Shirley Spear, owner and retired head chef of The Three Chimneys Restaurant with Rooms in Skye and former HITA Ambassador of the Year.
I greatly support the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards as the scheme encourages and rewards our best business operators. Awards help to push the quality bar higher by focusing on excellence at every level. HITA rewards success, but also inspires our industry to constantly seek business improvements, which in turn, benefit their employees and enhance the wider visitor experience.
How times have changed throughout my business lifetime. This year Eddie and I celebrate 32 years running a small business and exactly 18 years since we opened our luxury bedrooms in The House Over-By and were awarded a 5-Star grading by VisitScotland, one of the very first in the Highlands and Islands.
This was the beginning of a whole new era for the region; the beginning of a new approach towards creating a unique, high-quality destination, open all-year-round and an unmissable experience for visitors coming to Scotland.
Our tourism and hospitality industry had been more of a poor relation in the economic scheme of things prior to this change of heart. A whole new emphasis was placed upon the importance of small business in rural areas. A new drive to develop the standards of accommodation, customer service, food, drink and overall visitor experience everywhere, soon followed. Along with this we were encouraged to join new schemes and compete for awards, which all helped to drive forward our reputation.
In my opinion, this new emphasis was a great move and long overdue. I was delighted that tourism and hospitality was being treated on a much more serious scale, offering great employment and career development for young people and opportunities for those with entrepreneurial spirit to gain a step on the ladder to success.
Today, tourism in the Highlands and Islands remains a crucial element of the on-going Scottish success story, with a wealth of businesses of many kinds and many hundreds of people directly employed throughout our diverse sector. We play a very important role, supporting the nation’s economy and in many places, building micro-economies on a significant scale.
Accommodation at every level, food and drink service of all kinds, visitor attractions large and small, adventurous and explorative outdoor activities, all combine together to create a unique visitor experience.
We must never forget how dependent we are upon one another in business. The overall visitor experience is a combination of everything our customers and guests experience throughout their stay in the Highlands and Islands. It is so important that we all work hard together, collaborating with one another, to create the best visitor experience we can.
This is why it is also important for all of us to work at the top of our game in every way, in order to maintain the Highlands and Islands as a fantastic destination.
We should be proud to recognise and reward our best tourism operators and that is what schemes like the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards are all about. I hope everyone will feel encouraged to highlight their own success stories by entering an award category this year.
Also, as it is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there may be a particular business or person you wish to nominate for the role they have played over the years towards building the region’s profile as a special destination experience.
The Highlands and Islands is thriving in 2017 as a great destination experience and we should continue to work hard and raise our game towards a very positive future.
Be proud to play your part and enter this year’s awards!