By Thelma Henderson, Managing Director, Scottish Provincial Press
Tourism plays such an important role in the economy of the Highlands and Islands and, like many businesses in this area, its success impacts on our success.
As publisher of 15 weekly newspapers in the north of Scotland, Scottish Provincial Press is one of the biggest independent newspaper groups in the country. Tourism is vital to every area in which we operate and we actively support and help promote the people and the businesses that make such a valuable contribution to this part of the world.
We are proud to be able to celebrate and publicise the best of the Highland tourism business community by again being a sponsor of the HITA awards. Our involvement in the sector also included publishing a 12-page supplement to launch HITA in April and a collaboration with VisitScotland to produce a suite of 18 regional Explore (What to See & Do) guides for visitors.
As the record number of entries and nominations this year demonstrates, there is a wealth of talented individuals and quality businesses in the Highlands and Islands and many good news stories to tell. An annual awards event not only rewards the best, but it also stimulates healthy competition which produces even better results for our visitors.
SPP will continue to be a supportive partner for HITA and raise awareness of those who strive to offer the ultimate visitor experience and help make the Highlands one of the best places to holiday.
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.
BY IAIN CORMACK, SALES EXECUTIVE, J THOMSON COLOUR PRINTERS
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.
BY AMANDA FRAZER, CHAIR, HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS REGION, FEDERATION OF SMALL BUSINESSES
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.