AS the Highland tourist season comes to an end, some hotels are closing early due to lack of staff. If the effects of Brexit are not mitigated by seasonal visas, next summer could be even worse, say workers.

The Brexit drain on ­hospitality workers is particularly affecting ­larger hotels in remote locations where ­seasonal workers live on site and get room and board as part of their ­package. At the 72-room ­Gairloch Hotel, host Mihael Melnic said: “This has been a very tough season.

We have been very busy – but we had four chefs instead of six, five housekeepers instead of seven. It was busy. The prices were a bit lower than usual at times, but we were full. But we had to adjust what we could offer because we couldn’t get the staff – for ­example we didn’t do any lunches this ­season, although we usually do a lot of lunches for coach parties.

“We are still open for a few more weeks but the other three hotels in the town including the Old Inn and the Gairloch Highland Lodge closed early because of a lack of staff.” Old Inn manager Kirk ­Wiliams told The Sunday National about the ­“nightmare” of getting staff earlier in the season.

Melnic said that the hotel was likely to struggle even harder next season unless the UK ­Government ­introduces seasonal visas for ­hospitality workers. The package for workers at the hotel, like many in the Highlands, includes room and board in the adjacent staff block.

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“Before Brexit we could attract young people from Europe who ­wanted to spend the summer in the Highlands. But now we are mainly drawing on the pool of people with settled status – and that pool is ­getting smaller because those people are not all coming back to the UK and new, younger people can’t come.”

Melnic said the hotel also struggled this season because deliveries were constantly delayed and missing items. “We are at the end of the supply chain. Almost every delivery didn’t have things we were expecting – we can substitute but the substitutes are generally more expensive.”

He said the increased cost and ­reduced revenue of this season would translate into higher prices next year. Wages will also have to go up – which will also affect prices.

The National: Highland hotels forced to shut due to lack of staff post-Brexit

At the Sands Caravan and ­Campsite, which is closing for the season tomorrow, Jay McGowan from Greenock was getting ready to head home for a rest after a busy few months. “At the start of the season, I applied for 15 jobs. Ten of them got back to me ­immediately asking when I could start. I chose this place ­because the accommodation is nice, you get a ­studio apartment with a kitchen area and they don’t charge you too much.

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“They also pay more than the ­minimum wage.” Jay also enjoyed ­being able to have his nephews to stay in his apartment at the beachfront site for a few days’ holiday in the ­ summer.

AFTER a combination of Covid and worker shortages, dozens of Highland hotels are on the market. The 46-bedroom Garve Hotel on the popular North Coast 500 is currently deserted, its tables still set for dinner – it has been on the market for more than a year, like the Mackay Hotel in Strathpeffer.

Loch Maree Hotel, which has a memorial stone outside it, commemorating Queen Victoria’s stay there in 1877, has also been on the market for several months. Other hotels in the Highlands currently looking for buyers – some of which are still trading – include an unidentified 45 lodge site valued at 3.5 million, Kincraig Castle, the Plockton Inn, the Falls of Dochart Inn at Killin, and many more.

At Old Mill Highland Lodge ­Pauline Byrne said: “My husband and I run this hotel ourselves. We are going to sell up next year as we are ready to retire. But we do know that lots of hotels in the area have had ­difficulty trying to get workers this season. We have been OK as we run this on a bed and breakfast model – but I don’t know how the big hotels will manage next season.”