Freda Newton, chair of Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards judging panel
In the next few days, judging for this year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awardswill be drawing to a close and we will move nearer to finalising the 2018 shortlist.
It’s been another fantastic competition with 163 businesses and individuals entering or being nominated for awards. The standard keeps improving, making the job of the judges more difficult every year.
HITA is rightly regarded as one of the most prestigious award programmes and those fortunate enough to be among the finalists when we announce them on 27 September will know they have earned a place amongst the elite.
The quality of the entries and nominations in each of the 14 categories was again outstanding. We know we have a wonderful product in the Highlands and Islands and a workforce that is dedicated, resourceful, innovative and talented.
However, it is always a delight to be reminded just how high the quality bar is set and how well our valued visitors are served by the industry.
As we know, tourism is vital to this area. It is a highly competitive market and we have to continue to improve and update our offering to ensure we keep pace with customer requirements.
Awards schemes like HITA play an important role in rewarding excellence and new thinking in the industry, but also in encouraging tourism operators to take stock of what they are providing and seeking improvements.
We have had a very healthy entry in each of the categories, indicating the strength of the offering in all aspects of tourism in this area, including accommodation, food and drink, culture, outdoor activities and visitor attractions.
Of particular interest is the high numbers that have entered or been nominated in the Best Eating Experience and Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House and hotels categories, which highlight the fact these sectors are well catered for in the region and our reputation for providing good Highland hospitality remains.
Year of Young People
It is also heartening that, in the Year of Young People, so many nominations were made in the Highland Rising Star category. This illustrates that the industry is in good hands with the next generation and that tourism and hospitality is seen as an appealing and rewarding career choice by young, talented people.
Our judging panel has been considering all these entries and nominations for just over two months. Each judge has been marking the businesses and individuals independently and can use personal knowledge, reviews and information from industry contacts to support details provided with the entry or nomination.
The next stage will see them meet as a team and compare notes, discuss and debate the choices and come to a collective decision on who should make the shortlist for each category.
We have the even more onerous task of choosing the ultimate winners, such a difficult job when the candidates are of such high quality. For those who take the prizes, there is the joint accolade of not only being voted the best in the Highlands and Islands, but also being chosen to represent the area in the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
It’s a daunting prospect for us, but one we always relish and are excited about as we’ve proven again this year the industry is being well looked after.
Thank you everyone who entered the awards or nominated someone. See you all at the awards ceremony on 2 November.
Businesses and individuals are being encouraged to put forward their nominations and entries for the prestigious Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards with the deadlines just days away.
The annual tourism ‘Oscars’, which were launched in March, celebrate and honour the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s history and culture.
This year 14 honours will be presented in what is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland.
Friday, 22 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 other categories is Monday, 2 July.
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 being held in association with SSEfor a sixth successive year, 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.
The 2018 HITA aims to build on the success of last year’s awards which attracted a record 232 entries and nominations – an increase of more than 14 per cent on the 2016 figure and up 70 per cent on 2014.
HITA Chairman Craig Ewan said: “The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards represent a mark of excellence for businesses and individuals working in this important sector.
“We want to ensure that everyone has a chance to be recognised for the tremendous work they do in welcoming our visitors and that means getting nominations and entries in by the deadlines. Good luck to everyone.”
The contest will culminate at a ceremony in the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, on Friday,2 November and winners (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
HITA has an important role to play in promoting business, as well as encouraging and rewarding excellence.
So I would urge business leaders and individuals to enter the awards or nominate someone for recognition. Its only by measuring yourself or your business against the best in the sector that you can learn and improve.
The Highlands and Islands is full of success stories and by highlighting them we not only raise the profile of the winners and the contenders, we also showcase the quality and excellence of the sector as a whole.
I was the most surprised person in the room when I was named Highland Ambassador at last year’s HITA. But I am extremely proud to have been given this prestigious accolade and see it as a reflection on the significant impact the cruise business now has on tourism and the economy in general in Scotland.
From 1989, when Invergordon welcomed just one cruise ship, the cruise business has grown into a multi-million pound industry which brings benefits to many parts of Scotland.
Cruise ships are expected to generate around £80 million in Scotland this year and the impact of the thousands of visiting passengers will be felt well beyond the ports from where they disembark.
Pubs and restaurants, castles, historic sites, distilleries, golf courses and museums will all benefit from their spending power, as well as buses, taxis and hire car firms.
Quality products, attractions and services draw these customers who can influence further visits, so its vitally important we maintain and improve standards and continue to innovate to keep pace with expectations.
HITA’s part in this process cannot be understated. By encouraging and promoting excellence in all areas of tourism and hospitality, it can ensure the Highlands and Islands is a must-see destination for global visitors.
Charlotte Davies, Sommelier & Assistant Restaurant Manager at The Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye, and winner of HITA’s 2017 Rising Star Award
During the Year of Young People 2018, it is really important that more of my contemporaries are given the recognition they deserve and opportunities to advance their careers, across all sectors.
We are the new generation that will be setting the bar even higher for standards and innovative new ideas to ensure that Scotland as a whole continues to thrive.
It is also a time to demonstrate that the tourism and hospitality sector is no longer a ‘stepping stone’ job that you do just to earn a bit of pocket money (although that is fine too if that’s your reason for doing it). It’s a career with incredibly fulfilling job prospects that can take you anywhere in the world if you work hard enough.
There are so many qualifications and apprenticeships that you can take now if you like to learn in a college setting or if, like me, you can dive straight in and learn on the job with the right mentoring and practical skills.
There has been a gradual shift over the past few years, but I’m really hoping that, with schemes like HITA, the general attitude and assumptions about hospitality will be seen in a completely new light.
I love my role in hospitality and working with wine (and other beverages!) and I love that every day is different and comes with new challenges.
Hospitality is a career for people who are innately caring and want to create an impeccable experience for their guests. Hospitality is a career for those who want to help make incredible memories.
I hope that more young people will see tourism and hospitality as a career choice and also more will be recognised for the important role they play in the sector.
Winning the prestigious HITA Rising Star award last year was a major achievement for me and has given me the extra motivation to pursue new challenges and goals.
I recently entered the Gold Service Scholarship 2018, the UK’s most prestigious Front of House award. Like HITA, it was a great experience and provided a fantastic opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues within the sector. It was also amazing to represent the whole of the country as the only Scottish finalist.
As well as representing Scotland, I have been given access to incredible opportunities that, without these types of awards, I would never get the chance to experience. For example, this year I will be visiting the famous sweet wine area of Tokaji in Hungary, visiting Mosel in Germany and get to enjoy a chocolate master class.
The HITA honour also gave me the incentive to pursue my next level of wine qualification, the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced. It will be a tall order to achieve but, having a few people around you that believe in your capabilities, can make all the difference.
The Three Chimneys, and particularly General Manager Paul Hughes, have been incredibly supportive of my involvement in all of these competitions and helping to train and prepare me for them.
There has been a lot of hard work and travelling involved, but it has been worth every minute of the extra time and all the miles.”
I would encourage any young person working in the sector to enter for HITA – and also businesses to nominate members of their young workforce. It could be a milestone in an incredible career journey.
Mike Seaton, Director of Development, SSE
After last year’s record-breaking Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, I’m already looking forward to seeing the quality of the entries and nominations for this year’s competition.
SSE is proud to support HITA for the sixth year in a row. We started as lead sponsors of the awards in 2012, and every year we are thrilled to see the event go from strength to strength.
Having helped launch this year’s contest at Culloden Battlefield last month, we are excited at the prospect of another fiercely-fought competition that will demonstrate that business, talent and innovation are continuing to thrive in the region.
HITA awards create a lasting legacy for the businesses and individuals who enter or are nominated, recognising their amazing contributions to tourism in the Highlands, and I would urge people in the sector to take part.
Energy and tourism are two of the most important sectors in the Highland economy and SSE is committed to continuing to work together and learn from each other as industries.
As a responsible and sustainable operator and developer of renewable energy we are passionate about supporting local jobs and businesses that work on our projects across the UK and through our supply chain. Since March last year we have delivered two onshore wind farms in the Highlands, Bhlaraidh and Dunmaglass, helping to bring benefits to the local people, environment and economy.
As we continue to work to bring responsible development into the Highlands and Islands we look forward to working closely with local communities and business owners to help create a successful and sustainable future for the area.
Currently under construction in the Great Glen is our Stronelairg wind farm, one great example of how wind farms and tourism can work together. As part of works associated with the wind farm, SSE played a key role in delivering a section of the South Loch Ness Trail, having constructed a significant section of the path from Fort Augustus to Glendoe. This work, totalling over £570,000, was completed in March 2017. In addition, SSE has provided community funds associated with the renewable energy projects in the Great Glen worth over £1m per year.
To help complete the final four-mile stretch, from Glendoe to Loch Tarff, SSE gifted Visit Loch Ness £50,000. This, combined with £60,000 award from Highland Council and additional funding received from other contributors, means that the South Loch Ness Trail can finally be completed with work having started at the end of February 2018.
We are committed to working positively with our tourism partners in the Highlands and Islands and I am looking forward to celebrating the high business standards consistently seen across the region at the awards ceremony in November.
HITA Chairman Craig Ewan has been named Regional Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors for his “exemplary” service.
Craig, Operations Director at the Kingsmills Hotel, won the Inverness regional category at the prestigious Scotland Director of the Year Awards.
The awards honour those individuals whose creativity, leadership or innovative business practices have led to success for their organisation and the communities they serve.
On presenting the award, sponsored by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, judges said: “Craig Ewan has consistently improved the performance of the hotel. His track record is exemplary.”
Craig, who has been general manager of different properties over the last 16 years, and became a director with Kingsmills Hotel in September 2017, said he was thrilled and delighted to be awarded the title.
He added: “I have worked for Tony Story, my chairman, owner, mentor and friend for the last ten years. He has been inspirational and really helped me develop as a business leader. If I did not have Tony’s support and backing I would not be the leader and manager that I am today.
“Working in the corporate world was great but working for an independent hotelier really teaches you all the business skills that you need to be successful.
“Tony and I have a great working relationship and I look forward to working for him on our future and very exciting expansion plans in Inverness over the next decade.”
HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS TOURISM FIRMS SCOOP NATIONAL HONOURS
Five businesses from across the Highlands and Islands have picked up national honours at the Scottish tourism ’Oscars’.
The five category winners in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards in November went on to win at the national finals of the Scottish Thistle Awards, held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Friday.
The Ninth Wave Restaurant in Mull was voted Best Restaurant Experience; 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.
The award for Friendliest Pub/Bar went to the Applecross Inn in Wester Ross, while Tiree Music Festival received a special commendation in the Best Cultural Event or Festival category.
Craig Ewan, Chair of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, said: “Having five of our category winners recognised at the national finals is a great achievement for the individual businesses and also for the industry in the north of Scotland.
“Congratulations to all those who won and were shortlisted for awards.”
This year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, now in their 12th year, were launched last week by tourism minister Fergus Ewing.
He said he expected HITA to build on a record-breaking 2015 which saw the highest number of entries and nominations in 15 categories.
The awards, which are held in association with SSE, are free to enter and businesses or individuals can put themselves forward for recognition or be nominated by customers or other individuals in 15 categories via the HITA website at www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk
The event will culminate in a grand ceremony for finalists at the Kingsmills Hotel on 4 November.
Last year 190 entries and nominations were received for the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards. The total was boosted by the inclusion of part of Argyll for the first time, but even without the boundary change the figure was nearly 40 per cent up on 2014.
HITA winners will go on to represent the region at the glittering national final of the Scottish Thistle Awards next year