Monday, August 8, 2022
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Scotland’s Inspirational Independent Hoteliers

INDEPENDENT HOTELIERS IN SCOTLAND ARE GROWING THEIR BUSINESSES, COLLECTIVELY EMPLOYING THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, AND INVESTING IN THEIR BUSINESSES DESPITE THE ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTIES. THIS MONTH WE TAKE A LOOK AT JUST SOME OF THE COMPANIES AND PEOPLE MAKING THEIR MARK. ANNABELLE LOVE REPRTS.

APEX HOTELS LIMITED

ANGELA VICKERS

Angela qualified as an Chartered Accountant and worked at KPMG as an auditor before moving to Stakis to take over as Internal Audit Manager. She stayed on at Stakis when it was sold to Hilton in 1999, but later decided to take a step back from hospitality. She joined a Telecoms start-up in 2001 called Damavo, helping to finalise a management buy-out and taking on the role of Financial Director. During her time there, the company went from three staff to 120 in Glasgow, and businesses all over the world.

Angela joined Apex as Financial Director in 2004, when the firm had five hotels and a £14 million turnover. Eight months later she became Managing Director, just as Apex opened its first London hotel. When Angela was invited to help develop a leadership Masters programme aimed at addressing the leadership deficit in hospitality, she decided to do the brand new course herself and now has a Masters in Hospitality Leadership from Strathclyde University. She is also a trustee of the Hospitality Industry Trust. Apex participates in Diageo’s Learning for Life apprenticeship scheme and offers Scottish Apprenticeships in hospitality. Today the company operates ten hotels in UK cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Bath and London. It has 1,456 rooms, over 1000 staff, and a turnover of £66 million.

MACDONALD HOTELS

RUARIDH & DONALD MACDONALD

Donald was born into a crofting family on Harris, in the Western Isles. Initially he planned to become an accountant but decided on hospitality after a summer job at Turnberry and joined BritishTransport Hotels as an apprentice instead. He made his name as managing director of the Stakis Hotels group but left in 1989. He established Macdonald Hotels the following year in 1990, which has expanded to become one of the UK’s largest privately-owned hotel groups. It was floated on the stock market in 1996 but in 2003 Donald led a management buyout in a £620 million deal, giving the Group gross borrowings of around £700 million, which took the group into private ownership.They then focused on developing a portfolio of four and five-star hotels offering high-quality, expertly-sourced food and drink. Donald took over as Chief Executive in 2014, before stepping back from the role two years later to become Executive Chairman, while his son Ruaridh is Deputy Chief Executive.Today the Macdonald group operates more than 45 hotels and resorts in over 50 destinations in the UK, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, ranging from contemporary hotels in city centres to beautiful country manor houses, including Macdonald Aviemore Resort and Macdonald Rusacks Hotel in St Andrews.They have more than 3,900 hotel rooms and employ more than 3,600 staff.Turnover in 2015/16 was £163.4 million.

CRIEFF HYDRO HOTELS

STEPHEN LECKIE

As a fifth generation hotelier, it’s hard to think of Stephen Leckie doing anything other than working in hospitality. Not only does he have a family bond with the property – as great-great-great-grandnephew of Dr Thomas Meikle who founded the alcohol-free, clean-eating spa centre in 1868, but he brings strong vision and savvy to the role. After completing a BA in Hospitality and Tourism at Edinburgh Napier University, Stephen cut his teeth at the Queens Moat Houses hotel chain, where he was the company’s youngest general manager at 25. As Crieff Hydro’s Chief Executive, Stephen has built up the hotel as a leading player in Scotland and the UK, particularly as a family hotel. In fact, he has built up the whole group – which now includes ten properties in Scotland and England – with the ethos that this is a family of hotels and of staff. Stephen also works hard to move tourism in Scotland forward. He has held positions on everything from the local community council and Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, to now currently sitting as chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance.

The hotel group has taken over a management contract to operate the Peel Café in Peebles, a popular stop-off with cyclists and walkers visiting the Borders. Also in Peebles, both the Park Hotel and Peebles Hydro have seen a massive refurbishment, with The Park completely renovated in upcycled materials from the recently closed March Street Mills. Today the group has more than 750 bedrooms and employs 1,200 staff. Turnover for the group in 2016 was £24.3 million, with £19.9 million of that coming from Crieff Hydro and its sister hotel in Crieff, The Murraypark. However the group is currently cost-cutting due to increased operating costs and recently offered staff voluntary redundancies. Stephen Leckie explained that he has been forced to cut staff as financial burdens, such as major increases in food and drink prices, continue to take their toll on the company.

DAKOTA HOTELS

KEN MCCULLOCH

Ken McCulloch is not only a great ‘von viveur’, but he is one of the most respected hoteliers in the industry. A fact recognised when he won Hotelier of the Year from his peers in 2008. He was also a founding member of Connoisseur Scotland. Today his Dakota Hotel group is still breaking the mould. He started the group in 2004 and it now includes Dakotas in Edinburgh and Eurocentral, a Dakota Deluxe in Glasgow and, any week now, a Dakota Deluxe Leeds. Ken, who has been in hospitality since his teens, started out at British Transport Hotels, then ran the Cumbrae Club for his father before joining the Stakis Group as trainee Assistant Manager, moving up to General Manager at the tender age of 23. Says Ken, “BTH taught me to do things properly and Stakis to do it commercially.”

After Stakis he opened La Bonne Auberge in Glasgow, and a few years later Charlie Parker’s in Royal Exchange Square. After he sold that he did a joint venture with Alloa Pubs and took on The Belfry and the Buttery in Glasgow, and then Rogano. Then he went back into business for himself and in 1986 transformed the former Cavendish Hotel in Glasgow into One Devonshire with, his now wife, Amanda Rosa. He has said it is one of the things he is most proud of. Next on the agenda was Malmaison Hotel Group. The first hotel opened in Edinburgh in 1994 with the backing of the Arcadian Hotel business, and when he sold it four years later his investment reaped some £55 million. You might think at that stage he would have retired. But no. He bought two more hotels in Monaco before coming up with the idea of Dakota. With Leeds set to open imminently and plans in place for a new Dakota Manchester, the company aims to have one in every major UK city.

The company now employs 400 number of people and turns over in the region of £20 million.

COSTLEY & COSTLEY

BILL AND CATH COSTLEY

Former chef Bill and his wife started the business in 1988, when they bought their first venue, the Highgrove House Hotel, in Troon, Ayrshire. Since then they have expanded their portfolio to include nine award-winning hotels, restaurants and Patisseries. Bill, a former chairman of Kilmarnock Football Club, is passionate about art and also a keen artist himself. A Master Chef at 21 and the first Scot to win a gold medal at the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, he prides himself on attention to detail. Costley & Costley is very much a family-run business, with the couple’s son, Andrew, working alongside them as Executive Head Chef. Bill is always eager to nurture talent, develop new ideas and skills and keep Ayrshire at the forefront of the hospitality industry in Scotland.The group’s motto – Ad Virtutem Nitens, which means ‘the pursuit of excellence’ – is inscribed on the gates of their flagship five-star venue, Lochgreen House in Troon, as a constant reminder of their daily endeavour to exceed the expectations of each guest. Plans for expansion include extending Lochgreen to include luxury Spa treatment rooms, with the first phase opening in May 2017, and the ‘wet’ side of things to follow, with further developments of a function suite and more bedrooms, to accommodate the growing demand for a complete luxury hotel experience. The Brig o’ Doon House Hotel, with its iconic setting in Robert Burns country, has also undergone some recent refurbishments. Today the hotel group has 68 bedrooms, employs more than 350 staff and turnover last year was £14 million.

MANORVIEW HOTEL AND LEISURE GROUP

STEVE GRAHAM

Steve started out in his family’s fairground business, like his father and grandfather before him, and believes the discipline and hard work it instilled in him are key to his success today. He moved into property development at 30, before founding the family-run Manorview Group in 2007, with his first venue, The Commercial Hotel in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. Ten years on the Manorview family has grown to a total of 16 licensed trade properties, comprising nine hotels (149 bedrooms), five pubs and two nightclubs with a total staff of over 500. The group has a reputation for restoring old buildings, and giving them a new lease of life through ambitious refurbishments. A year ago it opened Boclair House Hotel in Bearsden following a £3 million transformation of former council offices and most recently it unveiled a new look Grand Ballroom at Cornhill Castle near Biggar which was purchased last year. This is phase one of a £750,000 investment which will see the addition of new bedrooms and a state-of-the-art honeymoon suite. The iconic Star & Garter Hotel in Linlithgow, West Lothian became hotel number nine last year and the group’s Busby Hotel in Clarkston, Glasgow, was named Wedding Venue of the Year at the 2016 Vows Awards. Despite its growth, the Group retains a family-run feel – Steve’s son, Carlton, is Group Operations Manager, while his niece Fallon Cowley is Group Operations Director and her husband, Anthony, is Property Development Director. Fallon’s sister, Fawn Findlay, is Group Weddings and Events Manager. Together they adopt a hands-on, collaborative approach with the aim of delivering the highest quality service for customers and creating a positive working environment for their “extended family” of staff. The group promotes an ethos of “giving something back”, a philosophy encouraged by CEO Steve, which emanates throughout the company. All venues and staff engage with chosen charities, participate in fundraising, and look for ways to support their local communities. Total turnover for the year to 31 March 2016 for the entire Group was £15.8 million.

RAD GROUP

ROBERT AND VIVIEN KYLE

Husband and wife team Robert and Vivien Kyle are hairdressers to trade. They met at 19 and opened their own salon a year later, before moving into the licensed trade in 1991, when they bought The Sun Inn in Cumnock, Ayrshire, followed by The Black Bull in Mauchline, Ayrshire, in 1995. They founded the RAD Hotel Group in 1999, when they bought Lochside House Hotel, creating an award-winning wedding venue and later adding the Spa at Lochside, formerly a hunting lodge for the Marquis of Bute. They sold The Black Bull and The Sun Inn to Belhaven in 2001, before building up their hotel portfolio. Robert says that making the leap from hairdressing to hotelier was easier than people might think – both roles involve looking after customers, making them feel relaxed and special. He and Vivien pride themselves on attention to detail and a determination to exceed their guests’ expectations. This year the group’s 30-bedroom Hetland Hall Hotel, in Carrutherstown, Dumfries and Galloway, will undergo a £2 million refurbishment and expansion to increase the amount of accommodation and double the size of the restaurant and kitchen areas. Today the group consists of five hotels, including The Royal Hotel in Cumnock, Hetland Hall, The Carlton Hotel in Prestwick and The Radstone Hotel in Lanarkshire. They employ around 350 staff and turnover in 2014/15 was £10.7 million.

SIMPSINNS

MALCOLM AND KAREN SIMPSON

The SimpsInns story began just over 20 years ago when husband and wife team, Malcolm and Karen, bought the Old Loans Inn (formerly The Bruce Inn) in the village of Loans on the outskirts of Troon, in Ayrshire.

Since then the Old Loans Inn has been transformed into an award- winning 20-bedroom boutique hotel that is popular with golfers coming to play the championship courses on the venue’s doorstep or leisure guests looking for a base when exploring Ayrshire. SimpsInns now has a diverse product range and owns and operates hotels, restaurants, bars and golf and leisure facilities across Ayrshire. The company strap line is ‘Privately Owned, Proudly Independent’ and that ethos continues to this day with multiple sites in key locations along the Ayrshire coast. There are three four-star hotels in the group, a bustling restaurant called Si! in Irvine, and full golf, leisure and spa facilities at the Gailes:Golf:Leisure:Spa complex, adjacent to The Gailes Hotel. The group also owns Wilkinson Golf Travel, an inbound golf tour operator driving overseas business to Scotland, Ireland and the rest of the UK. At the end of 2016 work completed on a refurbishment programme on all 42 bedrooms at The Gailes Hotel, and plans are currently in place to develop the venue into a more expansive resort complex by adding further bedrooms, plus a greater spa and leisure offering. The stunning Waterside Hotel along the water’s edge in West Kilbride is the other SimpsInns hotel with 23 bedrooms and suites The group’s story continues to evolve with the promise of more exciting projects to add to an already impressive portfolio of hotels and venues. SimpsInns employs more than 300 staff during the busy high season, making it one of the key employers in the local area. Malcolm and Karen’s sons, Lee and Jack, also work in the business when not travelling or focusing on their university studies. The group has 85 bedrooms and a turnover of more than £10 million.

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