West Coast hospitality facing the best and worst of times

Calum and Rachel Ross of Loch Melfort Hotel.
Calum and Rachel Ross of Loch Melfort Hotel after winning an Independent Hotelier award in 2019

Want to read more?

We value our content and access to our full site is only available with a  subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device.  In addition, your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards.

Just want to read one issue? No problem you can subscribe for just one week (or longer if you wish).

Already a subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Hospitality businesses on Scotland’s west coast are in crisis: facing their busiest ever staycation boom and, at the same time, their worst ever staff shortages due to Brexit, Covid, and burnout, forcing some to close just as social distancing ends, unable to recoup last year’s lockdown losses.

Calum Ross, owner of the Loch Melfort Hotel, said it was ‘just as busy as ever (it can’t be any busier than full)’, and its food and beverage service had also ‘never been busier’ – but 2021 has been the ‘most difficult year yet’ for staff shortages, especially chefs.

‘We’re still turning people away every night. Many establishments close to us are unable to open fully (every day of the week, or all day parts), and some still have very restricted numbers – all due to staff (mainly chef) shortages.

‘Front of house, we have had to rely on local students who have done a fantastic job, but start to return to education from Monday. The rest of August/the season is going to be very challenging without them. Employment costs are up significantly as we have chosen to invest in our core team to ensure we keep them.’

While no social distancing should mean more tables and diners, he added, ‘many businesses are not increasing capacity, as they can’t recruit enough staff to service them’.

Meanwhile Archie MacLellan, who runs The Creggans Inn in Strachur, said this is their ‘most difficult year in 15 years’: ‘Since opening in late April with a full complement of staff, all local and returning from furlough, we now find ourselves in a very difficult staffing situation. We have lost chefs and waiting staff, who have cited mental health and burnout complaints. This I feel is due to the huge demand from the well-publicised staycation market, and therefore increased workload.

‘We are finding it near impossible to supplement and replace these staff. Normal channels of recruitment don’t work, and recruitment agencies have no staff. We are now working to reduced capacities, with resulting reduced turnover, reduced wages paid, and reduced taxes paid.’

He blamed the loss of the foreign workforce on Brexit and Covid, ‘but where is the local workforce?’ he asked: ‘Rates of pay and working conditions are good. There seems to be a massive imbalance between workers and non-workers. I call on the government to support hospitality (and other struggling sectors) to incentivise non-workers to return to well-paid positions that are available throughout the country.’

Further down the coast, Iain Jurgensen, managing director of Portavadie, Loch Fyne, said: ‘We are currently looking for 10 crew members – wages we would like to pay total are around £200K per annum. That’s with two food outlets still closed, and a further 10 people required to staff these, which is not possible as all of our staff accommodation is now allocated for the current vacancies.

‘We have been forced to reduce capacity until staffing levels improve and/or other areas of the business see reduced demand. We have now stopped serving non-residents completely in the restaurant, leisure and spa for the time being, and reduced our forecast revenue by 60K this month.

‘I think that, even at the end of furlough, there will be no tsunami of applicants or job losses. I think many have already left the sector and/or returned to the EU already. Very worrying times. We need the government to urgently look at an EU working visa for hospitality now.’

However Portavadie’s Iain Jurgensen, chairman of the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative, also pointed out the ‘huge positives’ of Brits holidaying on their doorstep: ‘If we can hold on and build on this demand created by the pandemic, underlined with sustainable tourism involving reduced carbon footprint, this could well be the model for growth in tourism at home.’