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Major hotelier bullish about future once Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown ends; Bespoke Hotels operates several Highland sites, including two in Ross-shire and another in Sutherland


By Philip Murray

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The Caledonian Hotel.
The Caledonian Hotel.

THE owners of a hotel chain hit by the collapse of a coach tour operator during the Covid-19 pandemic have bullishly vowed to "rebuild both domestic and inbound travel" when the lockdown ends.

Bespoke Hotels, which runs the Caledonian Hotel in Ullapool and the Gairloch Hotel in Gairloch, lost a number of tour holiday bookings after David Urquhart Travel's coach travel business entered insolvency earlier this month.

The closure of that business proved catastrophic for two other Ross-shire hotels, which were forced to close their doors for good following the announcement.

The Garve Hotel in Garve and Mackay's Hotel in Strathpeffer confirmed their closure two weeks ago after parent company Hart Hotels entered insolvency.

That company had the same three directors as David Urquhart (Travel) Ltd, and its numerous hotels were heavily-reliant upon the coach holiday firm's tour trips for business. Indeed, the two sites were due to welcome more than 60 different David Urquhart Travel coach tours between them in 2020.

Bespoke Hotels' Highland sites were also due to welcome a number of the operator's tours this year – albeit in a much lower concentration.

Its Caledonian Hotel site was expected to welcome five different four-night stays this tourist season, while the Gairloch Hotel (two to three trips) and its Dornoch Hotel business (nine coach holidays) also lost out on bookings as a result of the collapse.

But unlike the devastating impact it had on Hart Hotels, the owners of Bespoke Hotels are determined to push ahead with the reopening of their sites once lockdown restrictions end.

Confirming there would be a "knock-on effect" on hotel bookings from the collapse of the tour operator, a spokesman nevertheless added: "Here at Bespoke Hotels we are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the travel, tourism and hospitality industries and extremely sad for all businesses facing difficulties and closure.

"Of course these have a knock-on effect to our own business which is currently closed. Once we are able to reopen our hotels we will continue to work closely with all our partners to support them wherever we are able, to rebuild both domestic and inbound travel."

Visitors to Bespoke's various hotel websites are also greeted with a pop-up message from its chairman, Robin Sheppard, in which he stresses the importance of "believing in a brighter future".

He said: "The Prime Minister believes that we are past the peak and that light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. So it is time for our mood and focus to shift.

"The pandemic will pass. Life will return to normal. Thus we start now to look forward to reopening, and to welcoming you back to our hotels. We must still steer our hotels through uncharted waters, make provision for ensuring new ‘super cleaning protocols’ and best isolating practices. There will be a new way in which we should all behave to protect each other.

"Although we are unsure exactly when we will return to normal trading conditions it is likely to be this year.

"So if you have made a booking with us and are unsure whether to travel (or would like to buy a loved one a voucher to enable them to travel) – we would like to offer a little peace of mind.

"We have adjusted our terms and conditions: all bookings made directly and due to arrive before end of September 2020 can be changed or held in credit for future stays, if you contact us 14 days before you are due to arrive. We hope that we will not need to extend beyond this date but if we do we will, gladly.

"In the meantime, we must believe in a brighter future, be well and stay safe."

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