The Highlands and Islands has scored a quadruple success at the Scottish tourism ’Oscars’.
The winners at the prestigious Scottish Thistle awards national final had previously won regional titles at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) in November.
Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie, Wester Ross, was named Best Heritage Tourism Experience; the Hebridean Celtic Festival won the Best Cultural Event or Festival title; Best Sporting Event was the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup; and Portavadie, Loch Fyne, won the title for the Best Accommodation Provider.
Craig Ewan, Chair of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, said: “Having four national winners from the Highlands and Islands is great news for the region.
“It is a wonderful result and underlines the strength and quality of the visitor experience in this area.”
Thistle judges commended Eilean Donan Castle on being “a world-class visitor attraction, consistently delivering a first-class visitor experience that has made a significant strategic commitment to developing the industry by introducing extended opening hours and additional local accommodation.”
They also recognised that “Eilean Donan’s commitment and substantial investment has delivered wide-ranging benefits for both the organisation and tourism across the region.”
David Win, General Manager at Eilean Donan Castle, said: “The entire team at Eilean Donan are truly delighted and hugely proud to win a prestigious Scottish Thistle.
“This award represents the culmination of many years of sustained commitment and investment to providing the very best visitor experience and services. We’d also like to congratulate all other finalists and winners!”
Judges considered the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup entry to be “an excellent submission by an event that has been instrumental in the development of a major new tourism segment for Scotland.
They went on: “After a difficult year in 2015, the Mountain Bike World Cup blasted back to break all previous attendance records in its 15-year history to deliver a world-class weekend of action and entertainment for more than 20,000 spectators in the iconic Scottish Highlands.”
Mike Jardine, Director of the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, said: “This award is a fitting testament to the hard work, dedication and enthusiasm of everyone involved.
“The organisation team, the venue, the teams, the competitors and most of all the fans who create such a magnificent atmosphere. The Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup rocks!”
Thistle judges praised the Hebridean Celtic Festival for delivering “an internationally acclaimed event” and noted its record-breaking attendance figures in 2016.
Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “This is another fantastic honour for everyone connected to the festival, including our audience, sponsors, supporters, volunteers and community.
“Getting this recognition from the tourism industry underlines the festival’s drawing power for visitors, many of whom use the event as a starting point for a longer visit to the Outer Hebrides. As well as its cultural significance, it is also a huge economic driver for the islands.”
Alan MacKenzie, Island Manager at VisitScotland, said: “I would like to say a massive congratulations to Hebridean Celtic Festival on being crowned the best in Scottish tourism.
“These awards recognise the drive and passion the industry has for creating an unforgettable experience for visitors and I’m delighted that the team behind HebCelt have been recognised for their hard work and commitment in delivering such an internationally acclaimed festival.”
Thistle judges praised Portavadie, Loch Fyne on their collaborative work with schools, universities and local golf club. They were also impressed with the varying ranges of accommodation on offer, including the award-winning Five Star Gold Anchor Marina. The visitor attraction’s significant growth, supported by strong investment, was also commended by the judging panel.
Iain Jurgensen, Portavadie General Manager, said: “We are overwhelmed to receive this award on behalf of the team who are the life and soul of Portavadie and the true winners of this award. It is just so amazing and a real privilege to be recognised by industry as Best Accommodation Provider 2017/18.”
The Scottish Thistle Awards – celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – took place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where 16 individuals, businesses and events were honoured for their innovation, excellence and success in the hospitality and tourism sector
This year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards will be launched on 23 March.
HITA, which is held in association with SSE, 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 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.