ACCOMMODATION providers on Bute have welcomed the news that Scotland’s national tourism body is to scrap its controversial online booking system.
VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughhead wrote to all the businesses listed on Visitscotland.com’s booking system this week to say that from mid-December, the organisation would no longer act as a third party in taking bookings online.
Accommodation providers will continue to be listed on the site, and customers hoping to book via Visitscotland.com will be able to click on a ‘book’ button to be redirected to the business’s own page, or to call or email the business directly.
The move was due to happen in June 2013, but according to Mr Roughhead’s letter it was brought forward “to accelerate our longer-term strategy, which was to provide a website with a more direct connection between the visitor and the business”.
The Visitscotland.com booking engine was set up as a public-private partnership, but has come in for repeated criticism over its lack of user-friendliness, repeated overhauls and cost to the public purse after it ran up losses of £18 million and was bought back by the taxpayer for £1.5 million.
Irene McGregor, who runs the Bayview Hotel in Rothesay’s Mountstuart Road, told The Buteman: “I didn’t like the booking system. It was very badly designed, visitors found it very complicated, and there was a high risk of double bookings.
“There wasn’t much business coming our way through the system. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to take it on for another year.
“When it was first brought in you felt you had to move into the 21st century and go with it, but the whole system just didn’t work. I had quite a few calls from people who told me they were trying to book online through VisitScotland but the system wasn’t letting them complete the booking.”
Elaine Daniels, from Ardencraig Apartments in Craigmore, said of the system: “It wasn’t particularly useful. If we took a booking via VisitScotland.com, rather than the customer booking directly with us, it cost us ten per cent.
“I still feel it’s worth being part of VisitScotland because of the quality assurance scheme, which means you have to keep your standards up.
“We have a four-star VisitScotland rating, but even if we only had two stars, at least people know someone’s been to look at your place – and they inspect all our apartments really thoroughly.
“But not having the booking system any more doesn’t bother me. People will still be able to go online and get in touch with us directly.”
However Keir Byars, who runs the Glendale guest house in Battery Place in Rothesay, said he believed it was “a big mistake” to scrap the system.
Mr Byars told The Buteman he understood that it was the ‘Web In A Box’ facility – a customised website which was automatically connected to the VisitScotland.com booking engine – that was being scrapped.
“I’m not happy about them doing away with it,” he said, “although I can see why it’s being done, because VisitScotland wasn’t making any money out of it.
“It worked well for us until the system changed at the beginning of the year, and since then there have been all sorts of problems with establishments not being notified of bookings, although they just seemed to turn a blind eye and say it wasn’t a problem with the system.
“If I’m reading it correctly, though, I think it’s a big mistake to get rid of the system.”
VisitScotland is understood to be in talks with a number of third parties with a view to providing an online booking service.