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Chance Favours The Prepared Mind

Tom Hayward is a partner at Argyll House, formerly Kings Knoll, a local lad educated at Rockfield and Oban High School, and then went onto Clydebank College to study hotel management, where he was awarded the Islay Quaich.

In this blog, Tom shares his thoughts on recent impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and the resultant changes to Oban's tourism trade.

Tom Hayward

Belonging to Generation X, I appreciate technology a bit, but not quite tech savvy, so if you told me aged 16, I would be labouring at the keyboard writing a blog piece I would have died laughing.

Yet, embracing digital is now no laughing matter, as Oban's tourism and hospitality sector must anticipate lots of change in coming months and years ahead.

Hospitality Career

Most of my career was spent in kitchens as a Head Chef, and included a spell of 16 years with McKever Hotels Group  but for a variety of reasons I lost the key ingredient, passion.

I felt working in kitchens was a younger man's game, so I took on the management of the Kings Knoll for 2 years, and for the past 9 years I've been owner/operator of our 18 room boutique style hotel, offering a friendly welcome, with attentive yet unobtrusive service, tailored to the needs of our guests.

Shearings and David Urquhart Travel

The recent news that Shearings has started the administration process, and David Urquhart Travel is being wound up, will directly impact Oban and other West Highland destinations.

There will sadly be job losses as a result of these businesses being lost, but both tended to serve customers of older generations with limited discretionary spend, so margins were already very tight and doubtful that they would be able to adjust to the anticipated rises in operating costs across the sector.

However, hidden within every problem lies the seed, of an equal, or greater opportunity.

  • Can our West Highland destinations make a shift away from lower value markets and bargain deals?
  • How will CalMac fill the spaces once taken up by coaches?
  • Will the coach park at Longsdale potentially need repurposed due to the reduced coach activity?

Oban's Experience Economy

As a result of the crisis, Oban's visitor profile will likely change, towards a slightly younger demographic, with different expectations, and we may possibly see less international visitors in the short to medium term.

More cooperation going forward, particularly between activity providers, accommodation providers and restaurants, could be the way to go.

Customers will value experiences even more; maybe we’re in the memory business.

We must use this time to explore the opportunities.

  • How can we cross sell and work together across sectors so that we stimulate more spend and lock in more value locally?
  • Could we borrow ideas from NLP, and begin with the end in mind and work backwards?
  • What resources do we have, and are we making best use of them?

For example, we have stunning views, friendly locals, some of the best skate fishing in Europe, a distillery in the town centre to name a few.

How do we create the unique and remarkable experiences that will help us stand out as more than just another pretty coastal town?

Business Improvement

All individuals, businesses and destinations have room for improvement. So, how do we better ourselves?

There will likely be a drive to reducing reliance on OTA’s like, with a focus on collecting more direct bookings, so how can we make best use of technology to improve our performance?

  • Would you be willing to apply the 95/5 rule in your business, if so, you be getting it about 95% right, who/what is your 5%?...and how can we share insights between businesses?
  • Could we borrow from Kaizen, and try to get 1% better everyday? How much better would things be at the end of a year?


Extending the season, is the old chestnut, but it needs worked on. Can we really accept counting on tourists coming every year with most of the sales concentrated into a three-month period? That just won’t fly anymore, especially if we want to attract talent and keep the youngest and smartest people to the area.

We need more diversity in the business base locally, so there are a lot of difficult questions need answered, but now is our time, after all chance favours the prepared mind.

About the author

Daniel MacIntyre

Daniel MacIntyre


Daniel is an experienced business development consultant, digital marketing manager and director of The View, Oban’s live music venue and bar.

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