Buchan hotel set for redevelopment

The impact of the coronavirus-imposed lockdown on the hospitality sector has forced the owners of the Tufted Duck to consider an alternative future for the St Combs hotel.

By Morag Kuc
Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 4:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 11:16 am
Conrad and Lesley Ann Ritchie say the decision wasn't taken lightly.
Conrad and Lesley Ann Ritchie say the decision wasn't taken lightly.

The North-east hotel with 20 bedrooms, large function suite and conference facilities has been a popular destination for weddings and corporate events for 46 years.

However, owners Lesley Anne and Conrad Ritchie, a local couple with extensive hospitality experience, have reluctantly decided to close the hotel and apply for planning permission to transform it into a bar and bistro.

Lesley Anne said: “Even with restrictions easing, we would struggle to comply with social distancing requirements and it’s highly unlikely that we will have sufficient bookings for large functions in the foreseeable future. Our business is dependent on operating at least two large functions every week. Without these, the hotel cannot operate sustainably.

“The hospitality industry in North-east Scotland has been very challenging over the past six years. The impact of COVID-19, coupled with the protracted global oil and gas downturn and unsustainable increase in business rates have all taken their toll and led us to review the future of the business.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that there will be more sustainable demand locally for a unique bar and bistro offering. The location has unrivalled, panoramic sea views and with a distinctive venue, serving quality local produce, we believe we can continue to support the local economy, meet local demand and employ local people.”

The decision to close the hotel with immediate effect has been difficult admits Lesley Anne and wasn’t taken lightly because of the 19 staff who will be affected. She said: “We have spoken with everyone concerned and are committed to being fair and transparent through this incredibly painful and unsettling process.”

With the continued uncertainty over the hospitality sector as a result of COVID-19, the Ritchies believe this is the right time to close the hotel, apply for planning permission and redevelop.

Conrad added: “Our family has always been committed to this business and we are very aware of our corporate social responsibilities. The closure of the Tufted Duck Hotel and Zanders bar will be an unwelcome shock to the local community but, we believe, it is a necessary step to re-focus and invest in a sustainable future for the venue.

“It is our intention to fast-track this project, demolish the current building and replace it with a community facing pub, beer garden, bistro restaurant and a small function area.

“The pandemic and subsequent safety measures mean that businesses must evolve or die. The replacement venue we are proposing will offer a bespoke, quality venue with flexibility should restrictions return. We look forward to a sympathetic and speedy application process from the council planning department.

“Our aim is to use this period to build for the future and be up and running when life has returned to some sort of normality. We would like to thank all our customers for their support and look forward to returning as quickly as is possible.”

The Tufted Duck has been in the Ritchie family for 13 years. The owners invested £1.5million in adding bedrooms, a new reception area and a large function suite in 2009.

Located on the North-east coast in the historic fishing village of St Combs, the hotel enjoys panoramic sea views and a peaceful location. Dating back to the seventies, the hotel was a popular shooting lodge, which is where the name comes from.