The Fort William Accommodation Marketing Group (FWAMG) of independent accommodation providers are celebrating a major milestone, they have surpassed £1,000,000 of online bookings in July 2019. Carmen Beale, Chairperson of FWAMG told us more about this success and the Together Group.
When you launched the Together Booking Engine did you think that you would celebrate over one million pounds' worth of bookings? What would you say was your successful formula to achieving that?
We have been working with freetobook since May 2013. The Together" site has allowed us to delevop our ideas cost effectively and gave us the ability to compete effectively in the marketplace against the suffocating power of the Online Travel Agents (OTAs). One million pounds' of online bookings shows how local co-operation is being realised here in Lochaber. It allows us to manage our business on our terms, and maintain our profits. The B&Bs could see that sharing a website and using freetobook's booking engine to bring together memeber's availability online made it much easier to cross-refer enquires when they were full. This saves time, improves booking levels across the group and provides a streamlined booking service for guests.
Can you tell us more about the group? You started with 8 properties, and now there are more than 43 properties. What are the reasons for the growth?
Since working with the freetobook Together booking engine six years ago, the group has grown to 43 members and commission-free bookings have grown each year. The group is open to all B&B's in Fort William and the Glen Spean area. We have continued to develop our group website, advertise collectively and work closely with many local attractions (our availability search widget on their websites). We also work with local suppliers to offer preferential discounts and terms to members and we provide a forum through which members can get help, support and advice from their peers when they need it. We operate as a not-for-profit association so every penny we collect from members is ploughed back into advertising and benefits which all members can share. The returns from membership massively outweigh the annual cost. It is a win/win/win. We win individually by reducing our costs and encouraging direct bookings. We win as a group by growing in size, visibility and influence within our area tourism sector. Our local economy wins because we strongly encourage local procurement and each has more money left in our collective pockets to spend with all manner of local businesses.
After this great success, what is in store now for your Together Group?
We strongly believe that the future of micro businesses such as ours is about co-operation, not hostile competition. To that end, we are looking to help to establish a national network of independent local groups like ourselves. By coming together we could raise the profile of all of the groups (including FWAMG) and provide locally based, visible and effective alterntives to the corporate OTA model across the country. FWAMG has also recently acquired the website www.fortwilliam.co.uk and are in the process of refreshing the site and encouraging accommodation providers, businesses and activity providers to join at a minimal cost. The FWAMG committee membes are very proactive and are certainly very busy for a small group of volunteers.