2017 has been quite a year for Duns Castle. First, it was chosen ahead of hundreds of other European estates as the star of a global Beauty and the Beast-themed advertising campaign.
After the resulting media exposure, the estate was voted both Venue of the Year and Customer Experience of the Year at the 2017 Scottish Event Awards in October. And the following month, it also won Tourism and Hospitality Business of the Year at the Scottish Borders Business Excellence Awards.
It’s a stellar success for a venue entering these awards for the first time and, as Jonathan Findlay, Business Development Manager, explained: “It’s great recognition for the team after all the effort we’ve put in. It’s also a significant example of how a rural property and private estate can contribute to the local and national economy.”
Owned by Alick and Aline Hay, the 14th-century Berwickshire estate has been offering a stunning venue for weddings and private events for 30 years. But it was catapulted to global stardom last year when HomeAway, the world’s leading holiday rental company, decided on its new awareness campaign.
HomeAway teamed up with Disney to offer a stay in a fairy-tale castle, the campaign coinciding with the release of Beauty and the Beast. After agreeing licensing rights to use the film in their campaign, they began looking for the perfect castle to take centre stage – which is where Duns came in.
Jonathan explained: “I started work in August and began by approaching some potential channels of business that hadn’t yet been fully explored. These included a number of film location companies and by October we found ourselves on a shortlist, pitching for the HomeAway contract against other castles across Europe.”
After nail-biting deliberation, Duns was picked as the star of the campaign, with the advert filmed on site in December 2016. HomeAway picked a winner, who, along with 20 friends and family, spent five nights in the castle, with all travel and hospitality included.
Jonathan explained: “Initially, there was a degree of apprehension at such a small rural team being able to cope with the castle being suddenly propelled on to the international stage – it was unprecedented and was likely to generate a surge of enquiries.”
Yet its sudden exposure reaped instant rewards, with VisitScotland hailing both the campaign and the NBC broadcast as a massive coup for Scottish tourism.
Jonathan added: “The beauty of it was that rather than generically saying ‘Win a stay in a Scottish castle’, it was agreed the global campaign would specify ‘Win a stay in Duns Castle’. But it didn’t just put us on the map – it helped raise the profile of Duns and other parts of the Borders that can often be a bit overlooked. If we hadn’t won, it could all have gone to another part of Europe.