Rising standards among tourism businesses which are helping drive up visitor spend – as revealed in new official figures – are being aided by industry award schemes according to local operators and national leaders.

While operators believe success helps raise awareness of their businesses, they also feel it acts as a spur to improve further.
Michael Bremner, Managing Director of Highland Experience Tours, which won the Warmest Welcome category at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards in 2014 was reward for achieving a high standard of customer service, but also an incentive to live up to the title.

“Together with our Partnership in Tourism Award in 2013, it has highlighted the success of Highland Experience and encouraged us to continue to enhance the service we provide.”

The deadline for entries for this year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) is on 6 June and tourism operators across the region are being urged to put themselves forward in the 15 categories.

Mr Bremner said his firm’s success has helped in many ways: “Positive recognition is helpful for any business. The HITA awards help foster positive relationships between different organisations working in the Highlands and Islands.

“We believe they also promote healthy rivalry in a competitive market, supporting growth and change within Scottish tourism.”

And Mike and Pawana Spencer-Nairn, Owners, Eagle Brae, which won the Best Holiday Accommodation category in 2014, added: “Winning the award and having the HITA winner’s badge on our website certainly help to cement the booking decisions of potential customers.

“It is well known that there are a high number of tourism businesses in the Highlands, and that the standard is very high, so they know this is truly a badge of distinction for our luxury log cabins business.”

Marina Huggett, Chair of HITA, is urging operators across the area to submit entries: “The HITA rewards are much sought after and can have a real impact in promoting a business.

“There is also no doubt that award schemes like HITA are an incentive for operators and can help push the boundaries of excellence even further to everyone’s gain.”

The HITA scheme, which is held in association with SSE, is free and businesses or individuals can put themselves forward for recognition. Visitors and peer nomination groups are being encouraged to propose businesses they feel deserve an honour, although success will not be based on the number of nominations made.

The categories have developed and evolved each year in line with feedback within the industry and to reflect factors aimed at helping its growth and sustainability. New categories this year are Friendliest Pub, Best Sporting Event, Hospitality Hero and the Innovation Award.

The awards, launched in April by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, will culminate in a grand ceremony at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness on 13 November.

HITA winners will go on to represent the region at the glittering national final of the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

Last week, official figures showed that the number of tourists visiting Scotland climbed by five per cent to more than 15 million last year.

Tourism expenditure also rose north of the border to £4.7bn, with overseas tourist numbers up 11 per cent and domestic visits up three per cent.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “Every business across the length and breadth of the country played a part in achieving this success – helping to reinforce Scotland’s reputation for its warmth of welcome, quality experience and excellent value for money. It is clear to see what we can achieve when we all work together.”

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