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Taking the temperature of the hospitality industry

The Kitchen Table at The Three Chimneys restaurant on Skye.
The Kitchen Table at The Three Chimneys restaurant on Skye.

Restaurateurs and hoteliers across the north and north-east share their optimism for the summer, despite rising energy costs and staffing challenges, with Peter Ranscombe.

Joanna Whysall, general manager at the Balmoral Arms on Royal Deeside

Joanna Whysall.

“We’re optimistic about the coming months on Deeside, as our proximity to Balmoral means the local area is set to be buoyed by the upcoming celebrations for the Queen’s jubilee.

“We’re also preparing to unveil the results of a multimillion-pound refurbishment and rebrand.

Investment in the Balmoral Arms, as well as the wider Crerar Hotels portfolio, is a real sign of the business’s commitment to Scottish hospitality and its confidence in the future of the industry.”

One of Balmoral Arms’ “classic” rooms.

Louise Maclean, business development director at Signature Group, which runs Nox, Paramount Bar, and The Spiritualist in Aberdeen

Louise Maclean.

“We were fearful that 2022 might be a challenging trading period, however, our customers have returned, and I’m pleased to say all three venues are trading well.

“Given the uncertainty around the late-night economy, we considered alternative uses for Nox, but the students and young professionals of Aberdeen showed there is a desire for quality, late night, fun venues.

Increases in the cost of living across the country will potentially bring a downturn and we are cautious with our forecasting.

“Rising bills for customers will lead to less disposable income and our own energy costs have more than doubled.

“How are we meant to maintain margins, create jobs, and drive economic recovery amidst such soaring and unavoidable costs?”

Krzysztof Dudkowski, general manager at The Three Chimneys on Skye

Krzysztof Dudkowski.

“This year is shaping up well for The Three Chimneys and our sister hotel, The Pierhouse, at Port Appin from the perspective of demand – bookings are robust.

“People are reconnecting and reuniting, and treating themselves to special breaks.

“To help our staff living locally get through this period of economic challenge we introduced a ‘live-out’ allowance – a supplement in their monthly pay.

“From an operations perspective, we have a strong sustainability agenda, our food wastage is minimal and we control the use of our utilities well, but there will be inevitable pressure on the bottom line.

“However, the future is bright – Skye, as a tourist destination, has iconic status globally and offers an ideal escape in this post-pandemic world.”

The Three Chimneys on Skye.

Murray Lamont, owner of Mackays Hotel in Wick

Murray Lamont.

“We’re feeling very positive about hospitality for the north Highlands.

“Bookings are coming in from the UK, elsewhere in Europe and America.

“We have had an increase in inquiries from smaller specialist group tours, and a marked rise in advance bookings during the shoulder months.

“We’ve absorbed part of the energy price increases and raised our prices to ensure we cover this rise in costs.

“Our family has been the proud caretaker of Mackays for 67 years, but we have now decided to put the hotel on the open market for the first time since 1955.

“Mackays has become an integral part of community life in Caithness, and we feel the time is right to hand over the reins to new owners.”

David Whiteford, chairman of Highland Coast Hotels

David Whiteford, outside the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora.

“Following our recent acquisition of the Plockton Inn, we’re pleased to say the group is experiencing high demand across the portfolio.

“The strongest demand is for hotels on the west coast.

“Our hotels are a good barometer of the state of the industry in the Highlands, especially the north Highlands.

“The outlook is positive, however, like most operators, we are beset with staffing challenges. Talent is still very hard to secure.

“Combined with energy cost escalation, wage inflation is putting extreme pressure on margins, with the only option being to pass on some of the rising costs to our guests – something we wish to resist but we may be left with no other option.”

Jo Wyke, owner of Melvich Hotel in Sutherland and board member for Venture North, the destination management organisation for Caithness and Sutherland

Jo Wyke.

“The hospitality industry has shown itself to be incredibly resilient.

“While expectations have to be managed more efficiently in terms of regional infrastructure and availability for the visitor experience, the majority of small businesses are just getting their heads down and powering on as best they can with what they have.

“More should be done to support small businesses in terms of recruitment, collaborative business partnerships and future planning, but it’s up to our communities to work together to express what that help should look like and how it might shape the future issues we will face as a region.”

Stephen Leckie, chairman and chief executive of Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels

“Summer bookings across the group are looking strong, staycations are continuing to hold up and we’re seeing the return of international travellers, particularly group travel from the US.

“We continue to face recruitment challenges, particularly for our three hotels on the west coast.

“Our biggest concern in terms of rising costs is food, which has seen us adjust menus accordingly, depending on what we are able to source.

“Our focus is to ensure there’s no change to the customer experience. Being part of a family of hotels does help us negotiate the best costs we can.”

Stuart Smith, manager at Glenmorangie House

Stuart Smith.

“We took the opportunity to completely refurbish Glenmorangie House during the second lockdown in late 2020 and early 2021, working with renowned interior designer Russell Sage to reinvent the look and feel of it, whilst creating a ‘World of Wonder’ for guests to enjoy.

“We believe this has really helped to drive our occupancy levels – returning us to pre-Covid levels, which is very positive.

“While this has been primarily from UK-based guests to date, we are now beginning to see the green shoots of recovery in the international marketplace as consumer confidence begins to regrow and international travel resumes.”

Tony Story, chief executive at Kingsmills Hotel Group

Tony Story.

“While we are reasonably optimistic regarding levels of occupancy over the coming summer season, the average room rate is proving quite challenging as we are experiencing a lower level of overseas visitors, particularly from North America.

“The level of incoming trade is higher than the cancelled business and the spend is lower, causing a reduction in revenue.

“Overall price increases – particularly in energy – are a major cause of concern and, of course, the knock-on effect on all products, particularly food and beverages, is very significant.

“I do, however, remain optimistic the coming two years will return us to our normal operating profit levels.”

Will Halsall, general manager and executive chef at The Craigellachie Hotel

Will Halsall, outside the Copper Dog restaurant at The Craigellachie Hotel.

“After a successful Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, where we welcomed guests from around the world, we are now looking forward to a busy summer.

“International travel continues to open up and the hotel is nearing capacity over the coming months.

“We very much look forward to welcoming more visitors from across the UK and further afield throughout the remainder of 2022.”