Scotland doubles up on agent sites

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EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The Scottish Tourist Board here, a year or so behind its Irish and British counterparts in putting a destination specialist program for travel agents online, now is doing them one better with the launch of two state-of-the-art retailer Web sites this fall.

The first site, at www.scotsagent.com, went live Sept. 15 with the first three -- of an eventual five -- course modules of the revamped ScotsMaster (or Specialist Counselor on Travel to Scotland) program. The two remaining online modules will launch Oct. 6.

Scottish tourist officials have split the existing ScotsMaster program into two tiers.

Whereas agents once paid a $65 fee to enroll in a print-based course that offered one level of membership, they now can take the online course -- which awards three credits from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents and basic "Scots-Agent" status -- for free and then, upon certification, pay for an upgrade to enhanced ScotsMaster Business Benefits.

The new fee for ScotsMaster status had not been determined at press time.

ScotsMasters perks include an official certificate; sales leads; Web listings at consumer sites ToScotland.com and VisitScotland.com; invitations to both the annual Visit-Scotland Expo trade show and low-cost fam trips; bulk ordering of the Scotland Vacation Planner; marketing support materials; and free letterhead and postcards.

"The program now has more useful information, tips on how to sell and a bit more product," according to Melanie Angus, trade promotions manager at the Scottish Tourist Board. "In the past, it was extremely educational, but now it's also extremely practical."

The ScotsAgent.com site was developed by Northstar Travel Media's Electronic Products Group. Northstar is Travel Weekly's parent company, and the course also is accessible via www.twcrossroads.com and www.travelweekly.com.

Meanwhile, the second trade site, at www.bookingscotland.com, will launch by early October. It will offer retailers practical travel information along with product and commission-payment details from as many as 100 tour operator participants.

ScotsMasters will be entitled to bonus commissions on any bookings made at the site.

Development and implementation of the sites cost about $100,000, said Angus, adding that it was worth the expense.

"U.S. travel agents are a very important part of the tourism mix for Scotland, and they provide a huge service to us because many act, in effect, as our ambassadors," she explained. "We rely on ScotsAgents and ScotsMasters to make sure the consumer is aware of what Scotland has to offer."

Not surprisingly, the Scottish Tourist Board would like to grow its ranks, as the U.S. is Scotland's No. 1 source market, sending approximately 500,000 visitors each year.

Tourism authorities hope to certify 1,000 Scotland specialists and then enroll them in the ScotsMaster Business Benefits plan by the end of 2004, according to Angus, and there are no plans to cap membership.

Membership in the program stands at 400 agents, half of whom have opted for the enhanced ScotsMaster status.

For more information, visit www.scotsagent.com or www.visitscotland.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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