Scotland’s busiest cruise port has been welcomed aboard as a major sponsor of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.
The Port of Cromarty Firth attracted 91 cruise liners last year, which brought over 151,000 visitors into Invergordon and generated more than £15 million for the area’s economy.
Earlier this year it announced a £23 million project including an extension to Berth 5 at the Invergordon Service Base to allow the port to accommodate the largest cruise ships that are currently being built.
It will mean that ships carrying up to 6,000 passengers are able to dock, bringing a further economic injection to the Highlands.
The port has now become a silver sponsor of HITA, which celebrate and reward the leading tourism businesses and individuals in the region. It will support the Best Heritage Tourism Experience Award category.
HITA chairman Craig Ewan said: “The Port of Cromarty Firth has been at the forefront of efforts to develop the cruise industry which is now one of the biggest and fastest growing sectors in tourism.
“So many tourism and hospitality operators benefit from the thousands of cruise passengers who come here every year to enjoy our scenery and attractions.
“We are delighted the port has joined us in helping to identify and honour our best tourism ambassadors. Its help will allow us to develop the awards and promote the industry which is so vital to the Highlands and Islands.”
Last year, Captain Iain Dunderdale, former cruise manager for the Port of Cromarty Firth, who was instrumental in developing the cruise industry, was named Highland Ambassador 2017 at the tourism awards.
Allison McGuire, the new Cruise Manager at Port of Cromarty Firth, said “We are delighted to be sponsoring HITA and recognising the people and organisations who work tirelessly to ensure visitors enjoy their time in the Highlands.
“These experiences keep people coming back year after year; creating jobs and opportunities for local people.”
HITA, which is being held in association with SSE for a sixth successive year, is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland. It celebrates and honours the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s history and culture.
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.
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.
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.