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AIRPORTS GROUP AND SHOPPING CENTRE BACK HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS TOURISM AWARDS

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards have announced two new sponsors as the industry ‘Oscars’ seek to build on last year’s record-breaking year.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness have agreed to support the awards, which in 2015 attracted their highest ever number of entries and nominations.

HIAL operates and manages 11 airports across the Highlands and Islands, connecting the north of Scotland to a network of more than 30 UK and international destinations, including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Bergen and Geneva.

In 2014-15, the group handled more than 1.43 million passengers, including business and leisure travel.

HIAL recently announced details of a £900,000 investment at Inverness Airport, including plans for a purpose-built international arrivals hall to cater for the growing number of international flights at the Highland gateway.

It comes as British Airways and KLM prepare to launch new services to London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol respectively, and easyJet expands its services to London, bringing a major boost to tourism in the area.

Inglis Lyon, HIAL’s Managing Director, said: “The tourism market is a very important part of HIAL’s business and will grow significantly with the expansion at Inverness Airport and the new planned air routes. Supporting the HITA scheme is a natural fit for us and we hope we can help the awards develop even further.”

Eastgate Shopping Centre is the biggest indoor shopping area in the Highlands and Islands. Each year the centre welcomes over 8 million visitors including local people, those from the wider Highlands and Islands and tourists. The centre has just achieved World Host status as it realises the importance of a good welcome to tourists who have such an economic impact on the city.

Since acquiring Eastgate last July, Scoop has been busy developing plans for Falcon Square into a “continental-style” civic space which would include an enhanced restaurant and leisure offer. This development seeks to bring vibrancy back to the city centre, creating a city square where local residents, visitors and tourists alike can meet, socialise and enjoy leisure time.

Jackie Cuddy, the Centre Manager, said the centre is delighted to be sponsoring the Informal Eating Experience category at this year’s awards ceremony.

She said: “As the centre moves into this market by adding restaurants to Falcon Square it’s appropriate that we honour the informal eating experience that exists already within Inverness.”

The new sponsors were announced as businesses in the north of Scotland were encouraged to share in the success of HITA.

‘Maximising Your Opportunities’, held at the Inverness Campus, was attended by about 40 businesses including HITA winners and sponsors who gave insights into how being involved with the awards has benefitted them.

HITA Chair Craig Ewan said: “The HITA awards have grown significantly over the years and help recognise all that is good in this vital industry. We are delighted to welcome our new sponsors and, with their help, we will develop the awards and raise the quality bar in this area even further.”

Mr Ewan, who is also general manager of the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness, told the meeting how winning a HITA award helped raise the profile of the hotel and also boosted staff morale.

He said: “It gave us all a sense of achievement and raised the quality bar for us. It also raised the expectations of our guests which keeps us on our toes and helps us improve further.”

Steve Barron, Group Publications Manager, Scottish Provincial Press, advised the audience on gaining media exposure by being associated with HITA, and Peter Kane, Managing Director of Lucid PR, Events and Marketing, explained how and why businesses should embrace social media.

Stuart Black, Director of Development and Infrastructure at the Highland Council, also gave details on how the recently-announced City Deal for Inverness will benefit the Highlands and the region’s businesses.

Other speakers were Roddy Hendry, Deputy Principal of Inverness College UHI, which sponsored the event, and Tommy Gibson, Regional Hydro Group Manager with SSE, HITA’s headline sponsor.

This year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, now in their 12th year, were launched last month by tourism minister Fergus Ewing.

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. 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

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