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New company formed to buy hotels on North Coast 500 route: 'We are responsible people setting out to create something special in the Highlands'

By Caroline McMorran

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A new company has been formed to purchase hotels along tourism route NC500 with the intention of upgrading them to fill a gap in the market for high-quality accommodation.

Highland Coast Hotels Ltd sealed the deal on its first acquisition on Monday April 19 - the picturesque Kylesku Hotel, run for the last 12 years by Tanja Lister and Sonia Virechauveix.

Kylesku Hotel.
Kylesku Hotel.

The company is expected to shortly announce the takeover of another hotel in the same area and a further two on the east coast later in the month. It says it has opportunities to buy out an additional four hotels.

Company chief executive is Roddy Watt, who hails from Ballachulish and is based at Doune, Perthshire, and its chairman is David Whiteford, who is standing down as chairman of the North Highland Initiative.

Roddy Watt.
Roddy Watt.

The business move is expected to lead to significant job opportunities as it is intended to keep the hotels open all year round.

“We are responsible people who are setting out to create hopefully something special in the Highlands which will support local communities and supply chains along with others such as craftspeople and artists.” - Roddy Watt

Mr Watt told our sister paper, Northern Times, that the company was focusing on slow, environmentally friendly tourism integrated into local communities.

He said: “We are responsible people who are setting out to create hopefully something special in the Highlands which will support local communities and supply chains along with others such as craftspeople and artists.”

Highland Coast Hotels Ltd, whose new website is set to go live, was incorporated with Companies House in 2019 and, along with Mr Watt and Mr Whiteford, another three directors are listed: Kenneth Neison, Hugo Robinson and James Tillman.

Mr Watt, an entrepreneur with some 30 years’ experience of starting, building and operating businesses in the hospitality sector, said the new company was his idea and had been four years in the making.

“A couple of planets aligned,” he said. “There was a significant increase in tourist activity in the Highlands, triggered by the launch of NC500 in 2015.

“I also identified, with one or two notable exceptions, that the quality of hotels in that part of the world was suboptimal and many were under invested, creating a gap in the market around NC500.

“Our strategy is to acquire hotels and invest substantially in developing them by way of more bedrooms or extra restaurant, bar and other facilities.

The Kylesku is our first hotel but another will follow and negotiations to take over two on the east coast will be completed in May.

“There is also the opportunity to acquire another three or four.

“That will effectively mean we will be creating substantial employment over the next five years. Most of the hotels have been seasonal but we will be in a position to offer more year round employment.

“The heart of our strategy is very much going to be our people, to provide real careers for the people that work for us.

“We also want to give our guests a wonderful experience but in a very authentic way by embedding them in the local community and landscape.

“Highland Coast Hotels is very much about promoting slow tourism and not whizzing around the NC500 at the rate of knots. We want to integrate into communities and will be reaching out to engage with local people.

“The environment and sustainability is also front and centre of what we are doing in order to reduce impact on the environment and enhance it.”

Outgoing Kylesku Hotel proprietor Tanja Lister said: “It has obviously been a difficult decision for Sonia and I, but we have been in discussion for quite some time now.

Tanja Lister
Tanja Lister

“We have been very proud custodians for the last 12 years but it is time to hand the baton on. We feel that Highland Coast Hotels are placed to take the hotel and team in a way forward that we could not.

“They will hopefully have exciting plans and the team will have career and development opportunities that we would not have been able to offer.

“We would not have sold the hotel to just ‘anyone’ and I believe that Highland Coast Hotels share our values of old fashioned hospitality, people focus, talent development, community and the green agenda.

“Whilst Kylesku will be part of a larger cluster, I believe it will retain its uniqueness and individuality.”

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