So officially the current most hated noun in the Oxford English is Algorithm.  Unsurprising given its recent form, it’s also difficult to spell, and even to say if you happen to be nibbling on a biscuit at the time. Ironically, one of the other most hated words is ‘blog’, but we’ll skip gaily over that one.

Why you must never trust algorithms for the best advise.

As UK governments have just twigged, using data from the past to direct computer-cold decisions which shape the future, has its flaws.  And yet, algorithms DO have a place in society:  insurance companies use them to understand high and low crime areas based on the history of claims, and health boards can identify patients most likely to miss appointments, and send them timely reminders, which is good.

When planning a holiday, or even a day trip or snatched weekend of bliss however, steer well clear of the algorithm I implore you. How many times have I heard ‘It can’t be that far, it’s only half an inch on the map.’ Or, ‘Oh the North Coast 500, well 500 miles takes about 8 hours, so we’ll easily do that in a weekend’. No! No! No! This is Scotland.  It existed way before computers were even an electronic twinkle in an ambitious scientists’ eye.  Scotland does not compute!

Too many visitors to our glorious country miss much of its charm by being whisked around the tick-list of locations and attractions.  They (briefly) see crowds, coaches, & traffic jams.  They pay too much and often receive much less than they deserve.  It’s easy to repeat safe formulas, but it doesn’t make for the best holidays.

Instead, find websites based in Scotland, written by people in Scotland, with real on the ground knowledge.  Speak to friends, get personal recommendations, and if you’re making your own bookings, speak to the people at the hotels, b&bs, inns etc to ask questions and check they meet your needs.  We would highly recommend where every business has been recommended as stockists or supporters of Scottish Gin.  Surely that’s the type of place you want to connect with? #ginspired!

Where algorithms fail is that they are dry and clinical, without nuance or judgement.  They digest only the data they have been fed.  Far too often travel data is fed into computers by people who tragically have never set foot in Scotland, or certainly not off her well beaten tracks. As a consequence the guidance spewed forth is just as incomplete.  Don’t trust the 3*, 4* or 5* choices.  There will always be grading systems in tourism, but the criteria to achieve the higher ratings concentrate on lifts, porters, and in room services, rather than the important things like, do the staff genuinely seem pleased to see you?  Not to mention the possibilities of local wildlife encounters, or the fabulous sunsets or potential views of the Northern Lights that are possible at every level of tourist board rating. 

Not too long ago I stayed at a traditional hotel on the West Coast, 3* at best with great heritage, but showing its age slightly.  Indeed, draughty windows, small showers and poor water pressure might have led to a miserable night. However, just after a lovely dinner, a great rumble set up. Suddenly, right outside the window next to me, a group of ten or so red deer cantered out of the forest and down to the back of the hotel to eat the vegetable scraps the chef always kept back for them. As the dusk drew in, several of us with drams in hand, some still eating the remains of a delicious dessert, spent a delightful few minutes observing these beautiful creatures enjoying their supper. Clearly a nightly occurence, and yet there was no mention of it on the website, no photos even, it was just something that happened naturally.  If a seven star rating were available, I would happily have given it to that hotel that night.

Red Deer Stag
Red Deer Stag

By comparison, the very best hotels combine excellence in provision with a relaxed unstuffy service.  Everyone should be made to feel welcome, whether they are a Prince, a billionaire, or a regular Joe who’s saved hard for a one-off treat.  The very best value, in my opinion, is in having everything you need available to you (need, not possibly, maybe, one day might want), alongside that welcome.

In a previous life I hosted a group of top US media, making in some cases one of many trips to Scotland as guests of big corporations.  The route I designed combined 5* luxury and Michelin Stars with small inns and one-off experiences.  On the final evening we sat around a camp fire on a beach on the southern end of Skye, drinking Talisker single malt and enjoying the sunset. As we reflected on highlights, I asked was it the spa treatments or the golf tuition?  Was it the helicopter trip?  Perhaps the dinner at that great restaurant with the award-winning chef who came to greet us?  No? No. It was unexpectedly spotting dolphins from the RIB, climbing up an old lighthouse tower, eating those prawns the fishermen gave us for our camp fire, and late-night thumb wrestling with the locals in the pub, while listening to a couple of guys playing guitar. 

Would you get that with an algorithm? 

Computer says ‘no’.