Past, present, future blog – Andy Burgess

The Past, Present and Future blog looks at what life was like before, during and after Coronavirus. It considers what marketing and communication strategies people are deploying, how businesses are reacting to the current situation and what they plan to do after the lockdown. The Word Association, an established PR and marketing agency based close to St Andrews in Fife, interviews leading lights in golf, tourism and hospitality about these challenging times.

This week’s interview is with Andy Burgess, a mainstay of both the hotel and golf sectors in Scotland. As well as working with Banchory House Hotel, Meldrum House Hotel and Golf Club and his own B&B in Nairn, he has, until recently, also found time to captain The Nairn Golf Club.


Andy Burgess, 11:30, 12/05/20

Past – It seems like an age ago, but how positive were you coming into 2020?

“If I look at the hotels I work with, we were returning to good trading in Aberdeen with the oil industry showing signs of recovery. We saw confidence returning to the market and positivity in oil, certainly in terms of events and conferencing, which had all but disappeared. The wedding businesses in both hotels in Aberdeenshire were looking particular positive for the summer. In terms of US travel to the golf courses I’m involved in, another bumper year was being teed up especially with forward bookings. 2020 was shaping up to be an exciting year.”

Past – There was a lot to be positive about.

“Yes. There were worries around Brexit, but the pound was still good value. The European traveller saw Scotland as a value-for-money destination. Traffic volumes from Europe and America were at an all-time high, particularly in the golf sector. I was in the US in January and the positivity around the golf industry was as good as it had ever been. And then we got to March and everything changed.”

Photography by Mark Alexander

Present – What was the immediate impact on golf following the shutdown?

“We’re facing a year with no international golfers. Clubs like Nairn and Castle Stuart; all these clubs that had enjoyed high volumes of Americans and Europeans, it had gone. The forecasted scenario at Nairn is for zero guests this year. That would be a third of our revenue. It really is catastrophic. The members clubs are lucky because we have subscriptions from our members, but the pay-and-play courses will really have challenges. They’re facing zero revenue for this year.”

Present – And the hotels?

“In the hotel businesses, we’ve continued to plan for all eventualities. Christmas planning is still going on, our general sales and marketing processes are still in place without having much knowledge as to how and when the market might pick up, but plans are in place if and when that happens. Although the hotels are closed with a caretaker in each one, the management teams are having regular catch-up meetings via Zoom and Microsoft Teams to review where we are from week to week. We’ve found that technology has been invaluable and we’re getting more and more use out of meeting that way. In some ways that worries me because it brings into question the future of face-to-face meetings. Are they going to be less important for people when we come out of this when they realise they can communicate over these platforms reasonably well without meeting face to face?

Present – How has your approach to marketing been influenced by developments?

“In terms of marketing, we are conscious of our customers and repeat customers, so we’ve been talking to them regularly through a series of strategic social media posts. At Banchory, for example, we had a colouring competition so our younger customers can take part. We’re trying to engage with our audience and keep them interested.”

Present – How has your strategic planning been affected?

“In terms of PR and other activities that we would normally undertake, we’ve had to moderate them in terms of investing in third-party consultants and agencies. However, in both hotel properties, we’ve been thinking that if this bubble bursts and we’re able to operate again, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of businesses fighting for a slice of the same pie. So we’ve thought about how we could capture our share of that potential business and that might mean putting the foot on the gas in terms of marketing and looking at TV advertising, for example, which we’ve never done before. We’ve been considering more aggressive campaigns to make sure we’re visible.”

Present – Do you feel your audience has changed during this period?

“We acknowledge that there is a bigger audience out there right now than ever before. Everybody is sitting in front of screen or in front of a phone. There is a huge audience of furloughed people that wouldn’t normally be available.”

Present – Are you at the stage where you are developing specific campaigns for this larger audience?

“We’ve had discussions about what is appropriate to market at this stage. The wedding market is one we don’t feel we can go banging a drum about because there are a lot of disappointed brides and grooms that aren’t able to have their weddings right now. There is a lot of stress around weddings in the short term, but there are also a lot of people making plans for their wedding in the future…”

Photography by Mark Alexander

Future – Do you think your potential markets will change when the lockdown is eased?

“The markets might fit into different sectors, such as the elderly who are quite vulnerable to Covid-19. Even when the lockdown is eased, I don’t know whether they’ll be champing at the bit to get to a restaurant. Then there’ll be people who are missing social interactions with friends in restaurants and bars but will be quite cautious. There will also be a certain amount of mavericks who will go out and do whatever they can get away with and disregard the danger to health. Perhaps even more significantly, it will be a while before any international visitors return, and we have to realise that. We have to modify our product to suit the UK market and ensure we put ourselves at the forefront of that opportunity and that might mean stepping up our route to market by supporting marketing mediums that we didn’t feel necessary or effective in the past.”

Future – How quickly will the wedding market recover?

“A big part of my business in hotels is weddings. As of today, we still haven’t had any guidance from the government as is to what an event is. For instance, is it 10+ people, is it 50 or is it 100? So until there are some guidelines in place, the wedding business will find it difficult to operate.”

Future – As you mentioned, technology is playing a crucial role during this. Do you think it will continue to do so in the future?

“I don’t think hotels will adopt Zoom meetings as a norm because we are a face-to-face business. I think other businesses might do away with offices and have the workforce working from their lounges and communicate virtually, but I don’t think I could conduct my businesses in that fashion.”

Future – How long will it take for consumer confidence to return?

“The hospitality industry won’t get back to the ‘new norm’ until a vaccine has been found and our customers are back feeling safe in the company of other human beings. The hospitality industry will take until then to recover in any great way.”

Future – What will your marketing initiatives look like in the future?

“I think in terms of sales and marketing, the medium that has become most effective has been social media channels and ecommerce. These will become even more powerful and we will use them more and more. During this period of lockdown, people are realising they can communicate effectively virtually and I think this will have a big bearing on how we communicate in the future, and it will see the demise of the more traditional marketing methods such as print.”

– Ends –


Andy and his wife Liz moved to Nairn in 2005 and set up a guest house in a special part of the world. While Andy spent most of his time managing hotels in Aberdeen, Liz created an award-winning B&B at Sandown House.

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Check out the previous Past Present Future blogs –

David Scott, Dumbarnie Golf Links

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