'We're one of a kind in Scotland': Cameron House scales up its MICE business

21 February 2024 by
'We're one of a kind in Scotland': Cameron House scales up its MICE business

Cameron House is scaling up its meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) business to seal its position as a leading destination in Scotland

Nestling in 400 acres of the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Cameron House has always been more than just a five-star hotel, but with its new £25m Lomond Wing extension now fully up and running, it is staking its place as a luxury resort in the international arena.

The unveiling of the extension in 2022 was the final phase of a four-year project that was undertaken after a fire in 2017 which caused the death of two guests. Cameron House reopened in May 2021 after a £29.7m refurbishment with the new Lomond Wing subsequently boosting capacity from 140 to 208 bedrooms – including 24 suites – and 700 sq m of flexible meetings and events space for up to 500 people. Unsurprisingly, resort director Michael Lavizani is now looking for a greater chunk of the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market.

"[We're] driving base business through the MICE segment," he says. "In 2023, we saw 65% transient and 35% group guests, and the goal is to have transient at 60% and group at 40% as we continue to grow occupancy."

He's predicting "impressive growth" in 2024, forecasting 85%-90% occupancy in the high season and significant increases in turnover across the business. Classic rooms start at £550 peak season (up from £405 in 2021), with one premium suite expected to achieve an average daily rate of £5,000.

"In short, 2023 was a year to ramp up for 2024," says Lavizani. "It was the first year we got to use the new Lomond Wing extension. The pandemic meant we were unsure of its completion date, so the sales team weren't selling space. At our level, we don't want to create disappointment."

Disappointment is unlikely. The resort now has nine flexible meeting and events spaces, eight restaurants and bars, a 29-seat cinema, a hotel swimming pool, a separate spa and leisure club, an 18-hole and a nine-hole golf course, 234-berth marina and an astonishing choice of activities, from Champagne loch cruises to 4x4 offroad driving, falconry, fishing and more. There is even a seaplane experience – rare for a European resort.

All this means it can attract not just holidaymakers, but the team-building, incentives and "bleisure" markets, as well as a growing number of global conference bookers who want to book out the entire hotel.

Michael Lavizani is ready as resort director

Lavizani is ready for the challenge. He took over as resort director in June 2023, bringing 30 years of five-star hospitality management experience to the business from properties such as the Royal Horseguards hotel in London. Most recently he was general manager at Marine Troon spa and resort in Ayrshire, where he oversaw its refurbishment to five-star standards under new ownership.

He's supported by sales director MICE Karen Avery, who brings experience from large convention hotels such as the Millennium Gloucester Hotel London Kensington, and whose appointment last autumn underlines the resort's commitment to increase this segment. She's already in negotiations with two blue-chip brands who have enquired about exclusive-use opportunities in Q4.

"Demand is strong and we are pacing ahead of last year as awareness of the resort continues to grow," says Avery. "It's great to see a rise in exclusive buy-out events."Crucially, MICE business will also help bolster the lean winter season. April to September is busy with holidaymakers, and the 118 time-share lodges are at capacity. But transient business tends to "fall off a cliff" in mid-October.

"Our plan is to drive MICE into October through to March so we have less dramatic peaks and troughs," says Lavizani.

International market at Loch Lomond

While UK agents are more likely to make repeat bookings, the international market is the biggest growth opportunity. "International guests spend more on activities when here, bedroom spend is higher and they stay longer. A UK company will stay one night, spend less and book cheaper activities," says Avery. "We're competing with France, Portugal and even the Caribbean, as well as other UK hotels."

To raise its international profile, Cameron House is being represented at trade shows, such as the upcoming IMEX in Frankfurt, and is developing connections with destination management companies (DMCs) in Scotland and the south of England which attract domestic and international MICE clients.

"The plan is to build relationships to drive business into the resort," says Lavizani. "Now we have the Lomond Wing, we are well-placed with our new management company Davidson Hospitality's network to grow our North American and Middle Eastern business."

Davidson Hospitality, which took over as management company in 2022, has US headquarters. Owner KSL Capital Partners, a US-based private equity firm, has a massive footprint in North America, too, and the resort recently appointed a marketing and PR company there.

Competition in the MICE market

Across Scotland, the resort is competing with the best, though few are chasing the MICE market. For instance, Gleneagles and Turnberry are an hour from a city, so not easily accessible for MICE customers, while Cameron House is just 25 minutes from Glasgow airport.

"We're one of a kind in Scotland," says Lavizani. "Across the UK, we compete with, for instance, Celtic Manor in Newport, but it is almost a conference centre now and we don't want to become that."

The renovation works followed the December 2017 fire that caused the deaths of two guests, Simon Midgley and Richard Dyson. As well as the tragic deaths, the fire also damaged the main building, forcing the hotel to close. But the business has worked hard to restore trust and move forward.

"We acknowledge what happened and will never forget the families and the loved ones they lost. Every year on that unfortunate day we fly our flag at half-mast in respect," says Lavizani. "All of us, whether we were here or not, are scarred by it, so we take health and safety extremely seriously."

For instance, the new role of health and safety director has been created within the executive team with a remit that includes inducting all staff in health and safety, keeping it top of the agenda at quarterly townhouse meetings and providing training both online and on-site. During the refurbishment Cameron House also pre-empted the new Fire Safety Act 2023 by fitting sprinklers. "We put them in even though at the time it was not a legal requirement, and we invested heavily in that," says Lavizani.

The 2017 closure inevitably meant many staff were made redundant, but a number have now returned. "It is an endorsement of us that they want to come back," says Lavizani.

Cameron House is certainly a significant employer in the area. Some 90% of the 504 employees are from the local community, with university students swelling team numbers in peak season to 650. All new recruits undergo the three-day Cameron Clan induction, join the Davidson Hospitality Learning Academy and are offered staff benefits for friends and family.

Eight months into the job, Lavizani is conscious of the responsibility Cameron House has towards the local community. "What pleasantly surprised me when I came here was the goodwill that everyone has for the hotel after nearly being out of action for five years," he says. "It demonstrated how much local people and businesses rely on us for success."

Rethinking F&B

The resort has eight restaurants, with a brigade of 55 chefs, overseen by executive chef Brian Scanlan and head pastry chef Szilard Szentesi, the 2023 winner of the Valrhona Cercle V challenge.

The focus on MICE, however, has led to a rethink on two restaurants. After 14 years, the New England-style Boat House on the marina will be relaunched in March as La Vista, a modern Italian restaurant with 180-200 covers and a deli where guests can buy a picnic.

Last October, the shift in consumer trends away from formal dining led to a commercial decision to close the resort's 40-seat fine-dining Tamburrini & Wishart restaurant, which has now been transformed into a multipurpose space called the Monarch Room.

"It was costing us, and we had an idea to better use that space," says Lavizani. "Since we've gone down the MICE route, we need additional smaller meetings or private dining rooms. At weekends, we can also serve a more elevated breakfast for suite guests in the Monarch Room, and it can be used for afternoon tea to take pressure off the Lobby."

MICE moves

The biggest event to date at Cameron House was in November when a global luxury brand took over the resort for a three-day conference for 300 delegates.

It's something sales director MICE Karen Avery would like to see more of, adding: "We're seeing this as a new business segment as we've only had the Lomond Wing for two years."

For large off-season bookings, the 118 timeshare lodges are available to provide extra accommodation. Year-round, logistics are handled by the onsite planning team who liaise with bookers to co-ordinate team-building activities.

"We once had 30 cars for 120 people in a 4x4 experience," says Avery. "We want to wow conference bookers so that they re-book."

Post-Covid, back-to-back meetings are less popular, so the range of leisure activities Cameron House offers can tip the balance in clinching conferences.

"There's more hybrid working nowadays so companies are trying to create team bonds, or reward their teams," says Avery.

As well as offering the onsite facilities, therefore, the team work with local events providers such as 4x4 Adventures Scotland's offroad experiences, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, or a Loch Lomond Seaplanes trip.

"What sets Cameron House apart from other destinations is its authentic Scottish flair, with land, loch and sky experiences, plus activities such as whisky tasting, kilt rentals, cèilidhs and nature walks," says Avery. "When crafting itineraries, we stand out against other destinations that lack culturally rich experiences."

The team can also work with bookers to add temporary company branding in function rooms, on golf buggies and so on. And for exclusive use, they can remove competitor brands from the mini-bars and restaurants, and create non-gender bathrooms.

Most MICE bookings are for two or three days midweek, though with ‘bleisure' seeing a significant spike in enquiries, the hotel offers special rates so conference guests can stay an extra night with a partner.

As well as generating employment and stimulating local suppliers, Avery says MICE events also make it easier to plan staff rotas: "Compared with individual guests, for large events we know what time everyone eats, what activities they are doing when, and so on."

About Cameron House

Loch Lomond, West Dunbartonshire


Owner US-based private equity firm KSL Capital Partners, acquired it in November 2015 for about £80m

Managing company Davidson Hospitality (since the end of 2022)

Resort director Michael Lavizani

Sales director MICE Karen Avery

Bedrooms 208

Room rates Starting from £340 for a classic room off-season and £550 in high seasonand from £5,000 for the Cameron Suite

Guest profile 80% UK; 20% international

Food and beverage Cameron Grill, the La Vista; the Clubhouse at Cameron; Café Spa, Great Scots bar, the Tavern (sports bar), the Lobby bar (afternoon tea), the Monarch Room (small meetings, upscale breakfasts, afternoon tea); the Library (private use or afternoon tea); and the Morning Room (small meetings or private dinner)

Leisure facilities 29-seat cinema; 18-hole Carrick golf course; nine-hole Wee Demon golf course; Leisure Club with 18-metre swimming pool, family pool, gym, fitness and spin studios; Cameron Spa; 234-berth marina; jet-skiing; paddleboarding; fishing; Champagne cruises onboard Celtic Warrior

Meetings and events Nine rooms (7,200 sq ft of dividable space) for up to 500 guests

History Cameron House was built in the 17th century for the Smollett family. The family sold the property in 1986 when it became a hotel and leisure centre.

Continue reading

You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.

Already subscribed?

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking