HITA - Winners

A Nessie hunter who has devoted half his life to searching for the elusive monster has been honoured by tourism leaders for helping promote Loch Ness to the world.

Steve Feltham, who this year marks 25 years as a full-time monster seeker, was named Ambassador of the Year at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA)

He was one of 16 award winners announced – from cafes to cruises and birdwatchers to B&Bs – in a record-breaking year.

HITA chairman Craig Ewan said: “Congratulations to all our worthy winners and finalists in another outstanding year. A record number of 203 entries and nominations demonstrated the high standards that have been set in this area and made the job of judging even harder than before.”

Steve Feltham’s fascination for the loch started during a family holiday in 1970 which included a visit to the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau, a team of volunteers who each summer set up a makeshift camp near Urquhart Castle.

In 1991, while in his 20s, he gave up his house and job in the family burglar alarm company in Dorset and moved to the Highlands to follow his dream. He settled at a spectacular location on the foreshore at the loch-side village of Dores, from where he has maintained his vigil, sustaining himself by making model monsters.

He has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Record for the longest continuous vigil hunting for the Loch Ness monster.

Steve’s name has become synonymous with the world-famous loch and he is a familiar figure with locals and visitors. Businesses around Loch Ness regard him as an asset to tourism and the awards organisers say he is a walking PR company for the promotion of Loch Ness as a tourist destination, having featured in countless media programmes and articles about Nessie and the area.

He said: “Winning this award makes me realise that what I’ve been doing for two and a half decades doesn’t just make my heart sing, it has a knock-on effect for the tourism industry in the Highlands of Scotland.”

The Ambassador title is a special award given by the HITA Board to an individual who ‘goes the extra mile’ in contributing to the success of tourism in the Highlands and Islands.

Craig Ewan said it was fitting to make the award in Steve’s 25th year at Loch Ness: “Our worthy winner has immersed himself in a narrative which has become as popular as the area, attracting over 1 million visitors annually and generating in excess of £30 million to the local economy.

“He has contributed to the legend and become part of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the world.  He has promoted the area all these years through countless television and media appearances, entertaining tourists and celebrities alike who have come to see the loch and purchase one of his hand-crafted model Nessies.”

The glittering event, held at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, was addressed by Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, who launched the awards in March.

Mr Ewing said: “The Highlands and Islands boast some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery and exciting events. The commitment and excellence of tourism operators in the Highlands and Islands is to be commended. These are skilled, knowledgeable and passionate people.

“It is their expertise and passion that will help Scotland continue to secure a competitive advantage in a truly global marketplace.”

Café Canna, the only café on the small and remote Hebridean island, was named Best Informal Eating Experience. The venue, situated 30 miles from the Scottish mainland, has become a destination of choice for holidaymakers and sailors and was praised for focusing on produce from around and about the West coast.

The Etape Loch Ness, a 66-mile cycle event around the famous waterway, starting and finishing in Inverness, was named Best Sporting Event. The Inver Restaurant, on the shores of Loch Fyne in Argyll, secured the Best Restaurant Experience title.

Judges voted the Oban Winter Festival, which features 80 events over ten days and which generated £1.3 million for the local economy last year, as Best Cultural Event or Festival, while Best Accommodation Provider was the Majestic Line, which operates tours of the west coast and Hebrides on three mini cruise ships from Dunoon. (A judges’ commendation was also given to Ardgour Estate in this category).

Mull Eagle Watch, a partnership organisation offering guided visits to view Britain’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, won the Innovation in Tourism Award and the island picked up another honour when MacGochans in Tobermory was named Friendliest Pub/Bar.

Two awards went to Skye, with the Most Hospitable Hotel category secured by Kinloch Lodge, a family-run hotel in Skye with a renowned restaurant that retained its Michelin Star for a sixth consecutive year. Go to St Kilda, which runs tourist trips from Uig to the UK’s only UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site and National Nature Reserve, won the Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience.

EcoVentures, which runs wildlife watching trips in the Moray Firth from Cromarty, was named as Best Visitor Attraction and The Grange, Fort William, was Most Hospitable B&B or Guest House.

Scotland’s Best B&Bs, a Nairn-based marketing group of four and five-star properties, won the Working Together for Tourism award, and Andrew Jones, from Highland Experience Tours, was named Tourism and Hospitality Hero.

Two outstanding emerging talents were chosen by the judges in the Highland Rising Star section. Jon Paul Saint, head chef at Links House at Royal Dornoch, was praised for being “tireless in his passion for excellence in fine dining”.  Rachael Gavan, an adventure consultant with Aviemore-based adventure holiday company Wilderness Scotland, was said to have “a clear passion for helping people, loves Scotland and her enthusiasm is infectious”.

Both will undertake a week-long Hospitality Industry Scotland scholarship to the oldest hotel school in the world, the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland.

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

HITA, which is run in association with SSE, is recognised as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland. The awards highlight and reward excellence throughout the sector which is worth more than £4.5 billion to the Scottish economy.

HITA is an industry-led project representing all sectors of tourism. It is overseen by a voluntary board of directors and the independent judging panel is drawn from experienced industry professionals working across the region.

This year’s sponsors also include VisitScotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Loch Ness by Jacobite, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, System2, Highland Council, NorthLink Ferries, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, the Eastgate Shopping Centre, Chivas Brothers, Scottish Provincial Press, Inverness Hotels Association, the Federation of Small Businesses, Calor, Macleod and MacCallum, Ritsons, J Thomson Colour Printers, Scottish

Winners and What the Judges Said

Best Accommodation Provider
The Majestic Line

For outstanding commitment and investment in the provision of a first-class accommodation experience where, despite the confines of space and the vagaries of our weather, the dedicated, skilled and knowledgeable crew provide a floating holiday base from which to showcase the very best of the Highlands and Islands. (judges’ commendation to Ardgour Estate)

Best Cultural Event or Festival
Oban Winter Festival

With 80 events over ten days, Oban Winter Festival showcases the capital of the West Highlands at its best. The opening weekend of the festival, which is held in late November, brings the town to life with bustling street markets, sell-out ceilidhs, a reindeer parade and all the fun of the fair. In 2011 volunteers agreed that the start of winter was no time to hibernate indoors. They liaised with businesses, charities and the community, to create this unique event, which last year brought in £1.3 million to the local economy. A great example of a local community working together to extend the tourism season to the benefit of all.

Best Informal Eating Experience
Café Canna

Cafe Canna has quickly become a destination of choice for those in the know. It is renowned for its original concept, working with what is available, focusing on produce from around and about the West coast.  (owners) Chris and Anna have strived to be authentic, working with partners who share their vision. It is a credit to them that they have achieved this in a relatively short amount of time.

Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience
Go To St Kilda

With customers coming from around the world, some coming to Scotland with the sole purpose of visiting St Kilda, Go to St Kilda is providing a major boost to tourism on Skye. It is no mean feat to attract guests to the far reaches of the Scottish Islands, take them out into the Atlantic and have customers who have travelled extensively around the world, comment that their day out to St Kilda has been one of the best days they have ever experienced. Go To St Kilda’s customer feedback proved conclusively that, no matter which corner of the Highlands and Islands you operate within, nor how far one has to travel to join your experience, if you have a great product, guests will find you and sing your praises to the rest of the world.

Best Restaurant Experience
Inver Restaurant

Inver Restaurant’s offerings are a celebration of Scotland’s larder; seasonal dishes served with a simplicity and flair that respects provenance and quality of ingredients. Clever, honest cooking where the food is the star. This truly is the destination restaurant in the region. Food is foraged, found, grown and sourced locally and made into something simple; beautiful to look at and eat. Inver Restaurant, a worthy winner of this year’s award, is a model, ‘modern Scottish restaurant’.  They source all of their main ingredients locally, using meat and fish from sustainable local farmers, fishermen and foragers.  They even pick some herbs and wild seaweeds themselves.  They are great contributors to their local community, enabling others to thrive along with them.

Best Sporting Event
Etape Loch Ness

This 360-deg2016-winners-pictures-linkree cycle has developed an iconic approach to viewing the beauty of Loch Ness. This experience has generated a high volume of participants, spectators and enhanced holiday goers to the area. An outstanding winner due to their dedication to delivering a unique and energetic event. This event generates a significant economic impact on the local area with statistical evidence of the positive effects this has had on the highlands. In only three years, participants have tripled, highlighting the growing popularity due to the great organisational skills shown by the Etape team.

Best Visitor Attraction

The VisitScotland 5-star Visitor Attraction has developed an authentic, sustainable and high quality wildlife watching experience while marketing Cromarty as a top tourism destination.  The judges were impressed by the collaboration with local businesses, leading to tours run by leading wildlife operators coming to the area. An outstanding winner in this section due to their focus and delivery of a 5-star visitor experience. Embracing social media to build an ongoing relationship with their customers has been a key focus in the last 12 months and investment in higher quality visitor clothing has also enabled them to extend their season.

Friendliest Pub/Bar

MacGochans is a very popular bar situated in Tobermory which has become the heart of this small community. Making sure that locals as well as passing visitors are well looked after seems to be the foundation of their customer service. This is one of the most important things for this vibrant establishment and says so much about how they value each person who visits.By holding regular live music evenings and events MacGochans try very hard to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere that involves everyone. Rewarding staff for receiving good service and customer feedback must also make for a friendly working environment.

Highland Rising Star                    

Each year the judges are impressed with the calibre and emerging talent of the young people who come before them.  As Rising Stars they are the future of our industry and show commitment and passion, encouraging their peers while striving to make the Highlands and Islands a world class destination.  This year we have had outstanding applicants and have two winners

Jon Paul Saint is head chef at Links House at Royal Dornoch, previously gaining experience with Albert Roux both in Scotland and France.  He is wholly responsible for menu creation, and came across as very confident, always searching for innovative ideas to enhance his customer’s experience.   He has great enthusiasm, encouraging others to achieve the highest standards and looking up to him as a rising star in the industry.           Jon Paul Saint is tireless in his passion for excellence in fine dining. He shows a depth of ability and maturity beyond his years, receiving excellent reviews, and his customers are enticed back time and again, always taking account of special dietary requirements and never compromising on quality.

Rachael Gavan, an adventure consultant with Wilderness Scotland, gained experience in a ski resort in Canada before joining Wilderness Scotland over three years ago. She is a great ambassador for Scotland and the Highlands in particular, setting a high standard of customer service. She is currently designing a programme to offer work experience to young people to allow them to understand different aspects of adventure tourism and encourage them to pursue a career in tourism in Scotland. Rachael Gavan has a clear passion for helping people, loves Scotland and her enthusiasm is infectious, clients quickly becoming friends who go home and tell of their wonderful experience encouraging more visitors to her beloved homeland.

Innovation in Tourism Award
ull Eagle Watch

The success of Mull Eagle Watch involves many partners to create one of the UK’s most high profile wildlife attractions, featuring Mull’s majestic white-tailed eagles. It is the mix of involvement with organisations, communities – human and digital – that impressed the judges and raising money for local causes. Congratulations to the Mull and Iona Community Trust for the Mull Eagle Watch. For creating and sustaining one of the United Kingdom’s most high profile wildlife attractions. Working across the community with public and private sector groups, engaging with schools, residents, social media channels, Mull Eagle Watch goes from strength to strength – creating a destination in its own right.

Most Hospitable B&B or Guest House
The Grange

This sets a new standard for this sector in the 21st century. Not only are they great hosts but the level of passion and attention to detail is obvious to all that stay there. This is a labour of love and it shows. The Hobbit House is a revelation and shows a creative use of each and every space available. They are creative, unique and deliver quality customer experiences. A cosy “Victorian townhouse with its toes in the country” surrounded by scenic beauty, this is a 5-star customer experience by right, and a worthy winner.

Most Hospitable Hotel
Kinloch Lodge

This long established historic family run hotel and Michelin starred restaurant on Skye boasts a still fast growing business which has enjoyed a near 50 per cent increase in its revenues through collaborative working with other Skye-based businesses embracing a stronger together ethos. Kinloch Lodge holds many national and UK awards, notably retaining its Michelin Star for a sixth consecutive year, and continually focuses on its service and the all-important return guest. The former home of Lord and Lady MacDonald has clearly entered a new phase of its development to carry it through well into the 21st Century.  It focuses on its marketing network and merchandising to massively increase its revenue and subsequent profitability through creativity and innovative programmes, whilst still maintaining its rigorous determination to deliver a world class guest experience.

Tourism and Hospitality Hero
Andrew Jones, Highland Experience Tours

There’s little doubt our country and hospitality industry needs more people like Andrew Jones. The customers love the man as much as the man loves the job, an unbeatable combination. Providing a worthwhile service and the perfect example that our tourism and hospitality industry can be a worthwhile career with lots of job satisfaction.    Highland Experience Tours have the “real deal” in Andrew, not frightened to dream, or be himself.  Perfectly suited with equal amounts of passion and compassion, you must be a natural at the job when customers say they “they feel they’ve been driving with their favourite uncle”

Working Together for Tourism
Scotland’s Best B&Bs

Scotland’s Best B&Bs is a marketing group of four and five star properties with over 20 years of experience promoting quality accommodation across the country. A network of diverse skills, member B&Bs work in synthesis to share the specialised industry knowledge necessary in upholding a quality service. Scotland’s Best B&Bs enjoy a loyal, shared client base, increasingly serviced by a new website.Scotland’s Best B&B’s portrayal of the private sector working together is indeed strong and inspiring. The support network for all members allows each company the opportunity to make the most of new technology, whilst maintaining the trust of a loyal customer base. This marketing group is a hub of support and information for businesses and customers looking for a worthwhile experience in Scotland.

Highland Ambassador of the Year
Steve Feltham

Steve Feltham has promoted tourism at Loch Ness for the last 25 years, having arrived in 1991 on the back of the very first video diary from BBC called “Desperately Seeking Nessie”.  He has survived on the shores of Loch Ness in a converted mobile library, making model monsters on stones from the beach for all these years.

He has taken part in hundreds of television programmes and documentaries, thousands of magazine articles and is a ‘walking PR company’ for the promotion of Loch Ness as a tourist destination.


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