CRERAR Hotels’ chief executive has revealed his confidence in the Scottish group “returning to a profit position soon”, with turnover having surged and bookings for spring and early summer strong.

Chris Wayne-Wills said the hotel group could “definitely” see the North American market returning, as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. He also highlighted strong demand from the “premium UK market”, as he flagged heavy investment by Crerar Hotels in spas at its properties on Mull and at Inveraray in Argyll, and in Nairn.

Mr Wayne-Wills noted the increase in energy costs but said Crerar Hotels, which has seven properties with four and five-star ratings from the Automobile Association (AA), was “riding ahead of that”.

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He flagged higher average room rates now being achieved by the group, even compared with the pre-pandemic days of 2019, on the back of its “repositioning” to the “upper end of the market”.

The chief executive also highlighted the hotel group’s drive to pay staff “market-leading rates” in its locations, amid the “recruitment crisis” in the Scottish and broader UK hospitality sectors, as well as its efforts to offer flexibility and job-sharing and to attract over-50s back into the workforce.

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Mr Wayne-Wills, who also flagged Crerar Hotels’ creation of an apprenticeship scheme for spa therapists, said: “In terms of Brexit – yes, it has had an impact that has been widely reported. We have had to be different.”

Crerar Hotels revealed turnover of £14.46 million for the year to March 26, 2022, up by nearly £9m from £5.49m in a prior financial year in which trading was hit hard by temporary closures and restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Wayne-Wills said turnover in the current financial year ending next month would be a “good few millions” ahead of that in the year to March 2022.

Asked if he expected Crerar Hotels would post a profit for the year to March 2023, he replied: “We are still finalising that. I wouldn’t comment definitively one way or the other. We have such a significant increase in turnover and the majority of the capital investment was done in the year to March 2022. I am confident we are returning to a profit position soon.”

The group's portfolio comprises the Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa at Inveraray, the Oban Bay Hotel, the Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa at Craignure, the Balmoral Arms at Ballater on Royal Deeside and the Golf View Hotel & Spa in Nairn, as well as Thainstone House in Inverurie and The Glencoe Inn.

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Mr Wayne-Wills noted the year to March 2022 had also been affected by coronavirus-related restrictions, at the start of the period and over the 2021/22 winter. He also highlighted the effect of temporary closures of spa offerings and some other facilities as Crerar Hotels invested heavily in the year to March 2022, with capital expenditure totalling £4.725m over the 12 months.

The chief executive noted the short-term effect of this investment programme on profitability through trade lost from the temporary closures of facilities and a higher depreciation charge.

The hotel group increased its staff by 40 during the year to March 2022, taking the total to nearly 300, where it remains.

Mr Wayne-Wills noted Crerar Hotels now had 22 spa treatment rooms.

The hotel group, founded by industry veteran and chairman Paddy Crerar, narrowed its loss very significantly during the year to March 2022.

It recorded a pre-tax loss of £495,177 for the year to March 2022. Its pre-tax loss during the prior 12 months was £2.425m.

Crerar Hotels’ after-tax loss narrowed to £831,681 in the year to March 2022, from £2.037m in the prior 12 months.

Mr Wayne-Wills, who has been chief executive of the group for about three years, said: “It is a strangely positive loss.”

He added: “For me, what these results represent is our repositioning strategy being right on track. We have got this longer-term positioning at the upper end of the market – that is where we see our customers as being flexible and affluent.”

The chief executive noted this strategy had started “in the first year of lockdown”.

Mr Wayne-Wills, who flagged a boost to business off-season for the hotels in the portfolio with spas, said trading through January and February and looking ahead to March was “really exceeding expectations”.

Looking ahead to the next financial year, he added: “Our pace of bookings going into the first quarter – April, May and June – looks really positive. [For] the coming financial year, we look to be in really good shape.”

Mr Wayne-Wills observed that trading was proving “pretty resilient to current economic challenges and [the] cost-of-living crisis”, as he highlighted tourists’ demand for travel “experiences” and declared that Crerar Hotels was “selling memories”.

He said: “The drive in all of this has been average room rate, which has seen a significant increase even going back to 2019 levels because of the amount we have invested.”

Mr Wayne-Wills noted that Crerar Hotels gives half of its dispersable profits to charity, through the Crerar Trust. He noted the trust had continued to make charitable donations during the period of losses, from reserves.