The shock of the lockdown in March 2020 forced us all to seek ways in which we could support each other to navigate the perils of the pandemic. Businesses and individuals urgently embraced technology as a means of connection and communication with peers and colleagues. As with so many businesses and organisations, Hospitalfield was forced to close its doors and cancel the typically lively public programme of artist residencies, exhibitions, and commissions as well as the meetings, conferences and weddings that form our private hire business. We spotted the opportunity to enhance the way we work with our audiences and visitors digitally, quickly developing online programmes such as Stories from Hospitalfield and reimaging existing programmes in a digital format such as the Free Drawing School.
During this time of digital growth, we noticed the expansion of learning webinars facilitated by support agencies. These sessions were usually oversubscribed, such was the appetite for guidance and insight as we searched for direction amid the chaos. It was during this time, in May 2020, when I signed up to attend a brilliantly useful webinar by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) for one of their Members E-Forums. The speakers were well informed and generous with their advice and guidance on the strategies they had implemented to mitigate the risk of coronavirus at their businesses. This was the time when we were being encouraged to consider reopening after the first initial lockdown and representatives from such influential attractions as Edinburgh Zoo and Edinburgh Dungeons were sharing their considerations. It was during this webinar that I first learned of the term ‘Traveltech’, during a presentation by speaker Josh Ryan-Saha, Director of Traveltech for Scotland, a business cluster organisation that supports Scotland’s Traveltech pioneers based at the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh.
We were continuing with capital development plans that would significantly enhance Hospitalfield as an important visitor attraction for Angus, plans that would see the redesign of the historic walled gardens, the restoration of a 19th-century Fernery and the construction of a new Café. We were met with compound requirements to rapidly enhance our digital visitor services. We needed to enable accessible online advance ticketing for visitors, managing capacity over limited timeslots. We also needed to upgrade our facilities for managing contactless payments and we were keen to explore ways in which visitors could order food in advance from their table without the requirement to consult physical menus. We also saw the requirement for an e-commerce platform that would enable us to sell products online.
Josh Ryan-Saha and Traveltech for Scoland presented the hopeful possibility of a solution to several of the practical and logistical problems that Hospitalfield had encountered during this time and we made contact. It became clear that the challenges that Hospitalfield was encountering were mirrored at tourism organisations across Scotland in a varying ways. Each business had its own set of priorities that required a tailored ‘stack’ of digital solutions.
Traveltech for Scotland approached Karin Gidlund and Megan McGurren of Visit Scotland who had widely spent the lockdown exploring the ways in which technology can support the recovery of tourism post-pandemic, through the production of the Scottish Tourism Toolkit. Traveltech for Scotland subsequently served to enhance this important work by integrating and adding content that resulted in a fantastically useful Traveltech Directory, a compendium of resources available to Scottish business including case studies and a summary of technologies. The core of the directory is a comprehensive list of companies that offer digital solutions to for tourism, including online ticketing, e-commerce, and socially distanced visitor management. One of the most valuable tools of this directory is the facility to filter the list of companies by location. By applying this filter, I was able to make informed choices to select companies that were based in Scotland. Applying other filters ensured that I was introduced to smaller start up companies that we favoured at Hospitalfield over the more dominant agencies.
We made the choice to use Citizen Ticket to service our online tickets needs for the new development at Hospitalfield. This Edinburgh company is an ideal fit for our requirements, supporting our customer relationship management (CRM) and membership schemes too, and it is certain that we would not have discovered this platform without the assistance of the Traveltech Directory, this is a resource that we will be returning too regularly and one that we would highly recommend.