North Coast 500: Four hotels bought up on driving route ahead of summer influx
Kylesku Hotel and Restaurant, Newton Lodge, The Royal Golf Hotel, Dornoch and the Royal Marine Brora have been purchased by new firm Highland Coast Hotels.
One hundred jobs will be created as a result of the buyouts with a focus on sustainable, environmentally-friendly tourism and suport for local communities and suppliers, the company said.
Highland Coast Hotels is led by CEO Roddy Watt, of Ballachulish, who has a long record in Scottish hospitality, and chairman David Whiteford, who recently led the North Highland Initiative, which founded the driving route in 2015.
Mr Watt said: “Our aim is to provide memorable hospitality for those visiting the North Highlands. Our intention is to be recognised as the leading group of independent-spirited hotels on and around the route, for those wishing to welcoming, comfortable and authentic experiences in this spectacular landscape.
“We envisage that our substantial investment in the next few years will support sustainable growth in local Highland communities, extend the traditional season, and create many more full-time career opportunities within the hospitality sector."
One resident raised the issue of prices a consequences of the NC500 after visiting the Kylesku Hotel on Monday where he paid more than £22 for two drinks.
He posted on Twitter: “We visited Kylesku on Monday and, for a glass of wine and a G&T paid... £22.32. There goes the neighbourhood!”
The bill covered a large white wine and a speciality gin and tonic, with the mixer charged separately.
The resident later added that prices in the north west Highlands had “increased dramatically” since the NC500 was launched in 2015.
The resident added: “There are very few drinking establishments on the west coast, and locals feel they are being sidelined - the tourists having more disposable income are the priority now.
"The atmosphere of friendly Highland establishments is being replaced by ‘boutique’.”
Mr Whiteford said there had been no price rises at the hotel since the company took over.
He said local communities were an important part of the vision for the recently acquired hotels.
"We really want these hotels to be part of the community. It is essential for both sides. We are going to set up community liason groups and in Brora we have already taken steps on this. Discounting schemes for locals will be introduced.
"We want to create as many local jobs as possible, move the minimum wage to living wage and get rid of as many zero hours contracts as possible.”
Mr Whiteford was until recently the chairman of the North Highland Initiative (NHI), which founded the NC500. Research found that it boosted the north Highland economy by £22m in 2018 but issues have arisen with overcrowded roads, poor driving, reliance on campervans and the deterioating state of the route.
The driving route is now managed and marketed by a separate company, North Coast 500 Ltd.
The hotel company said it wanted to provide “memorable hospitality” for those visiting the north Highlands with a focus on slow tourism where visitors were encouraged to stay longer in the area.