VETERAN Scottish hotelier Paddy Crerar said the sale of the group he has built up had come “far earlier than thought” as he hailed a “cracking” acquisition by Blantyre Capital and Fairtree Hotel Investments.

The price paid for Crerar Hotels, which has seven four-star and five-star hotels and employs around 300 staff, was not disclosed. However, it is almost certain to have run into tens of millions of pounds.

Asked about the timing of the deal, which was unveiled yesterday, Mr Crerar told The Herald: “Every business has to consider exit at some point, or succession. This was far earlier than we had thought we would need to consider it. The real truth is once we got talking to the guys at Fairtree we realised there was real synergy between what they wanted to do and what we wanted to. Then you ask yourself the question, ‘If not now, when?’.”

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Describing it as an “absolutely cracking deal for Scottish hospitality”, he added: “The buyers are an extremely well-backed fund with the same ambitions as Crerar Hotels have…We believe what we will see is Crerar Hotels growing to being one of the leading hotel companies in Europe and beyond, with their ambitions.

“It has been a pleasure to be involved at the front line of hospitality for 35 years. That has been a real privilege. I have enjoyed every single moment of it. It is a bit like the line in Hotel California – you can check out but you can never leave.”

Crerar will continue to be led by chief executive Chris Wayne-Wills following the deal.

Mr Crerar and his family, together with the charitable Crerar Trust, owned more than 98% of the Scottish hotels group, which was launched in 2006.

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.

Crerar’s portfolio will form a key part of the new owners’ plans to build a significant luxury UK hotel portfolio.

The deal is described by London investment firm Blantyre Capital and its UK-based operating partner Fairtree as their “fourth landmark hospitality purchase” in the UK since 2021, with the pair having previously acquired Fonab Castle and Dunkeld House Hotel in Perthshire, and the Daffodil Hotel and Spa in Cumbria.

Commenting on the deal, Mr Crerar said: “We set out to deliver the type of hotels and service that properly reflects Scotland – a world-class destination that is consistently a podium finisher in the global tourism marketplace. It’s been an absolute joy seeing our ambitions flourish and be rewarded by guest demand and loyalty.”

The hotelier, who chairs the Crerar Trust, added: “The current year we believe will be our best yet with double-digit [percentage] growth forecasted in every month ahead.

“After getting to know the new potential owners it was soon clear that they shared identical aims and ambitions to those we have worked hard to foster at Crerar Hotels. Their view of the potential for high-quality hospitality in Scotland pitched to the global stage is unquestionable and their access to greater resources makes delivering on the potential of Crerar Hotels achievable.”

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Crerar Hotels last month 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.

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.

Mr Wayne-Wills last month highlighted his confidence in the Scottish group “returning to a profit position soon”, with turnover having surged and bookings for spring and early summer strong.

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He 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”.

Mr Crerar and Nigel Dearnley are stepping down as directors of the hotel group.

The buyers noted that Mr Crerar and Mr Dearnley, “although no longer connected to Crerar Hotels, will retain a formal link with the new board and remain staunch supporters of the business”.

Mr Wayne-Wills said: “This is an extremely exciting time for Crerar Hotels. We are looking ahead to a record year of performance with our hotels now at the highest level of facility and service. Knowing the ambition of the new owners, our teams are ready and will relish the opportunity to make this next step-change an unbridled success.

“A key driver for Crerar Hotels is to be the employer of choice wherever we have a hotel. We work very hard to achieve that with the stability and quality of our teams standing as the judgement marker of success. With a change in ownership the employee opportunity horizon widens further."

He added: “Crerar Hotels has taken time to develop a distinct and authentic DNA – it is a strong and clear identity that matches the ambitions and aims of the new owners. The road ahead was and remains just as clear – new ownership accelerates us to the opportunities much earlier than we might have hoped previously.”

Joe Bester, real estate portfolio manager at Fairtree, said: “Both [Fairtree investments principal] Nic Ross and I are hugely excited to be expanding our hotel portfolio in Scotland with the addition of the Crerar Hotel Group, which offers a variety of beautiful hotels in iconic locations across Scotland.”