Tag: Adventure



A small island music festival almost wrecked by storms this summer has blown away the opposition to win a major tourism award.

During this year’s Tiree Music Festival more than 1,000 people had to be evacuated from the site because of strong winds. A huge response from the community and local businesses helped find shelter for festival-goers in schools, the island airport and people’s homes so the event was able to continue.
The festival, which attracted a sell-out 1,700 audience – more than three times the island population – has been voted Best Cultural Event or Festival at the prestigious annual Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.

And in a double success for the island, the Tiree Wave Classic windsurfing event also won HITA’s new Best Sporting Event category,

The awards were presented last night (13 November) by Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, at a glittering ceremony in the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness.

In all,15 tourism businesses and individuals were crowned winners at the event which was hosted by celebrity chef Tony Singh.

Mr Ewing said:
The Highlands and Islands boast some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and exciting events and these awards recognise the wealth of experience, the commitment and excellence of tourism operators in the region.

I commend the hard work and commitment of everyone who extends a warm welcome and high standard of service to Scotland’s visitors. While Tiree in particular can celebrate a deserved double win, I congratulate all of this year’s winners and send best wishes for a long, enjoyable and worthwhile career in tourism and hospitality.
Tiree is just 12 miles long and three miles wide with a population of about 650. Its two major events have become significant economic drivers and attract thousands of visitors to the island.

The Tiree Music Festival, which started in 2010, has grown steadily over the years and is known as one of the most family-friendly in the UK. This year tickets sold out within five hours of going on sale with a line-up that included The Fratellis, We Banjo 3, Skerryvore and Manran.

The event was put in doubt when strong winds meant the entire festival campsite had to be evacuated after revellers’ tents were blown away. But organisers ensured the show went on after campers were given alternative accommodation and conditions improved the following day.

The HITA judges said of the festival:
The tiny, seemingly inaccessible Isle of Tiree has overcome local constraints to build its annual music festival into an incredible, cultural event which brings economic benefits to the community, highlights traditional and contemporary music and makes imaginative use of sponsorship. It is a worthy winner that has enhanced the overall visitor experience.

This year the festival faced unprecedented weather conditions which could have forced it to be abandoned. However, a truly remarkable effort by the organisers and the island community ensured it not just recovered but flourished in the following days.
Tiree Wave Classic is the longest running professional windsurfing event in the world. Founded in 1986, it showcases the best of the UK’s windsurfing talent, ranging from juniors to World Cup professional windsurfers.

Calum Ross, proprietor of the Loch Melfort Hotel, Oban, and Chairman of the British Hospitality Association Scotland, was chosen as HITA’s 2015 Ambassador of the Year.

Calum was described by the HITA board as someone with a quiet and unassuming manner but with a strong sense of leadership and great integrity.

Young Ambassador of the Year is Kyle Beattie, a trainee instructor with outdoor activity business Boots N Paddles, based in Kirkhill, near Inverness.

HITA judges voted Torrisdale Castle Estate in Kintyre as Best Holiday Accommodation. The self-catering properties on Kintyre’s east coast provide accommodation for groups of between two and 10 people. The estate is also used as a spectacular wedding venue.

The award for Best Informal Eating Experience went to the popular Mountain Café in Aviemore, and the Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience title was taken by Portree-based Skye Adventure which offers guided walking and climbing trips.

The Ninth Wave Restaurant in Mull was voted Best Restaurant Experience. Opened in 2009, the restaurant lies on a traditional croft and uses local produce including seafood, meat, cheese and herbs.

The Best Visitor Attraction title was won by the Aberlour Distillery, in Speyside, which offers a choice of three bespoke tours and tastings, and Friendliest Pub/Bar went to the Applecross Inn, in Wester Ross.

The five-star Ardtorna bed and breakfast in Oban was named Most Hospitable B&B /Guest House and the family-run Kylesku Hotel in Sutherland was chosen as Most Hospitable Hotel.

A new Innovation Award went to the North Highland Initiative. The initiative was established in 2005 as a result of Prince Charles’ involvement in bringing together the farming community, local businesses and the tourism industry in a management and marketing partnership to address challenges facing rural communities in the far north of Scotland.

The key tourism project which NHI is currently working on is The North Coast 500, a northern coastal road route, designed to attract visitors to the Northern Highlands.

This year’s HITA Hospitality Hero is Emma Clark from Glenegedale House in Islay. Emma and her husband Graeme took over the hotel from her parents in 2013 and have since won a number of awards.

The Tourism Everyone’s Business category has been won by Inverness-based WOW Scotland Tours which specialises in providing fully customised private tours from Inverness and Invergordon.

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

Some 190 businesses and individuals entered or were nominated for this year’s HITA awards and 44 were named on the shortlist last month.

Marina Huggett, Chair of HITA, said:

Well done to all this year’s winners who are all outstanding in their categories. The record number of entries and nominations we received this year and the exceptionally high standards throughout the contest made it extremely difficult for the judges to pick winners.

Those who came out on top are deserving champions, but all those who entered or were nominated are worthy ambassadors of the Highlands and Islands and this key industry.

We know from speaking to individuals that the HITA awards help raise standards and encourage businesses to push the boundaries of quality, which can only be good for our visitors and the area.
Scott Armstrong, VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Manager, said:
I would like to congratulate this year’s winners on their respective awards. Tourism businesses in the Highlands and Islands have once again made their mark, with a number of outstanding finalists spread right across these regions. The awards send a strong message that the tourism industry in the Highlands and Islands is diverse, high-quality and in good health.

I’m thrilled at the successes of so many excellent businesses and individuals, and I’m already crossing my fingers they’ll deliver more Highlands and Islands glory at the Scottish Thistle Awards finals in March next year.
Useful Links

Facebook – www.facebook.com/Highlands.and.Islands.Tourism.Awards
Twitter – @HiTourismAwards



The iconic Scottish Open golf trophy will go on show at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards next week ahead of the European Tour event’s return to the region in 2016, organisers have revealed.
Both HITA and Scottish Open organisers declared it a fitting centrepiece for this year’s awards as the silver trophy takes the form of a Scottish quaich – a historic symbol of welcome and hospitality.

It will be on display at the HITA ceremony on Friday, 13 November at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness as part of the build up to the 2016 Scottish Open from 7-10 July at Castle Stuart Golf Links, one of the biggest visitor events for the region next year.

This year’s awards, which attracted a record number of entries and nominations, will be presented by Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing.

Mr Ewing said:
The Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is a major event which brings huge rewards for tourism and the economy. I am delighted this prestigious event is returning to Castle Stuart, where it has been an enormous success previously, as the benefits will be felt across the north of the country.

2015 has been an exciting and successful year for tourism in the Highlands and Islands, as the unprecedented entry demonstrates, and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open is just one reason to look forward to a great 2016.
Marina Huggett, Chair of HITA, said:
Our awards ceremony allows us to celebrate and reward the best in the industry over the last year. But we will also be looking forward to next year and the opportunities to improve further.

The Scottish Open will bring thousands of people to the area and the exposure we get from media coverage will promote the area across the world and benefit us for many years to come.

Having the Scottish Open trophy at the awards ceremony gives us an added attraction on the night, but also reminds us of the importance of this event for tourism operators and other businesses in the north of Scotland.
Robert Gordon, Head of European Tour Tickets and Commercial Director, Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, added:
We are delighted to bring the Scottish Open trophy to such a prestigious event and we look forward to working with the tourism industry to maximise benefits from the Scottish Open next year.
Friday’s ceremony is the culmination of HITA’s 2015 awards campaign, which was launched in April by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, and is run in association with SSE.

The event, to be hosted by celebrity chef Tony Singh, will see winners announced in 15 categories.

The contest’s area was extended to include part of Argyll this year, but even without the boundary change the number of entries and nominations was nearly 40 per cent up on 2014.

The Scottish Open, sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management and the Scottish Government, will be held at Castle Stuart in 2016 for the fourth time in six years.

More than 65,000 people attended the event in 2013 when it was last held at the course near Inverness and it is hoped attendances will top 70,000 next year.

In 2011 a Highlands and Islands Enterprise economic impact study showed the event and pre-tournament Pro-Am helped contribute more than £5 million to the Scottish economy, including £4 million to the Highlands and Islands.

Golf tourism is a major contributor to Scotland’s economy and is estimated to be worth close to £220 million annually, with forecasts of reaching £300 million by the end of the decade.

The current Scottish Open trophy was first played for in 2011 when Luke Donald won the event at Castle Stuart. Since then Jeev Milkha Singh, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler have all collected the much sought-after cup.







By Caroline Mitchell, Visitor Centres Manager, Chivas Brothers.
This year Chivas Brothers is sponsoring the Best Cultural Event or Festival category at the HITA awards. As a key player and major supporter of tourism in the Highlands and Islands, we are proud to be backing the awards for a sixth successive year.

We have four whisky distilleries in the HITA area – Strathisla, The Glenlivet and Aberlour, in Speyside, and at Scapa in Orkney which opened to the public for the first time in its 130-year history.

These centres make a valuable contribution to the local economies and to the tourism industry in general. In the year until the end of June 2015, more than 76,000 people visited the four distilleries and spent over £2.5 million.

Across Scotland generally, whisky distilleries are attracting more visitors from the UK and abroad than ever before. Some 1.5 million people called at visitor centres in 2014, a rise of six per cent on the previous year and 15 per cent on 2010, according to a survey by the Scotch Whisky Association.

The importance of this market is demonstrated by the fact visitors to distilleries spent £50 million last year on tours and in shops and cafes, up from £27 million in 2010.

With these significant figures in mind, we are constantly improving facilities to make sure our visitors have the best possible experience in the Highlands and Islands when learning about our national drink and the people who help make it.

And we know what it takes to win a prestigious piper trophy. In 2013 the Glenlivet Visitor Centre picked up a HITA in the Best Visitor Attraction category, eventually going on to win the national Thistle Award .

The HITAs are fitting rewards for everyone who promotes tourism and helps raise standards for our visits guests and we wish everyone success this year.



Our company is proud to have been a sponsor of the HITA’s every year since we first opened our Inverness customer service office to serve the North of Scotland in 2008.
For us, it’s a great way to support this industry and help showcase the innovation, hard work and attention to detail that make it so special.

The HITAs enable the Highland tourism sector to highlight and celebrate the many success stories that come from within this diverse and exciting industry, and we have never ceased to be impressed by the high calibre of nominations and the imagination and creativity which is continually displayed.

Across Scotland as a whole the tourism sector is important to J Thomson Colour Printers, and this is especially true of the Highlands, where it supports so much of our economy. We supply many attractions, accommodation providers and government bodies associated with tourism with high quality marketing collateral, which is a critical element of delivering the visitors who are the lifeblood of any enterprise.

Tourism will always play an important role in the Highland economy, where we and our customer businesses continually strive to improve our collective offerings.

The HITA’s provide a unique industry platform whereby success in this process can be shared, acknowledged and learned from.



Freda Newton, managing director, Jacobite Cruises Ltd

Ceud Mìle Fàilte, the traditional Gaelic greeting of One Hundred Thousand Welcomes, is particularly apt for Loch Ness by Jacobite. Each year, our crews welcome that many people to the Highlands and help them experience one of Scotland’s greatest visitor attractions.

We have been doing this for 40 years, during which time tourism, and the provision of services for visitors, has improved significantly in this area.

The raising of standards is noticeable in the growth of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards and the record number of entries and nominations received this year in a variety of different areas.

Jacobite has been proud winners of a HITA award and has also sponsored individual categories in the annual contest, including Best Visitor Attraction this year.

We feel it is important to encourage other operators to enter the awards and to keep raising the bar and promote our excellent visitor attractions in the Highlands.

Winning an award gives employees a great sense of pride in their product and the knowledge that what they are achieving and contributing is recognised by their peers. It inspires everyone to improve further which benefits all concerned, particularly our visitors.

When we at Jacobite won a HITA award, everyone wanted then to be successful in the national awards which we were fortunate to do. I hope many of our award winners this year will find success at a national level also as a reward for their hard work and to further demonstrate the level of quality we have in the Highlands and Islands’ tourism sector.





A quality visitor experience is one of the key elements underpinning the economy of the Highlands and Islands, where small but ambitious businesses dominate the tourism sector.

The Federation of Small Businesses provides a wide range of support and networking services to many such companies, and our sponsorship for the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards also reflects the importance we attach to constantly encouraging excellence and innovation.

The awards provide an invaluable source of recognition- and a stimulus for increased cohesion in the tourism industry- and they have created a reference point with terrific examples for aspiring industry players.

Around 25 per cent of the FSB’s 20,000-strong Scottish membership is in this sector and its wellbeing is therefore of the greatest interest to us. Last summer, we published the most comprehensive report ever undertaken on Scotland’s small tourism businesses: “Eating, Sleeping, Shopping, Doing – Small Businesses and the Scottish Tourism Strategy.”

The report demonstrated their largely under-recognised degree of ambition, energy and drive, together with their positive growth trend and further prospects, and the fact that they are particularly concentrated in rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands.

Our conclusions from this work included the fact that, though largely self-reliant and highly self-motivated, these businesses can benefit from more joined-up public support, to help address growth barriers including energy costs, transport infrastructure and, most important of all, blanket fast broadband and mobile phone coverage

There remains a need for a more concerted overall approach to tourism development but HITA demonstrates how well our tourism businesses contribute. It shows they are more than capable of performing at very high standards and benefiting the economy through surpassing customer expectations to generate the revenues and profits required for sustainability and further growth.




Winning a HITA, and progressing to participate in the Scottish Thistle Awards, is a badge of honour and something tourism businesses are rightly proud to be associated with.

Success here demonstrates not only peer recognition of excellence and innovation but it also provides a public recommendation that businesses are doing something special when it comes to welcoming visitors.

Leading lights from the Highlands and Islands are sought out and celebrated through HITA and the entire process – from HITA nominations to the fantastic regional final and the glittering grand Scottish Thistle Awards finale – is a celebration of what is one of our most important industries.

Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it creates jobs, sustains communities and contributes billions of pounds to the Scottish economy.

That’s why we often talk about tourism being everybody’s business. We can all play a part in growing, enhancing and promoting our industry and that’s a role that the HITA organisation, with its board of directors and judges representing many decades of successful tourism experience between them, is helping to fulfil by example and with style.



Freda Newton, chair of HITA judging panel

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.




A voluntary organisation that supports children and their families coping with life-shortening conditions has been selected as the charity beneficiary of the 2015 Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA).

Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) assists over 350 families with specialist care across the country, including home care services from a base in Inverness.

HITA Chair Marina Huggett said: “Our board selected CHAS for the unique work done by its staff and volunteers through nursing care, practical help and emotional support, and providing Scotland’s only dedicated hospice services in Scotland for children and young people who have incurable life-shortening conditions.

Here in the north of Scotland, the CHAS at Home team also organises fun gatherings for groups of families, which reflects the organisation’s very flexible approach to helping during times of extreme emotional and other demands, and we are delighted to provide some help for the organisation’s invaluable role.
Each year, HITA identifies a different charity to receive funds to be raised at its November awards dinner that celebrates excellence in tourism activities including hospitality, dining, adventure activities, events and visitor service innovations.  Last year, the association donated £2,250 to the Parkinson’s UK research programme.

CHAS operates through its two hospices, Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire – and also through CHAS at Home which has teams working from both hospices as well as dedicated teams in Inverness and Aberdeen, caring for families in their own homes when they need it most.

Angela Cran, CHAS Fundraiser in Inverness, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards board has selected CHAS as its charity at this year’s event. Our home care team based in Inverness travels all over the Highlands and Islands and provides a lifeline to families as far away as the Western Isles. This is a wonderful opportunity to tell people about the fantastic work our team is doing every day.”

CHAS services are free and are funded mainly through a large number of fund-raising supporters who help to raise the £9 million it needs each year.

Website –

Facebook – www.facebook.com/Highlands.and.Islands.Tourism.Awards~
Twitter – @HiTourismAwards




With an all-time record number of 2015 entries now received, and HITA’s seasoned tourism industry judges getting to work on this year’s particularly tough task of picking winners, there’s an opportunity to reflect briefly on our work and its impacts.

Participation has grown steadily over five years and it’s particularly gratifying to see 190 entries and nominations received this year. This total was boosted with the inclusion of part of Argyll, but even without the boundary change the figure is nearly 40 per cent up on 2014.

Clearly, the awards not only highlight the burgeoning talent and innovation we have here in this area, but they also provide a reward – and a longstanding badge of excellence – for those who work long and hard to provide excellent service and to enhance the visitor experience.

In addition, so many entrants tell us that even the process of entering helps them take a fresh look at the quality, customer perspectives and other aspects of their operations, finding a perspective which is all too often constrained by the day to day demands of business life.

The wider benefits we hear about include the team-boosting effects of competing for and winning professional recognition. In fact, the ‘halo effect’ of receiving HITA awards is also known to extend more widely to local communities, who enjoy having winners in their midst and become a stronger force for customer recommendations and promotion.

The HITA gala evening itself provides a lively networking and mutual learning event for short-listed entrants, and a less-recognised spin-off is its record of fund-raising for charities.

Last year, HITA donated £2,250 to the Parkinson’s UK research programme and previous recipients include Alzheimer Scotland, Birchwood Highland and the Archie Foundation. Very shortly, we will be announcing the 2015 charity to be supported.

HITA has become a positive and progressive force for good amongst our tourism businesses and our communities. For this, there are many people to thank – including our backbone of sponsors, directors, judges and other supporters – and our rapidly-growing numbers of nominators and entrants.

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