The announcement that his Cromlix House Hotel in Kinbuck, Perthshire, is the Scottish Hotel of the Year has stunned tourism experts and dismayed rival owners.
A hotel industry veteran, Mark Linklater, who runs Scotland’s Personal Hotels website, said: “I was dumbstruck, I can’t believe that they would do something like that – to give the award to a hotel that’s only been open 20-odd days. I would have thought most hotel owners would be in utter disbelief.
“No hotel can open and be fully functioning and have absolutely everything 100 per cent [in such a short space of time] unless they have pulled out a magic wand or something, because everybody has teething problems – whoever they are.”
The Victorian mansion, set on 34 acres of grounds (including tennis courts, of course) was bought by Murray last year and has been turned into a 15-bedroom luxury hotel. Managed by Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI), it costs up to £595 a night to stay. The controversial decision to give the accolade to the new hotel is in stark contrast to the heritage of last year’s winner of the coveted title, the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow, which first opened in 1907.
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The dispute is the latest controversy to hit the hotel, which was criticised this month when it emerged that five-star reviews had been posted on the Tripadvisor website before it had even opened. But it was able to evade censure by the website because the reviews had been made by guests (who had stayed for free before the hotel opened its doors to paying visitors). And in February a number of families living in the grounds of the hotel were evicted to make room for staff accommodation.
Lucy Gillmore, a food and travel writer based in Scotland, said to give Cromlix House such an award within weeks of opening “is a bit premature... I can understand why some people would say it’s ridiculous as it’s been open less than a month”. But “the signs are all there that it’s going to be a real success... I didn’t notice any of the teething problems you normally associate with a soft opening”.
Although most local hoteliers were reluctant to comment openly, Alan Garnier, who owns the nearby 20-bedroom Clachan Cottage Hotel, said yesterday: “He took over a place that was legendary in its own right already so I’m going to guess it came with a good local following anyway. I’m going to guess there was a bit of leverage there, a bit of pressure there.”
Defending the decision, the judges’ chairman, Gary McLean-Quin, said: “Hotels often have sizeable sums of money spent on them but that’s only half the battle.” He described Murray’s hotel as a “national treasure”.