The Highland Perthshire business owners shaking up booking and ticketing in Scotland.
Anna Ford : Owner and Lead Developer at Liberty Engine Ticketing System
Always the early adopter, Anna Ford created her first website in 1997 for a children’s centre at The Tryst in Pitlochry. She had honed her design skills at Manchester School of Art and a conversation with her brother led her to explore coding as an option for her skills.
She explained, “There was nowhere offering courses in web development at that time, so I ordered a load of books in PHP coding and taught myself. The only formal training I secured was an Open University course in Computing 201. Back then, I had to persuade businesses that a website might be worthwhile; BBC and Coca Cola were online but local businesses had brochures.”
Ford was an early pioneer of content management systems (CMS), allowing owners to update their own websites many years before the concept became normalised. In the early 2000s she was adding tags that connected to early social media, helping page rankings in the emerging search engine, Google. By 2010 her customers were enjoying dynamic content that would select and show only relevant items.
Entering the marketplace just as the internet took off has given Ford an unrivalled depth of knowledge across a range of frameworks and platforms. Over the years she has distilled the best of these to create Liberty Engine, the bespoke CMS which now drives her websites. Most recently, this has evolved to offer a bespoke ticketing system that integrates online event sales with ticket redemption and POS venue sales.
Ford explained, “It was a request from Perth Racecourse, one of our long-standing clients, that really pushed the ticketing system to the forefront of our development projects. We had created a streamlined CMS that could integrate with booking and stock systems, but when it came to event ticketing, the options were clunky and inflexible. Worse still, they took control of the sale – and the cashflow.
“Systems that could be redeemed digitally required expensive, integrated kit but those that required print were inconvenient, expensive, and an environmental issue. There were also a series of bizarre pricing strategies forcing venues to create tickets that would fit the system instead of the end customer. Add to this the cost of booking fees – whether being paid by the customer or the venue – and it was easy to see that something better was begging to be built.”
Learning from the mistakes of others, flexibility became the backbone of Liberty Engine Ticketing.
“Our customers don’t have to change their business processes to fit a ticketing system. Liberty Engine is currently working for one-off events, recurring events, and daily entry.
“We ran the first iteration of the scanning software at Perth Racecourse in 2017. On the first day of the opening Festival, we scanned over 3000 tickets in three hours – 800 in ten minutes at peak!
“Since then, we’ve provided the service to various venues, including Knockhill Race Circuit, St Andrews Sealife Centre, Perth Festival of the Arts Online Concerts in 2020, Birnam Arts, Active Kids, and Glenshee Ski Centre.”
Research has shown that with the rise of digital solutions, expectations are higher than ever before. Customers want slick, easy-to-use systems, and venues need to ensure control of the process, including live crowd data, at every stage.
Ford continued, “Attending events as a support team has allowed us to really understand the issues and we have continuously updated our system to address these. When we do our job well you don’t remember us – you just have a great day out.
“In the last 12 months 250,000 tickets have been sold through Liberty Engine, worth circa £5 million. We now offer tickets for door sales, printing POS, and handheld card machines; it’s important to keep events accessible for the non-techies too!
“Our next development is to provide software as a service plugin for use across non-proprietary web platforms, and to create a frictionless link between accommodation providers and activity providers.”
Richard Drummond: Hotelier and Founding Partner of Hop Property Management Software
Richard Drummond has worked in the hospitality business for over 40 years. Trained as a chef, he spent time at the world-famous Gleneagles in the ‘80s before going on to launch one of the UK’s fastest-growing catering companies, Out of Town Restaurants, in the ‘90s.
In 2007 he joined forces with Jon Erasmus, creating a small chain of Highland hotels and restaurants. Their combined assets of The Strathgarry Hotel (Drummond) and McKays Hotel (Erasmus) launched the enterprise that grew to include The Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten, The Seaforth in Ullapool, and MacDonalds in Pitlochry, which was integrated into McKays.
Since then, they have ridden out two recessions, covid, and Brexit, and most recently pooled their extensive industry experience to create Hop, a Property Management software system.
Drummond commented, “Eight years ago, we bought the guesthouse and takeaway next door to McKays and redeveloped the site into what it is today. We have 40 bedrooms, the live music venue, restaurant, bar, and award-winning fish & chip shop.
“It’s a great business, but alongside our other two hotels, we were spending a lot of money on our property management system. This always irritated my business partner; these products are expensive, but they rarely do what is required. Jon had been threatening to create our own system for years and driven by mounting frustration and cost, we contacted Ronald Tweedie, a friend of Jon’s from his IT days, and we put our heads together.
“It took two years to develop, and initially I knew nothing about tech! But I did know first-hand the pain caused by ineffective systems; I’ve been in the heat of a kitchen; I’ve serviced long queues at check in. I understood what needed to be fixed and why – and Ronald, with our assistance, knew how to make that happen.
“We ran beta testing in McKays before rolling it into our other hotels. A year later, in November 2018, we launched Hop into the market.”
Today, Hop Property Management System promises to streamline multiple day-to-day processes by integrating a booking engine with a channel manager, event management, customer relationship management, and revenue and reporting. The software can be used for multi-property companies and, importantly, comes in at a competitive price point.
Drummond continued, “The beauty of a cloud-based product is that it can be accessed from anywhere. While 34% of our business comes from Scotland, our customer base is worldwide. We’re currently in over 200 hotels across five continents, from the Caribbean to Florida and Africa.
“It is a crowded marketplace but if you have a good idea, that benefits everyone, then it will travel internationally with ease. Add to this a willingness to listen to feedback, to evolve and grow, and it’s easy to see why we’ve made such a strong start. We came to disrupt the market, while offering real value for money to the industry, and I’m proud to say that we’ve done exactly that.”