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Famous Hydros Comes Together as Crieff Announces Expansion
Crieff Hydro, Scotland’s oldest registered trading company, has announced that it has agreed terms to acquire two well-known Borders hotels from McMillan Hotels later this month.
The new acquisitions, Peebles Hydro and the Park Hotel in Peebles offer the Company an opportunity to establish a presence in the Borders area, bringing the experience, expertise and ethos of Crieff Hydro to create a gateway hotel in this part of the country. The deal is expected to be concluded in the next few weeks.
In a separate deal, the business has kicked off a joint venture to manage a further four Hotels: three on Scotland’s West Coast and one in Harrogate. The moves will add over 400 bedrooms and £10M of revenue to the long-established business - consolidating its position as one of Scotland’s leading hotel operators.
The Yorkshire Hotel in Harrogate, The Isles of Glencoe Hotel & Leisure Centre, The Ballachulish Hotel and the Oban Caledonian will be run as a joint venture with the owner of these four properties as part of the expanding collection supported by Crieff Hydro.
Speaking about the moves, Chief Executive of Crieff Hydro, Stephen Leckie commented; “This is a significant opportunity to develop travel, tourism and leisure opportunities in some of the country’s most important tourist areas. Over the coming years, our approach will be to develop and enhance the existing facilities in these hotels and build on their individuality and personality. They are all very different from Crieff Hydro as a destination resort. In time, they will all share the same warmth of hospitality and independent thinking we have at Crieff. Apart from investing to develop facilities, we’ll have a particular focus on bringing together all of the local elements. Engaging with partner businesses locally and understanding what local customers want from these hotels will be really important to us. These are great destinations and while we aren’t setting out to make these the most luxurious hotels in the area - we do want them to stand as real advocates for their villages and towns. What we are interested in is generating more new visitors to each of the areas.”
The Company will develop plans for significant investment but the emphasis will be on looking after customers and the teams in the Hotels. Crieff Hydro has picked up three national awards for its training and development and is highly rated by its own customers.
Crieff Hydro Managing Director John Jennett added; “Food quality is of signature importance at Crieff Hydro and in time we will bring the same ethos and approach that we have at Crieff Hydro to these hotels with an emphasis on quality, distinctive menus, local provenance and offering value for money.”
McMillan Hotels Managing Director, Douglas McMillan said “We have been in discussions with Crieff Hydro for more than a year. We are in the process of restructuring our own business, refocusing and reinvesting in our properties in our heartland in the south west of Scotland. To that end, we have been determined that we should achieve as seamless a handover as possible and that these two much-loved hotels will be developed further. We are confident that Crieff Hydro will provide an excellent fit, and the hotels will continue to prosper and progress.”
McMillan Hotels and Crieff Hydro are working closely to ensure the smoothest handover possible for customers and staff. The change in ownership will have no effect on the team working in Peebles Hydro; there will be no redundancies, nor will it affect any customers with existing bookings or gift vouchers.
Stephen Leckie said; “The trade press is full of hotels that are based on uniform formulas that work brilliantly in the cities. Taking on a mixed bag of country hotels is hardly fashionable. But once you’re away from the cities, it’s hotels like this that are the real heart and soul of Scotland’s tourism product and tourism is increasingly recognised as being amongst the biggest economic drivers for the country. So for the sake of the prosperity of our own business and the wider tourism picture I believe we’ll make a success of these. I’m looking forward to working with the Tourism Partnerships, local businesses and suppliers to partner and promote local attractions, eateries, shopping experiences, history and heritage and effectively do all we can to add to the quality visitor experience.” Part of the Company plans are to launch a Community Engagement programme in each hotel area, inviting local stakeholders to participate in developing the way ahead.
John Jennett added; “We’ve been working on these deals in a different transaction climate to the one we’ve been used to in the past. Whilst the approach is different, we have had a positive experience with most lenders and were delighted to get competitive offers from four major banks.” The end result is that the company has re-banked from Lloyds (Bank of Scotland) to Santander both for the core business and to fund the acquisition and development of Peebles Hydro. According to Jennett, “Santander were able to offer a real understanding of our business, short lines of communication and sharp commercial rates – something that was quite different from what was on offer elsewhere.”
He added; “Even with bank support, a good track record and a brilliant management team, deals like this require the best expertise alongside creativity and sheer stamina to bring to a conclusion. We decided at the outset we wanted the very best professionals to advise us and the deals have been facilitated by the experienced leisure/hospitality team at bto Solicitors Glasgow, and the Corporate Finance specialists at Campbell Dallas, also in Glasgow.
Stephen Leckie added; “Investment isn’t something that will happen overnight as it will need careful planning to get it right. What we do think can happen over the next few months is that we can bring a flavour of the service for which Crieff Hydro has become renowned and generate real momentum with our vision of what can be achieved in the longer term for the new hotels and tourism in the area.” Leckie is also Chair of The Scottish Tourism Alliance and was awarded an outstanding achievement award by Visitscotland last year in recognition of his contribution to the tourism industry across the country.
Jennett has been MD of Crieff Hydro since 2011: the first non-family member to take up the post in the business’ long history. His partnership with Stephen Leckie has seen the business defy industry trends and grow by more than 10% since then to more than £18M. The pair were recently listed by Caterer Magazine as being amongst the most influential figures in Scottish Tourism alongside names like Andrew Fairlie and Nick Nairn. Jennett was previously involved in the three west coast hotels now coming into the Crieff Hydro fold: as MD he built up the business in the 90’s before selling to Swallow Hotels in 2006.
Colin Johnston, owner of the four Freedom Hotels said; “Although I’ve owned these hotels for a number of years, the setup has never been quite right. I’m delighted to enter a new type of joint venture with the team at Crieff Hydro whom I have known for many years. Having been through the hands of a few operators, it will take time for these businesses to stabilise but I know they have great potential. This is about the long-term for me and for Crieff Hydro. In time, I am sure that the teams in the hotels, the customers, Crieff Hydro and myself will all feel really proud to be part of this story.”
With years of low investment to catch up on, Jennett is quick to point out that the hotels may never return to the 4 Star standard they once were, but he believes this is less important than re-focussing on the business basics. “Running hotels is about hospitality – in other words looking after people first and foremost. Whether those people are your customers, your team or other people you deal with.” He says, “It has to be commercially sound, but if you come at it from a belief and a pride in hospitality then you are on the right track. It’s because of that belief that Crieff Hydro has thrived for nearly 150 years.”
Christmas comes early for heartbroken horse owner
We were delighted to make a heartbroken horse owner’s Christmas wish come true after an agonising three years spent trying to trace her horse after it went missing on loan.
Teresa Newcombe-Baker of Woodford from Northants, put her cob gelding, Quincy out to loan in December 2010 after she suffered a shoulder injury, only to find that the horse had been sold on by the loanee.
She contacted Cambridgeshire Police who followed up the case and it transpired that the pony had been sold just three weeks after being loaned, however the loanee claimed he had been given to her by Teresa and the police dropped all the charges.
Teresa tracked Quincy down through a horse forum and discovered that he had been passed through several owner and sold to Crieff Hydro’s Riding Centre who were of course unaware of any of the background to the situation.
Prior to the discovery that her horse was now part of the Crieff Hydro Riding Centre, Teresa had spent almost three years in her quest to be reunited with him, during which time she managed to track him down twice and lost sight of him. Her hunt resulted in frustrating dead ends and eventually Teresa felt the whole situation was even affecting her health.
Things didn’t quite add up when Teresa contacted Crieff Hydro initially. There was no horse named Quincy in the Riding Centre and the only horse which matched the description Teresa gave to us was Rosco, a new and very much loved addition to the Centre.
Crieff Hydro carried out its own investigations, working with Teresa to obtain pictures of the horse. Eventually the puzzle was solved when we realised that our lovely Rosco, was indeed Teresa’s Quincy. The company subsequently arranged for Teresa to be reunited with Quincy for good.
Talking about the case, Teresa said; “This is the best ending I could have hoped for. It’s been magical. I feel like me again. I am so grateful to Crieff Hydro for making it possible for me to take Quicy back home – it really has changed my life and I can’t thank them enough. The past few years have been a nightmare. I have suffered from various health problems and at times it has seemed almost unimaginable to think that this story could possibly have a happy ending. It really has been unbearable at times. When I arrived at the Riding Centre and saw him, the pain just fell out of me.”
She added; “During my own investigations to try to trace Quincy I discovered that this is not an uncommon occurrence. I spoke to Horsewatch and Missing Horses on Loan, a group set up to advise people in this position who told me that they had around eight similar cases, the problem being that a loan agreement is not legally binding. I would urge anyone thinking about putting their horse out on loan to check out the loan home and also have a solicitor look over the loan agreement. Owners must wake up to the numerous pitfalls in loaning out their horses.”
John Jennett, Managing Director of Crieff Hydro said; “We were of course shocked to receive the call initially suggesting that the lovely horse which we had paid a four figure sum for, whom everyone in the stables had got to know and love, was legally, someone else’s horse. We sought advice and were informed that technically, we could argue that he was ours, however after digging deeper into this incredibly sad and unfortunate story, we realised that Teresa’s claim was genuine and we had no hesitation in writing off the money we had invested in buying him, looking after him and replacing him with the our newest addition to the Riding Centre and of course returning him to his rightful owner.
Liz Simpson, Head of the Riding Centre at Crieff Hydro said; “Seeing the bond that exists between Teresa and Quincy, even after three years apart confirmed to us that giving the horse back to the owner was undoubtedly the right thing to do. Teresa has had Quincy since he was 14 months old and he knew who she was when he saw her. It really was a very touching moment and we’re delighted that Teresa can look forward to happier times, having Quincy back where he belongs.”
Typhoon Haiyan fundraiser
We are absolutely delighted to announce that our Winter Garden café raised a whopping £2700 on Saturday for the Disaster Emergency Committee, currently helping to rebuild lives in the Philippines.
We would like to say a huge thank you to all of our guests who visited and donated on Saturday and to our wonderful suppliers who kindly supported the event with their generous donations:
Paddy and Scotts
Gordon Chalmers (Fruit & Veg) Perth
Campbell Prime Meat
George Campbell & Son Ltd
Gordon & Durward Crieff
The Cress Company
Good people doing good things and making a difference to many people.