Coronavirus: Highland hotel’s ‘lifeline’ crowdfunding campaign

Family generates over £55,000 to keep business afloat during COVID-19 closure

Dornoch Castle Hotel has been under the ownership of the Thompson family for 20 years

THE family behind a Highland hotel has raised more than £55,000 through a crowdfunding campaign launched to keep the business afloat during the coronavirus closure period.

The Thompson family, who have owned Dornoch Castle Hotel for 20 years, started a crowdfunding page earlier this month, enabling customers to buy “pay it forward” vouchers which can be redeemed on future accommodation and function bookings and food and drink at the venue. The family will up the value of vouchers worth £50 or more by 20% to thank customers for their generosity.

Colin Thompson, who runs the business with wife Roz and sons Philip and Simon, said the family launched the scheme after the business was hit with cancellation costs of more than £70,000 in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

He said the hotel’s rateable value means it doesn’t qualify for a £25,000 business grant; and that a delay in government funding and insurance would have left it unable to pay monthly bills and outgoings.

“We are a seasonal business which works very hard at extending the trade during the shoulder months of the year, and also to build up strong bookings for the forward season which help to carry the quieter times,” said Colin.

“At the time of the lockdown announcement in March our cash flow was at its very lowest after the winter season, just before Mother’s Day and Easter, and after an extensive refurbishment and repair programme. We have 22 employees who are now on furlough, and when you go into detail, there are massive delays in bringing this payment scheme forward.

“We had various companies still to pay for necessary services to the hotel. We need £8000 per month even to sit empty. For us, inaction was not an option if we wanted to continue trading and growing in the future, plus keep our essential employees. So we decided to try crowdfunding.

“I thought long and hard for a way through this after trying all of the above avenues [insurance claims and government schemes], and decided that we had nothing to lose by offering our customers past and future the chance to pay forward for a future date for goods, services and benefits which the hotel is able to offer and this would perhaps help us through the sticky times until our due payments would come through from various governmental bodies.”

Colin said the scheme has been a “stunning success” so far, surpassing its initial £40,000 target in just two days and receiving hundreds of messages of support from customers.

“They are with us all the way and reassuring me that doing this crowdfunding has been the right thing to do,” he said.

“They feel that they want to help wherever they can to keep our business doing what it does best and want to help our long-serving staff continue to do what they are good at.

“Adversity brings out the worst and the best in people and we have found this to be a very positive experience – whatever the final total – and will be eternally grateful to those who stepped forward to show their faith in Dornoch Castle and its employees when so much is going on in their own lives. We thank them all from the bottom of our hearts.”