Crieff boss Stephen Leckie eyes further growth following Peebles acquisitions
By Gillian McKenzie
HE is the fifth generation of his family to run Crieff Hydro since it opened in 1868 – and has presided over more than £40 million of investment in the Perthshire resort since taking the helm in 1994.
Now Stephen Leckie is primed to expand the business even further with the acquisition of Peebles Hydro in the Borders and the nearby Park Hotel from McMillan Hotels. In a separate move, Leckie’s firm has also taken over the management of four hotels in Freedom Hotels’ portfolio: three on the west coast of Scotland and one in Harrogate.
The deals will take the business beyond its Perthshire heartland, where it also owns the 21-bedroom Murraypark Hotel in the town of Crieff; and into the new territory of hotel management.
They will also add more than 400 bedrooms and £10 million in revenue to Crieff Hydro – Scotland’s oldest registered trading company – which posted turnover of almost £18m in its annual accounts last year.
Speaking to SLTN, Leckie said further expansion had been on the agenda for some time.
“It’s been a few years in the making,” said Leckie, who is chief executive of the business, and also serves as chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and president and director of Perthshire Chamber of Commerce.
“It all started about four years ago; I realised I was 44 years old and I’d been at Crieff Hydro for 20 years – and I might be doing the same job for another 20 years. We appointed John Jennett managing director [of Crieff Hydro] – the first from outwith the family – and that gave me the chance to spread my wings a bit.
“With Peebles and the Freedom Hotels management deal, it was a bit like two buses coming along at once but the moment seemed right and the timing was right.”
It seems the fit with the existing business was also right.
Scale aside, there are some obvious similarities between the Peebles properties and Leckie’s Crieff businesses.
Crieff Hydro has more than 215 four-star hotel rooms and 55 three to five-star self-catering lodges set in 900 acres, while the Murraypark Hotel in Crieff has 21 bedrooms; Peebles Hydro, meanwhile, is a 132-bedroom hotel set in 30-acres in the Borders, while the nearby Park Hotel offers 24 bedrooms.
But while Leckie has big plans for Peebles, confirming he intends to spend “north of £10m” on the two hotels, he is quick to stress that the properties will retain their own identities.
“It’s different to Crieff – Peebles [Hydro] is much smaller and it has to be a different proposition,” he explained.
“It will still be geared towards the family and leisure markets but that might be more at the weekends; and we’ll be linking into tourism in the Borders.
“They will be different but there will be common themes.
“We have to own the business and understand it first; we’ll sit on our hands for three or four months and understand the businesses before we do anything.
“It will take a couple of years, though; it won’t happen over night.”
This long-term view has paid dividends at Crieff Hydro, which has grown to offer more than 60 indoor and outdoor activities and employs over 630 staff.
So much so that Leckie is committed to another long-term project at the resort.
Planning permission is currently being sought for Hydro East – a major development which will include 200 self-catering lodges, a retail outlet with farm shop, leisure facilities, including a swimming pool and gym, and a 100-bedroom care home and assisted living accommodation; if it gets the go-ahead, Hydro East will be phased in over the next 20 years.
And there could be further expansion on the horizon.
“We’re in a position now where we could expand,” said Leckie.
“Will it happen tomorrow? Probably not. But we are still hungry and ambitious for expansion.
“Why? Because it’s exciting, because we think we can, because we have synergies.
“The challenge is spending time in all of our hotels.
“It’s a bit like children: when the first one comes along you think ‘how can I love the second one as much?’; but you do. And we will love each hotel in the same way as the first.
“We have IT systems and web-based applications which means a lot of it can be run from here [Crieff] but you can’t beat being there in person.
“Fundamentally, the hospitality industry is all about people.”