Creative News Scotland

How MMI helped Waverley tackle 21st Century tourism with new website

By The Drum | Administrator

February 15, 2002 | 6 min read

As a small charity funded visitor attraction the Waverley and Balmoral struggle to compete with the bigger visitor attractions in Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, working closely with MMI proved to them that in a David and Goliath battle size is not the only weapon.

How MMI helped Waverley tackle 21st Century tourism with new website

How MMI helped Waverley tackle 21st Century tourism with new website


Waverley Excursions Ltd operates the paddle steamer Waverley and the motor vessel Balmoral. Both ships offer day cruises for public or charter all around the UK coast. The Waverley, which is the world's only seagoing paddle steamer, gives the opportunity for over 600 people to enjoy the unique experience of a steam-powered trip 'doon the watter'. Every season, tens of thousands of people travel on the boats to visit some of Scotland's most spectacular coastal scenery.

When the Waverley was launched, just after the Second World War, a day trip down the Clyde was the only holiday experience, before trips to foreign resorts were a realistic option for most Scots. In the 21st century, it was recognised that there were many who had never experienced this. In the late 1940s, a trip down the Clyde was usually Hobson's choice where, as now, motorised excursions to and from Glasgow take every shape and form, including amphibious vehicle, helicopter and fast speedboat. So, the competition is "hotting-up".

In 2001, Waverley benefited from a major £4m rebuild, supported by the Strathclyde European Partnership, the Heritage Lottery Fund, SE and others.

As a registered charity, Waverley has a hard-working staff, many seeing their job as a labour of love. However, they recognised the limitations their small team had in competing against ultra-modern and sophisticated tourist attractions, springing up all over Scotland. In 2001, Waverley Excursions identified the need to create a website, to provide sailing, pricing and promotional information to customers, as being central to its future competitiveness.

In a nutshell, they wanted to investigate all the opportunities offered by internet technologies. Waverley excursions appointed MMI in Glasgow and offered them an opportunity to look 'beyond the brief'.


As well as the important factors, such as sailing timetables and a 24hour/seven-days-a-week booking system, Waverley also wanted the ability to offer up-to-date news and, very importantly, ensure that people continued to support this important part of Scotland's history.

MMI realised that a sophisticated website had to fulfil much more than these hard-nosed business requirements. The all-important creative approach had to portray the sense of the unique occasion that is a trip on the Waverley or Balmoral.

Victor Brierley from MMI commented, "What makes steamboat trips so interesting are the intangible things and the sense of history and occasion. In essence, they are much more than just modes of transport. With the massive steam engine on view, paddles pushing through the water on the Waverley and the mix of wooden decks, steam and sea breezes giving a special 'smell', a journey is much more than simply getting from A to B."

Fortunately, the sense of history had not been forgotten and a rich archive of photographic and written material was available through Waverley Excursions but also through another charity, The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.


By utilising the new photographic library featuring the ships in a modern day setting and mixing this with specially commissioned illustrations and typography, styled to portray the Golden Age of travel, the idea of a trip on the Waverley was brought to life and right up to date. Images of the wood, brass, steam and gleaming new paintwork were supplemented with some of the stunning scenery that can be enjoyed on the trips.

As the sailing season is not year round, an online booking and ticketing system was developed using software specially developed by MMI. This means differences in time zones for North America, unmanned box offices and the winter shut-down, which were a problem for the small and dedicated Waverley team, are no longer major hurdles to overcome.

A content-managed 'News' page, now offers Waverley Excursions the opportunity to update the site without any specialist software knowledge. When the season commences this is invaluable to publicise press releases and the special one-off sailings which take place throughout the year.

To capitalise on the real love affair that the Waverley is to many people, the website also gives the chance to become a supporter and join the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and change or select your own images from the site, to display on your own 'favourite' website. This all adds to the historical heritage of one of Scotland's important assets


Launched at the end of 2001, the site has surpassed all expectations, particularly with its ability to take 24-hour bookings, throughout the winter and off season.

Brierley commented on the success: "As Waverley excursions was a truly unique case, it was hard to quantify how the Waverley customers would view an online booking site. To use a "Field of Dreams" analogy, it really was a case of build it - and they will come."

Such is the success of the website that Waverley Excursions is actively participating in utilising the site as a relevant, cost-effective and flexible model for other Scottish-based tourism businesses. It is now being used by UK Online for Business as a tourism case study for other attractions to learn from.

It demonstrates that an up-to-date and sophisticated web presence can benefit even the most traditional of businesses and it can demonstrate a proper return on investment, in quite a short period of time. It shows a website can be both well designed and aesthetically pleasing whilst offering tangible business benefits.

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