In an exclusive question-and-answer session with The Herald, he outlined the benefits of owning properties around the North Coast 500 tourist route and the investments made in the Highland Coast Hotels property.
However, he has also pointed to challenges in the sector, including hiring staff and a lack of affordable housing.
What is your business called?
Hotels in Coast Highlands
Where is it based?
Since 2021, Highland Coast Hotels have acquired a number of the North Highlands’ iconic hotels; including the award-winning Kylesku Hotel, overlooking beautiful Loch Gleann Dubh in the far West Highlands; Newton Lodge overlooking Loch Glencoul just minutes from Kylesku; Plockton Inn on the west coast of the North Highlands; the historic Tongue Hotel on the north shore; the real Golf Dornoch hotel located on the first tee of one of the most revered golf courses in the world; and the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora, which is close to other golf courses, stunning beaches and world-renowned distilleries.
Created in April 2021, Highland Coast Hotels is a Scotland-based group that aims to bring innovative, sustainable, community-led hospitality to the stunning coastlines of the Northern Highlands of Scotland.
Who do you sell to?
Highland Coast Hotels attract discerning travelers visiting Scotland, the rest of the UK and around the world.
What is your billing?
It is very much a year of transition and significant investment at our Plockton and Tongue properties with major redevelopments but also ongoing investment at all of our hotels.
We are now building a strong foundation as we expect growth to come from the return of international visitors and the continued support of our local and national communities. markets in the United Kingdom.
Our 2022 turnover was in excess of £5.4 million.
READ MORE: Former Dubai resort boss to take over at Scottish hotel group
How many employees?
We currently employ over 160 colleagues, making us one of the largest employers in the Northern Highlands.
Unfortunately, we still have very significant challenges in recruiting colleagues, and the lack of affordable housing is a very real problem. It is also very disappointing to understand how difficult it is to get apprenticeship programs up and running with the longer term goal of giving people a career opportunity, not just a job.
Why did you take the step?
The Scottish Highlands are not only one of the most beautiful corners of the earth, but the region holds many personal family connections and memories for me. My grandparents and parents owned and operated hotels in the Scottish Highlands, including places in Forres, Nairn, Grantown-on-Spey, Aviemore and Craigellachie. My wife Elizabeth is originally from Barra in the Western Isles.
I am passionate about improving the lives of the local community and sustainable tourism.
As Scotland’s newest collection of luxury boutique hotels, Highlands Coast Hotels is already establishing its reputation for showcasing world-class Highland food and drinksupport for local businesses and exceptional hospitality.
I look forward to the challenge of leading Highland Coast Hotels in the next phase of its development.
What were you doing before?
I was CEO and board member of Jumeirah Hospitality Group in Dubai; Managing Director of Forte Heritage Hotels; and Managing Director of Le Meridien Africa, Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
I have enjoyed a long and distinguished career developing and managing some of the world’s most exclusive luxury hotels, as well as being a non-executive member of the board of Indian Hotels Company, Taj Group; Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland; and Emirates Hotel Academy in the United Arab Emirates.
As a member of the Institute of Hospitality and an early member of the Global Scots international business network, I have a wealth of experience and a passion for the Scottish Highlands that fits well with the aspirations of Highland Coast Hotels.
READ MORE: £1.8m renovation for two iconic Scottish hotels
What do you enjoy the least?
I still think it’s one of the best races in the world.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
I joined Highland Coast Hotels as CEO last month to consolidate our current performance and move the business into the next phase of its development and expansion.
It is an exciting time. 2022 saw the relaunch of Royal Marine Brora gaining national recognition and landing squarely in The Times Top 100 Hotels to Visit. 2023 has already seen the introduction of two newly renovated properties to the collection. The Tongue Hotel and Plockton Inn reopened to visitors last month after extensive renovations.
For the first time with Highland Coast Hotels, it will be possible to explore the entire NC500 while enjoying consistent high quality Highland hospitality.
We now intend to strengthen and improve the hotels we own and, in doing so, help further fuel regional growth. Our focus is creating great experiences around the North Coast 500 for discerning travelers visiting from around the world; sustainable tourism; embrace the local community; and drawing on the experience and skills of local vendors in the Highlands.
In particular, we seek to extend the season and bring business to the economies of local visitors during the quieter fall and winter months, showcasing areas that are less affected by overtourism and encouraging our guests to spend more time exploring the region.
READ MORE: Famous North Coast 500 hotels reopen
What single thing would help the most?
Affordable housing for local rural communities to help us recruit local staff and enable them to live and work where they call home.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?
Respect people, guests and colleagues. Follow and be an example of the values and principles of the company with which you work, respecting differences in culture and expectations.
What was your best moment?
Every time I help someone fulfill their dreams, however small they may seem at first.
What was your worst moment?
The opposite of the above. When I have let someone down.
How you relax?
Now that I’m back to living and working in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, I enjoy spending much more time with my lovely wife, Elizabeth, and family. I also enjoy being outdoors and walking my dogs, Misty, a [blue roan] cocker spaniel and Jojo, a rescue dog from Ireland.