The owner of a long-running hotel on Scotland's popular North Coast 500 route says young people don't see hospitality as a viable career option but he hopes that will change.

Murray Lamont, who owns Mackays Hotel in Wick, said it was rare for teenagers employed for seasonal work to stay on after school or study the trade.

He said in contrast it was common pre-Brexit for a lot of Polish and Czech students to come over to work in the hotel for a couple of years to improve their English and said many had gone on to open their own restaurants.

He said the hotel, which is a living wage employer, had taken one young girl on from school who trained as a chef and arranged a placement for her at hotel in Inverness.

"Sadly she never came back," he said. "But that's okay because it's her career and she's done really well. It is a common story.

He said another left to work for British Airways. "He was really good at what he did," he said.

"There's not a hope of retaining someone like him in the north because there just aren't the opportunities. It's about expanding the opportunities that we have."

Mr Lamont put the hotel that has been in his family for 67 years on the market last year but it is still to find a new owner. It is famous for being positioned on the world's shortest street.

The Herald: Murray and Ellie Lamont with daughter Jennifer LamontMurray and Ellie Lamont with daughter Jennifer Lamont (Image: From family)

"Many years ago we would get European students coming over, usually for about two years," he said.

"Quite a lot of people thought of them as cheap labour but they were paid the same anyone else.

"The advantage with the students was that they were willing to work and when they came over they were really keen to get on with it and they had their own goals. 


"They were here to learn the language fluently and to be able to work with people and use the language to get on because most of them had a degree or some sort of formal education of a high standard.

"This was a great way of them accelerating the use of that.

"They worked really hard, saved their money then went home and we know that some opened their own restaurants, some went into teaching but they have all done really quite well.

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"We get very few local young people going on to study hospitality or taking it up. They don't take it as seriously as they could do."

He said most young people took on seasonal hotel work as pocket money or as a "stepping stone" to save up cash for university but didn't always appreciate the skills learned on the job.

"They learn how to work with people and how to interact with people and that's a skill for life," he said.

The hotel owner left Wick as a young man but returned to look after his late father and never left.

"It is rewarding, you won't make a fortune but you do have a more rewarding lifestyle," he said.

 Mr Lamont said there are opportunities for expansion with the North Coast 500 hotel which was receiving 50,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

Among them over the decades have been The Hollies, Heather Small of M People, Mike McCartney, and Edwyn Collins who has a studio nearby.

“There has been a huge change over the years," he said. "It has gone from the days when the market was on a Thursday in the town for the country folk coming in, it was the biggest day of the week.

"Our main business was selling drinks with a huge public bar trade and a good cocktail bar trade."

He believes hotels should be given grants by the Scottish Government to ensure they are up to a good standard for tourists, including those on the NC500.

"If they are still in business within ten years, they wouldn't be require to pay it back," he said. "If we don't give people what they want, they will stop coming."