Most companies would do anything to keep their brightest minds from leaving. But luxury hotel owner Peter Taylor is happy to wave them on their way, if it means fostering a new generation of tourism innovators.
More than a month ago, one of his waiters “flew the nest” to work full-time on a web design business. The firm called Klaklak now boasts clients such as the Ratho Adventure Centre and Signature Hotels.
Taylor recognised that Marc Guerriot had artistic talent and gave him a digital camera and computer to redesign the Townhouse Company’s brochures and website. Guerriot was soon moving on to win a roster of high-profile clients. Now, Taylor is faced with the prospect of losing two more key employees.
As so often happens, the eureka moment for Kaye Clarke came out of the desire to complete a simple task. Clarke and Stephanie Wilson, marketing manager and revenue manager respectively at the Townhouse Company, wanted to sell gift certificates online for weekend breaks at the Bonham and Channings hotels in Edinburgh. They were keen to tap into the increasing numbers of people wanting to give “experiences” rather than tangible products.
“But it wasn’t at all easy to set up. You needed online merchant status, a secure gateway,” says 34-year-old Clarke. “We realised that there would be a number of small tourism businesses that wouldn’t have the resources to look into all of this.
“We realised we could sell an online gift certificate solution for the tourism industry.”
The plug-in software package enables hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions with websites to offer customised gift certificates within hours.
The ladies have spent eight months collaborating with local firm Ezone Interactive to build the technology that underpins their new enterprise and are now about to test it on their first customer – the Townhouse Company.
Five other clients are waiting to come online when the service officially launches in July. They eventually hope to create a membership-driven consumer site selling gift certificates for Scottish tourism products.
Both women will keep their current jobs, for the time being, and run SK Chase on the side.
A much-welcomed Scottish Enterprise innovation award has been used to post a £10,000 security bond at the bank for online merchant status. According to Clarke, support from their boss encouraged them to take the entrepreneurial plunge.
“Peter gives freedom to his staff to make decisions. He’s willing to let people take risks,” she explains. “The hospitality industry gets used to doing things a certain way and it’s refreshing to get new recruits to question the way things are done.”
If SK Chase takes off, Taylor is even willing to give his employees more flexible hours.
“We’ll be their first customers. In a way, I hope it does interfere with their job here. It would mean that their business is a great success,” he says. “I get a great buzz out of seeing younger people starting new businesses.”
But he stresses that innovation is not just about spinning off new products. It is about scouring employees’ minds on a regular basis.
“We hold team meetings regularly to unlock the pent-up energy there. Our employees – at all levels – know how things can be done better. The challenge is to bring those ideas out into the open.”