Monday 7 October 2013

The Rise of the Meta Search Opportunity

Ciaran Rowe is Senior Search Strategist, and Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and founder at Bookassist (, the award-winning technology and online strategy partner for hotels worldwide.
The demands of the online consumer for a more efficient way to assess multiple sources of information, for example comparing lots of sites for the best price for a specific hotel on a specific date, has directly led to the recent rapid rise in meta search websites and technologies of late.

Meta search for travel has actually been around in various formats for quite some time, particularly for flights, though airlines like Ryanair have taken considerable steps to thwart them. Recent news shows that Skyscanner, for example, is expected to massively grow and also expand into hotels.

The first model in the meta search arena was introduced by Sidestep in 1999, in the format of a downloadable widget. The basic comparison principle has remained much the same since then, but the model is becoming ever more sophisticated as technology develops and meta search presence is now becoming an integral part of customer acquisition strategy for hotels.

The most popular sites for accommodation at the moment include Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Kayak & Trivago, all of whom offer real time availability and pricing from multiple sources to their users, thereby allowing the user to make an informed decision with minimal effort. Consolidation in this space has been rife recently, with smaller sites being acquired by some of the bigger players, and new entrants to the market quickly grabbing a huge presence in the consumers’ decision making process.

The Third Way Online for Hotels

For consumers, the development of meta search was clearly a useful tool in their search process, but for hotels the advantages weren't initially so clear. The rates and availability being displayed were usually taken from OTA sites, so although the hotels might be getting bookings through meta search, they were coming at a high price - up to 25% commission in some instances.

This all changed recently as the meta search providers allowed for integration with the hotel’s own inventory, thus enabling direct contact between hotels and consumers. The introduction of this integration changed the meta search model from being just another distribution channel to becoming a key marketing channel for hotels. Note that hotels can’t directly integrate themselves with most meta search sites - they need to be using a hotel representation service, such as Bookassist, that can manage the data and integration for them in a structured and automated way.

Hotel representation companies such as Bookassist have integrated with Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor, Trivago and others to allow Bookassist client hotels’ inventory and rates to be fed automatically and dynamically to the meta search sites, allowing hotels to compete head to head with the OTA pricing on those sites.

For hotels, meta search can therefore be viewed as the “third way” online, sitting right in the middle between the direct model on the one hand, where the customer books directly on the hotel’s own website, and the indirect online travel agent (OTA) model on the other hand, where the customer browses and books on a single branded OTA platform such as Expedia or
Game-Changing Marketing Opportunity

As a marketing channel, meta search interacts with users at most stages of their research and decision making process. So whether a user goes directly to a site such as Trivago, or if they are doing a general search in Google, or even if they are looking at reviews in TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for hoteliers to be directly present with their live rates, and the chance to bring the user directly to the hotel website booking page.

Once a hotel is working with a company such as Bookassist, pages on TripAdvisor where they can expect their rates to appear include their own hotel page. They will also appear on generic location pages on TripAdvisor, for example ‘Paris Hotels’, but the level of exposure on these type of pages will depend on how highly ranked the hotel is in within TripAdvisor itself. Ranking is always king on TripAdvisor.

Google offers a bewildering array of placement opportunities once your hotel is using an integrated service like Bookassist. Rates can appear on Google’s Hotel Finder, on Google Maps, on Google+ Local, and in Google Universal searches. In this case the ranking of the placement relative to the OTA offerings will specifically depend on the price of a double room for the dates chosen by the customer, and on the bid placed for the potential click by the representation company managing the listing on the hotel’s behalf.

This has the potential to be a game-changer for hotels - why would a user go to an individual OTA website when they can check multiple OTA offerings in one place using meta search?

Hotels can now compete on an equal footing with OTAs, particularly when it comes to users specifically researching the hotel brand, but they need to understand the medium first and partner with an experienced provider such as Bookassist. 

Practical Details

Getting set up to appear on meta search sites is relatively straightforward, but as mentioned, needs to be done via a representation company that has established a trusted integration with the meta search site. The system generally works on a pay per click model, with the hotel charged every time a user clicks through to their booking page, similar to the Google Adwords PPC model. If a user does not click then there is no charge for the exposure. So it’s still valuable free advertising.

Managing these campaigns is a skill that requires experience in the online marketing area, in particular with meta search marketing, so we would advise partnering with a provider that offers a robust integration as well as marketing expertise to get the most from your marketing budget.

Budgets for meta search marketing vary significantly by property, but the costs are not prohibitive. A budget of €500 each per month usually provides good exposure on Google Hotel Finder and on Tripadvisor. However, participating in meta search marketing is not something you should set up and forget about. In order to generate a good return you need to ensure good availability and rate parity or better, as well as a good user experience when they arrive at your booking page or landing page. The click delivery is the meta searchers’ job, but conversion of the customer is still yours.

Try your hotel's numbers in this calculation.
TABLE 1: Try your hotel's numbers in this calculation.

When looking at the return on investment, it is also critical to factor in the commission costs that were saved by diverting a user from booking through an OTA to booking direct on the hotel site. For example, through an OTA your booking may have been at 20%, while through your website it may be at 3% or less, plus the click charges. As an example, enter your own figures in Table 1 and see what can be achieved. The savings of course need to also contribute to website costs and management fees, but it still is significant. Getting this right on a regular and consistent basis means that there is a considerable ongoing benefit to be had.

What’s more, since the customer converted has booked on your own website, you now have their details for future marketing. This customer is now your customer, not an OTAs customer, which presents further opportunities for brand building and re-marketing in order to capitalise on life-time value.
Bottom Line

Meta Search marketing is a great opportunity for hotels. To ensure you get clicks, you need to be focused on pushing the best rates and always having last room availability. Remember that a click is wasted unless you can work hard on ensuring conversion through proper website design, specific targeted landing pages, and a booking engine layout designed to convert.

Meta search is one of so many online marketing approaches, all of which need to be tackled and optimized. It is important to partner with an experienced provider, with a proven track record in online marketing and strategy, in order to really maximise the returns on your investment and to be kept informed of the latest trends and opportunities in the area.
What’s more, since the customer converted has booked on your own website, you now have their details for future marketing. This customer is now your customer, not an OTAs customer, which presents further opportunities for brand building and re-marketing in order to capitalise on life-time value.

Bottom Line

Meta Search marketing is a great opportunity for hotels. To ensure you get clicks, you need to be focused on pushing the best rates and always having last room availability. Remember that a click is wasted unless you can work hard on ensuring conversion through proper website design, specific targeted landing pages, and a booking engine layout designed to convert.
Meta search is one of so many online marketing approaches, all of which need to be tackled and optimized. It is important to partner with an experienced provider, with a proven track record in online marketing and strategy, in order to really maximise the returns on your investment and to be kept informed of the latest trends and opportunities in the area.

Monday 16 September 2013


Leading hotel strategy partner Bookassist ( today announced the release of their certified interface to Google Hotel Finder. The interface, built by Google engineers and Bookassist's development team, enables live room availability and best rates to be displayed to hotel customers searching on Google, boosting direct bookings. 

Up to now, only large travel sites (OTAs) were able to reach customers early in the decision-making process online, but now meta-search technologies like Google’s allow the hotel website to also position itself directly in front of potential guests as they begin their search.Hotels can compete head on with OTAs in Google Hotel Price Ads, on Google Maps, Google+ Local and Google Hotel Finder.
 "By being part of meta-search on websites like Google Hotel Finder we are levelling the playing field with OTAs, giving guests the opportunity to book directly with our hotel. Meta-search marketing generates incremental revenues for us, produces excellent return on our ad spend, and is managed stress-free for us by Bookassist", comments Valerie Steinbeck, Group Revenue & Ecommerce Manager, Destination Killarney Group. 
"This is a real opportunity for hotels to position their own websites right where their customers are considering options and making decisions", says Mary Collins, Head of Internet Marketing at Bookassist. 
With this integration, live hotel rates will now display next to those of the OTAs in Google’s Hotel Finder, on Google Maps, in Google+ Local, and Google Universal searches. Now when a potential customer enters dates in a hotel's destination or for a particular hotel, the hotel's own rates and availability can compete with the OTAs for the direct sale.
While many hotels are taking advantage of this growing direct online revenue opportunity and are adding meta-search marketing to their core marketing budgets the concluding message for hotels must, however, be one of caution.  Even though this new technology gives them a new opportunity to compete with OTAs they must be mindful that the technology is simply an enabler. With the increased online visibility it will give to a critical audience, careful monitoring and management of online rates and availability has never been more critical.
For further information for Scottish hotels email Neil or call on 01294 233713 

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Golf Tourism Strategy Launched

Along with another 99 delegates I'm heading expectantly towards Perth tomorrow to hear about the first combined golf strategy developed for Scotland's golf industry. Ah the first?

Yes well maybe it is technically the first but mischievously (clearly) I couldn't resist looking through the files for the other first combined strategy developed in 2000 as support for the subsequently doomed Ryder Cup bid for 2009. A ten year strategy that came out of pressure applied at the time by the very vociferous and articulate golf tourism group SIGTOA.

So anyway to tomorrow. A new direction? New ideas? New communication frameworks? New ways to reduce duplication between regional golf groups? A new organisational structure? New economic targets? Infrastructure improvements? Support for developing the customer experience? New tournaments? Improved transition between amateur and professional ranks? A new online tee time reservation system? A joint industry website selling tour packages?

There would be absolutely no chance that the speech and the press release would ever include any of the following then?

"Golf is worth nearly £100 million to the Scottish economy every year and is a vital part of our tourist industry.
"As the home of golf, Scotland boasts some of the finest and most famous courses in the world. We have over 500 courses and clubs in convenient city or stunning rural locations that cater for every taste and price range.
"In the past our first class assets have been underused and their potential to attract tourists has not been fully developed. One of the key aims of the Tourist Strategy, which I launched in February, was to address the under performance of tourism by developing 'niche marketing', particularly in areas such as golf and genealogy.
"The launch of the golf strategy today opens a new chapter in Scottish tourism. From now on we will be aggressively marketing our world class facilities and aiming to secure more prestigious events like The Open and Ryder Cup.
"We will also be looking to improve the quality of the typical golf holiday through training initiatives and new investment in the infrastructure.
"I am delighted that Europe's number one golfer, Colin Montgomerie is backing the strategy and I'm sure with his continued support we can raise the profile of Scottish golf to new levels.
"A great golf course with a priceless history must no longer be accompanied by second rate service and sub-standard off-course amenities. That is a package tour to failure. A world class welcome must back our world class golf. To fail on this is to squander a priceless asset and consign our tourism industry to the second division.
"I am confident that the initiatives outlined in the Golf Strategy will have a major impact on tourist numbers, bring more jobs and prosperity to the Scottish economy and ultimately help secure the long-term future of the game".
A New Strategy for Scottish Golf Tourism aims to:
  • Develop new marketing campaigns for Scottish golf involving spending of up to £500,000 by the Scottish Tourist Board;
  • Invest in business development through a further £400,000 from Scottish Enterprise and £250,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise;
  • Appoint a new National Golf Tourism Development Manager to lead the implementation of the Strategy;
  • Focus on attracting more women and children to the courses in Scotland;
  • Implement training packages to assist golf clubs with marketing, business planning and service;
  • Establish regional golf development groups to improve the service to visiting golfers throughout Scotland;
  • Develop the network of 'golf classic' events to improve access for visitors to attractive golf packages;
  • Provide support for the development of infrastructure and facilities for visitors in Scotland's golf clubs;
  • Improve the industry's market intelligence by researching golf markets and golf consumer;
  • Identify new channels through which to promote Scottish golf to consumers, including its two main websites and;
  • Introduce new research methods to monitor the way golf tourism is measured and therefore the progress of the Strategy.
The launch of the Golf Strategy was also welcomed by Deputy Minister for Culture and Sport, Rhona Brankin. She said:
"Today's announcement is a landmark for Scottish golf and presents the sport with an excellent opportunity to grow and prosper in the future.
"By aiming to attract more golf tourists the strategy will strengthen the game nationally, help develop facilities and give more young people the chance to make a career from the sport.
"I am delighted that the strategy also makes a clear commitment to bringing more world class events like The Open and Ryder Cup to Scotland. These prestigious competitions will build on the high profile which Scottish golf currently enjoys, mainly thanks to the success of Colin Montgomerie.
"When the golf strategy begins to pay dividends I think we can look forward to a stronger game in Scotland and a new generation of young people enthusiastically taking up the game".

11th of July 2000...

Monday 12 August 2013

Technology Trends That Are Changing Hospitality

Our Guest Blogger, Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder of Bookassist (, the leading technology and online strategy partner for hotels. Bookassist provides Site Builder web design, Traffic Builder online marketing and Booking Engine services to drive direct business to hotels and was recently voted World’s Leading Booking engine Technology Provider by the industry.

​In the evolution of the hotel business, the guest is the driver and the dominant change in guest behaviour in recent years has undoubtedly been in the realm of technology. Guests are increasingly tech-savvy leading them to demand higher and higher standards. These fast-changing standards are increasingly difficult for hotels to reach. But they are a key factor in guest choice.
It was a truism in the restaurant business that a customer would be disappointed if presented with food inferior to what they could reproduce at home. The analogous problem for hotels now is that guests often have far superior levels of networking and technology at home, leading to a disappointment factor with the hotel. 
Here are just some of the areas that we see as crucial to hotels today, based on customer searches we monitor, customer reviews we collect, and general industry commentary.
Guests Expect Speed
Guests are now traveling with their own technology, and prefer to choose and consume their own media. This has a number of immediate implications.
Wireless broadband connections in rooms and throughout the hotel must now be fast, easily accessible and preferably free. On the speed end, many hotel customers would now routinely have 50Mb or 100Mb fibre connections to their homes, so inferior speeds at hotels leads to frustration. It is not an exaggeration to say that the lack of quality high speed wifi is an inhibitor to your business. At Bookassist, we see “wifi” and “free wifi” to be a dominant search term for our hotels online.
As recently noted on Tnooz, some estimates put the amount of lost revenue across the industry from lost bookings due to poor wifi at close to $5 billion a year. Read more at
Multi-Device Guests Are The Norm
A mistake that many hotels make is “rationing” of wifi connections. Providing access to wifi based on guest name and room number log-in is commonplace, but often it is restricted to one or two simultaneous logins per room. This is crazy in the modern age.
It’s not just business travelers who need connectivity. Most of your guests will have two or more wifi devices. It’s not uncommon for one person to have a laptop, iPad and smart phone all on the go at the same time and with a couple or a family in a room, the number of devices required to be connected can quickly mushroom. Even cameras can now use wifi to transfer photos to computers and iPads. Expect guests’ smart watches to be adding to the connectivity list by this time next year. 
If you are aiming to deliver an experience that is even better than “home away from home”, then your network architecture is an area that needs to be seriously and quickly addressed.
Examples of recent hotel guest trends. Multiple devices are the norm and the number per person is sure to grow. The expectation of wifi services is now a key decider in booking trends. (Data above is extracted from SmartBrief Media Services White Paper on Top Hospitality Tech Trends June 2013,
Examples of recent hotel guest trends. Multiple devices are the norm and the number per person is sure to grow. The expectation of wifi services is now a key decider in booking trends. (Data above is adapted from SmartBrief Media Services White Paper on Top Hospitality Tech Trends June 2013,
Are You Investing In Pointless Provision?
Traditional in-house entertainment is rapidly fading as a service. On-demand TV movies are increasingly ignored. A guest with an iPhone likely has their entire music collection with them, or can access it from the cloud. With a tablet or phone, it is likely your guest has movies with them, or access to a cloud movie store with far greater choice than you can offer. Ensuring that your wifi can handle this traffic is therefore critical. But you can go further and ensure the guests’ experience can be enhanced by what you provide.
Docks for iPhone/iPod are already problematic since Apple’s devices have multiple connectors and many guests are not Apple users. But both Apple and Google have cheap wifi devices that connect to HDMI flat screens and sound systems and allow content to be “beamed” wirelessly to them from smartphones, tablets and laptops. The AppleTV device is a small wifi device that also shows the iTunes store, and Netflix, for renting movies with a choice that would be unrealistic and impractical for a hotel to attempt to provide. Google’s new Chromecast similarly allows any smart device running the Google’s Chrome web browser to feed its screen wirelessly to an equipped TV. Guests may indeed increasingly be bringing these devices with them. 
Beyond accessing online movie content, another major advantage of these inexpensive connectivity devices is that they allow for large screen gaming. As family vacationers know, gaming is a critical time filler for the kids much appreciated by their parents. But gaming is also strongly embraced by adults of all ages. Connectivity should facilitate it.
It may not be necessary to equip all TVs with these gizmos, but having a stock of them available and advertised at check-in is something you should consider. Some hotels have gone further, with the provision of in-house iPads for guests, loaded with local info and hotel information, but the cost of this service and the speed at which these devices are superceded would indicate that this is not a trend to follow. With guests bringing their own technology, connectivity is the key focus area.
Mobile and Social Feed Each Other
Of course you can capitalise on all this connectivity you are providing too. Ask guests to share pictures online of their happy moments in your hotel. Post signs and have your check-out staff remind them to request their positive comments online if they are enjoying their stay. Give rewards for the best meal photo of the week shared on your Facebook page. Be creative in encouraging social media in a positive way. Most of all, ensure it is being monitored on the major channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, TripAdvisor so that you can fix issues arising instantly.
Remember that the impact of social media on hotels is not just all about TripAdvisor. Private social media is even larger, where people check-in or comment on Facebook or Google+ or other such services. When guests post pictures and comments about your hotel to their friends, you do not have the opportunity to interact at all. But the influence of a friend’s comments on you are far more persuasive than those of hundreds of anonymous TripAdvisors.
Digital Guest Interaction
Evaluating an in-house internet channel, or in-house app service, specifically for guest interaction and information provision is something well worth considering. Digital concierge is a fast growing area, and is a natural but powerful evolution of the old TV-driven in-room information system. For example, having multilingual room service menus on such a channel, as well as ordering capability, is something that is trending well in larger hotels and has a place in smaller ones too. Couple this with clear and regularly-updated information on services available in the hotel (like your stock of AppleTVs or Chromecasts available on request) and you are providing information right where your guests expect it. Your app could even suggest services based on the type of device the guest is using, or the usage pattern in the hotel. This is a strong area for the future. 
There is a popular trend towards automated check-in and check-out, which is desirable in larger properties and business properties to avoid queues. Such services are probably far less necessary in boutique and family hotels with the personal touch, but are nevertheless worth watching. It is also the point at which services can be advertised and upsold in simple touch-screen format.
Bottom Line
Guests are highly connected and multi-device dependent. They are increasingly bringing and consuming their own media. Hotels must deliver high speed connectivity, online services, and allow guests to optimise their own digital experience. It is no longer just the business guest that requires technology, though the requirements for business and conference capabilities have just as seriously grown in recent years. The question for you is, is guest-facing technology a true priority for your hotel?
Infographic from Xirrus and Moonblink via, August 2, 2013
Infographic from Xirrus and Moonblink via, August 2, 2013

TripAdvisor Connect - What Does it Mean For Your Online Business?

We've been asked how the new TripAdvisor Connect will work with Bookassist web booking engine when it goes live later in the year. Well Bookassist is one of the Premium Partners listed on the TripAdvisor Connect page and that ensures that Bookassist booking engine users will be to make full use of the programmes when they go live.

Your Bookassist Account Manager will be able to advise you on how it can best work for you. The following article was first published in Early August 2013 on

You can of course find out all about the very latest in hotel online marketing support from the Bookassist website.

TripAdvisor announced that 210 Internet booking engines have signed up in anticipation of the site’s game-changing online platform, TripAdvisor Connect, scheduled to launch later this year. The number of committed booking engines means that more than 135,000 hotels and B&Bs worldwide will be able to participate in Hotel Price Comparison on TripAdvisor.

Initial commitment for TripAdvisor Connect has exceeded company expectations, with booking engines from 48 countries already on board. The announcement has also generated interest from industry opinion leaders.

Jay Karen, President and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, welcomes the development: “Currently it seems that millions of TripAdvisor visitors may bypass B&Bs when searching by dates of stay, because there has been no connectivity to nearly all of the inventory in our industry. This initiative looks to be a big step forward.”

“We’re delighted to have such an international range of Internet booking engines on board for the launch of TripAdvisor Connect. The enthusiastic response from over 200 Internet booking engines from 48 countries shows that they realize this will be a powerful new way for their clients to generate incremental bookings,” says Jean-Charles Lacoste, TripAdvisor’s Vice President of Direct Connect Solutions. “We anticipate signing up even more Internet booking engines over the next few weeks and we look forward to enabling so many independent accommodation owners to generate new bookings.”

TripAdvisor has devised a tiered certification process for Internet booking engines to offer their clients:

  • TripAdvisor Connect – hotels and B&Bs can bid for TripAdvisor meta search traffic
  • TripAdvisor Connect Plus – hotels and B&Bs can bid for TripAdvisor meta search traffic and automate review collection efforts using TripAdvisor’s Review Express service, which will be integrated into the platform
  • TripAdvisor Connect Premium – hotels and B&Bs can bid for traffic, automate review collection and track the results of their activity to measure their return on investment

As of today, close to 90 percent of the committed 210 Internet booking engines will be TripAdvisor Connect Premium partners. TripAdvisor Connect will enable Business Listings subscribers to provide real-time availability and online booking to travelers researching on TripAdvisor via their booking engines.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Mobile Booking is Now Essential

Still not gone mobile? You're not alone but you really should have gone mobile by now. There is no excuse anymore. this morning featured an excellent article by Eye For Travel outlining why its well worth doing.

"The more user friendly and ‘hassle’-free a company’s mobile booking service is, the more time and measurable ‘hassle’ they’ve gone through to make it that way. So the big question is this: is making the mobile reservation as smooth as possible worth the effort? EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta finds out.
The modern traveller on the go expects a mobile booking service to deliver a turmoil-free experience while they search for, check availability and complete a booking. With mobile traffic on the rise, hotel companies run the risk of losing bookings if they don’t improve their mobile conversion rate - and mobile bookings are on the rise. Since 2011, 63% more travel suppliers saw mobile booking volumes increase, according to the Social Media and Mobile in Travel Distribution Report 2013.
So yes the hassle is worth it but there are steps hotels companies should be taking to make the most of this fast growing channel. By learning how to convert and format content to work on any mobile device and finalise an appropriate real-time booking engine interface for users on the go, for example, the risk of attrition in the booking process becomes less of a problem. There are several crucial aspects that should come together for customers when choosing mobile booking engines.
A mobile booking engine should:
  • Feature a user-friendly interface that works with all platforms, and also identify the device automatically and present the apt custom interface.
  • Allow users to search, view availability and book a room seamlessly. Users should also be able to offer content, pictures and rates the way it is done for websites.
  • Allow hotels to manage inventory easily for mobile-related bookings to pave way for promotional pricing, room upgrades etc.
  • Allow hotels to track progress by, for example, tracking search terms or pay-per-click to shape full management reports.
So what can you do?

Bookassist Mobile Solution Ticks All The Boxes

Bookassist Mobile solution is already providing mobile websites for a number of clients in Scotland and are delighted to offer all of the above as standard from as little as £500 plus VAT.

The solution can be live for current Bookassist web booking engine clients within 48 hours but even for non Bookassist users it is a serious option as Ian McCaig from Bookassist Scotland points out.

"We are quite surprised at just how few hotels - even city centre destinations - have engaged with the mobile user for easy to make bookings. The OTA's are providing high commission models through their distribution channels but hotels really need to offer low cost booking on their own site for all the usual reasons. It is easy for any hotel to use the Bookassist mobile solution in the same way they would use other channels. The key difference however is that the mobile booking is a DIRECT booking at a fraction of the cost of the OTA sales. From enquiry to set up for a hotel not using Bookassist would normally take less than a week and the management of the ongoing rates and availability couldn't be easier."

If you're not mobile already you need to accept that your customer is.

There is no excuse why you shouldn't be picking up last minute business from all those mobile phones and tablets.

Contact Bookassist now on 0845 150 1314 for further information or better email them for an information pack

Download PDF Briefing Document

Thursday 4 July 2013

Vive La France!

The trading practices of the big OTA's is being questioned by the French. Good on them! Full article at The Telegraph is worth a read.

"France's biggest hotel employer's union, UMIH, argues that – the largest online hotel reservation website in the world – Expedia and HRS, are breaking French and European competition rules by forcing hotels to give them their lowest rates, and then barring them from offering discounted rates elsewhere, including on the hotels' own websites.
It took its complaint to France's competition authority, adding that the commission imposed by the companies is becoming extortionate.
"The online hotel booking platforms have become a crucial channel of distribution for French hotels, notably the smaller ones," said UMIH. However, it added, "the advantages offered by these platforms have gradually been cancelled out by the harmful effects of commercial practices that violate European and French competition laws."

We couldn't agree more...

Monday 24 June 2013

Government help for visitors to enjoy Scottish landscapes

As those of us who tour around Scotland on business it is all too true that for the visitor, even those on a short break, the journey is indeed part of the holiday. I drove down recently to Crinan Hotel and getting there in the late evening was almost as much fun as arriving at the destination

And it could be about to get a little bit better thanks to a new scheme to make the Scottish landscape more accessible – to visitors and Scots alike. The Scottish Scenic Routes initiative aims to capitalise on the fact that many of Scotland’s roads offer the ideal vantage point to admire the nation’s spectacular scenery.

The project has received £500,000, as part of the £205 million package of measures announced by the Scottish Government to support jobs and growth in Scotland.

Uniquely designed viewing platforms and viewpoints will be created at the roadside of our most scenic routes, such as the A82, to significantly improve the journey experience by creating new places to stop and enjoy Scotland’s landscapes.

Inspired by Norway’s spectacular viewpoints success story, Scotland plans to achieve a range of economic and cultural benefits by:
  • Enhancing visitors holiday experience
  • Making journeys through the landscape more enjoyable
  • Creating opportunities for young Scottish design talent to re-imagine the landscape
  • Providing job opportunities to local/rural communities
  • Attracting more visitors to spend more time enjoying the Scottish countryside
Other projects to support this initiative are already underway, such as roadside scrub tree clearance to open up spectacular views of Loch Lomond from the A82 through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It is also anticipated this pilot project will include a location out with the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

Selected viewpoint projects will be opened up to design competitions targeted at young Scottish architects and designers creating opportunities to exhibit their skills and creativity within our best landscapes and to an international visitor audience. It is hoped that the pilot viewpoint projects will be underway later this year.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said, “Scotland has some of the most fantastic landscapes and a high quality environment that is widely appreciated by visitors from home and abroad. We want to provide them with more engaging opportunities to fully appreciate what our great countryside has to offer.

During my recent visit to Norway, I heard of the many economic benefits of their National Tourist Routes project and believe we can build on that and do even better. I am very encouraged that some organisations are already keen to become involved and I have been delighted to receive joint proposals from Scottish Canals and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park suggesting how to get this national initiative underway.

The future projects will create exciting opportunities and new jobs, support and showcase Scottish design talent, and also have a long lasting effect in supporting our tourism industry, putting our spectacular scenic routes more firmly on the international visitor map. This is only a start, but I am confident that, in time, we can benefit from even better image and reputation of Scotland’s stunning countryside.”

Ewan Anderson, Partner, 7N Architects, said.,  "From the moment we first heard about the Norwegian experience we recognised the opportunities inherent in the development of Scotland's tourist routes. We are delighted our own input to developing this new strategy has contributed to an initiative that can produce a positive transformation in the way Scotland’s citizens and visitors view the country's architecture and natural landscape. It is significant that the project is being launched within the Year of Natural Scotland. The pilot projects have the capacity to deliver a tangible legacy from this celebratory event and present a real opportunity to utilise the talents of Scotland’s emerging architects and designers.”
An interesting article on what travellers in The States see as making up good website content. These things are always highly subjective but this doesn't make this any the less interesting for that.

The article titled, "Does your website reflect what the market really wants?" was published on 19 Jun, 2013 by Peter C. Yesawich in Hotel and Motel Management

"What features and functions do travelers truly value in websites that promote the sale of travel services? The answers may surprise you.

According to the MMGY Global 2013 Portrait of American Travelers, three of the five most desirable website features relate to the price/value of travel services: “The ability to check the lowest available fares/rates” (83 percent), “a lowest price/rate guarantee”(80 percent), and “the ability to compare the fares/rates of multiple suppliers” (73 percent). Visual portrayals of the product/experience also make the top five: “Photos of the hotel and resort facilities” (78 percent). Convenience is also cited as a very desirable attribute: “Having an easy-to-use booking feature” (74 percent). 

Other visual content attributes cluster in the second tier of preference, cited by roughly seven out of ten travelers who plan/book online. These include “photos of the area” (73 percent) and “the ability to preview room locations” (68 percent). 

The “ability to check last minute air, hotel and car-rental availability” is valued by two thirds (62 percent) of leisure travelers who plan/book online, as is the “ability to download coupons for savings” (58 percent).

User-generated reviews that feature commentary from travelers who have had a personal experience with a specific travel service supplier are valued by just over half (51 percent) of all travelers. 

Three out of ten (30 percent) cite mobile apps and social functions such as the ability to share photos and personal experiences (28 percent). Links to the leading social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are cited by just one out of four. 

Travelers who use the Internet to obtain travel information and/or make reservations are generally less likely to consider several website attributes very/extremely desirable today versus just two years ago. The attributes for which the greatest differences (>10 percent) have been observed include: 
  • Email notification of travel specials and discounts when they become available (14 percent);
  • The ability to download coupons for savings on air tickets, hotel rooms, rental car services or vacation packages (11 percent);
  • Virtual video tours of the hotel and resort facilities (10 percent);
  • Virtual video tours of the area (10 percent);
  • Being able to download and print promotional literature and brochures from the website (10 percent).

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Co-operative Development Prize for Scottish Tourism

Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, is helping to launch a £40,000 prize this week designed to encourage businesses to work collaboratively.

Last year First Minister Alex Salmond launched Co-operative Development Scotland’s (CDS) inaugural Collaboration Prize at Edinburgh Castle. CDS is a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise.

This year the pool of funding has been boosted by £10,000 to £40,000. The four winning concepts will be announced in October and will each receive a cash prize of £5,000 and £5,000 of support.

Scotland’s 578 co-operative businesses already play a major role in driving economic growth. They have a combined turnover of £4bn and employ 28,600 people.

The aim is to encourage businesses to consider collaboration and pitch their idea for a new consortium co-operative. This year the focus is on three key sectors of the Scottish economy namely: food and drink, tourism and the creative industries.

Evidence from across Europe shows collaboration increases productivity, innovation and growth. It also delivers intangible benefits to firms such as increasing their influence and confidence.

Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, said: “The 250-year-old roots of the co-operative movement can be traced here to Scotland. Its principles of economic vitality and social responsibility resonate with the ambitions of this government and are perhaps more relevant today than ever before.

“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all of Scotland’s people are able to benefit from the gifts that come from sustainable economic growth. As such I am delighted to support CDS in its Collaboration Prize this year – an exercise that will encourage our home grown talent to think about working together to succeed on the world stage.”

Sarah Deas, chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, said: “After the success of the 2012 Collaboration Prize we have increased the level of support to £40,000. In an ever more global economy, collaboration offers our many SMEs the opportunity to increase their capacity and in turn help deliver sustainable growth to Scotland.

“This year we want to boost collaboration in key sectors of the Scottish economy namely food and drink, tourism and the creative industries. So we welcome on-board our partners Scotland Food and Drink, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Creative Scotland. The consortium business model makes companies more productive, innovative and ultimately successful.”

Last year’s three winners were Music Co-OPERAtive Scotland, Screen Facilities Scotland and Castle Loch Foods Ltd.

Music Co-OPERAtive Scotland brings together the members of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera in an artistic collaboration to explore new markets for classical music at home and overseas.

Katie Hull, from Music Co-OPERAtive Scotland, said: “In 2011 members with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera moved from working on a full-time to a part-time basis. Forming a consortium co-operative gives people a one stop shop for our musical services.

"We have been able to market ourselves as a full orchestra for hire and cater for a range of different events. It’s been an amazing year for us since we won the prize and we’re aiming for bigger and better things. We would encourage companies to consider the collaborative approach.”

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Make it Easier For Your Guest to Find THEIR Package

With the new Bookassist booking engine customer interface hotels can now do much more with their images than even before.

We are always banging on about “reducing friction” (simply making it easier for the customer to get where they want to go) and using bold graphics can help in clearly pointing the guest to the packages type and room type they are seeking.

We’ve recently redesigned the booking engine pages at The Old Manor Hotel in Fife and in a differnet way for Ducks at Kilspindie in East Lothian to match their new websites and the results as shown below make it so much easier for the guest to understand what they are looking at.

The Bed and Breakfast title bar is reinforced by the B & B button while the specific room pictures below all have descriptive titles on them.

With accompanying text and integration of the correct colours and style and the two week calendar view the impact is increased dramatically and the guest can easily understand what they are viewing.

If you wish to personalise the set-up of your booking we can create site specific buttons in the style and design of your website for only £95 plus VAT for twelve buttons.

Download PDF version or contact your account manager, e mail or call us on 0845 1501314.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Scottish Golf Survey

The SGU, working in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Event Scotland, [sic it is all one word!] has commissioned KPMG to conduct an exercise to assess the economic value of golf in Scotland and, importantly, the prospects for the future. We would appreciate your contribution by participating in our survey at the link below, which should take no longer than 2 minutes to complete. Your views are vitally important to the success of this project.
Okay, when you see the email's from these four bodies you think this may be important. It certainly adds gravitas.

You would of course assume that an industry survey sent out to golf businesses across Scotland ahead of a major seminar to discuss golf (10th annual Golf Business Forum in St Andrews from 3 to 5 June 2013) and supported and perhaps even funded by public money would have been proof read?

There is a sense that the survey has lost something, shall we say, in the translation. This is not however the fault of the Hungarian market researcher who has sent it out but you would have thought that maybe someone would have picked it up at one of the three esteemed bodies associated with it!!

Where do you start? the use of the word "loss" instead of reduction? A ranking list where everything can be ranked as 1? The Americanised spelling of Programs? The misspelling of "associations" in a drop down list?

Or as one golf tour operators has said the biggest mistake must be in question four
4. Assuming significant ongoing governmental support for the golf industry, what is the maximum growth you would see achievable on industry level?
As the wag points out, the oxymoronic phrase is pretty clear... "significant ongoing governmental support".

The point of the post? Well as someone who gets lots of spelling wrong but usually without the support of the SGU, Scottish Enterprise and EventScotland it just seemed fair to point out that if inclusion and involvement of the industry is important then respect should be given to the intelligence of the audience being engaged with.

Yes you could argue this whole post is pedantic. The flip side is you could say it is reflective of the collaborative malaise.

Take the survey

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Caithness Hotel Launches New Website and Booking Engine

We are delighted to have put live the new website for the Castletown Hotel, Caithness, Near Thurso. The Castletown Hotel was formerly the St Clair Arms Hotel Caithness which was bought in June 2007 by Andrew and Sandy Mackay, two local brothers.

"We are delighted to offer a very warm welcome at the hotel. We pride ourselves on our traditional hospitality, comfortable B&B (bed and breakfast) accommodation and good home cooking which all combine to provide a home from home for all visitors."

The website is based on one of the Open Rooms Lite Frameworks that we have developed for 2013/14 and has the award winning Bookassist web booking engine fully integrated.

The integration includes designing the booking page and buttons to complement the website itself. This is just one of the major improvements in the Bookassist offering over the apst few months.

The content management system powers the whole website and means that even small operators can control their crucial content and online reservations simply and cost effectively.

Open Rooms lite website packages start from only £795 plus VAT and can be live within a fortnight complete with the Bookassist booking engine.

Download the Open Rooms Lite PDF information here or email us for more information.

Friday 19 April 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

It is true what they say about statistics. And of course it's up to you as the reader to take what you want from any story. So here's two rather different slants on the same report. Quite amusing and does again make you wonder whether VS think none of us in the tourism sector are grown up enough to be able to hear bad news and to take the bitter reality pill?

Does everything on the B2B site have to be painted as a good news story when we all clearly know otherwise. 

BBC Scotland Website Website

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Every Little Helps with Direct Bookings

How do you increase direct bookings  Well our series of articles has highlighted just some of the small things you can do to "reduce friction". Add all of these small things together and you WILL see a difference in conversion.

What do we mean? Well simply put, it means accommodation providers must remove anything that disincentivises the visitor to book on their site.

Don't say phone for late availability. Don't offer better prices and availability on OTA's and use all the graphical tools in your control to get the guest to click where they want to go.

Gailes Hotel today have ticked another box with the dropping in of clear calls to action on their booking page. You're in little doubt where to go here are you? They have created their own buttons making navigation easier but also reinforced their brand identity at the same time.

Great job again by the team at Simpsinns.

Check out how the Bookassist powered booking engine looks for yourself - or better just Book Direct

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Highland Tourism Workshop - Mountain Biking

This new workshop can help your tourism business or cycling business to grow your business and attract more visitors.

Mountain biking is already worth £119 million to the Scottish economy, and it's set to grow by 30% in the next 5 years.

This workshop will explain the market opportunity, allow you to hear from those who are already succeeding in the niche, and stimulate your thinking as to what this means for your business in an innovation session.

What you will find out

  • Insights on the key visitor markets and how to make the most of this intelligence
  • Information on the new trail at Glenlivet and other local trails and centres
  • Inspiration - a local business shares its success secrets
  • Top Tips and practical steps for you to take
  • Tools and intelligence available on the DMBinS website such as photography and trails that can be downloaded by business to use in their marketing material
  • A 'So What?' creative session helping you to come up with innovative ideas for you to make the most of the opportunities in mountain biking tourism
  • Test the new e-learning guide developed by Borders College
  • A short, optional mountain biking taster session

Date: Tuesday 30th April 2013
Venue: The Lecht Ski Centre
Time: 9.30 am to 1.15 pm, followed by a one-hour mountain biking taster session.
Price: £20 per person. Includes lunch, light refreshments and all equipment for taster session.

For more information, and to register, please visit Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland

Friday 12 April 2013

Ryder Cup Opening Concert to cost up to £1.2 million

You may have picked up the triumphal announcement by the Scottish Government VisitScotland that they were planning a major concert to mark the start of the Ryder Cup. (We have not missed out an adjunct between Scottish Government and VisitScotland - we accept that some in the tourism business can't tell the difference between the two bodies anymore as they become more homogeneous and referendum focused!)

What may have skipped everyone's attention and indeed ours was that the Scottish Government VisitScotland have allocated up to £1.2 million for aforementioned opening concert for the Ryder Cup!

Yup £1.2 million pounds of public money on a pre-event event that makes the private sector organisers buckets and buckets. Nothing of course to do with the referendum immedaitely before it. Nope that would be cynical and churlish.

The tender document described the goods and services to be provided as thus:
"This is a contract to engage a promoter to devise and deliver a once in a lifetime concert to mark the beginning of the Ryder Cup week, delivered on behalf of the Scottish Government." (sic the tender was issued by VisitScotland - as mentioned one and the same really)
It is intended that the support for this event will be in the range of £800,000 to £1,200,000 depending on the funding requirements tendered for the Services."
What added value? What additional visitor numbers? What direct revenues? What return on investment? What opportunity cost? What an ego trip...

The Ryder Cup is a private event (if you ask Scotland's golf tourism operators a VERY private event) with massive profitability from the sale of rights, merchandising, tickets, packages and licencing.

Yet here we have a cash strapped country paying £1.2 million of public funds for a bloody concert. And we just stand around and applaud and say "Well the profile will be good for tourism." Yeah a bit like the £6 mill spent on Brave?

Once the BBC have run out of Rangers stories (accepted that may take a while!) wouldn't it be great if they could just go through the list of tender documents under VisitScotland over the past three years and maybe just ask the occasional pertinent question to those in charge?

Dream on.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Santa Claus Land - Twenty Years On

We've been fortunate to be doing some work recently with Ayrshire based Kirsty Innes Marketing for one of their clients in Glasgow and one of the many ideas that was bounced around the table was the development of a character or characters to front the client business for some of their family, leisure and online markets.

It made me think of some of the previous jobs we'd worked on in the past and in delving deep into the filing cabinet archives we found a couple of folders with some of the materials and background to the project we managed nearly twenty years ago in Aviemore.

It was possibly Plan B's very first client and came through an old Stakis Aviemore colleague who was after a bit of affordable consultancy. He sure got it!

Santa Claus Land was one of those iconic memories from the Aviemore trial of the seventies and if you'd been in the Cairngorms area with kids then the chances are you'd recall the old attraction.

The "theme park" was arguably one of Scotland's first way back in the day when Aviemore was first built as Scotland's tourism playground. The 1990's owners - the Craig Whyte and Charles Green of their day - saw Santa Claus Land as a bit of a PR exercise in their plans to redevelop the whole centre and they subsequently refurbished and reopened SCL. Plan B was playing a small part with the local management team and Edinburgh based architects in trying to build a coherent business plan for the overall redevelopment strategy but had been specifically tasked to develop a short term tactical plan for the relaunch of Santa Claus Land. 

The branding was looked at (long before we had even heard of a Brand Wheel!!) and as well as work on the logo and the basic promotional print materials we had had the idea to support Santa with his helpers and created a range of characters each with their own personalities all with a view to creating a wider revenues stream from associated merchandising. Okay it was hardly a novel premise but for Scotland at that time at least had some unique elements in it! Well we thoughts so at the time!

Anyway, the project evolved into full costumed park characters, T-shirts, badges, marketing materials and family friendly collateral such as the colouring book and small boxed figurines. Twenty years ago nearly. Wow. What could we have done with them with all that online technology and retail?

Anyway, we thought it was worth sharing some of that old work as a piece of affordable retro marketing at its best/worst!

Santa Claus Land Colouring Book

Developed from scratch, we created the characters, their profiles and personas - essence and personality if you wish! - and one of the first things we developed was the old faithful colouring in book.

There is no digital version of this anywhere and the scans in the PDF version below are showing the age (and coffee stains!) of the original which we found in the old files. Still I'm sure there'll be some old Aviemore employees from the day who will download it and get their kids to colour them in! There may even be a competition there!

Images and Print

We've found some of the old brochures. Strange how print is print even two decades on. Okay no QR codes, join us on Facebook or website addresses but content is still content.

Further Reading

Want to reflect further on the old Aviemore? Here's some articles from the archives:

Friday 5 April 2013

Ayrshire and Arran Tourism Gathering

Got an invite to an industry gathering in Irvine from Ayrshire and Arran Tourism and VisitScotland. We did think it may have been on their industry facing communications website by now right enough...

"Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Team in partnership with VisitScotland would like to invite you to take part in a Tourism Gathering to explore how we can best work together to drive tourism growth in Ayrshire & Arran.

The event will allow businesses to collaborate, network and discuss opportunities and priorities for their individual business and for Ayrshire & Arran as a destination.

We would be delighted if you could join us at Menzies Irvine Hotel, 46 Annick Rd, Irvine, KA11 4LD on Tuesday 30 April 2013 between 10am and 4:30pm - a networking lunch will be provided.

During the day there will be presentations on the Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Strategy and insights into the Ayrshire & Arran visitor. Delegates will have the opportunity to participate in two of four workshops which will focus on Using Themed Itineraries, Watersports, The Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Industry Online Portal and Working with the Media.

There will also be a question and answer session during the day which will give you the opportunity to pose any questions you may have.

You can register online now at: Registration closes on at 12 noon on Friday 26 April 2013.

For those travelling from Arran transport will be provided to and from the ferry port at Ardrossan and Menzies Irvine Hotel. Please ensure you select this option when registering.

Partner stands
A number of exhibitor tables are available to industry partners free of charge. Delegates will have the chance to network with industry partners during breaks and dedicated networking time on the agenda.

If you would like to take one of the exhibitor tables please contact Laura Cree, Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Team by emailing"

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Say Si to Irvine’s stunning new venue

The waiting is over. Si! Café:Bar:Restaurant, Irvine’s brand new venue of choice,  opened its doors to the public last week and has been greatly received by customers who have already dropped in to see us.

The latest SimpsInns development on the Kilwinning Road is a stunning piece of architecture and design where “two great restaurants, one great SimpsInns venue” will raise the bar on the all day dining and night out experience in Irvine and beyond.

Owners Malcolm and Karen Simpson are delighted with the outcome of Si!, the latest addition in their ever expanding portfolio of Ayrshire venues.

“In many ways it’s a relief to open to the public and the positive feedback Si! has already received has been overwhelming,” explained Malcolm Simpson.

“We have a great team in place and through help from the likes of Irvine Bay Development we were able to bring our latest vision to market. With two restaurants and vibrant bar Si! has 60 employees on the books and has quickly become a new source of sustainable employment for the Irvine area.”

Si! Café:Bar:Restaurant enjoys a distinctive Mediterranean theme where carefully created menus provide a range of mouth watering European dishes with a local Ayrshire twist and all at affordable prices – not to mention promotional drinks offers through the week and wide selection of cocktails.

This dynamic new SimpsInns venue transforms into a late night bar with a collection of themed music and entertainment nights through the week such as our interactive quiz with rollover cash prizes on Tuesday nights (starting March 12th).

Join us for the “cheesy” disco classics on Thursday night before we ramp things up on Friday and Saturday with our resident DJ playing current chart and dance tunes with a late 1am license. And the fun doesn’t stop there for we close the weekend out with a more relaxed R&B set on Sunday evening.

The final touches are being added to Si! Italia on the upper floor, which is due to open later this month. With its palatial finish and break out balcony area, Si! Italia will add another new dimension to the overall Si! experience.

“Si! it, Say it, Live it!”
“Si! – the place to see, the place to be seen”

For further information please contact:

Paul Gallagher at Simpsinns: of visit Si! Website

Plan B and Simpsinns

Plan B have been long term partners of Simpsinns providing web booking engine services through Bookassist for both Gailes Hotel in Irvine and Old Loans Inn near Troon. In addition we have been providing web design and development solutions for the company and for the opening of Si! we have produced one of our "postcard websites" which have been created specifically for restaurants, bars and independent hospitality providers.