By Mike Docker
ACROSS the globe, and especially in North America, many hearts belong to Scotland. Whether the attraction be ancestry, golf, fishing or the spectacular landscapes, tourists flock to the northern kingdom and are a key element in the country's economy.
Scotland's Hotels of Distinction - a consortium of 58 privately owned hotels spanning the nation from the Borders region to Lochinver in the far north-west - put up a Web site for its members just over a year ago to add to its promotional efforts in other media. And if you were looking on the Internet for somewhere to stay and you typed, say, "Scotland + hotels" into one of the Web's search engines, you would more than likely come across its site at http://www.scotlands-commended.co.uk/index.htm.
The design, by David Duffy, is clean and businesslike, with the home page featuring a welcoming message from the chairmen of both the Scottish Tourist Board and the consortium. The "Hotels" page is the heart of the site and shows the locations of all the consortium's properties on a numbered map. One click on a number will take you to the individual hotel page: a photograph, address, contact details, a short description, grading awards and booking summary. Bookings and enquiries are made via an on-screen form or by e-mailing the consortium from the site's home page. There are also links to other Scottish tourism Web pages and sites to do with the nation's history, clans and tartans, newspapers - even country dancing.
Chief executive Bill Legg sees the Web site as central to the group's plans, and says it will be undergoing a major redesign soon. He is canvassing the views of designers and consortium members before the overhaul.
In particular, he is listening to Michael Smith, co-owner with his wife Christine of Glendruidh House hotel, a consortium member situated outside Inverness. Glendruidh has its own site - http://www.milford.co.uk/gln/ - in addition to its presence on the Hotels of Distinction site. In fact, the Smiths were among the earliest to see the opportunities of advertising on the Internet. "Last year was our third full year on the Web," says Michael, "and it has now become our largest single source of bookings."
He hopes the consortium's new site will incorporate vacancies at individual member hotels, and travel operators will use the site to access those vacancies. "This is definitely the way to go," he says, but warns that care is needed to avoid the possibility of double bookings.