Historic hotel sets pace for online tourism boom

An internet marketing revolution is taking place in the quiet Perthshire tourist village of Kinloch Rannoch which sits in the lee of Schiehallion, one of the more gentle Munros.

Kinloch Rannoch is dominated by the Barratt International timeshare resort where Macdonald Hotels has just added 35 bedrooms to the Loch Rannoch Hotel. But it is the Dunalastair Hotel, built as an inn at the entrance to the village in 1788 by soldiers who had survived Culloden, which is setting the pace as one of the fastest-growing hotel businesses in Scotland.

On the back of that success has been built a business which is now marketing more than 130 Scottish hotels worldwide - all from converted rooms which used to be a rifle range at the Dunalastair.

The man behind it is 25-year-old Paul Edwards, whose father John bought the Dunalastair in 1989 after a career in the textile industry, as an estate agent and in the pub business.

When the property boom started to fizzle out he sought his haven in the ancient inn. In June 1997 he told his son he had an opportunity to sell the hotel. Paul’s reply: "Don’t. Give me a chance and I will really make some money out of this place."

Edwards Jnr had already demonstrated entrepreneurial flair at university by running a fee-based business introducing banks and building societies to students.

When he took charge of developing the Dunalastair business he plugged straight onto the web. "The internet is the answer for the small business," he said. "If, for example, you look at the Pitlochry guide book, Kinloch Rannoch does not get a mention. But on the internet we can focus in on not just Kinloch Rannoch but on this small hotel called Dunalastair. It gives us the level playing field."

When he took over, the Dunalastair was a seasonal hotel. Now it is open all the year round. It employed five people, now the figure is 25. Turnover was around 200,000 a year from its 25 bedrooms, public bar and restaurant, this year it will be 700,000. And 90% of the new business is through the internet, with most visitors coming from America.

During his first year Edwards met James Shearer, who was keen to set up his own web design business. The result was the formation by the two of them of Calinet Travel Resources which is helping other hotels exploit the techniques pioneered at the Dunalastair.

Calinet has created an online Scottish travel portal, Destination Scotland, and it is one of Scotland’s busiest websites. "We firmly believe that the internet will become an integral part of the hotel industry and we have a major product which will be the thrust of the company over the next few years," he said.

"In the meantime our distribution channels will grow and we now have three. People in the hotel business attend travel fairs so that buyers can meet sellers. So we have set up the Scottish Travel Trade Finders and that enables buyers to meet sellers seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

"We also auction Dunalastair hotel rooms on the net. We put on a reserve price, of course, but it works. It is bringing business in. We are one of the few hotels in Scotland doing this."

Edwards does not see himself as a hotelier: he is the sales and marketing director of an internet service company which specialises in travel and tourism.