Nick Ryan, owner of the Crinan hotel in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland for 45 years and 1999 Hotelier of the Year, has died. He was 76 and had been suffering from dementia.
His death comes just a month after Chris Rouse, another former Hotelier of the Year (1996) and general manager of the Turnberry hotel for 20 years, passed away. Rouse was also 76 and had been diagnosed with dementia.
Unlike many other past Hotelier of the Year winners, Ryan did not have a lengthy CV as a hotelier before he took over the running of the 22-bedroom Crinan hotel in a remote village on the Argyll coast in 1970. He took on the job having started his working life, at the age of 16, as a bell boy on the Queen Mary cruise liner for the Cunard Steam Ship Company, a career that had been undertaken by his father. The role led to a four-year training course as a junior catering officer.
Life on the seas was one Ryan thoroughly enjoyed. He told The Caterer
However, after travelling the world for several years, Ryan decided to return to the land, which is when he applied for the job to run the Crinan. "I knew from the first day I walked into the hotel that my future lay there," he said. Three years later, he raised £167,500 to buy the property.
The early years of ownership were tough. Fourteen months on from acquiring the hotel a fire burnt it to the ground. The remote location of the property meant that it took more than an hour for the fire brigade to reach the blazing building.
Initially, Ryan wanted to give up, but some time away to consider his future and that of the hotel put things into perspective. "We decided to rebuild - this time with plenty of sprinklers," he said.
On reopening the hotel two years later, Ryan had to work hard at creating a new customer base and this he did by formulating a unique selling point. Extraordinarily, even though the hotel was on the west coast, at the time there was generally a lack of fresh fish served by local businesses. With fishermen landing their catch everyday nearby, Ryan dedicated the hotel's rooftop restaurant, Lock 16, to seafood,
If there was no fresh fish from the daily catch due to bad weather, the restaurant wouldn't open. The formula worked and, as the restaurant's reputation grew, so did Ryan's guest base.
Ryan's success rested with the fact that he was never afraid to question the status quo. Before Crinan, opening during the winter months was practically unheard of in Scotland. "We opened year-round in 1979 and had a difficult three years," he admits. "Some nights we had no one in, but I knew that it would work if we marketed it hard enough."
Ryan ensured that occupancy levels at the hotel remained buoyant year-round, partly due to his membership of Connoisseurs Scotland, which was established to market a group of Scottish hotels to US guests. He was also involved with the Scottish Tourist Board.
Ryan was exceptionally generous in the help and support he gave to others less fortunate than himself. He was the station officer for HM Coastguard for Crinan for many years, and the siren for help frequently summoned him to his post in the middle of serving hotel guests. He was also a trustee of the Dyslexic Bursary fund, having himself been diagnosed with dyslexia.
Tributes to Ryan have been paid by fellow winner of the Hotelier of the Year accolade Richard Edwards, former general manager of the Chester Grosvenor hotel and the inaugural winner of the award in 1983. He said: "When Nick Ryan was voted Hotelier of the Year in the late nineties, all the previous winners had come from generally large but certainly well-known hotels around the country. Nick ‘s win was a nice surprise to many of us who'd then never heard of the Crinan hotel.
"Nick represented a breed of unsung and unrecognised hoteliers who owned or managed small hotels but nevertheless showed the same enthusiasm and commitment as the big boys. Nick was a real character, a charming Scot, who didn't take prisoners, but put the Crinan on the map by dint of hard work, good service and excellent marketing. The industry has sadly lost a personality it needs more of."
Founder of Malmaison and more recently the Dakota and Dakota Deluxe brands and 1993 Hotelier of the Year Ken McCulloch said that Ryan was a great friend who was a true inspiration. He and his wife were married at a church nearby Crinan and held their wedding reception at the hotel.
"I loved this man. He was a true character and an individual, a proper hotelier who was involved in every element of the business. Nick was one of the wisest men I've ever met, a true one of a kind, and to say he will be sorely missed simply doesn't cover it. Crinan was hard to get to, but when you got there and Nick was there, you knew you were in the right place. He was a total natural and the very best mine host."
Peter Lederer, former chairman of Gleneagles and Hotelier of the Year in 1997, described Ryan as "a hotelier's hotelier" who was "knowledgeable, classically trained and the embodiment of genuine hospitality".
He continued: "For over 40 years Nick welcomed guests back to a location that was perfect - looking out to Jura with some of the best sunsets and seafood in the world. However, the real reason to return was to see Nick and family, and to listen to his stories and memories told in a unique and compelling manner. Nick was a founder member of Connoisseurs Scotland and without his style and humour it would never have been such a success.
"For all my 33 years in Scotland Nick has been a trusted confidante, true friend and unique character. We will sorely miss him."
Peter Bates, who has enjoyed a global sales and maketing career in hotels and is currently based in New York as president and founder of Strategic Vision, described Ryan as as "larger than life personality" and "a gaint of the Scottish tourism scene".
He said: "Nick was fun, kind and incredibly generous in so many ways. He would never say no and always find a way around. He was hard to keep on message I will admit , but had that unique quality of being able to infuse an audience in any overseas market about why they had to come to Scotland."
Bates said that the loss of Ryan so soon after the passing of Rouse meant that "Scotland has lost two giants of the hospitality industry within the last month who's impact stretched back over decades and for whom we should all be thankful for the enormous contribution they made. We should all raise a ‘wee dram' to their memory."
Ryan leaves behind his artist wife Frances, son Ross, daughter Julia, son-in-law Jamie and two grandsons, Jock and Archie.
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