Yesterday’s Tourism Summit for Argyll and the Isles was a cooperative success in every possible way.
The corporate body is Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative Ltd.
Key partners to the initiative could hardly have been more cooperative, contributing their own resources to loft and support the event. Mount Stuart on Bute provided the magnificent venue, moving between the award winning Visitor Centre and the 1870s neo-gothic house – a family house until 1993 – and endlessly playful.
Mount Stuart did not just provide the venue, the provided their own event management team, with staff normally working in other roles on the estate – several in the wonderful gardens.
The only thing to say about this team is that it is exemplary: all eventualities are covered; members of the team – are universally watchful, proactively helpful, good natured and forthcoming; offering an easy welcome and solutions to anything. Together they provide an object lesson in what any service-based operation should be.
Caledonian MacBrayne [CalMac] gave free passenger fares for delegates on three of its ferry routes – Portavadie-Tarbert; Colintraive-Rhobodach; and Wemyss Bay-Rothesay. Martin Dorchester, CalMac’s new CEO, was also one of the main speakers, talking of the company’s forward thinking to grow the market for its destinations and emphasising the importance of finding out what visitors actually want, rather than making assumptions he has found often to be misplaced.
He found himself faced with a question from Gordon Ross, MD of Western Ferries in Dunoon: ‘So Martin how can you get more passengers on the ferries?’ Dorchester talked of CalMac’s interest in working together with Western and others to attune the industry to the needs of visitors and destinations.
West Coast Motors sent over one of their new fleet of carnivalesque Citylink supercoaches to ferry delegates between the ferry terminals and Mount Stuart; and supplemented it with one of their Bute based double deckers, with both then shuttling delegates between Mount Stuart House and its Visitor Centre.
The Scania supercoach was driven by Donald Booth, General Manager of City Sightseeing Glasgow, who manoeuvered tight spots on the estate roads with great skill. The top shot above shows him bringing the coach off the CalMac ferry, Argyle, in Rothesay Harbour at 07.50 yesterday morning – and the lit destination sign said ‘Argyll & the Isles Tourism Summit 2013′.
Kintyre Express sent one of its fast 12-seater passenger ferries from Campbeltown to Rothesay – and, on a day so beautiful the event organisers could never have dared to script it, they had a spectacular run through the Kyles of Bute. Skipper Haydn Chambers was smiling for the rest of the day. We caught them coming off the boat at the pontoons in Rothesay harbour.
Portavadie Marina provided minibuses to run delegates between the CalMac ferry slips at Portavadie [from Tarbert in Kintyre] and Colintraive [for Bute] – with tantalising glimpses of their fabulous marina resort on the way out and the way back.
Insurance issues prevent anything but official photography in Mount Stuart house. This means that we cannot show you the speakers or anything of the interior of this radically designed and splendid country house.
We did, though take a single shot before we were aware of this proscription and which is unlikely to cause any difficulty with the insurance conditions – showing delegates starting to take their seats in what was a full house in the Marble Hall. [Mount Stuart has more marble than any other house in the UK.]
Connie Lovell, CEO of the Mount Stuart Trust, after talking if the house and its many pioneering elements, pressed the need for action and delivery on tourism development – a priority that drives Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative and since she is now one if its Directors, she is in a position to make sure this happens.
Argyll and Bute Council, another key partner in this enterprise, were there, setting up and managing the sound system for the event. Head of Infrastructure, Robert Pollock, also took charge of managing the Question and Answer session at the end of the morning session, with Stuart Green from Robert’s department providing the first question to get things started.
Councillor Louise Glen-Lee, acting Chair of Argyll and the Isles Tourism, read a statement from Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop; and David Adams McGilp, VisitScotland Regional Director, read a message of goodwill from local MSP, Michael Russell.
The networking lunch in the Visitor’s Centre was a moving feast of local produce from Mount Stuart’s chef, in a rota with a tour of Mount Stuart house and visits to the stalls in the ‘marketplace’ around the perimeter of the Marble Hall.
In the afternoon the breakout sessions – delegates chose two of three – were appropriately located: Food & Drink was in the chandeliered dining room; Heritage was in the historic Drawing Room with its own art heritage; Marine Tourism in the Crypt below the White Chapel – with the pillars providing an early familiarity for sailors with tacking their way through offshore wind farms; and Activity Tourism was in the Marble Hall, with its invitation to charge up the wide marble stairs and around the galleries above.
Messages and questions
The messages from the speakers, including the high-energy Stephen Leckie of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and the Crieff Hydro hotel, and Riddell Graham, VisitScotland’s executive in charge of partnership working, were that:
- Argyll has, in a single area close to the Central Belt, every one of the target selling points for the whole of Scotland;
- Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative is leading the way in engaged partnership working that is delivering on the deal;
- find out what the market actually wants, make it happen – and be prepared to do this endlessly, rather than find yourself delivering a once-good and now rather redundant product.
- start early and do it yourself – this relates to taking the opportunities to work up day trips that will come from the two major visitors events due in 2014 – both in places offering ready access to Argyll: the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup Golf challenge in Gleneagles in Perthshire. The message here is not to wait for someone else to make it work for you but do the planning now, get together with complementary businesses, put an irresistible offer together – and get that offer out there where people are likely to be looking for things to do. Don’t forget that West Coast Motors has a major operation in Glasgow and could be a key partner in such offers, well placed to deliver and return visitors in the city for the Games – either into Argyll or to the ferry ports.
- take advantage of the Years of this and that which are handed down from the Scottish Government to VisitScotland. Opinion is divided between those who think they’re useful and those who think we have too many of them. Frankly, we find them a yawn by now. Their frequency is running the risk of exhausting imaginations and distracting businesses from developing their product on a core strategic and collaborative brand. But – whatever floats your boat…
- steal good ideas from other places and other businesses – this was promoted energetically by Riddell Graham of VisitScotland. We are ambivalent about this one because it is no more than a safety belt for the acknowledged second rate – and its adoption as a modus operandi would actually prevent the emergence of original thinking and its development into sector development strategy. Riddell Graham admitted he had never had an original idea in his life and not everyone does, So this strategy is a fail safe device for shoring up the performance at the bottom end of the sector. Fair enough. But why can Scotland – and Argyll – not see itself as a place of origination, of inspiration, of surprise, of delight, and not just the competent delivery of the predictable? We need ambition here, more than anything.
The website launch
One of the eagerly awaited features of the summit was the launch of the Argyll and the Isles website by Sam Coley of the contracted delivery company, Samteq.
This site is THE key to the success of the perpetual and omnipresent promotion of this astonishingly rich and hitherto uncelebrated area.
It’s here now and its url is exploreargyll – but remember that it’s barely populated yet – that the copy is little more than placing text – copywriting and population is the next stage; and it’s not yet responsive to googling under ‘Argyll and the Isles’. The strategy is probably to wait until more content is there before vigorously promoting it on search engines.
What we’re looking at now is the ‘look and feel’, its usability for site site visitors and its architectural strategy for information provision.
The ‘look and feel’ is an admitted ‘steal’ from America – which has a lot to teach us in web-based promotion. This means that the site may look unsurprising, as it did to us – but at this level of operation and economic need for success, being risk-averse looks like a wise decision.
It’s immediate appearance is one of competence and the clean, uncluttered accessibility of the sort of information people are going to be looking for.
This is not – thank goodness – one of those websites where the first challenge is working out how on earth to find the information you need. Such sites simply make you ‘back click’ to the google page and choose another.There is a very complex skill in the management and categorisation of information and the site passes this crucial usability test in great shape.
The information architecture and what it now needs from the industry sectors
The concept of this site is clever and inclusive. It is the butterfly net, there to sweep site visitors into the world of Argyll the Isles. At all key points of the site, having done this, the structure is designed then to hand down responsibility for good and up to date information provision to the various local marketing organisations and industry sectors.
It is on their sites that visitors will find the detailed information on places to stay, places to eat and things to do in their area.
This is again partnership working where it needs to be – with local responsibility for local promotion, offering rich content and access to up to date information on what is locally available – while being supported and fed also by the regional butterfly net.
It is interesting that the new Kinyre and Gigha marketing group has chosen to adopt the website template of the Argyll and the Isles mother-site. This has advantages in offering a consistent approach to information architecture and guides the depth to which good local organisations can go.
The next job to be done – and take this as a ‘heads up’ – is for relevant industry sectors to get together, work together and get a good website up for the service they provide. This will give them two good chances of being found via the umbrella Argyll and the Isles / Explore Argyll site.
- They can be discoverable in their local marketing group’s site, as an individual business offering their particular service.
- They can be discoverable through their sector’s web presence under the activities list on the ‘Things to Do’ page with the Interactive Map [another good service on the main site.]
Here we’re thinking of, for example: Photography [workshops and tours]; Walking; Sailing [chandlers, charters and sailing schools]; Wildlife [centres and tours]; Sea Kayaking [kit providers, expeditions and tuition]; Arts and Crafts [artists and craftsfolk, studios, galleries] and so on.
The point is that the Argyll and the Isles / Explore Argyll website will work best for you if you organise collectively in this way. The ‘mother site’ is not there to impose, take over or to do it for you. It is there to receive and promote the sub-portals each sector and area creates and manages for itself.
The faster this opportunity is taken up and the more these sectoral web presences come into being for this area, the greater the impact this new website can make for Argyll and the Isles.
Stage 2 work on the website
There is a great deal to be done now – and the ultimate success of the Argyll and the Isles site will depend on this next stage of work being done with the same structural and strategic clarity as the engineering of the site has shown.
There are some hostages to fortune in the current placeholding texts and elements on the site – which clearly will change and will reward the chance not available until now, to strategise, develop and target accurately and constructively.
The bullet points in pole position on the home page immediately raise issues on their relative importance to visitors and to businesses. What, for instance, is the value of ’25 inhabited islands’, when you can’t normally get to most of them – as opposed to, say ‘X world class golf courses’, ‘x wildlife tour operators’ or ’4 long distance walking trails’?
The ‘Uniquely Argyll’ section could become tedious and ‘samey’ – and also offer hostages to fortune in its exclusions. But the ‘Enjoy the Journey’ section looks really exciting, with endless possibilities – that might require a structure that may not be present at the moment. In a way, the content of this section is ‘Uniquely Argyll’. [It needs a bikers' perspective.]
The ‘Explore like a local’ is a good idea but, as currently conceived, is much too commercially linked. The people featured are not just ‘locals’. They are directly linked to commercial enterprises and to tourism industry sectors so they are not ‘free’, not subject to the individual tastes and whims of what one expects to find in ‘locals’.
Ironically, this subjectivity – and this sectoral responsibility – makes what they have to say thinner and less attractive to the visitor.
Why not get Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne whiskies to write about his own exploration of the whisky world of Argyll? He made himself the expert he now is and his personal trail would be very interesting.
And, for example, any of the walking associations, the sailing clubs, the kayaking businesses… could finger a member or ten whose personal local knowledge of exploring their locality on foot, under sail or paddling… really would offer a site visitor the chance to ‘explore like a local’.
The Uniquely Argyll section could grab the current ‘locals’ as a unique group of people with serious sectoral expertise in their fields and let them talk about it – touchstones for their sector in a way that validates the overtly promotional and gives it freedom to run. And these people are Argyll’s uniques, the drivers, the innovators, the shape changers, the passionate.
This is the sort of thinking that needs now to go into this vital website. It is not easier but arguably even more demanding than the work that has already been done on the structure. The information architecture is well tuned and robust. Without it visitors would not stay on the site.
But if the content is not right, they will not come to Argyll – and that’s the raison d’etre of the site.
So, for the slavishly hard working heart of Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative, this is an almost sadistic requirement to gird up once again. It will be worth it and they can do it. They are doing a fantastic job This is raising expectations hugely.
The old phrase, ‘cutting a rod for your own back’ comes into play now; and we all need to offer and do all they mas ask us do to to share the load. This is partnership working – as the image below of the delegates at the end of the day, wearing Argyll and the Isles Tourism polo shirts outside Mount Stuart house, demonstrates.
Mike Story and Carron Toibin who have done the heart of the work in putting this event together, should be deservedly proud of their and the organisation’s success. In his address of welcome to delegates, Mike paid due and heartfelt tribute to Carron, who shouldered the bulk of it during his recent recovery from a TIA. He gave her what we guess was a SatNav, saying that her only weakness is getting lost.