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‘We are spending £1.5m to bring Dyce hotel back to life – and reopen swimming pool’

We take a look inside the former Marriott hotel in Aberdeen as new owners embark on a major rebrand journey to breathe new life into the venue.

Pictured from left are Julia Leitch, Gavin Ord, Kris Manship, Helen McLoughlin and Liam Ord outside the former Marriott Hotel, which has now been rebranded as The Aberdeen Dyce Hotel.
The team behind The Aberdeen Dyce Hotel - formerly Marriott - plans to invest millions it a "vibrant place for all". Pictured (from left): Julia Leitch, Gavin Ord, Kris Manship, Helen McLoughlin and Liam Ord. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

“I don’t understand why anybody would want to give it up,” Kris Manship tells me.

Walking across the long freshly repainted halls of the former Marriott hotel, he sees “huge potential” in the Dyce institution.

This is barely the start of his venture, having taken over the venue just eight weeks ago.

But Kris has already mapped out a plan to bring the hotel back to its glory days.

Built at the height of the city’s oil and gas boom, the Dyce Marriott had been a firm favourite among Aberdonians and visitors during its 43-year tenure.

An image from the Marriott – initially launched as the Holiday Inn – in Dyce in 1982. Scottish oilfield secretaries were invited for entertainment and a glass or two of bubbly. Image: Noreen MacDonald.
Scotland supporters reaction to the penalty shot at The Marriott Hotel in Dyce where Darron Oil entertained their guests.(left-right) Billy Buchan, Derek Reid, Joe Howell and Gary Ewen.

Its swimming pool and ballroom attracted thousands of families and offshore workers over the years as a hotspot for weddings, retirement parties and Christmas celebrations.

But after several years of decline, the once thriving hotel closed in December.

Its demise was described as the “end of an era”, leaving many reminiscing about the happy memories made there over the decades.

And now, there is hope for a bright new future for the hotel under new ownership.

Co-owners of Aberdeen Dyce Hotel Gavin Ord and Kris Manship, and food and beverage cluster manager Liam Ord.
Co-owners Gavin Ord and Kris Manship, pictured outside the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel with food and beverage cluster manager Liam Ord. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

In our exclusive interview, owners of the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel reveal:

  • How they came about to taking the reins of the former Marriott hotel
  • Their plans to spend £1.5 million to bring the place up to scratch – with more investment to come further down the line
  • Their desire to become part of the Dyce community by reopening the swimming pool to the public, as well as other leisure spaces
  • And how they hope to establish themselves as a thriving venue for years to come

Who are the new Dyce hotel owners?

I meet Kris and his partner Gavin Ord at the recently refurbished foyer of the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel.

As their sales team bring in yet another group of contractors, they begin to tell me how they ended up taking on the hefty task of breathing new life into the Marriott building.

Co-owners of Aberdeen Dyce Hotel Gavin Ord and Kris Manship.
(From left) Gavin and Kris have years of experience in hospitality. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Our conversation starts with a rather striking revelation from Gavin.

The 44-year-old has been a full-time NHS worker for more than two decades.

But working in hospitality has been a long-lasting passion for him, having “dipped into the joys of the industry” years ago.

Meanwhile, Kris fell in love with the sector while working as a silver service waiter at a “fancy” hotel in Wales called The Celtic Manor when he was 15.

This led to a big move to London, where he worked at various hotels for about 10 years before taking on a job at the Mercure Caledonian in Aberdeen in 2007.

His initial plan was to return to the UK capital after six months, however, the Granite City had bigger ideas for the hospitality whizz.

Co-owners of Aberdeen Dyce Hotel Kris Manship.
Kris Manship hopes his expertise in hotel management will lead the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel to success. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

For the last 15 years, Kris has been running the Aberdeen Altens Hotel as a general manager and partner at owner company SRK Hotels Ltd.

He has played a crucial role in bringing new fortunes to the venue, which was crowned Tourism and Hospitality Employer of The Year last September.

And while the 45-year-old admits that he will always have a “soft spot” for it, The Aberdeen Dyce Hotel is the first one he can truly call his own.

The building has already been equipped with new signs. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

“It’s the first hotel Gavin and I have invested in,” Kris says.

“I always thought we are going to get something like a four-bed AirBnB to start with, but taking on the former Marriott hotel was a business opportunity we couldn’t miss.

“It really became the case of ‘go big or go home’.”

‘We’ve done it once – we’ll do it again’

Turning around the former Marriott hotel is no small feat, having been “neglected” for years.

But Kris is confident they can make it work.

His experience at the Altens hotel, as well as the extensive expertise of his other SRK Hotels partners Ross Morrow and Stewart Campbell, would be key, he says.

Stewart Campbell from SRK Hotel Ltd. headed The Aberdeen Altens Hotel in 2018. Image: Heather Fowlie/DC Thomson.

The two hotels will operate as a “cluster”, allowing them to transfer valuable skills and lessons learnt to their new venue in Dyce.

The buildings are of similar age and size, and Kris thinks a lot of what they have done in the south of the city can be brought over across the river Don.

However, they are determined to still give it its own flare to reflect the Dyce community, and create the “right atmosphere” for customers.

The hotel reception was the first thing the team has gone on to refurbish. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Kris adds: “The best thing about being an independent is that there are no restrictions to what you do, and you can do things quicker and better.

“When I first went to Altens, it was quite run down – and now it’s an award-winning venue, with a popular restaurant and fantastic reviews.

“We take pride in taking over such properties and bringing them back to their former glory, and our work there has showed what we can achieve as a team.

“This place is no different – it has huge potential, it just needs a bit of love and care.”

Furnishing around the hotel has also been upgraded. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

What are their plans for the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel?

For the last six weeks, Kris’ team has been hard at work sprucing up the place.

The previously “very yellow, very dark and a bit depressing” hotel halls have now been repainted, and the ballroom refurbished.

Several meeting rooms have also been brought up to scratch with better lighting and new furniture, while the check-in desk has been fully revamped.

The new look of the ballroom – with more upgrades planned for the coming months. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

All 155 bedrooms will be given some TLC too, with the first 90 being done up in due course.

But this is just the start of it.

The hospitality guru wants to go away from the current trend in the industry, with most hotels now focusing on getting more bedrooms rather than public leisure spaces.

He thinks the beauty of the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel is in its diversity, and this is what he plans to capitalise on.

One of the refurbished meeting rooms, which are also available for private hire. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Kris wants to reopen the hotel’s long-closed swimming pool which has been one of its main attractions since its inception in the 1980s.

The restaurant will have about 100 seats, and be divided into two sections – a modern one with a “more resort feel”, and a traditional one with Highland-themed features.

And there will be a separate bar for refreshments too.

The pool was well used by the Dyce community before it closed. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

All of these will be open to the public, as well as hotel guests, in hope of making the venue a destination both for Aberdonians and visitors.

“There are so many different elements, and that’s what makes it special,” Kris says.

“You’ve got the ballroom, the pool, the restaurant, the function rooms – and when you put all of these together, you’ve got a place people would want to come to.

“There has been a cultural shift since Covid that we need to acknowledge: people don’t go out socialising as much as they used to, so we need to give them a reason to do so.”

How the contemporary section of the restaurant looks now. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Aberdeen Dyce Hotel to ‘stand out’ from chain venues

With all of the upgrades that Kris has in mind, the initial revamp project will come to about £1.5 million.

At the core of their vision is a desire to “stand out” from other rival venues in the area.

A number of new hotels have popped up around Aberdeen Airport in recent years in hope of luring in travellers and offshore workers.

Diners can also opt for a more traditional setting. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

The abundance of accommodation options was also one of the factors blamed for the Marriott’s failure last year, which resulted in 39 job losses.

However, Kris is not at all hindered by this.

While he hails the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel’s “perfect location” as a great asset, he doesn’t want it to be defined solely as an “airport venue for an overnight stay”.

“We don’t want to be dominated by offshore customers like others in this area,” he says.

“We want it to be everything to everybody – whether you are group of oil and gas workers, or a lone traveller, or an Aberdonian catching up with friends and family.”

The halls have been repainted and equipped with new lighting to brighten up the place. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

‘We want to be part of the Dyce community’

Kris adds that their ultimate goal is to breathe new life into Dyce, giving residents more activities and hospitality options in their local area.

Once the hotel is fully operational, it will also create about 100 job opportunities.

And there are several projects in the pipeline to get the community involved, including coffee mornings for the elderly.

Kris has also been trying to recruit some of the people who lost their jobs in the closure of the Marriott, with two already agreed to come back on board.

The bar area will have a separate entrance at the back of the hotel for the public. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

He adds: “At the core of our vision is making the hotel the heart of the community again.

“We want to give it personality and a bit of local character to stand out from all the brands.

“It’s about being different and making sure people have a memorable experience here.”

Lessons learnt will give owners the upper hand in challenging industry

And while Kris remains confident about the prospects of his new hotel endeavour, he is still being realistic about the harsh landscape for the industry.

The Marriott was the latest in a string of hospitality casualties in Aberdeen, with the Northern Hotel shutting in 2022 after bemoaning crippling energy bills and rates.

There are plans to turn the Northern Hotel into student flats. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson.

During the pandemic, the Hilton Garden Inn also shut, along with the Doubletree by the beach and the Mariner Hotel.

And the Travelodge on Justice Mill Lane has now become student flats.

So there comes the inevitable question: How would they make the Aberdeen Dyce Hotel a success?

Kris goes silent for a few seconds, and then starts listing a number of factors that will play in their favour – including their knowledge of the Aberdeen market.

Co-owners of Aberdeen Dyce Hotel Gavin Ord and Kris Manship.
Gavin and Kris are determined to make it a successful business. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“We know what the conditions are like and what to expect,” he adds.

“Obviously, we are conscious of the fact that the hotel failed before and it was managed by Marriott, which is a big brand.

“But to me, it feels like they had just given up.

“This is a great product and we are very passionate about it, so I’m confident we are going to do well.”

The “resort-like” restaurant from another view point. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

‘We are here to stay, this is just the beginning’

Jumping into a more specialist lingo, Kris opens a conversation about market research, sales expertise, customer ethics and balancing costs and profit.

All of these are important to make it work, the hospitality whizz says.

But the main driver to success is to “truly believe” in your product and constantly invest in it – and failing to do so, he reckons, has cost many others their business.

Co-owners of Aberdeen Dyce Hotel Gavin Ord and Kris Manship, and food and beverage cluster manager Liam Ord.
Co-owners Gavin and Kris, with food and beverage cluster manager Liam Ord. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Kris stresses this is only the beginning for The Aberdeen Dyce Hotel.

He adds: “The biggest mistake a lot of people have made is that they’ve come in and thought running hotels is easy – you just throw money at it and that’s that.

“The other thing is thinking you can just move in, make a quick buck and leave it there.

“And that’s not our intention – we plan to continuously invest in this place.

“It’s a work in progress, but we are very much here to stay.”

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