michelin, Scotland the Best - there is no need whatsoever to feel pressure to support Visit Scotland -

And especially not until they put their tourism industry before their own selves. Most of the people working for VS have no clue as to how it works, and even worse, neither do the 'members' - and worst of all, most of the employees and directors of VS have no idea how to put this industry 'leader' back on its feet.

If there are any hoteliers out there feeling scarred about dropping VS, think again, we did 2 years ago, and we have never looked back.

If VS could sort themselves out, listen to what their 'members' tell them and understand their industry, how best to promote it, create a formula and stick by it, then we as hoteliers would support them, until then, anyone who does finance VS is a fool.

Anonymous said...

For the record. VS Annual Report 08-09-
Two thirds of VS budget is given to its directors to spend (£47.8m). Of the remaining third, commercial income declined by 6.4% to £20m. Forgive me, but where's the 'performance' here? Don't hide, step forward and defend yourselves VS Directors.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to have to title any correspondance as anonymous on this site, but realistically it is too difficult to post my comment above any other way. So, please dont read any of the other comments titled Anonymous and think that they have deliberately done this, it just isnt clear how to post a comment in any other way.

Anonymous said...

well, all these years that we thought VisitScotland was not run on proper business lines. How wrong can we be? Mismanaging a business so that the good intentions of its founders are subsumed in mire of incompetence while those responsible enjoy accolades and fat cat bonuses is entirely appropriate to 21st century business. My faith is restored. Where do I apply?

J B Cox said...

Never hear VS highlighting the massive difference other EU countries do to support the Tourism Industry(accommodation sector)compared with the UK, £ms are being invested in infrastructure and VAT is only 5% france and Spain.

Anonymous said...

It is time these "Directors" were made accountable. The fees charge for the poor service provided do not add up.
Perhaps these may become Bankers in their next job.

Anonymous said...

Whinge whinge whinge. Is that all Scotland's hoteliers can do? Embrace VS, phone them every day, get their support, lean on them. Try their paid for opportunities and monitor them. If they don't work don't do them again. Why do people think VS have a duty to fill their hotels. They have to market Scotland then we can build on what they are doing from there. We, as individuals, have to take responsibility. Yes there are difficulties but talk to the decision makers - It's not difficult to contact them - and make your concerns known. That's what I have done for over 20 years and it has worked for me. Come on industry - support Scotland's ONLY national marketing agency or we may end up with something a lot worse. JS

Admin said...

JS, I'm not sure whether to say I agree or disagree with you!
I spent much of the past two days at a couple of seminars on online marketing where my whole message was built on the need for individual businesses to get into the analagous car and drive it for themselves. There is for sure a tendency, a Scottish tendency perhaps, to blame others for our own failings. Find an excuse. Having spent two years on an Area Tourist Board, I have some sympathy for the destination marketing teams who receive the brunt of the criticism. On the other hand I can't say that I'm right behind you on the performance levels of the VS product neither on or off line and I think that structural and strategic changes must take place that reflect both the size of the public purse and the need for the industry to take more responsibility for their own business.

Joint marketing initiatives, access to market places using new technology and social media, private sector booking sites, third party distribution channels all have ensured that the disemination of tourism information has changed forever. The economies of scale that area and national tourist boards offered and their levels of distribution have changed the faces of both supply and demand irreversably.

In my opinion a national tourist board should not exist to create paid advertising and mailshot opportunites for the few. It should be there for an overarching umberalla destination building exercise; to develop a strategy, not a series of promotions, that the industry can buy into.

I have had concerns about Event Scotland in the past but the creation of Scotland as an international events destination certainly has merits. I'm still not sure whether that should really be a public sector or private sector role but I see that in part as perhaps being a positive role model.
I think you're being supportive of VS but in doing so overlooking the fragmentation that has occured following the break up of the area networks.
The centralisation of the functions was required but not the centralisation of the planning. Tourism requires a greater level of bottom up planning (traditional Goals Down, Plans Up) but there are very few areas in Scotland where any goals are even delivered. Buying an advert in a brochure or for a mailshot is not a strategy. I think a root and branch role will probably occur; Jim Mather previously promised to undertake that very course of action whilst in opposition and perhaps for financial rather than strategic reasons that may now take place.

I still work occasionally on strategic groups with senior management in VS and therefore would never actually criticise individuals personally but there is a feeling of inactivity and stagnation about our direction. Homecoming has been followed by an apparent vaccuum between now and The Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup.

I don't think simply repeating last year's promotional activity time after time is enough. As you say we need to give support to our national tourist board but I don't ever think it should be unconditional.

Brian @ said...

"I spent much of the past two days at a couple of seminars on online marketing where my whole message was built on the need for individual businesses to get into the analagous car and drive it for themselves. "

And such comments are more than fair - however, as someone who runs an internet marketing company, rather than working in hospitality, I am pretty aghast at some of the awful decisions that have been made by VS.

For example, the failed booking system should never have been allowed to burn millions in a wasted project. No marketing company worth its salt would have done that - only a body with deep pockets run by clueless civil servants could surely achieve such a feat!

I live in Nairn - I see our local tourist point is apparently to be closed - and that VS promote the town online, famous for its beaches, with a poor quality winter photo! How can VC be argued to be doing their job when they are plainly failing local tourist sectors?

- Brian