Pic caption. (left) George Baxter, of sponsors SSE; HITA director Ken Macaulay; Karen Yates, from Culloden Battlefield; Charlotte Davies; HITA director Elizabeth Mackintosh; and HITA chairman Craig Ewan; with battlefield volunteers Charles Reed and Liz Brooker
The fiercely-fought contest to find the best in the Highlands and Islands tourism industry has been launched at the area’s most famous battleground.
Over the next few months entries and nominations will be sought for the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) and the coveted piper trophies.
HITA 2018, held in association with SSE, was officially launched at the National Trust for Scotland’s Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, which was named Best Visitor Attraction at last year’s record-breaking awards.
Katey Boal, Interim Property Manager, Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, said: “The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards are a great way to recognise good practice in the sector.
“An award is a mark of quality for our visitors as well as recognition of the amazing work done by our dedicated teams on site.”
The Scottish Government supports the work of HITA in rewarding excellence. Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The Highlands and Islands inspire and captivate the imagination of millions of visitors every year. They are drawn by breath- taking scenery, history and heritage.
“These awards celebrate excellence throughout the hospitality industry across the Highlands and Islands. Everyone involved in the region’s tourism industry deserves to be recognised and their achievements, hard work and dedication highlighted.”
In the Year of Young People, the winner of last year’s HITA Rising Star award also made a plea for young professionals in the industry to put themselves forward for recognition.
Charlotte Davies, Sommelier and Assistant Restaurant Manager at the world famous Three Chimneys in Skye, said: “The HITA awards do a fantastic job in rewarding businesses and people that enrich the experience of visitors to the Highlands and Islands.
“In this Year of Young People, I hope many young professionals in the sector are recognised to highlight hospitality’s new generation which is helping to raise the bar for standards and innovative new ideas.”
The 2018 HITA aims to build on the success of last year’s awards which attracted an unprecedented 232 entries and nominations – an increase of more than 14 per cent on the 2016 figure and up 70 per cent on 2014.
The competition will crown winners in 14 categories, with the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s outdoors and musical culture among those to be honoured.
HITA Chairman Craig Ewan added: “HITA has grown significantly in recent years, reflecting an increasing strength and confidence in the industry.
“We want to continue that momentum and, in this Year of Young People, we want to demonstrate this is an industry where young workers can thrive and build a rewarding career.”
The awards are being sponsored by SSE for a sixth successive year. George Baxter, SSE’s Head of Strategic Relations, said: “SSE is delighted to be sponsoring the HITA awards for the sixth year in a row.
“The renewables industry and the tourism industry are two of the most important sectors in the Highlands and we are as committed as ever to continuing to work together positively to bring benefits to the area.
“Every year the HITA awards grow from strength to strength and I’m looking forward to celebrating another excellent year of tourism in the Highlands.”
HITA is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland. It is free to enter and is open to people operating in the Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Argyll & Bute (excluding G postcode areas) local authority areas.
The deadline for nominations is 22 June, while entries close on 2 July. The shortlists will be announced on 27 September.
The contest will culminate at a ceremony in the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, on Friday,2 November and winners (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
Rebecca Brooks, Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel and VisitScotland board member, said: “The Scottish Thistle Awards are Scotland’s premier awards for the tourism industry and for 25 wonderful years they have been shining a spotlight on success, innovation and excellence.
“They represent the best of Scottish tourism and epitomise the strength and depth of the sector which continues to innovate and excel in giving visitors a high quality experience.
“Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it creates jobs and sustains communities. The Scottish Thistle Awards lets us recognise the unsung heroes of our industry who show real dedication and enthusiasm for Scotland’s tourism industry.”