Published on Monday, February 25, 2008

Victory claimed in VisitScotland website relaunch

Grassroots tourism businesses in Scotland have claimed a victory in a long-running campaign against a commission-led website run for VisitScotland.

The tourism board has announced that the controversial commission-driven website, launched as a public-private partnership in 2002 , will be revamped from April 2.

At the centre of the dispute has been eTourism, the company that runs the website, whose shareholders include technology company Tiscover and VisitScotland.

The site has been loss-making since its launch and reportedly lost £1.5 million last year. This is despite attracting 11 million visitors last year, a level forecast to rise to almost 13 million in 2008.

Bed and breakfast owner Alan Keith, who has led the fight to have the website changed, said: “This decision is a triumph for the industry’s grassroots over corporate spin and misinformation.”

He said: “A major change to the website will offer tourists a clear choice rather than deliberate obfuscation. They can obtain impartial information, including all accommodation providers’ details, or access a centralised online booking facility.

“Database results are returned on a random basis, with no precedence given to those giving eTourism ‘allocation’ of rooms on which to take undeclared commission.

“Direct phone numbers show on initial listings and website hyperlinks and email addresses show up prominently when the full details are accessed.”

Keith added: “There can only be one interpretation of what has happened. After losing millions of pounds for investors, eTourism’s board has accepted its original business plan was not achievable, and substituted one that will be acceptable to providers.

“While eTourism and VisitScotland are unlikely to admit it, it is probably that our campaign, and the support it has had from tourism and other businesses across Scotland, has finally paid off.” 

VisitScotland described the new website as “the most significant change to the UK’s most popular tourism destination website in six years”.

It admitted that many ideas suggested by the tourism industry would be incorporated.

Chief executive Marco Truffelli said: “The evolution of the site has been created in response to consumer demand and in line with industry expectation.

“Last year we worked with the industry and agreed some significant and far reaching changes which we are now putting into place.

“Direct contact details shown clearly on the site will be available, as well as a range of interesting new features and online bookable experiences.”

The relaunch comes after 15 focus groups were held across Scotland last year which produced “innovative thinking” and the site incorporates a number of “important changes,” according to VisitScotland.

Scottish tourism minister Jim Mather said: "These changes show that the organisation and the government is listening to the needs of both our visitors and the industry, and I know that those who were pressing for change are strongly supportive of what is now being planned for launch in April."

Scottish Tourism Forum chief executive Iain Herbert said the new format of the site "provides some real opportunities for the whole tourism industry in Scotland".

He added: "This will be a key delivery tool for operators at all levels demonstrating the industry's drive and ambition to position Scotland as an accessible must see destination."

by Phil Davies  

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