Freda Newton, chair of HITA judging panel

The growing success of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards means that the task of judging gets harder each year.

Freda Newton

In 2015, we had nearly 180 entries to scrutinise in a record-breaking year. However, we have surpassed that figure this year with an incredible 203 entries across 15 categories.

We now have to set about the task of determining the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s sporting and musical culture, as well as those special individuals who deserve to be recognised for their efforts in promoting and developing tourism in this area.

Such is the task this year we have brought in three new judges to the panel, meaning we will now have 13 available to cope with the increased numbers. They have been drawn from across the Highlands and Islands to represent a variety of geographical locations as well as different aspects of the tourism sector.

While it is a huge responsibility for us all, it is also enormously rewarding. We get to know these businesses and individuals better and understand what they have done and continue to do to improve the customer experience. It also lets us appreciate more the hard work, dedication and innovation needed to succeed at this level.

To give an idea of the task we face this year, there are 28 entries under Best Accommodation Provider and 23 in the Best Visitor Attraction category. More than 50 entries to consider in just two categories means a lot of work for the judges. But it also demonstrates the strength of competition so the eventual winners will have really earned their title.

Over the coming weeks, we will examine all these entries and start forming opinions on who our winners could be, with each judge marking the entries independently online. The fun really starts when we meet on 13th September when the collated results allow us to decide on the shortlist for each category and our winners.

I expect a full-on discussion as we try to reach a consensus, taking into account all information to hand, including personal knowledge and data gleaned from contacts, websites and trip advisor results.

We have set a deadline of 16th September to reach our decisions and they will be announced on 30th September.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to enter and Good Luck to all.

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