Friday, August 07, 2009

Private Means Private...sort of

There is the long standing comment about Britain and America being divided by a common language. Golf contributes it's fair share to this confusion. Case in point, "Private" golf clubs.

In the British Isles "private" golf clubs imply they have a membership. In the U.S., a club that is designated as private probably restricts access to the course and facilities to members only. The British "private" does not, indeed most "private" courses in the British Isles welcome and are somewhat reliant on visitors for revenue.

I played at the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach recently. The previous round was in 1984. Who needs repeat guests like me! The Dunes Club is probably one of the nicest facilities in Myrtle Beach and certainly one of the oldest. The clubhouse is on the beach and a great spot to have a drink or dinner. The course most recently hosted the Senior Tour Championship a few years ago. They have a manned security gate to protect their members from the outside world. The set up is typically that of a private club.

The twist to the story is that the Dunes Club accepts outside play. If you are a resident at one of 4 or 5 hotels you have the opportunity to play the Dunes Club on the hotels membership at a healthy greens fee. The members apparently accept this arrangement as the revenue infusion more than offsets any annoyance at unrepaired ball marks or slow play from non members. If the Dunes Club were located in virtually any other part of the U.S. the members would be appalled at this outside play...but this is Myrtle Beach and the way things are done. Which just goes to confirm you are a product of your environment.

I had not realized before how similar Myrtle Beach golf is to British golf!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Marketing can take unforseen turns

I am not sure what odds the bookies in Britain placed on Tom Watson winning the 2009 Open Championship..but suffice to say they would have been long odds! His performance was remarkable, with a storybook quality to all four days...with the exception of the 72nd hole.

From a marketing perspective, I think the Ailsa Course at Turnberry could not have looked finer. The weather was what people perceive as typically Scottish, sans the rain! Turnberry Hotel sat majestically overlooking the entire procedings. Mr. Watson's performance resonated with so many golfers in the 50's and older. As a result I think Scotland and Turnberry specifically will see an increase in visitor traffic because of Tom Watson. He was so close to setting a multitude of records as he approaches his 60th birthday, against the finest golfers of our time. For many golfers who can appreciate the sport as we all get older...aching backs, shorter back swings, putting strokes no longer happens to us all...except for 4 glorious days to Tom Watson.

In it's own unique way, I think many golfers will want to see for themselves where Watson almost pulled of one of the greatest feats in golf. They will want to walk the turf and see if it rekindles some of their earlier the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, the "Cocoon" of golf after the award winning 1985 movie?

Golf travel to the British Isles always enjoys an uptick in interest level around the Open Championship due to the extensive media coverage. This year will be different. Scottish tourism desperately needs a shot in the arm after a very challenging 2009 and we can all thank Tom Watson.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Looking out for yourself today has consequences

I was told this morning a story about one of the best known deluxe hotels in Scotland that during the recent downturn took the position of holding prices steady. That is an admirable strategy but time has, I believe, led them to rethink some of this pricing. The hotel in question has laid off various personnel to recognize a noticeable downturn in business. As a result of events completely outwith our control 90 days ago we had the need to place approximately 80 bednights (plus two dinners at approx $80/person) with a hotel in Scotland. Given various considerations we opted for this property. It made sense on a variety of levels and for our clients it will be a fine experience.

We recently asked for one room to be provided for a staff member travelling with the group. The hotel reverted with a rate of over $300 per night, but promised "the best available room"!

Our group shall remain in their property but their attitude has badly damaged my view of their facility. One of the things I have noted during the last 9 months has been the willingness of people to work together, to help each other. Moving forward, this hotel will never know how much business I shall quietly redirect to suppliers that can equally deliver a fine experience for our clients...and on balance are more appropriate & professional to deal with.

Surviving these times is incredibly challenging and tiresome but there is no easy solution. We have developed tremendous working relationships with a group of suppliers who "get it". Everyone is working harder for less money....margins are tightened but there is still business to be had.

In the last 4 weeks we have seen the trend of late bookings as we never saw before...clients booking on a Tuesday for a Saturday departure! The one part of the story that is slightly worrisome is the weakening dollar...we hope the trend will stop and the currencies stabilize as this is a tough time to increase prices. As a company we guarantee the US dollar price at the time of a result, given various incentives and supplier considerations, this is an opportune time to plan travel, even if it is for 2010....but not to the unnamed hotel!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Luxury Golf Cruise possibilities around Britain

Previously we had considered our market segment somewhat recession did many luxury brands, however the last 6 months have clearly shown everyone that is not the case. Having said that I am extremely proud of how everyone at PerryGolf has handled the challenges. We created a game plan and have used the many resources available to us to market programs we thought fit the circumstances.

We however continue to seek out deluxe programs and travel opportunities. To that end we are delighted to have identified the Harmony II. She is a 189 foot classic steel-built mega-yacht, launched in 1954, that has been fully and lovingly restored by Alan and Martin Pedley over the last six years. The restoration project, a total internal and external refit, included the installation of new engines and the replacement of 85 tonnes of hull plating.  The ship is unique, as the designers have avoided ultra-modern fashions which inevitably lead to a sterile environment. Instead, a careful blend of traditional style and modern functionality has been maintained throughout, with the interior design mirroring the carefully restored classic exterior, so that a warm and comfortable ambiance has been achieved. She holds 12 passengers in the utmost comfort and is ideal to sail in British waters while enjoying a most relaxing golf experience at some otherwise difficult to reach links.

Images of this beautiful vessel are available at:

We shall be announcing specific programs in the near future. During these challenging times it is always particularly rewarding to be able to introduce new travel opportunities to our many clients.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Good news...anywhere?

I was speaking to a good friend today in the golf industry who had just returned from an extended (40 day) trip through Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, etc) seeking out new golf developments. He was of the view that only a fraction of the currently conceieved projects would indeed become successful....or even get out of the ground. Most smart money has finally realized that golf courses as stand alone business models rarely are profitable. Whether as (new, high end) daily fee or private clubs...the last few years has been tough...and 2009 is a bloodbath. As my friend confirmed, Asia is not immune from the economic problems and here in the USA many established clubs are fighting for their very survival.

I expect to see 5 - 10% of golf/country clubs go bankrupt over the next 24 months in the USA. The fundamental model for many of them is flawed. Society has changed and golf is one of the current losers in the shake-up. Various ideas have been discussed...but one thing is for sure...there are no easy answers or quick fixes. Indeed, there is no cookie cutter solution...every club has it's own unique challenges and solutions.

Leisurecorp from Dubai who recently purchased Turnberry Hotel in Scotland are in the midst of a $50Million refurbishment. Recent reports suggest even Leisurecorp are under pressure to one is immune.

As the travel press has reported incessently, value added travel offers are everywhere. Availability has never been better and suppliers are working tirelessly to ensure memorable trips. The challenge is that even if trips were free, travelers will not have the confidence to travel if they feel they may not have a job or a business to return to. Lack of confidence.

We need a few weeks of sustained decent news...not great, but a material change from the depressing articles we currently see, hear & read on a daily basis.

The golf travel industry just needs Tiger to win the Masters and the U.S. Open, ideally both events by wide margins...and then off to Scotland he goes with a vast entourage in tow to see history unfold. If only it were all so easy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The luxury (golf) travel landscape

It would appear that no industry is immune from the current economic challenges, indeed the travel industry is feeling the full effects of the lower confidence of US consumers. Having said that, I believe that the affluent (golf) traveler will probably return to their lifestyle habits, including travel, quicker than the wider population.

Since the New Year we are witnessing some very early indications that some of this may be occurring. For the prospective international golf traveler there truly has never been a better time to buy a foreign trip; availability is excellent; suppliers are providing some value added incentives and the exchange rate is generally more favorable today than it was a few months ago.

An emblematic sign of the times in southern Spain; an unnamed, exclusive club which has accepted visitors on a limited basis for many years has dropped green fees by 40% while opening up access significantly.

On the air travel side, premium international travel has been affected by a decline in corporate travel and as a result it has probably never been cheaper, with good availability, to purchase discounted First & Business Class travel.

These cycles are just part of the normal economic ebb & flow and are inherently good as it tightens up businesses that possibly were getting overstaffed or delivering poor service. I know from personal experience that as a company, we have been innovating with various changes to our business practises and also redoubling our efforts to develop compelling travel opportunities. We also have been working to create messaging and communications which are as attractive as possible to potential travelers.

On the supplier front, we are excited about seeing Turnberry Hotel reopen after their extensive renovations & refurbishment this winter. Turnberry was acquired by a Dubai based company in 2008 and have closed the golf course and hotel over the winter as they prepare for the 2009 Open Championship. The hotel is being rebranded as a Luxury Collection property within Starwood (an upgrade from Westin) when it reopens this coming summer.

Also in Scotland we have course openings at Castle Stuart (near Inverness) and Machrahanish Bay which will both add tremendously to the golfing landscape in their respective regions.

All in all, a wonderful time to travel if you have the ability to make the trip.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The economy and international golf travel

For a number of years, as the economy has enjoyed solid growth, international golf travel has also increased in terms of travelers and dollars spent. As that demand increased at various destinations around the world, more often than not so would prices. The basic law of supply & demand.

Historically we have seen "golf inflation" increase in some areas at a far greater rate than inflation calculated with more of the staples of life. Golf inflation being defined as the increase of green fee rates.

Therefore, as we hit this speedbump in the world economy and the impact of this slowly works through various sectors, it is heartening to see suppliers take the lead in holding prices for the 2009 season, even as their costs increase. The latest, and highest profile announcement is that of the St. Andrews Links Trust who manage the Old Course, St. Andrews are leaving their green fees unchanged for the 2009 season. This is welcome news and while the actions of one supplier will not change the underlying challenges in our business, we hope that others join in and make a similar statement. We have previously been advised by a number of hotels they are maintaining 2008 prices for travel in 2009...great news as these companies understand, as the Links Trust does, the need for a concerted effort to reinvigorate golf travel to the British Isles.