Tag: Awards



Businesses and individuals are being urged to register their nominations and entries for the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards with the deadlines just days away.

The annual tourism ‘Oscars’, which were launched in March, will celebrate and honour the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s sporting and musical culture.

This year 16 awards will be presented, with an additional category added, Best Heritage Tourism Experience, to mark Scotland’s themed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. 

Friday, 23 June is the closing date for nominations in three categories – Tourism and Hospitality Hero, Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador.

The deadline for entries in all categories is Friday, 30 June.

To nominate a deserving business or individual, or enter your own business without being nominated, visit the HITA website www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk

The awards scheme, which is held in association with SSE, is free and is open to people operating in the Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Argyll & Bute (excluding G postcode areas) local authority areas.

Last year, 203 businesses or individuals entered or were nominated for awards, the biggest ever response in the event’s history.

Craig Ewan, the HITA chairman, said: “The number of entries and nominations registered to date is extremely strong and I am hopeful of at least matching last year’s record-breaking total.

“As the deadlines approach, I want to encourage everyone working in tourism and providing excellent service to our visitors to take part in the awards to ensure they have a chance to win one of these sought-after trophies.

“Recognising best practice helps maintain high standards in the industry, while inspiring innovation and improvement.”

HITA is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland, where the tourism sector is worth more than £4.5 billion to the economy.

Winners will receive the famous piper trophies at a ceremony in the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, on Friday,3 November and (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

Rebecca Brooks, chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel, said: “The Scottish Thistle Awards is a chance to celebrate those who work tirelessly to ensure that all visitors, whether from Scotland or further afield, enjoy a truly memorable experience.

“Tourism is more than a holiday experience, it creates jobs and sustains communities. I’m delighted that these awards continue to recognise the shining lights within our industry.

“This year marks a very special anniversary for the Scottish Thistles Awards, it is our 25th anniversary. In that time, we have recognised the dedication, talent and success of over 350 winners and this year is no exception.

“We would urge all our fantastic tourism businesses to go online, find out what category or categories they think best represents them and enter.”



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!



Kirsten Gilmour owner & head chef of the Mountain café Aviemore.
Winning a HITA title was the icing on the cake for our business.

My main vision when opening the café was literally to make very sexy café food using Scottish ingredients adding a Kiwi twist. I was not a businesswoman; I was just a very young passionate chef, who was full of ego and a non-stop energy to please my customers.
I was 26 when I held the keys to the Mountain café for the first time, 12 years ago. I was a chef de partie, I had never run a kitchen, never been a boss and had no idea even what gross profit was. It was one very steep learning curve.
I never imagined the café would become the success it has grown into. I thought I was opening a small lifestyle café in the Highlands of Scotland. I dreamt I would have a small team that would be like a big family.
I now employ 21 people and we serve roughly of 70,000 people a year.
People ask me all the time how did I do it, how did I take a run down tearoom and turn it into an award winning café? Hard graft, determination and pure stubbornness!
I always take on board what our customers have to say, I use their comments and feedback all the time to find our where we need to change and adapt the café.
I am still learning everyday about my business and I am still working hard at improving the experience for our customers.
In 2014 we won our first award “Best Café in Scotland” at the Scottish baking awards. It was such an achievement for our team and for me; it made all those never-ending nights in the early days baking and refusing to buy bought in cakes worth it.
Then in 2015, I received a letter saying we had been nominated for Best Informal Eating Experience at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.  I was so honoured and surprised to get as far as nomination.
I was in New Zealand at the time of the awards and we sent our manager Claire and sous chef Laura. I was half way up a hill on my bike when they phoned and I was completely stunned. I was standing in this incredible forest in the Marlborough sounds on the other side of the world, trying to take in we had won this huge award. They were so excited and screaming down the phone ‘we won, we won, we won’.
I was so proud and so chuffed they were getting this huge pat on the back. It was one of the proudest moments of my whole time at the café.
Going through the HITA process made us realise how many exceptional businesses there are around the Highlands and Islands. It was a really inspirational process for our team and it definitely inspired us to keep improving all aspects of the café.
It was great to sit around a table with a group of hard working individuals and have a night off celebrating the hard work, sweat and tears that we all put into our businesses.
We have had an incredible start to 2017 with The Mountain Café Cookbook hitting the shelves. I am very proud of the book, it was published in Scotland by a small independent publisher called Kitchen Press, our photographer is Aviemore-based and our Illustrator comes from Cromdale. The books were printed in Glasgow.
Again, it is everything I am staunch about – made locally, using local ingredients, Scottish artists and it heavily features recipes and stories from our team past and present.
I believe you can make anything in life happen if you believe in it enough. Winning a HITA award has inspired us to push for even greater success. It is an important part of our story and it could be part of yours too, so get those entries in.



By Rebecca Brooks, VisitScotland Board Member and Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel.
After a hugely successful 2016/17 Scottish Thistle Awards, highlighting the fantastic work of the tourism and hospitality sector across the length and breadth of the country, we are now embracing the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

The year will celebrate both our tangible and intangible heritage – everything from our buildings and archaeological sites to our diverse stories, traditions and culture – which will both involve and inspire the tourism sector.
In addition, this year’s theme will be reflected by the introduction of a Best Heritage Tourism Experience category.
It is appropriate that in the year which looks to Scotland’s past, the Scottish Thistle Awards marks its own historical milestone. For a quarter of a century, the excellence, innovation and tireless work that goes into creating a world class visitor experience in Scotland has been recognised by the tourism industry with the annual awards.
The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA), now in their 13th year, play a crucial role within this historical movement by not only being a regional heat for the Scottish Thistle Awards National Final but also reflecting the importance of customer experience in the region.
To receive a HITA nomination is a huge honour and something that those select few should be proud of and share with visitors and the industry. Past recipients such as Scotland’s Best B&B, Mull Eagle Watch, Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre, Hebridean Celtic Festival and Eilean Donan Castle, reveal the real strength and depth of quality that the Highlands and Islands has to offer.
Each year, the awards continue to grow in strength, and we look forward to a bumper competition in 2017 following last year’s record-setting number of entries – and the chance for Highlands and Islands businesses to make their own history in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.



Mike Seaton, SSE Director of Generation Development
SSE is delighted to support for the Highlands and Islands Tourism awards for a fifth consecutive year.

Since we started as lead sponsors of the awards in 2013 we have been excited to see the event go from strength to strength.
With increases in both the number of nominations, as well as demand for tickets to come along to one of the highlights in the industry’s calendar, it’s fair to say that being nominated for this event is a prestigious accolade.
These awards recognise excellence and promote and celebrate the high business standards consistently seen across the Highlands and Islands. After 2016’s record breaking year for nominations, I’m looking forward to seeing the quality and calibre of this year’s winners and their fellow nominees who demonstrate yet again that business, talent and innovation are thriving in this region.
Energy and tourism are two of the most important sectors in the Highland and Islands economy and SSE is committed to continuing to work together and learn from each other as industries.
As a responsible operator and developer of renewable energy we are committed to working with local communities, to provide local jobs, support the supply chain and local businesses, and to contribute to a successful and sustainable future for the region.
For example, and in conjunction with our project partners, we have already started work on the Beatrice Offshore wind farm, one of the largest ever private investments in Scottish infrastructure.
We are looking to make a positive and sustainable impact on the communities close to the project by hiring locally and offering supply chain opportunities for local businesses, where possible.
One aspect of the project is restoring the iconic Thomas Telford buildings on Wick’s harbour quay for our operations and maintenance base.
We are also delighted to have recently opened a brand new visitor centre at Pitlochry Dam – which will be a major tourism attraction for the area. Although slightly out of the HITA region we extend an open invitation to everyone to see it for themselves.
Here’s to celebrating another successful year for the Highlands and Islands Tourism industry.



Craig Ewan, Chair of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards
After a record-breaking year in 2016, we have a clear target to surpass to continue the progress of HITA this year.
A fantastic 203 businesses or individuals entered or were nominated for awards last year, the biggest ever response in the event’s history.
I was very proud to have chaired the event in 2016 and I am determined to keep the success and momentum going as we launch this year’s search for the best in the industry.
HITA is highly regarded within the industry as one of the premier awards programmes and our iconic piper trophies are much sought after. They are a symbol of excellence, a sign of quality for visitors and a reward for staff who have achieved a significant standard of service.
Of course, winning is the ultimate goal, but we are reminded every year by businesses and individuals that entering can be an important milestone for them. It encourages a re-assessment of what they are doing and why, stimulates them to raise the bar even higher and prompts innovation to stay ahead in a highly competitive sector.
I am grateful for the hard work and dedication shown by the HITA board, which is made up of industry volunteers who give their time and energy because of their continuing desire to improve tourism in this area.
We are all delighted to have SSE back as a headline sponsor once again. On behalf of all the board I would like to thank SSE for the outstanding job they do in supporting and promoting tourism in this area. It is extremely rewarding to have such an enthusiastic sponsor with whom we work so well.
I also want to thank all our other sponsors who make the awards programme and our prestigious ceremony possible. This year we welcome aboard two new supporters in Historic Environment Scotland and BidFood Scotland and we are grateful for their efforts to help HITA build on our success.
As usual, we will be searching for the best in all aspects of our industry, from food and drink to accommodation and from cultural events to adventure holidays.
This year, in line with Scotland’s themed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we have introduced a new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience. It’s hard to imagine an area better suited than the Highlands and Islands to excel in this category with our strong links to the Gaelic language, our wealth of ancient sites and our fascinating and colourful traditions. I expect this category to produce some wonderful entries and a hard-fought competition.
It will be another major challenge this year for our judges, but one that we are all looking forward to immensely.
Whoever succeeds in November, they will be worthy representatives of the Highlands and Islands and our proud industry. And it is fantastic that they go on the represent the area and go head-to-head with others from across the country to celebrate excellence in Scotland at the national Thistle Awards.
Good luck everyone



The Scottish Government has praised the work of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards for helping to raise standards of excellence in the industry as this year’s search begins to find the industry’s leading stars.

The 2017 HITA scheme was launched at the Great Loch Ness Tea Party, an event to celebrate the future of the local tourism industry in collaboration with students of the Inverness College UHI hospitality department.

Pic caption: HITA chair Craig Ewan (seated centre) with HITA board members Marina Huggett (left) and Lorna Maclennan and Inverness College UHI students (left to right) Edward Holmes, Adam Nicolson and Lewis Mapplebeck

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop declared her support for HITA in a message to the awards organisers.

She said: “Tourism is a vital and growing economic mainstay of the Highlands and Islands, supporting some 30,000 jobs and generating vital substantial revenue, and the industry’s reach into every corner of the area means that tourism is everybody’s business.

“The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards highlight the very best businesses and individuals who go beyond normal standards to ensure superb visitor experiences, whether through hospitality, catering, events, activities or other pioneering industry work.”

Now in their 13th year, the awards celebrate excellence across all sectors of the industry in the Highlands and Islands. Last year, 203 businesses or individuals entered or were nominated for awards, the biggest ever response in the event’s history.

HITA chair Craig Ewan said: “Tourism operators have to constantly improve, develop and innovate to stay ahead in a highly-competitive industry. HITA does the same to ensure we reward the very best and promote the fantastic work being done by people across our region to provide excellent service for our guests.

“Last year was our most successful in terms of entries and nominations and we aim to build on that success to involve even more businesses and individuals who deserve to be recognised.”

HITA, which is run in association with SSE, is recognised as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland, where the tourism sector is worth more than £4.5 billion to the economy.

The famous piper trophies will be awarded in 16 categories, with winners going on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

This year, in line with Scotland’s themed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there is a new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience.

Nominations and entries can be made from today via the HITA website www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk

Nominations close on 23 June and the entries deadline is 30 June. The event will culminate in a grand ceremony for finalists at the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, on 3 November.



Ken Macaulay credits the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland charity with helping him get his life back and in return has assisted in giving the organisation a funding tonic.

Acting on Ken’s suggestion, £2647.50 raised at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) in November is being donated to CHSS, which improves the quality of life for people recovering from life threatening illness across Scotland.

Ken, who has been a board member of HITA since their inception in 2003, was indebted to the support received from CHSS when he suffered a stroke two and a half years ago.

He said: “It was an obvious choice for me. CHSS is a very important and worthwhile charity which supports so many people. When someone has a stroke the follow-up care is as important, or even more important, than the initial treatment.

“Having had a stroke myself, I know first-hand the fantastic work the charity’s staff do to help survivors and their families. They help with all aspects of the recovery process. In my case, they gave me the confidence to get my life back.”

Ken, the former owner of Tulloch Castle in Dingwall, suffered his stroke on the evening of 23 August 2014, hours after attending an Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Celtic match.

“I was reading the paper in bed when all of a sudden I couldn’t see the print. I put the light out and went to sleep but my wife woke me up at 5a.m. as I was tossing and turning. I got up but couldn’t see properly and couldn’t remember anything. The only thing I did know for sure was that Caley Thistle had beaten Celtic 1-0!”

The stroke left him unable to see out of his left side, which affected his coordination. It also affected his speech and memory. In addition, he was unable to drive for 18 months and had to go through a series of tests before having his licence returned.

At the same time, he lost his confidence and could not attend football matches or the theatre as he was uncomfortable in crowds and with noise.

However, he continued his work with HITA and, with CHSS support, gradually returned to other activities.

“I’ve spoken with a number of people who have had a stroke and losing confidence is a big thing. It’s also important for families and friends to understand how the person who has had the stroke is feeling.

“I received great care in the hospital, but afterwards the support of CHSS in helping me take the steps to get back my life was crucial.”

The work of CHSS includes medical research, influencing public policy, advice and information, and support in the community. The charity offers a range of community services throughout Scotland, including support for families and other carers.

Its activities in the Highlands and Islands include a regional office in Inverness, communication support services, advice lines, specialist stroke nurses, a stroke training programme for health professionals and cardiac and respiratory support service.

Paul Corrigan, the charity’s North fundraising manager, said: “Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland are extremely honoured to be the 2016 HITA charity beneficiary and are sincerely grateful to HITA for this valued support.

“We are very grateful to Ken for nominating us and we are delighted that he is making a full recovery from his stroke with the assistance of CHSS staff.

“We firmly believe that whilst surviving a life-threatening illness or health condition is good, getting your life back is better and supporting and assisting people like Ken to regain their independence and quality of life is essential. What matters to people like Ken matters to us.

“This amazing donation will go directly to help people with debilitating illness in the Highlands and Islands get their quality of life back too.”


In pictures – HITA 2015

It was a night to remember, not least for our award winners. So here a selection of photographs courtesy of sponsors SPP, some of the main moments to treasure again. Thank you everyone who helped make this record breaking year so special.




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

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