With a record number of businesses vying for the coveted piper trophies, judging the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards this year has been harder than ever.
The nine judges submitted their scoring today having scrutinised 190 entries in 15 categories over the last nine weeks. Our final meeting on 3 September will determine this year’s shortlist to be announced on 18 September.
The number of entries and nominations has been boosted this year with the inclusion of part of Argyll, but even without the boundary change the figure is nearly 40 per cent up on 2014, giving the judges an onerous task in deciding the finalists.
It’s an enormous responsibility and no one should under-estimate the time it takes to read, analyse and compare so many entries. Credit is due to the judges for the time they devote to this, especially during such a busy period for their own businesses.
It is, however, an extremely rewarding task. I can honestly say the standard has never been higher and it is hugely encouraging to see so many dedicated and talented people involved in our industry providing such good service to our visitors.
So how are businesses judged? The overarching theme for the HITA and Scottish Thistle Awards is ‘the customer experience’, so we are not looking for who is the biggest, or has spent the most money, but who gives the best experience.
Our judges have been drawn from across the Highlands to represent a variety of geographical locations as well as different aspects of the tourism sector.
Each judge views around 60 entries online and will apply a score to each. In addition they can use personal knowledge, contact peers for further information and can also take into account websites and trip advisor results.
Our meeting on 3 September will formalise the positioning. We could have – and this has happened previously – a tie after the judges scoring and that’s when the debate starts!
Many of us on the judging panel have won HITA or other awards so we know how important winning, or even making the shortlist, can be. That is why we have been – and will be – so dutiful in our deliberations.