Dornoch Castle knocks at Hong Kong's door
Kenji Fujimoto was accepted into Kim Jong-il's inner circle during a 13-year stint serving North Korea's first family. The Japanese sushi chef gives Julian Ryall his take on the communist dynasty'...
A Scottish castle that has been turned into a hotel is now on sale in Hong Kong and the mainland after languishing for seven months on the British market without any offers - which the hotel co-owner is blaming on the credit crunch.
A remnant of the 15th-century palace of the Bishop of Sutherland, the 25-bedroom Dornoch Castle Hotel, in the Highland town of Dornoch, is being priced at GBP2.5 million (HK$31.5 million).
The hotel stands opposite the 12th-century Dornoch Cathedral where Madonna and Guy Ritchie had their son Rocco christened the day before their wedding at nearby Skibo Castle in 2000. Dornoch Castle Hotel was used as a base by journalists at the time, and has itself been a popular wedding venue for couples ever since. The hotel is also perfect for whisky tours of nearby distilleries, golfers, and executives visiting Nigg Energy Park, 16 kilometres away, where Global Energy Group is redeveloping engineering facilities for the North Sea oil, gas and renewable energy industries.
The hotel owners have planning consent to add 11 bedrooms, a spa, a second kitchen and cellar, and a 70-seat bistro and bar.
The hotel has been on the market since September 2011, and although agents Knight Frank received interest from potential American buyers within days of the sales launch, no offers have been made by Britons.
'The home market is quite difficult at the moment, and we expected that,' says Colin Thompson co-owner of Dornoch Castle Hotel, 'It is difficult for people to get funding.'
Most inquiries have come from golf tourism agencies who want a foothold in the area, to secure rooms in the hotel for their clients before making the rest available to other agencies, says Thompson.
The owners are now widening their sales campaign to include the mainland and Hong Kong. The Thompson family runs a whisky export business, making many of its sales on the mainland, and following discussions with contacts there hope mainland and Hong Kong investors with an interest in whisky, Scotland, golf or hotels may want to buy the property.
'Dornoch is a very pretty place and because of that it is a good tourist honey-trap,' says Thompson.
The three-star hotel has been revived by Thompson and wife Roselyn since they bought it 12 years ago, increasing its annual turnover from GBP240,000 in 2000 to GBP1.1 million today. The hotel has 87 per cent summer occupancy and 60 per cent winter occupancy.
The owners want to sell the hotel so they can focus on their whisky business and self-catering accommodation enterprise, Thompson says.
A small town of 2,500 people, Dornoch is a favourite with golfers because the Royal Dornoch Championship Golf Course is the third oldest golf course in the world and one of the best. It is currently ranked 13th best in the world by website Top 100 Golf Courses.
One-third of homes in the town are owned by Americans. Other foreign home-owners include Australians and Canadians. The reason for the foreign influx is simple - buying a home there gives them the right to play on the Royal Dornoch course.
The world ranking of the Royal Dornoch Championship Golf Course, the third oldest course in the world