A legacy of under-investment in Scottish hotels and a reputation for ‘tightfistedness’ has blighted the tourism industry north of the Border, an incentive tour firm boss has warned.

However, thanks to investment in recent years from both the public and private sector in accommodation, standards have improved “markedly”, said Cashel Travel’s James Aitken.

In an interview for the Scottish Tourism Alliance’s newsletter – The Talker – Mr Aitken, whose Edinburgh Destination Management Company (DMC) specialises in tailor-made tours, recalled some ‘horror stories’ from substandard accommodation and poor service from his time in the business. He said the problems were particularly acute the further north from Edinburgh that tourists travelled.

He said: “To take an example from my personal experience about five years ago I was on a site visit with a French tour operator. The hotels we visited went from poor to terrible the further north we travelled from Edinburgh. I remember visiting a hotel on Skye where we gagging when we were shown a filthy bathroom in a two-star hotel.

“We then visited another hotel a few miles along the road which was in the midst of renovating. They had a courtyard in the middle of the hotel and had decided that would be a good place to store all the toilets they were ripping out of the rooms. They had produced a ten-foot-high pile of toilets like some grotesque modern sculpture. This was what half the rooms looked out on. I took it up with the manager who was surprised I thought it was unacceptable.”

Mr Aitken also recalled one UKinbound member – the trade association for inbound tourism – who issued letters of apology to clients as they arrived at the airport, blaming “Scottish tightfistedness” for poor hotels.

He said the issues stemmed from the disastrous spell of Swallow Hotels’ takeover of many hotels in the country, which ‘still blights the industry’.

However, he said the majority of hotels who did ‘excellent work’ were overshadowed by those which fell short and standards have improved “markedly” in recent years. He said there were an increasing number of excellent restaurants, visitor attractions and greatly improved infrastructure. He said also that government support and private sector investment was helping to raise standards in an “overall very positive picture” but that more work has to be done to improve frontline customer service.

Mr Aitken’s comments were picked up by The Times this week, which produced a leader insisting  that whilst standards have undeniably improved there remained an ingrained “stinginess” among Highlands hotels who treated coach party guests as “disposable, low-value clients”. It hit out at “filthy accommodation” in rural Scotland coupled with “offhand or surly” service.

The debate was taken up also on LinkedIn with Rosana Lambie, founder of Latin American whisky tour specialist, Origin of Scotland, commenting: “Sadly, very true James, once more, just back from the beautiful west coast of Scotland hosting cruise ship Mexican guests, had to stay overnight to meet them but the accommodation was unfortunately substandard and overpriced.”