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Tongue Hotel purchase aims to create ‘careers not jobs’

Tongue Hotel on north coast.
The Tongue Hotel joins a string of acquisitions by Highland Coast Hotels.

Highland Coast Hotels says up to 10 new roles may be created following its purchase of the Tongue Hotel on the north coast for an undisclosed price.

The company said it was looking to entice young people to the area for “careers not jobs”.

It continues an acquisitive streak by Highland Coast as it marks its second hotel buy in as many months following the purchase of Plockton Inn on the west coast.

The new additions add to a portfolio which also includes Kylesku Hotel and Newton Lodge, in Unapool, Royal Golf Hotel in Dornoch and Royal Marine Hotel in Brora.

Tongue Hotel.
Tongue Hotel rooms will be “lightly refurbished”.

The group now has a string of properties around the region, and the North Coast 500 in particular, along with an ambition to recruit 40-50 new staff in the next couple of years.

“We at Highland Coast are about sustainable, year-round tourism and creating careers not just jobs so we can encourage people to either remain here or come to live and work in the area,” Highland Coast chairman David Whiteford told The Press and Journal.

Pipeline of young talent required

Mr Whiteford added: “We’re confident eight to 10 new roles will be created, which for the Kyle of Tongue area is significant and will, we hope, play a small part in redressing population decline.

“I have been calling time and again – and I am getting a good response – to create more of a pipeline of young people from school into catering and hospitality courses with the University of the Highlands and Islands, and then on to employers such as us, where they can experience real career progression.”

“With apprentices, it is a bit of a minefield. We have asked Skills Development Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to support the industry with a simple portal to find apprentices and associated funding.”

Highland Coast stressed Tongue staff would be “positively impacted” by its new status as a Real Scottish Living Wage employer, meaning a pay rise.

David Whiteford.
Highland Coast Hotels chairman David Whiteford.

Departing Tongue Hotel owners David and Lorraine Hook thanked “loyal guests and the local community,” adding: “It’s now time for us to pass the baton.”

Built in the mid-1800s when it was owned by the Duke of Sutherland, the 19-bedroom Tongue Hotel is a former sporting lodge.

It overlooks the Kyle of Tongue and Ben Loyal, with the Viking-built Castle Varrich in the foreground.

The hotel will retain its name and become part of the Highland Coast Hotels Collection.

There are plans for a full make-over of all public areas, including the Brass Tap Bar, as well as what the company refers to as a “light refurbishment” of the bedrooms.

‘Absolutely not a chain’

As with its other hotels, Highland Coast will set up a community liaison group which will act as a forum for locals to give feedback on its plans.

Mr Whiteford said: “We are absolutely not a chain – we are an independent-spirited group of hotels.

“We don’t want to lose that family hotel feel, but there has been an absence of investment in some hotels recently, for understandable reasons, and we want to play our part in changing that.

“I very much look forward to the Highland Coast team becoming part of the Tongue community as we place further emphasis on investing back into the local economy.”

He added: “We are grateful for the continued support of the Scottish National Investment Bank which helped make the acquisition possible.”

Tongue Hotel.
Highland Coast Hotels wants to bring sustainable hospitality to the area.

Founded in spring 2021, Highland Coast Hotels has spent its first year investing in and developing independently-owned hotels in the region.

Led by Mr Whiteford and chief executive Roddy Watt, the group was established to bring sustainable hospitality to the north coast.

The company has introduced a series of changes at each of its sites, including an extensive renovation of Royal Marine Hotel, which will fully reopen next month.

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