This year’s record-breaking Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards are targeting further growth after confirming three new sponsors.

Caledonian Sleeper, Scottish Canals and Inverness-based wholesaler Booker have all signed up as supporters of the 2016 awards. Caledonian Sleeper is sponsoring the Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House category, while Scottish Canals is a co-sponsor in the Most Hospitable Hotel section and Booker a co-sponsor for the Friendliest Pub/Bar award.

Pictured right to left:  Craig Ewan, Kingsmills Hotel, Josie Saunders, Scottish Canals, Peter Strachan, Caledonian Sleeper, Stuart Hamilton, Booker Inverness

Caledonian Sleeper is an overnight rail service between Scotland and London Euston with outstanding hospitality at the heart; representing the very best of Scotland whilst showcasing the country’s produce.

Peter Strachan, Caledonian Sleeper’s Managing Director, said, “Waking up on the Caledonian Sleeper to the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands is a unique and wonderful way to introduce tourists to the region and one of the reasons our London to Fort William service made the world’s best-selling travel guidebook’s top ten list.

“We are committed to supporting the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, having established our Head Office and Guest Services Centre in Inverness, where we work closely with local businesses and tourism industry partners.

“We are therefore extremely proud to emphasise this commitment by sponsoring the Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House award at the 2016 HITA. This allows us to recognise the benefits that dedication to providing such a high level of service brings for each individual visitor to the region as well as the tourism industry as a whole.”

Scottish Canals look after 137 miles of waterways, including the Crinan and Caledonian canals which are major tourist attractions.

Josie Saunders, Head of Corporate Affairs at Scottish Canals, said: “The Crinan and Caledonian canals are vital parts of the Highlands visitor economy, attracting investment and tourism to the area as well as supporting local jobs and, as such, we are delighted to be supporting this year’s HITA.

“Scotland’s canals welcome 22 million visits per year by walkers, cyclists, anglers, paddlers and boaters who come from around the world to enjoy fantastic scenery, great range of leisure activities and a warm welcome.

“Customer service is critical to creating fantastic tourist destinations, which is why we are proud to be sponsoring the ‘Most Hospitable Hotel’ award and we look forward to recognising the hard work and commitment of all those who help ensure visitors experience Scottish hospitality at its best when they come to visit.”

Booker is the UK’s leading food and drink wholesaler with 24 branches throughout Scotland, who serve over 100,000 customers including convenience stores, pubs, hotels and small businesses.

Stuart Hamilton, Area Manager of Booker Inverness, said: “We are delighted to be sponsoring these prestigious awards and thereby supporting the vibrant Highland tourist industry.

“At Booker we are committed to helping all areas of this industry through increasing choice, lowering prices and improving our service.  Pubs and bars are such a vital part to our community. By supporting this award, we are recognising those individuals who are making visits to Highland pubs memorable, adding real value to the economy and, importantly, helping them come back.”

Caledonian Sleeper, Scottish Canals and Booker join NorthLink Ferries, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness as new sponsors of the tourism awards this year.

Craig Ewan, chairman of HITA, said: “The latest sponsors are key businesses in the Highlands and Islands. We are delighted they are on board and have added to the growing number of companies supporting and developing the awards.

“We have had our highest ever entry this year which demonstrates the strength of the industry and the quality of the people who provide outstanding service for our visitors. With the continued help of our sponsors we can build on the success and strive for even higher goals.”

The free-to-enter awards, held in association with SSE, were launched in March by the then tourism minister Fergus Ewing.

In July it was announced the competition for the iconic piper trophies had reached new heights with a record 203 entries – up more than 15 per cent on last year’s previous peak figure.

A 50-strong shortlist of finalists was announced on 30 September, with the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s sporting and musical culture among those set to be honoured.

The event will culminate in a grand final at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness on 4 November.

HITA winners, with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador categories, will go on to represent the region at the glittering national final of the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

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