In conversation with

Heather Rennie-McGill

Director of Marketing and Sales at Rabbie’s



How do you cut through the noise of the crowded tourism industry? It’s a question that Heather’s explored for years in travel marketing – from working summer seasons ‘in the field’ for Canvas Holidays to steering small group tours company Rabbie’s through its rebrand with Sonder & Tell. We caught up to reflect on the unexpected results of the process, share advice for marketing directors unsure about investing, and why we should all be chasing curiosity to the horizon and beyond.

Question and Answer

Tell us a bit about you. Where did your interest in travel and marketing begin? And what was your journey to becoming Director of Marketing & Sales at Rabbie’s?

I’ve always had a fascination for other countries, cultures and traditions and I loved learning languages in my formative years. My grandmother hailed from Belgium, and I’d spend the full summer there with my twin brother – exploring the beauty of Belgium and its neighbouring countries. I can attribute my early interest in travel to those enriching experiences.

This curiosity led to a degree in Tourism Management at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh. And one particular Marketing module kindled a fiery passion within me. Since then, I’ve devoted over 25 years to the dynamic world of travel and tourism.

After 17 years working for Canvas Holidays, I was ready for a fresh challenge with Rabbie’s – taking on a brand new role as Marketing Manager of the newly built team. After a couple of years, I found myself leading both the Marketing and Sales divisions. And for the past five years, I’ve proudly held the position of Director of Marketing & Sales, overseeing teams involved in Marketing, brand, B2B sales, product development, contracting, customer care.

These past eight years have been a fantastic journey – two brand revitalisations, European expansion, navigating a pandemic, and evolving from an SME to a medium-sized corporation.

The best part of marketing in the travel industry is…

What’s not to love about selling fun and experiences that can positively impact our customers and the communities they visit?! It’s an exciting product to sell, and being in the holiday mindset is definitely a great way to spend my time at work!

I love marketing because it’s always changing, and it’s this wonderful harmonious blend of creativity and science.

And the most challenging…

Customers have so much choice, we really need to understand what they’re looking for and be clear on what we can offer. Since the pandemic that’s become a lot harder!

“[...] our true voice actually already lay within us – we just needed to uncover it from layers of dust and years of diverse thinking within the business.”

How did you know the time was right time to invest in a rebrand? What problems did you face? Any advice for other marketing directors on the fence?

Rabbie’s was about to turn 30, and it felt like the perfect moment to breathe new life into our brand. We’d just secured private equity investment and had a well-defined growth plan in place, which a stronger brand could help us achieve.

But the most compelling reason was the fact we’d just emerged from two gruelling years of the pandemic. It took a significant toll on our business, team and loyal customers and it was time to rebuild. We needed to reignite our purpose, refocus our efforts and bring our team together with a shared vision after such a tough time.

We faced issues like delivering resource, getting people rallied around the vision and keeping momentum and commitment to deliver the brand transformation given all the additional business pressures.

I’d encourage fellow marketing directors to consider looking at brand if anything about your business or the environment it operates in has changed. That could be a change with your audience or your alignment to meeting their needs; changes in your industry which mean you don’t compare well or stand out from the competition; maybe your model, strategy or core offering has changed or you have outgrown your brand.

Rabbie’s and Sonder & Tell have been working together for the best part of a year now. If you were to sum up working with us in three words...

Thought-provoking, effective, fun & creative

Now for a bit more detail. How have you found the process? Any highlights? Any surprises?

I’ve loved the process – it’s really helped me, my teams and the wider business to refocus and come together around one purpose. It was so well managed by S&T and I felt they truly worked as an extension to our team – pushing us and adding value where needed.

One highlight was working with the team, we learnt a huge amount and they’ve kept us on our toes. Another highlight was seeing how far more people in the business have got on-board with the importance of brand than any work we’ve done in this area previously. I feel we’re at a real turning point.

My main surprise was that our true voice actually already lay within us – we just needed to uncover it from layers of dust and years of diverse thinking within the business. I’m in awe of how much the thinking process throughout the project has carried through to other areas of the business – from the way we think about business planning to the way we consider what we deliver in the way of customer and employee experiences.

How has the Rabbie’s team responded to – and run with – the new positioning? Any activations you’re particularly proud of? Or cultural changes within the business?

It’s been fantastic, they’ve all really engaged in a way I’ve not seen before. The team’s connection to brand is more profound, and they’ve become owners of the narrative like never before. I’ve noticed subtle shifts in their thinking, how they consider the brand’s positioning in every decision, whether big or small. While we’re just at the beginning of embedding and execution, there’s definite momentum building, and I’m looking forward to witnessing our evolution.

I’m particularly proud of the brand launch the team delivered. They ventured into new territory for Rabbie’s, utilising channels like out-of-home and TV advertising and really feeling their hero customer in their strategy. We’ve also got some exciting new brand videography and photography projects in the pipeline – stay tuned for those!

On a cultural note, I think we’ve started to approach branding with a fresh perspective, which is encouraging. There’s a heightened awareness of the brand’s significance, and it’s becoming a collective effort across the entire organisation.

There are a lot of big travel trends out there. A lot of competition. And a lot of jargon and cliches. How do you cut through the noise and stay true to Rabbie’s? Has the new positioning/ tone helped?

The travel industry is hugely competitive and trend-driven, our approach at Rabbie’s needs to centre on an unwavering commitment and dedication to our core values. We believe in the power of authenticity, in exceptional customer experiences, and in a commitment to sustainable travel. To cut through the noise, we try to ensure that our messaging, whether on our website, our social media channels, or in customer interactions, remains consistent with these values.

Our customers’ needs and feedback are at the heart of our strategy, guiding us as we stay up to date with industry trends and check their alignment with our brand.

The brand positioning and tone change have really helped us to start to connect with our audience more effectively, emphasising what sets us apart. By always measuring and refining our approach, and fostering a dedicated team, we will remain true to Rabbie’s and successfully navigate the ever-evolving travel landscape.

Other than Rabbie’s, what are some of your favourite (travel) brands and why?

There’s a few that stand out and resonate with me from my own personal experiences like Premier Inn and Airbnb. Premier Inn stands out for its straightforward execution and messaging, unwavering consistency in product and service delivery and a clear, precise positioning in the market. Airbnb, on the other hand, impresses me with its robust brand identity and commitment to its values. I particularly admire how they champion authentic experiences and engage with locals to create unique travel adventures.

Another brand that is a favourite is They’ve established themselves as a go-to choice for travellers, and their marketing strategies are exceptionally clever and skilfully executed, especially across various social channels.

And in the spirit of story seeking, share your favourite (Rabbie’s) travel memory…

One of my all-time favourite Rabbie’s memories goes back to my early days with the company. I convinced four of my good friends to come along on a one-day “Discover Whisky” tour. We’d be skirting below the battlements of Stirling Castle, on to the dark shores of Loch Lomond and stopping at whisky distilleries and a cosy pub along the way.

We were excited as we hopped on the tour, led by our charismatic storyteller, Euan. There were ten fellow travellers from all over the world, and we thought we were just in for a fun time with our little group of friends. But, you know what? It turned into an incredible learning experience with this bunch of cool, like-minded people. We discovered things about Scotland that, as Scots ourselves, we never knew before. We made connections and heard stories from the other travellers, and I’m pretty sure some of that newfound wisdom had a little (or maybe more than a little) to do with the tasty drams we were sipping along the way!

It truly surpassed our expectations, and I couldn’t have been prouder to be associated with Rabbie’s. In fact, one of my friends loved it so much that they ended up joining the Rabbie’s team a year later!

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