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2017 Conference Notes and Slides

Thank you to everyone who attended the ASSC Conference – Future Proofing: Self-Catering – held for the first time at the Perth Concert Hall with sponsorship from Perth & Kinross Council, Supercontrol and Travelnest.

With 288 delegates and 40 Trade Suppliers attending the Exhibition this year’s conference was the largest gathering of self-caterers in the UK.

Initial feedback has been extremely positive, and we’re delighted that delegates welcomed our innovative decision to extend the reach and influence of our sector beyond our borders with the announcement of the first UK wide Self-Catering Conference in 2018 in Glasgow on 30th October at the Hilton Hotel.

Do check back to the ASSC Conference pages and our social media platforms as we’ll be announcing the conference theme for 2018 early next year.

Speakers and Presentations

Welcome – David Smythe, ASSC Chair of the Board of Directors

Following the successful conclusion of the first AGM for ASSC Ltd, Chair of the Board of Directors David Smythe welcomed members, delegates and exhibitors and noted that despite all the uncertainties facing our sector there was optimism in the industry. Business is good but we can’t be complacent. The ASSC conference speakers will look at the challenges presented by the collaborative economy and the threat of legislation which may affect all of us, and present some practical ideas to take away.

David noted that there appeared more issues than solutions surrounding Brexit – but urged delegates to take heart that visitors are intrigued and charmed by Scotland and self-catering has a bright future.

Provost Dennis Melloy, Perth & Kinross Council

The Provost was delighted to welcome delegates to Perth Concert Hall in the ‘fair city’ of Perth. He noted that Perth & Kinross is the second oldest local authority in Scotland dating back to 1634 and his ceremonial chain of office was made of Scottish gold. The Provost encouraged all delegates to ‘Eat, drink and stay and boost our local economy!’. He also extolled the virtues of self-catering for families (including his own) and regretted that some local authorities were wrongly blaming housing shortage and antisocial behaviour on the sector. He assured conference that self-catering continues to flourish in Perth and although Perth recently lost out to Paisley for UK city of culture there is still much to celebrate and the city will continue its journey of cultural regeneration highlighting that the Concert Hall was a perfect example of culture as a catalyst for economic regeneration. The Provost closed by reminding delegates of the importance of a good old fashioned ‘blether’ and urged everyone to ‘Haste ye Back to Perth’.

Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for International Development and Europe, The Scottish Parliament

Unfortunately, Dr Allan was unable to attend at short notice. Conference host – Willie Cameron, Director of Visit Loch Ness; Director of Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards and Founding Director of The Cobbs Group – stepped in and a short Q&A session followed with the Provost and ASSC Chair.

First Speaker: 

Jackie McCamon, Customer Support Specialist, SuperControl and Katie Stovell, Marketing Consultant, Super Control: How to Encourage Your Guests to Return Again & Again.

Supercontrol is a booking management system with 27,000 properties worldwide, 6,000 of which are in Scotland, including the founders own self-catering property Orroland. Orroland operates with a high degree of repeat visitors with 1 in 4 a return customer.

Katie looked at the reasons behind this:

  • Quirky features around the landscape – something new is added each year.
  • A welcome cake is baked for each arrival – all part of trying to make their stay memorable.
  • Unique touches can make the difference.
  • Ask the right questions – why are they there? Why did they choose your property?
  • Collect feedback but be careful as your TripAdvisor reviews will be good and bad!
  • UpfrontReviews – there are strict guidelines about removing a bad review. Always respond and explain.
  • Don’t overuse but reward existing customers to give them a discount and encourage them to return.
  • Use automated emails. Manage your mailing lists.
  • Share content to social media. Use Facebook and add a ‘book now’ button.
  • Build up relationships with local businesses that share similar customers.
  • Chanel management-third parties and channels. SC acts as one platform with a full feed integration and synced calendars to make it easier for you. However you long term aim should be to gain commission free bookings.
  • Manage guest bookings even though it’s through a third party. Poach the customers get them to book direct the next time.

Jackie and Katie invited Supercontrol client Sam Mossman to share her experience of running West Coast Cottages – a holiday rental company with five quality cottages near Oban.

Sam described hers as a ‘lifestyle business, in a beautiful location’. She finds marketing challenging as there’s a lot to choose from. Supercontrol has given her superb support and encouraged her to focus on existing customers.

  • Give them a product that ticks all their boxes.
  • They need to feel welcome.
  • Offer repeat guest voucher codes.
  • Use scheduled emails.
  • Customer service is what we sell.

Supercontrol thanked everyone for attending the drinks reception at the Bothy the night before Conference. All attendees at this event received a voucher on the night and the raffle was drawn at the end of Supercontrol’s presentation. Balbeg Country Holidays from South Ayrshire were delighted to claim the top prize of a FREE license for up to 10 properties.

Read the Supercontrol presentation here: Katie Stovell & Jackie McCamon – SuperControl

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive, VisitScotland: Dealing with the Certainty of Uncertainty!

Malcolm spoke about innovation, trends, investment and collaboration.

  • 26 nationalities working at VisitScotland (VS) – Brexit brings concerns about migration of labour.
  • Tourism is an incredible resilient business. Foot and mouth followed by 9:11 one catastrophic event after another and yet tourism numbers have remained strong and grown well this year despite Brexit.
  • Too much fake news. Not enough facts. Self-catering is not responsible for the lack of affordable housing. There is pressure on infrastructure as a result of success, but the horror stories are largely untrue.
  • No room for complacency.
  • Clutter (noisy consumer marketplace), consumer behaviour, competitiveness, rise of new destinations.
  • Technology is a great enabler, but it moves at a rapid pace.
  • 1000 advertising messages a day – costs have increased by 300%. VS can’t compete and has to be smart. Tourism is a sustainable and profitable investment and emerging markets are investing heavily to competition is international.
  • Huge increase in mobile use – more than half now view via a mobile. 80% now book online. Malcolm favours the ‘Martini’ approach to marketing – anytime, anyplace, anywhere!
  • New markets are opening up: 90,000 new airline seats from Scotland to USA – £300 return flights from USA through Norwegian airways; Lufthansa flying daily from Glasgow; United Airlines flying from Washington to Edinburgh and British Airways increased capacity of London to Inverness route – all offer opportunities. International trips are up 14% (Jan-Dec 2016) and spend is up 25%.
  • The #ScotSpirit has been successful and everyone has a stake in the long term viability of the tourism industry which generates £1.2 billion across Scotland.
  • Only 40% of businesses transact online. 66 million folk visited the VS website. VS Facebook page has a million regular users, Twitter 300,000 followers and huge numbers on Instagram
  • VS confirmed we are in a data age and investment is currently being made in tracking, tracing and automating VS systems.
  • Look at consumer trends. Chinese market has been interesting and it is now moving out to Europe. London has a fifth of the traffic of Chinese visitations than Paris because of the UK visa situation which takes too long and is too expensive. VS and the industry is lobbying to make legislation that does not impede the growth of international tourism.
  • NC500 has been a huge success. People are starting to package up the Northern Lights and Outlander. There are numerous opportunities to promote and sell Scotland.
  • 95k visited the NC500 page and 117k the northern lights landing page on
  • VS continues to improve the website offering Immersive content via an augmented reality app. Scotland VR.
  • Reaching the influencers and content creators (bloggers) who can provide authentic information is crucial and VS has a programme in place called Scotland Live.
  • Spending and investment. Malcolm mentioned Aberdeen exhibition centre, borders railway, Dundee V&A museum, Perth Concert hall as good examples of tourism infrastructure.
  • QA still has a currency. Offers a sense check against hyperbole you do get on review sites.
  • Will quality assurance remain the same? Is VS fit for purpose regarding delivery of the QA scheme? These are questions currently being considered internally.
  • In career terms, the Tourism Industry suffers from a negative perception – not seen like that in Europe. STA and VS are working on changing this – Malcolm referred to an army recruitment ad and suggested we might learn from their approach.
  • Collaboration is essential. Government looking at ‘Project Unlimited’ to bring all agencies together.
  • Mix of digital, mobile and some bricks and mortar to service vision needs. We all have a part to play. Using Iknow.
  • A new direction? VS needs to be responsive and alive to opportunity. Indeed, we all need to tell stories and sell experiences.

Malcolm finished by suggesting we think MOBILE first and invest wisely. His view is if it’s not measurable don’t invest. He concluded by reminding delegates of the Scottish tourism month next year and the opening event – the STA conference 1st March at the SEC Glasgow.

Read Malcolm’s presentation here: Malcolm Roughead – VisitScotland

Henry Bankes, Head of Legal Affairs, Wyndham Destination Network EMEAI: Economic Impact of Self-Catering

Wyndham is one of the largest self-catering holiday companies in Europe with several well-known brands: Hoseasons, and Scottish Country Cottages.

  • Bookings up 14%, increase in cottage bookings in Scotland and Parks and lodges up 8%.
  • Increase in bookings from couples.
  • Families now booking later and for short breaks.
  • Tip for the day – Hot tubs and pets – offering these will increase bookings and turnover.
  • Wifi needs to be free.
  • UK ranked fifth by visitor satisfaction but there is an issue of ‘over tourism’ and we must address the challenge of how to manage it.
  • Options for management include limiting supply by raising prices, taxation, regulation. Even though we’re leaving Europe, European law will continue to apply.
  • GDPR new data laws in May and there may be more to follow.

Read the presentation slides here: Henry Bankes – Wyndham

Carlos Villaro Lassen, Secretary General, European Holiday Home Association joined this presentation to give the European perspective.

  • Short term rental across Europe – 4 million properties, +20 million bed spaces. This versus 10/11 million bedspaces in all the hotels across Europe. It’s a huge business sector.
  • Carlos talked about the background of EHHA and highlighted that ASSC was a founding member.
  • ASSC Conference is the biggest short-term rental trade event in Europe.
  • Property managers – Wyndhams, Interhome, @Leisure are the three largest operators in Europe with 60k units each.
  • And online the three largest platforms are – Homeaway, Airbnb and Tripadvisor but Carlos believes that only two will survive.
  • Growth, equality and sustainability. In Scotland short-term letting has been recognised as contributing to the economy which is not always the case across the rest of Europe.
  • New technology (booking platforms) creates equality between destinations and allows new destination to grow quickly using existing capacity.
  • EHHA invited to EU round table discussions with one rep from each country. 37 looking at harmonising the short-term rental market across Europe.
  • Market access requirements – 90 days limit in cities?
  • Income caps – 10k maximum earn?
  • Looking at Peer versus professional on the platforms. If professionals then hotels think that hotel legislation should apply.
  • Regulators need control and they don’t have this through peer to peer platforms.
  • Government will demand more information from the platforms.
  • Everywhere wants their taxation revenue. Consumer protection. Fire regulations, safety requirements. Hotel regulations may be required i.e. Passport details.
  • Employment aspects – not so relevant for self-catering but a problem in other sectors of the sharing economy.
  • EHHA think Notification Schemes may be introduced across Europe. Properties will need to be registered. EHHA will introduce a Charter with guidelines to try to avoid new legislation.
  • There are other issues at stake: Community influence – demand from residents objecting to tourism. Politicians cannot control the sector so now communities are being asked if they want short-term letting in their area.
  • EHHA Lobbying for fair regulation, fair taxation and fair share. Berlin and Paris and Brussels and in Barcelona bans are being overturned. It’s an ongoing fight.

Carlos concluded with the presentation of the Best Holiday Home in Europe awards to the Scottish winners which included: Aodann house, Steading Cottage, Craigendar Lodge and Coquet View.

Read the presentation here: Carlos Villaro Lassen – EHHA

Following a short break for coffee and exhibition viewing the conference reconvened to explore the first Session theme of: 

Industry Updates – What you Need to Know!

Grant Seaton, Senior Business Lending Manager, Cumberland Business, Cumberland Building Society: Financing Your Self-Catering Business – Working With Your Lender to Achieve Your Objectives

Grant opened with an expression of support for Self-catering. The sector is full of passionate and successful people and businesses and provided you anticipate key questions finance is available for new business and business expansion.

  • Choose your lender with care. Buy to let, residential mortgage is not suitable – you need a holiday let mortgage.
  • Communication – plan, communicate, measure!
  • Be prepared not scared. Have a plan.
  • Your business plan should be a continuous process, it should change and develop and the narrative must support the financials.
  • Engage with professionals
  • Anticipate business risks – competition, maintenance, natural disasters, (floods and foot and mouth).
  • Controlling the competitive environment – buy to let tax changes driving up numbers moving into the short term letting market.

Grant concluded with a view that the sector still had much to offer and plenty of room for growth. View Grant’s presentation here: Grant Seaton – Cumberland Business

Brian Wright,  FBD Consultancy (Scotland) Ltd – Business Growth Specialists & Chartered Accountants: Inheritance Tax and Business Property Relief – What You Need to Know to Protect Your Future.

Brian opened his presentation with a warning that he was here to talk about Death and Taxes!

  • Inheritance tax – tax on anything that you might transfer on death. Only applies above £325,000. 40% charged on everything above £325k. Give to charities (at least 10%) you can reduce the rate.
  • Gifts – gift your house before you die and rent it at commercial rates and survive for 7 years, it’s tax free.
  • Small gifts up to £250 are exempt plus there’s relief for wedding presents and some Tapered relief over three years.
  • Annual exception of £3k Business Relief- 100% if a partnership or company, and applies to property and buildings. Must have been owned for at least two years. If you pass it on the business/property must be continued for at least a further three years. Different rules apply to agricultural property relief.

Brian went on to look at when you can’t claim:

  • Look at partnership agreement re who gets shares when one partner dies as this can negate business property relief.
  • A trade is an activity for profits. HMRC will look at your income from self-catering versus the income from the holding of investments and if the balance is NOT weighted to TRADING then you can’t claim. TRADING VERSUS HOLDING is the key to business property tax relief.

Brian looked at several case studies from both successful and failed appeals to HMRC and concluded that if we want to ensure that we can pass our business on tax free then we need to change the way we think and we need to grow our businesses.

You can view Brian’s presentation here: Brian Wright – FBD Consultancy

Keith McDevitt, Cyber Resilience Integrator, Defence, Security and Cyber Resilience Division, Safer Communities Directorate, Scottish Government: Cyber Crime – What It Means To You.

Keith explained his background in the police and his current role. He stressed that the internet was a great enabler (the greatest of all time) but it had not been invented with safety and security in mind. Cyber crime was a reality and a business risk.

  • The internet has enabled criminality.
  • Ransom ware – online extortion – for example Wannacry affects all sizes of business not just corporations or governments.
  • Cyber crime is changing. NotPetya was not just ransomware – it was designed to destroy data. Maersk lost $300 million in one attack.
  • All sizes of businesses should be concerned about their data. Loss of data could put you out of business.
  • Get the basics right and you can prevent eighty percent of attacks.
  • Install the latest software updates and visit the new National Cyber Security Centre website and download the Small Business guide.

Download or read the NCSC Small Business Guide  and learn how to:

  • Back up your data safely – don’t leave devices permanently connected
  • Protect your organisation from malware – use malware protection as well as virus protection
  • Keep your smartphones (and tablets) safe – use two factor protection and use PINS
  • Use passwords to protect your data – choose three random words and make them long. You can check how secure your password is on: Https:// the site will tell you how long it would take to crack your password. Length is everything. Use pass phrases NOT passwords.
  • Enable the basic security settings.
  • Bad guys require us to let them or a flaw in the products. Always tick the automatic updates.
  • Antivirus on phones

Keith concluded by stating that Scotland is a nation of SMEs and you need to stay safe online.

See Keith’s presentation here: Keith McDevitt – Scottish Govt

 After a short Question and Answer session the final speaker was:  

Karen Spencer, Founder of The Business Of Holiday Rental: The 7 Step Formula to Propel Your Profits – To Get You Earning More From Your Holiday Home.

  • Step 1 – Your Guest– identify your ideal guest, look for commonalities between your ideal guests   and then target them. Speak to them through social media, your website and all marketing.
  • Step 2 – The Product – stand out from the crowd. Add value without spending loads. People pay more for quality (not the same as luxury). Create a focal point. Use neutrals but add accent colours. Pay attention to floor and curtains, use artwork but make sure it’s the right proportions. Scatter cushions. Use lined curtains. You can use high street products, but always spend more on quality mattresses and sofas.
  • Step 3 – The Experience – it’s all about the added extras and those little touches. Create a strong first impression. Over deliver. Go the extra mile – offer local information even if they don’t book with you. Make sure you have great KERB appeal. Add little touches. Add a shelf in the bathroom for makeup and a good mirror. Bells and whistles all help to create a good experience.
  • Step 4 – Visibility – Only talk to your target audience on social media. Be persistent and consistent. Don’t try to be everywhere. Choose two – Facebook plus one. Have a purpose to every tweet or post. Offer variety – try Facebook live. Face to camera. Ask questions; engage. Websites, SEOs, copy should be aimed at your ideal guest. Use professional photographs. Add a blog. Set yourself up as an expert on your area. Listing site decisions – they are up to you. Try niche and specialist business sites. You do not have to be listed everywhere. Make sure you retweet and piggy back off VS and others.
  • Step 5 – Going Pro –  Why are you doing it? What are your goals? Have an income target. Know your changeover costs. Set stretching prices. Stand proud behind them. The marketing and changeover costs are the same. Keep a business mindset. Don’t give mates rates unless it’s available last minute. Sell at the right price.
  • Step 6 – Relationships – Build this from initial booking. Think how they found you. Look at the customer journey. Don’t ignore return guests. Keep snippets of guest information and log it. Use it! Costs far less to bring back return guests. Use Mailchimp or other providers to keep in touch via email – don’t spam. Keep your content current. Don’t make it too sales-led. 80/20 education versus sales. Be consistent keep it up. Sign up for exclusive offers. Subscriber only offers. Use social proof ie testaments from visitors.
  • Step 7 Momentum – be consistent and keep it up. Think of selling as helping your customer. Don’t forget to bring in new blood. Establish yourself as a credible person. Plan and publicise events. Create evergreen blogs. 10 best always goes down well. Schedule your content and your posts once a week.  Review your business regularly. Check links, stats, operating systems. Track. Remember income is more important than occupancy.

Karen concluded by referring delegates to her online training programme available with an exclusive time limited ASSC offer.

Free advice could also be found by joining Karen’s facebook page:

Read Karen’s presentation here: Karen Spencer – Business of Holiday Homes

Willie Cameron rounded up the afternoon session and handed over to Fiona Campbell, CEO of ASSC Ltd for Closing Remarks:

Fiona thanked everyone for attending – the sponsors, exhibitors, partners for business – and ended the day on a positive note. Our sector is healthy. Staycations continue to rise. Tourism continues to grow. Future proof your business as the future is positive.


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