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16 July 2008

Obsolete visitscotland.com panned by Scottish parliament

A six-month inquiry into Scottish tourism has concluded that VisitScotland's "current business model is patently flawed and obsolete" and consumer website requires an entirely new focus.

The Scottish Parliament's 'Economy, Energy and Tourism Report' took as its starting point the issue of whether Scotland can deliver its previously announced target of increasing tourism revenues by 50% by 2015, using 2005 as the base.

"Tourism is increasingly about technology," the report said. 'It is the booking medium and the favoured information channel. It is immediate, comparative and unforgiving."

Specifically, the committee felt that visitscotland.com would operate more effectively as an information portal.

"We want to see a move towards a top-quality, national, web-based portal that provides all the necessary information and advice on Scotland.

"This website should then contain a full listing of quality-assured businesses with a link to a means of contact (electronic if possible).

read the full article covering this. If you want to see the full report it is available on the Scottish parliament website.

You could see this coming when the site was panned in 2007

You can read my own comments on the site here.


In the beginning, there was a non-internet database system which STB used and was abandoned.

Then there was the website hosted by EC1

Then there was the website built by Realise

not to mention the 1996 implementation which in 1996 was ahead of Ossian in 2000.

Then there was the website hosted by Scotland On Line

Then there was the "IT Project", subsequently called Ossian. Technically advanced it offered facilities in 2001 that were peer reviewed at JavaOne in California in 2000 to critical acclaim. It was the technology platform that could have formed the basis of a software product to sell worldwide (Like the Tiscover one which VisitScotland eventually bought!) In 2001, flexible pricing was built but legal issues due to PPP prevented it from being deployed as it was something none of the PPP partners had available as an off the shelf product.

Then in 2002 came PPP, which you can read about here. Despite emerging from an exhaustive open tendering process, the underlying technology which was chosen was supplied by Touchvision. Their software was woefully underperformant, resulting in major performance problems via all the booking channels during the summer.

Then in 2006 we got version 8 of the VisitScotland project, this time supplied by Tiscover. This being the version panned by the Scottish Parliament in the report above and on the Scotsman site.

Having worked for visitscotland and visitscotland.com I know there are talented people there. I delivered e-commerce for VisitScotland in 2001 and left in 2006. My next job was project managing a rather more successful site, tesco.com. There are talented web design companies not only in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland. Amazon, with a research and development base in Scotland has the world's leading e-commerce platform and powers Marks and Spencer's site.

With so much technical and design talent within an hour's drive of visitscotland, why does it take 8 iterations of a website, millions of pounds and development going overseas only to end up with a national website that has been panned by the parliament?

Sure you expect software to evolve over time, but at no time in the history of the project has it ever had a CTO or CIO that actually understood search technology well enough to build a world leading platform that could meet the needs of Scottish tourism (and by the way maybe sell it to other tourist boards as well).

I had the laughable experience of using the latest iteration last weekend when I was looking for self catering accommodation on a Saturday night to start the following morning. Despite typing in Sunday as the start date of the booking, the site kept advising me to contact the contact centre even though the contact centre didn't open until the day after my booking started.

As someone who typically spends 200 nights a year in hotels, I use Tripadvisor and Priceline to handle my bookings, they may have their problems but they are simpler and easier to use. Another travel company (based 10 mins from VisitScotland's HQ) is Skyscanner, they can give me pricing info on flights around the dates I want to fly thereby allowing me to choose the cheapest days to fly on. A small startup with a few employees offering a search that 8 iterations, millions of pounds and decades of man years later, VisitScotland still can't offer.

One day you might even get an accommodation search engine for Scotland that lets you search and book online for a family including children. Still some way off for the "patently flawed" visitscotland.com.

Craig
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