3 Years On and Still Talking…


18th of December 2015…three years on and we (as a family) are still talking to each other. That, I would say, sometimes feels like it has been our biggest achievement over the past three years, especially when we have a ‘bad’ day: when we’re in the process of one of our stages of renovation and we come up against what feels like an insurmountable challenge; when we receive a TripAdvisor review, which can often be so very personal, and it leaves us wondering why we’re in this sometimes thankless business; or, when we receive a genuine complaint and realise that we aren’t quite at perfection yet…these situations occur in any business but, when it comes to a family venture, these inevitable hurdles often feel like a personal attack and it is then, unlike other businesses, when our family bond has to be at its strongest. We have to work through the issues, find the solutions that we believe will work and then learn the lesson and, most importantly, move on. Our continuing forward progression is often aided by a moment of taking the time to see each other and realise that we are in this for the same reason: to make the Dowans Hotel a stand out business in what is a beautiful part of the world. To create a place where people come to be treated like they’re part of our extended family; a place where service comes at the top of a long list of priorities and where, because you like what we offer, we will welcome you back time and time again with the same warm welcome so that you may experience the superior quality of produce that those who frequent our bars and restaurants have come to expect. It is not always an easy journey but, with a business that is nearly three times the size of the one that we bought in 2012, it is the numbers that most strongly demonstrate the success of what we have achieved thus far.

So what, you may ask, have we achieved in 2015? What has accounted for the continuing growth in this past year? At the forefront must be the mention of the completion of the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ which was the ground floor. With The Still, our aptly named whisky snug, embodying the final piece, we could finally show off the look and feel of the hotel as we wished it to be rather than the one that we inherited. Contemporary, rejuvenated and gently modernised, yet still maintaining the character of the 19th century Baronial mansion and respectful of the rich history of the building, the renovation project has created a space which welcomes those from all manner of background who have the common desire to share in something truly special – evidenced by the amount of ‘celebration’ parties that we welcome through our doors, knowing that at their biggest milestones, we will be there to ensure that everything will be as we would wish it be ourselves. And, that, has been the other central element of growth and expansion that we have seen over this past year because what can be a bigger milestone than a wedding celebration. Whether it has been as a meal before the ‘big day’, our accommodation acting as a base for the wedding party, a full in-house wedding or a small, intimate, wedding meal, we have become a focus of attention by both local and further afield couples who are looking for the perfect venue for their big day. Although we do not necessarily believe in the VIP categorisation of certain guests (all guests are the same in our eyes), our aim with those sharing their big day with us is to ensure that we will do all we can to make their day as individual and special as they wish it to be.

However, although extraordinarily important, weddings and big celebrations only happen occasionally. So it is those that travel to Speyside on a more regular basis in relation to ‘uisge beatha’ or the ‘water of life’ and all that its creation and consumption (!) entails that brings the most ‘people traffic’ to this area. The golden spirit attracts more than those who are intimately related to its conception, to the process of its transformation from ‘new make’ through to its bottling at the level of perfection that we have all come to love and appreciate; it also attracts those who have admired it from afar but who have never delved deeply into its brilliance previously. Therefore, with over half of Scotland’s distilleries in no less than a 12 mile radius, there is no better place to experience and learn everything that the whisky industry has to offer than here, in Speyside. Although we recognised this before our arrival in the area, and in fact it was one of our central reasons for buying the business, the completion of The Still (as mentioned above) this past June allowed our piece of the ‘pie’ to come finally to fruition. With personalised tastings, space for privately held whisky and other dinners, the ability to expand exponentially on our collection, an intimate space for quieter moments of contemplation and relaxation (hence, in part, the name) and an ability to pay homage to the most diverse of spirits, The Still really has become a source of interest all on its own and, in fact, an ‘attraction’ for those coming to the area. In May of this year, and at the ever expanding Spirit of Speyside Festival , our work with whisky led us to win the Best New Event at this year’s festival for our Whisky Cocktail Masterclass. With even more whisky, bourbon, blended, and grain whisky cocktails on our menu in The Still we hope to run the same event to the same, if not higher, level of success in next year’s festival so watch out for the publication of festival events at the beginning of next February and we will look forward to seeing you there or at one of our other events.

With The Still’s completion heralding the finished front of house project, our renovation attention moves to the remaining bedrooms which, although more than sufficient in what they offer currently, are not wholly representative of the style that the rest of the hotel has come to have. Over this past year, and indeed since we first took over, several of our rooms have been renovated with our first Junior Suite, named Macallan, completed at the beginning of this month. The largest of the rooms with a front facing view down over the stunning Spey Valley and the ‘Penny Bridge’ will not only be our signature room (until another Junior Suite joins it later next year), but will also offer a comfortable and indulgent base for those travelling in the area (on business or holiday) who are looking for a little extra luxury. It provides all of the ‘mod-cons’ for those that are looking for that ‘home away from home’ feeling but with the added extra of having our team on-hand to ensure that you have everything you could possibly need for the perfect holiday break or business trip. A bit of before and after:

So, what are our plans for this coming year? It’s definitely not ‘sleep more’ as we have far too much to do, as you would expect! As mentioned in brief above, renovations will continue to top the list of ‘things-to-do’ with another 6 rooms to complete including the finishing touches to each of the hallways in the separate wings which will bring to an end our renovation cycle. With all fingers crossed, we are hoping that we will be able to write about (in the past tense!) our progress in our ’round up’ at this time next year! The beginning of the year will see us finalising our list of events for the Spirit of Speyside Festival in May and also looking forward to the new addition to the festival which will occur in September, a great addition to an already fantastic event. The ‘other’ September Whisky Festival, run expertly by the team at the Whiskyshop Dufftown will be another key event on our calendar next year and, if it is anything like this past year then it will be yet another reason to book yourself a holiday to Speyside! In addition to the line up of ‘official’ events throughout 2016, we will also be hosting a couple of independent events of our own, including a Chivas Regal related event occurring in the first few weeks of the year so keep your eyes peeled for details of anything up and coming on our social media sites:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheDowansHotel

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheDowansHotel 

Instagram: www.instagram.com/TheDowansHotel

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of our ‘up and coming’ and yet I’m sure you are getting the idea that it is already lined up to be another busy year here for Team Dowans!

With that in mind, we better make sure that we get everything done that we need to in the rest of 2015! We’d like to take the opportunity to thank every person who has supported us throughout not only our last year here at the Dowans but also, throughout our last three years. It has been wonderful getting to know you all and we know that we would not continue to feel as strongly and passionately about the Dowans if it weren’t for the people who join us on our journey here. We also look forward to meeting new faces in 2016 and hope to add them to what feels like our ever expanding group of family and friends!

We wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas, a Happy New Year and all of the very best for 2016. And we look forward to seeing you all soon!

The Murrays