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Having recently relocated to St Andrews, in the United Kingdom, has given me a fresh opportunity to discover a new place and, in the meantime, gain a greater understanding of local hospitality trends.
My husband and I had heard so much about the beauty of the Scottish Highlands that we decided to do a road trip during our short one-week vacation: in part, to learn more about this new place we call home, and also, to educate ourselves for our work when guests ask about the local area.
Did you know that Scotland measures 441 km from north to south and up to 248 km from east to west, with up to 787 islands? I never knew how large Scotland is as a country until I had to plan our route. Even though we had a week, it would not be enough to see the entire country in detail. So, I picked the highlights as recommended by the internet, colleagues from the area and tour book itineraries.
We traveled through well-known areas, including Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Isle of Skye, Cairngorms National Park and Inverness. And we certainly could not miss the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was made popular by the Harry Potter films, and Loch Ness, where the legend of the fearsome monster all began.
During our trip, we met many kindred souls. On the Isle of Skye, we were fortunate to be staying at a B&B ran by a couple, Agnes and Gordon, who have been in the business for more than 10 years. Despite not having any formal hospitality knowledge, they have opened their home to thousands of strangers, showering them with Scottish hospitality. But they have done their research well, buying bedframes, mattresses and linens from a top hospitality supplier to ensure top quality. If they were to seriously open their own hotel business, I believe that they would be strong competitors in the market!
Another one of the highlights of our trip was dining at the award-winning, Michelin guide-listed restaurant Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye. Despite its remote location, this restaurant attracts the best talents, and guests come from all over the world to dine. We were told that they were already fully booked for the summer and for the rest of the year! The amuse-bouche was potatoes done at least five ways — gnocchi, mashed potatoes, potato crisp, and potato rings in boiled potato soup! I was really impressed, and also inspired, as the chef was able to demonstrate creativity and skill all in one dish.
Next, we chose to go on a cruise at Loch Ness to learn more about the area and the legend. We discovered that the lake, Scotland’s deepest, was created as a result of two plates moving, and it never freezes, no matter how cold the area gets. Interestingly enough, the legend of the Loch Ness monster has attracted its fair share of fanatics, with some taking permanent residence by the lake for years in hopes of capturing an image of the so-called sea-dragon!
Researching accommodation options was a good exercise in learning more about our competitors and hospitality trends in Scotland.
1. Dinner, bed and breakfast packages are very popular in Scotland. Sometimes dining is presented as a set course menu; other times, it is provided as an allowance, ensuring that the guest has greater menu choice and the chef need not compromise the quality of food.
2. Scotland does not have the luxury of manpower that we have seen in the Middle East and Europe. Most of the time, we only saw a handful of staff in the area despite the hotel and restaurant being busy, resulting in a delay in service.
3. It is not easy to stretch your money here. Our total stay for the week could have paid for a week’s vacation in Spain or Italy, including flights and accommodation. This would explain why guests are so conscientious about their spending when they stay at hotels. The most economical accommodation that we stayed in was £70 a night. It was a guest house with the most beautiful view, but also the smallest room, with a thin mattress, where we had to dance around between our luggage and bed.
Over the week, we drove through valleys, around lakes and past farmlands. I would say that Scotland is one of the prettiest places in the world to take a road trip, as the landscape is breathtaking. The weather may be crazy — it changes every 5 km, between rain and shine — but there is always a rainbow at the end of the short rain, making the journey so worth it.
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