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Stuart Black, Director of Development and Infrastructure, The Highland Council
Tourism is the most significant industry in our region, which is why The Highland Council is a leading supporter.

The council is a key partner in the Highland Area Tourism Partnership and shares its vision for the Highlands to be a destination of first choice for a high quality, value for money and memorable customer experience, delivered by skilled and passionate people. It also works closely with VisitScotland and local destination management organisations throughout the area in support of the sector.

The authority’s new programme ‘Highland First’ emphasises the importance of the tourism industry to the regional economy. It states it will “strive to grow tourism by working with partners to retain and develop world class events and promote destination management”.

The council has also been a supporter of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards since their inception. In a highly competitive industry visitors can choose from thousands of destinations and in order to continue to attract visitors local businesses need to maintain exceptionally high standards and continue to innovate. The sponsorship of awards that recognise quality is therefore an appropriate part of our contribution to the industry.

The HITAs recognise and reward excellence across this vital industry which reaches all parts of our area. Tourism supports 17,000 jobs in the Highlands and generates revenues worth over £740 million per annum and the council is keen to see these figures continue to grow.

Communities lie at the heart of a successful Highlands and a successful tourism industry. We generally support awards that recognise the role of community-based activity or that encourage innovation. A key attraction of the HITAs is that they have always been open to communities or businesses of any size and over the years we’ve seen some wonderful nominees and winners.

This year, despite the challenging financial climate, the council has reaffirmed its commitment to the 2016 World Mountain Biking Championships and the 2016 Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. Both these high profile events not only attract thousands of people to the area, they offer marketing exposure which helps ensure further visits over many years.

The council firmly believes that tourism is everyone’s business and is delighted to support the HITA awards in 2015.





Audrey Maclennan, Senior Tourism Manager, Highlands and Islands Enterprise
The increase in the number of entries to the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards this year reflects the health and vibrancy of the sector across the region.
HIE is delighted to support HITA as the tourism industry is crucial to the economy of the Highlands and Islands and proportionally more so than in the rest of Scotland.

The industry is worth £411 million to the region and employs 14 per cent of its workforce. Working with partners, especially VisitScotland, HIE is a key player in meeting the national ambitions to grow the value of the tourism sector, equating to an additional £600 million expenditure into the region.

Tourism is an extremely competitive industry, but businesses like those recognised in the awards are setting the standard for Scotland. Our businesses are helping to positions the Highlands and Islands as a premium destination for visitors.

The sector includes a wide range of accommodation establishments; visitor attractions; restaurants, bars and take-away food shops; travel agencies and tour operators; libraries; and sporting and other recreational activities.

Most visitors come to the area because of its natural and cultural heritage, and to participate in outdoor activities such as walking and cycling, mountain biking and even surfing.

Famous destinations such as the Isle of Skye and Loch Ness with its fabled monster attract large numbers of visitors each year. Global whisky companies such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard showcase their individual brands through 5-star visitor centres, distinctive cultural and sporting events and exciting food and drink festivals.

The Highlands and Islands is a top destination for extreme sports enthusiasts. Sponsored events such as the Corona Extra Wave Classic PWA Windsurfing Championships in Tiree, the Nissan World Cup Mountain Bike Championships in Fort William, and the O’Neill Highland Open Surfing Championships in Thurso showcase our sports resources and attractions to a worldwide audience.

Globally, tourism is the world’s largest industry in terms of outputs, creating some eight per cent of jobs worldwide and expanding annually at the rate of four-five per cent.

It will remain a key sector for HIE and one that can make a significant contribution to a competitive region.



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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