Peter Lederer CBE, who was the recipient of the Silver Thistle Award at the 2014/15 Scottish Thistles Awards, reflects on the changing face of tourism in Scotland over the past three decades. The former chairman of Gleneagles was recognised for transforming the Perthshire hotel into one of the country’s most luxurious resorts and his part in bringing the Ryder Cup to Scotland in 2014.
In January 1984 I arrived in Scotland with my family after twelve happy years in Canada and USA.
I had not intended to return to the UK but the opportunity to turn around a recently privatised, seasonal, effectively bankrupt golf hotel in Perthshire was too tempting a challenge.
The plan was to open the hotel year-round, put a great team together, give the hotel the TLC it deserved and reinvent Gleneagles for a new era. The plan was to stay five years and then return to Canada – 34 years on, Scotland is certainly home.
In those 34 years I have seen tremendous changes in Scottish tourism. The days of seasonal businesses have gone, quality has improved, collaboration has blossomed, governments at all levels have understood the economic contribution and the industry is more prepared to take responsibility for its future. Many of those individuals and businesses who have driven innovation, success and excellence in the industry have been recognised during the past 25 years, through the Scottish Thistle Awards.
However, there is still much to be done if we are to remain competitive internationally. We must continue to drive up quality standards, training, leadership development, innovation and marketing skills.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the arrival of the internet – a genuine game changer for our industry and one that will continue to provide huge opportunities and significant threats.
But that is history; what about the future?
Challenging times are ahead for the industry and no more so than in the hotel sector, which I see dividing into two camps.
The first camp will fit a recent experience I had in London. I searched online and booked a Premier Inn Hub for under £100. Two days before heading south I received an email inviting me to check in. On arriving at the hotel, I typed in my name and the machine gave me a key card. After a good night’s sleep in a clean room, comfortable bed and excellent shower, I left for an espresso in a local coffee shop where I received my account by email. Within the whole experience, not a single human interaction. Ideal for a one-night stay to attend a dinner when I needed a twelve hour commodity.
The second camp will be “experiential” hotels. This might be an amazing B&B on Skye, a castle experience in Ayrshire or a unique city-serviced apartment.
I fear for the many traditional hotels that will not, or cannot, change. These hotels have the additional burden of staff recruitment, increasing taxes, operating costs and regulation, not to mention the resulting lack of profits to reinvest in meeting ever changing customer demands. The rise of alternative providers, such as Airbnb, will only add to the pressures on current business models.
Customers will continue to drive the pace of change whether it is for a commodity room in Aberdeen or a unique self-catering experience on Barra. In either case, the customer will expect at least what is promised, probably more.
The world will continue to be challenging and will require outstanding businesses, visionary leaders and brilliant people. The Scottish Thistle Awards have always understood and recognised this.
Scotland has shown over the last thirty years how it can adapt, grow and learn. In future, we have to do even more – faster. Another great challenge.