Word of mouth counts for more than ever, says Stephen Carter
PICTURE the scene. You have just booked a weekend away and happen to mention this in passing to a friend. “Oh we stayed at that hotel last year,” is their reply. I can already predict that your next words will be: “What was it like?”
Word-of-mouth recommendations have long had an influence on holiday plans. Anecdotal reviews can make or break a trip. In fact, you would be hard pushed to find an individual whose preconceptions of a destination haven’t been influenced in some way by someone else’s prior experience or perception.
Customer reviews play an important role for any business, and none more so than in the hospitality or tourism sector. The growing popularity of the website TripAdvisor is testament to that.
Several bad reviews left on a website can often be a very public stain on the reputation of a business, but it is important to remember that if you are offering excellent customer service, with a value for money product, then there should be little cause for concern.
Alternatively, great reviews can be extremely stimulating and rewarding, lifting morale and commitment of all those team members who are involved in the delivery of the service.
A professional, enthusiastic and friendly approach combined with a first-class product will also be rewarded with increased bookings and recommendations. That is why it is so pleasing to see that the public will now play a bigger role in the next Scottish Thistle Awards.
For more than two decades, the Scottish Thistle Awards has celebrated excellence within the tourism industry. The awards are a real badge of honour amongst those in the industry and give rightful recognition to individuals and businesses who have shown quality and innovation.
To have the public now involved, sharing their opinions and nominations, is the ultimate accolade and a glowing recommendation for any shortlisted entry, particularly as the focus for this year’s event is hospitality and customer service.
The judges will be looking for ways in which the people in Scottish businesses have used Scotland’s nature, heritage and ingenuity to “go the extra mile” for visitors in creating something particularly positive in terms of customer service excellence.
The Scottish Thistle Awards are not just a chance to recognise those in the industry – they can also raise awareness of individual businesses and suppliers, not least amongst the general public and those in the industry.
Involving the public is not the only exciting change to be made at the next Scottish Thistle Awards. Next year’s awards will be led by a new panel of industry experts from organisations with a diverse range of skills and expertise including VisitScotland, the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland, Scottish Tourism Alliance, Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association. The award ceremonies themselves will continue to be organised and delivered by VisitScotland.
It is a fitting change – since the creation of the Thistle Awards in 1992, Scotland’s tourism product has become far more diverse and wide-ranging.
Shortlisted entries will first compete in one of four regional ceremonies. These will be held in November and will cover the North-East and Tayside, Central South-East, the Central South-West and the Highlands and Islands. The latter will once again be managed by the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards. Winners in each category will then go on to represent their respective region at a glittering final ceremony. This gala event, which will be held in Glasgow, will celebrate the best of the best in the Scottish tourism industry and mark a fitting end to Scottish Tourism Week 2015.
Nominations can be made across 13 categories, ranging from best visitor attraction to most hospitable hotel, best informal eating venue, best restaurant, friendliest pub and best event or festival to name but a few. This broad spectrum of categories allows us to ensure all aspects of Scotland’s tourism offering can participate.
But of course the success of this new-look event will rely on the calibre of entries and for that, we need the people of Scotland’s help.
This year is set to be a bumper one for tourism as Scotland plays host to three momentous events – the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the Year of Homecoming. It is Scotland’s chance to shine on the world stage like never before.
In this exciting year, I want to urge readers of The Scotsman to help us reward those who are going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to Scottish tourism. So, if you have been impressed by somewhere you have visited, inspired by people you have met or just want to let evryone know about great work that is happening in your local area, then get online and make a nomination.
• Stephen Carter OBE is managing director of Cameron House Hotel, a board member of VisitScotland and chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel