As part of the new Discover Islay marketing initiative, a new website was launched tonight, Monday December 10, at the Gaelic College in Bowmore. Representatives from Argyll & islands enterprise, Calmac and Visit Scotland were present as well as participating local businesses and partners who were invited to have a “first glimpse” of this new website.
Now what is Discover Islay all about? In September 2007 was announced that “The Isle of Islay is set for a major new step in its growth as a tourism destination, as an ambitious marketing project undertaken by a group of local businesses has attracted a funding boost from the national tourism agency VisitScotland. Under the name ‘Discover Islay’, the group of diverse tourism businesses aims to increase Islay’s international reputation as a quality Scottish holiday destination, with particular emphasis on developing the winter season, when there is greater capacity in the island’s accommodation.”
This sounds like an excellent initiative and it will hopefully bring a lot of new visitors and business to the island. As far as I know Islay can definitely do with more visitors in the wintertime. The funding for this new scheme comes from a VisitScotland challenge fund which several groups could have claimed. I use the word “could have” because the Discover Islay group was the only group from Islay who actually did. The Islay and Jura Tourism and Marketing Group made no efforts to obtain these funds, for reasons unknown to me.
The new Discover Islay website is a pictorial guide to the Isle of Islay and is, unlike Islayinfo, a highly commercial website. The pictures on the new site are of a high quality and most of them come from Mark Unsworth of Islay Studios. Most of the captions next to the pictures are written by Margaret Storrie, author of the very interesting book “Biography of an Island”. Being a highly commercial website means however, that you as a visitor will miss out on some key elements the island has to offer. This has something to do with the fact that participants, who want to join the new group, have to pay a fee of £175 for the first two years, which, for some small businesses, is a lot of money. This is predominantly the case when it’s not completely clear what the return on investment will be. Craft shops like the Persabus Pottery, Elizabeth Sykes, Susan Eastwood, Islay Quilters, Tormisdale Croft, Spirited Soaps and even the local brewery apparently didn’t sign up with the new group and are therefore not mentioned on the new site. In fact the whole Islay House Square does not get a mention and the Gaelic College is somewhat misplaced in the Crafts section, if you ask me. The same is the case with Islay’s five star Wildlife Experience Islay Birding and one wonders what on earth to think of the missing Bunnahabhain Distillery. Visitors might get the impression the island has only seven distilleries, which is, as most of us know, not the case.
It is however, not only the craft shops that can participate in this scheme. Accommodation owners were also invited to join the Discover Islay group, on the condition they were a member of VisitScotland and had at least a three star VisitScotland grading. So far the website shows six bed and breakfasts, five self catering accommodations and four hotels. People who are unaware of this scheme and visit the new website might come to the conclusion that there is only little accommodation available on the island, which is certainly not the case. A visit to the Islay and Jura Tourism and Marketing Group website (right) or the Islayinfo website shows that the island has a LOT more accommodation on offer, from affordable one star properties to luxurious 5 star accommodations as well as non graded properties of people who are not a member of VisitScotland.
What strikes me is the fact that the new group was funded by VisitScotland to (also) promote Islay as a prestigious destination, specially in the wintertime. Looking at the new website I found little or no information that promotes Islay in that season. I think the group should tell the potential visitors that winter can be dark, rainy and windy and should, at the same time, offer activities that match the climate conditions, such as birdwatching. Yes there are activities on their new site like horse riding, golf, fishing, walking and cycling but I wouldn’t try the latter during the winter gales that batter the island. I think the group should emphasize more on this “winter” aspect, if only to justify the funds they received from VisitScotland. Promoting the island as a summer destination isn’t that difficult, the island practically sells itself already through shows like BBC Springwatch. The excellent quality of whisky produced by the island’s distilleries also contribute to Islay’s success and as a result attracts more and more visitors. The only “winter activity” I found so far is a new event which is the winter whisky and food festival, to be held in early November 2008.
The Discover Islay website is a nice website with great photography and well written captions, but all things considered I personally think this is a missed opportunity for both the Discover Islay group and the Islay and Jura Tourism and Marketing Group. Fragmentation of marketing efforts will cost more public money due to the upkeep of two websites and two different organisations which both ultimately share the same goals and that is to promote Islay as a great holiday destination in every season! The island would have been much better served and represented with only one marketing group for the whole island, for all businesses and accommodations on Islay, regardless the fact if you are a member of VisitScotland and the grading you received from them. Unfortunately this is not the case and one can only hope that time and common sense will bring both parties together to join forces and present the island through one “official website”.