Tag: Highlands



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.



A charity that has had a new lease of life since marking its 25th anniversary has received a cash award to help its further growth.

The Oxygen Works, created by the MS Therapy Centre, in Inverness, was the chosen charity at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) and £2,995 raised on the night has been handed over to the centre to help its life-changing services.

The Oxygen Works provides a range of treatments – including oxygen therapy, physiotherapy and massage and reflexology – to help people with a number of medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes, as well as sports injuries.

It is the only facility of its kind in the UK providing such a range of therapies and services to a diverse population of individuals and uses the only oxygen chamber in the central Highlands of Scotland.

More than 500 centre members travel from across the Highlands and from as far afield as Aberdeen and the Outer
Hebrides, to use the facilities. Over its 25 years, staff have helped all ages, from an eight-month-old baby to a 99-year-old grandmother.

As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, the centre in the city’s Burnett Road was re-branded as it improved and expanded its services.

Craig Ewan, HITA’s chairman, said: “The Oxygen Works does fantastic work for so many people with different conditions and we are delighted to be able to help its ongoing work.”

Leigh-Ann Little, the centre manager, said: “We are extremely grateful to HITA for such a generous donation.
“The centre is going from strength to strength and this money will assist us in our ongoing efforts to help as many people as possible.”

HITA 2018 was launched in March and aims to build on the success of last year’s awards which attracted an unprecedented 232 entries and nominations – an increase of more than 14 per cent on the 2016 figure and up 70 per cent on 2014.

The competition, which is being held in association with SSE for a sixth successive year, will crown winners in 14 categories, with the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s outdoors and musical culture among those to be honoured.



Andy Maxtone, Programme Manager at Developing the Young Workforce (Inverness & central highlands)

In the Year of Young People 2018 we are proud to be a new sponsor of HITA and help recognise all the opportunities, experience and skills the dynamic tourism industry presents to the region’s young people.

Tourism in the Highlands is experiencing impressive growth, buoyed by favourable rate exchange and the impressive scenery and attractions the region has to offer. In turn, this is opening up boundless opportunities for young people to embrace – right on their doorstep.

From weekend jobs and apprenticeships to graduate schemes and managerial experience, a career in hospitality continues to provide countless young people with the chance to become work-ready, increase their employability skills and benefit from a career with real prospects.

Since the DYW Inverness & Central Highland programme began in 2016, we’ve enjoyed tremendous support from local hotels and tourism businesses who recognise the valuable contribution young people make to their business. This support has in turn helped us engage with thousands of young Highlanders, education providers and parents.

School partnerships, work experience and hospitality careers days help highlight prospective career paths, and we’ve been consistently impressed by the variety of traineeships and apprenticeships on offer in areas including management, chef training and operations.

DYW Inverness and Central Highland, which forms part of the Scottish Government’s Youth Employment strategy, ensures our young people have the skills and confidence they need to make the seamless transition between school and the workplace.

One area in which we are supporting and encouraging students is in learning a second language. With much of the growth in tourism in the Highlands and Islands fuelled by overseas visits, it is vital the industry adapts to meet expectations. Having a second language can open up new opportunities for individuals and also give them and their businesses a competitive advantage.

Our partnership this year with HITA extends our involvement in tourism and hospitality to help young people pursue a career in such an important sector.

We look forward to seeing our young workforce thrive this year and perhaps see some feature in the HITA honours list.

Good luck to everyone who enters or is nominated





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.






Rebecca Brooks, VisitScotland Board Member and Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel.

To win a Highlands and Islands Tourism Award is something to be proud of. Not only are you the best in the region but you have the honour of representing the area at the glittering national final.

The 2017/18 Scottish Thistle Awards National Final, which marked the competition’s silver anniversary, was a time to reflect on those individuals, events and businesses who have shown leadership in the sector.

To have four HITA winners pick up national Thistle Awards was a fantastic achievement for the individua businesses and for the region. My congratulations to Eilean Donan Castle, the Hebridean Celtic Festival, the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and Portavadie for their success, and to all those who won through to the national final.

The Scottish tourism industry and hospitality sector prides itself on delivering a rewarding experience for visitors.

Our reputation as a world-class destination relies on continued investment and innovation and for the past 25 years the Scottish Thistle Awards has shone a spotlight on the success, innovation and excellence that our Scottish tourism industry delivers.

We need to think bigger about Scotland as a tourism destination to ensure we fulfil our potential – every visitor must get a quality experience every single time.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) is an important part of that drive for excellence and last year’s winners reflected the strength and depth at both a regional and national level.

This year is the 2018 Year of Young People. Over the 12 months Scotland will offer inspiration through its young people by celebrating their achievements, valuing their contributions to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine on a local and global stage.

As well as providing opportunities for the industry to engage with families and younger visitors through a year-long programme of events, it is also a time to celebrate the young talented individuals within Scottish tourism. For they are our aspiring Scottish Thistle Award winners of the future.

Good luck to everyone who enters or is nominated for HITA recognition this year and we look forward to seeing you at the Thistles.



Craig Ewan, chair of Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards

This year a particular focus will be on our younger staff and visitors and I’m looking forward to seeing how the future stars in the tourism sector can influence the industry and give us an insight into how it will develop in future.

The Year of Young People 2018 provides a platform for young people to have their talents celebrated and their voices heard.

Our sector relies on young staff members and we want to ensure the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards reflects the outstanding contribution they make to the overall visitor experience.

Our Highland Rising Star award is specifically aimed at recognising and rewarding young talent and I hope as many of our young professionals will enter or be nominated so their achievements to date and their potential can be highlighted.

HITA has an excellent reputation within the industry for promoting excellence and helping to raise quality standards in tourism.

We have an enviable track record of winners going on to pick up national Thistle Awards. This year was no exception, with four of our regional winners triumphing at the Thistles in March – Eilean Donan Castle (Best Heritage Tourism Experience); the Hebridean Celtic Festival (Best Cultural Event or Festival); the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup (Best Sporting Event) and Portavadie, Loch Fyne (Best Accommodation Provider).

I hope this success will encourage more companies and individuals to enter or nominate this year and continue to promote the best the Highlands and Islands has to offer.

HITA has enjoyed incredible growth over the last few years, with a 14 per cent rise in entries and nominations last year and a 70 per cent rise since 2014.

We aim to continue that trend in 2018 so that as many of our fantastic operators and attractions as possible reap the benefits of being part of the awards process.

On behalf of the HITA board, I would urge everyone to enter, or nominate someone or somewhere you think deserves to be honoured.



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.”







Freda Newton, chair of Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards judging panel
Another record-breaking year; another record-breaking challenge for the judges.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards just keep getting bigger. This year we’ve received 232 nominations and entries – up 14 per cent on last year’s previous best-ever total, and an amazing 70 per cent rise since 2014.
This fantastic response demonstrates a confidence within the industry and highlights the growing number of high quality tourism establishments and services provided for our visitors.
HITA is one of the most well-respected award programmes and it is heartening to see so many businesses coming forward, or being nominated, to be open to scrutiny and ultimately try to be named as the best in the industry in this area.
As tourism is so vital to the Highlands and Islands, it is essential that we continue to improve standards and bring fresh ideas into the sector. HITA encourages and rewards good business practice, which provides visitors with high standards of service, and also innovation, which can elevate a business beyond the ever-increasing tourism expectations and demands.
For 2017 we have introduced a new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience, as part of the themed Year of History Heritage and Archaeology, and to celebrate the extraordinary wealth of historic assets we have in the Highlands and Islands.
Demonstrating the region’s strength in this particular sector of tourism, we have received 15 entries in the new category. Other categories have also attracted large entries, including Best Accommodation Provider with more than 30.
Judging this amount of entries, particularly as the standard just keeps getting higher, is an enormous task for our 12 judges who are drawn from all parts of the Highlands and Islands and from all sections of the industry.
So, how do we choose the winners?
Over the coming weeks, we will examine all these entries and start forming opinions on who we think deserve to pick up the trophies. Each judge marks the entries independently online, and can use personal knowledge, reviews and information from industry contacts to support details provided with the entry or nomination.
When we meet up on 13th September we will compare notes, discuss and debate our choices and come to a consensus on who should make the shortlist for each category, and who in our combined opinions have gone that little bit further to be crowned winners.
From experience, some of these decisions are easier than others and a few intense conversations await as we narrow down our choices. All, or nearly all, will be revealed on 29 September when we announce the shortlists.
Thank you to everyone for giving us this onerous but highly rewarding task, and good luck.



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.”

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