Drama Students To Take Centre Stage At Highland Tourism Awards

Two young students have talked their way into hosting a prestigious awards ceremony in a first for the event.

Annie Bonney and Fraser Szymborski-Welsh, who are both studying BA (Hons) Drama and Performance at Inverness College UHI, will co-present the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards(HITA) ceremony which will be attended by the tourism minister and more than 300 industry representatives.

To mark the Year of Young People, HITA held a competition to give one student the chance to compere the industry ‘Oscars’ alongside a professional presenter.

However, after hearing student auditions, it was decided that Annie and Fraser should themselves anchor the entire four-hour event, featuring 14 categories – the first time it will have been held without a professional presenter.

Leanne Munro, a 3rdyear BA (Hons) Visual Communication and Design student at Inverness College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, won a separate competition to create a marketing campaign aimed at attracting the next generation of visitors to the Highlands and Islands.

Her design will be on display at the awards ceremony, which will be held at the Kingsmills Hotelin Inverness on 2 November with Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, in attendance.

Steve Barron, a HITA board member and one of the competition judges, said: “We were taken aback at the very high standard of entries in both contests.

“We heard some truly amazing presentations, but Annie and Fraser stood out and, although they have very different styles, it was impossible to separate them. We decided, therefore, that they should both have the opportunity to host the ceremony.

“It’s a bold step, and one we have not taken before, but in this Year of Young People it is a brilliant way to showcase exciting local talent.”

The marketing strategy competition challenged students to produce a campaign specifically aimed at inspiring future travellers aged between eight and 25. They were asked to come up with new ideas to engage with young visitors and to make the designs and branding transferrable across social media, digital, print and broadcast platforms.

Leanne’s concept was widely praised by the judges for its design, innovation and creativity. Using the acronym Aye (Adventurous Young Explorers), she envisaged it being used to promote various aspects of a visit, including ‘Aye Explore’, ‘Aye Dance’ and ‘Aye Discover’.

It features a mobile phone app to help find places to stay, visit and eat and also to accumulate exploration points when visiting new places which can then be redeemed for discounts at shops and services. The app could also have a built-in game allowing visitors to find and log virtual versions of mythical creatures.

Steve Barron said: “Leanne’s marketing campaign was stunning and something any professional agency would be proud to present.

“It was incredibly well researched and thought out and ticked all the boxes in terms of hitting the brief.”

Rachel Burgess, lecturer on the BA (Hons) Visual Communication and Design course and programme co-ordinator for Cultural and Creative Industries at Inverness College UHI, said: “The HITA brief was an excellent opportunity for students to exercise their skills of research and strategic design.

“They engaged with the competition on a professional level with a clear understanding of the importance of the project and produced highly imaginative and viable proposals.

“Leanne’s design went that extra step and covered every aspect of the brief to produce a fun and effective solution for the HITA team.”

Lesley Mickel, programme leader for the BA (Hons) Drama and Performance, said: “The HITA competition was a wonderful opportunity for our drama students to display their talent, creativity, and professionalism, as well as their ability to work to a brief to a very high standard.

“Annie and Fraser have very different styles, but complement each other exceptionally well and will do a great job of compering the awards.”



The Scottish Government has praised the work of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards for helping to raise standards of excellence in the industry as this year’s search begins to find the industry’s leading stars.

The 2017 HITA scheme was launched at the Great Loch Ness Tea Party, an event to celebrate the future of the local tourism industry in collaboration with students of the Inverness College UHI hospitality department.

Pic caption: HITA chair Craig Ewan (seated centre) with HITA board members Marina Huggett (left) and Lorna Maclennan and Inverness College UHI students (left to right) Edward Holmes, Adam Nicolson and Lewis Mapplebeck

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop declared her support for HITA in a message to the awards organisers.

She said: “Tourism is a vital and growing economic mainstay of the Highlands and Islands, supporting some 30,000 jobs and generating vital substantial revenue, and the industry’s reach into every corner of the area means that tourism is everybody’s business.

“The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards highlight the very best businesses and individuals who go beyond normal standards to ensure superb visitor experiences, whether through hospitality, catering, events, activities or other pioneering industry work.”

Now in their 13th year, the awards celebrate excellence across all sectors of the industry in the Highlands and Islands. Last year, 203 businesses or individuals entered or were nominated for awards, the biggest ever response in the event’s history.

HITA chair Craig Ewan said: “Tourism operators have to constantly improve, develop and innovate to stay ahead in a highly-competitive industry. HITA does the same to ensure we reward the very best and promote the fantastic work being done by people across our region to provide excellent service for our guests.

“Last year was our most successful in terms of entries and nominations and we aim to build on that success to involve even more businesses and individuals who deserve to be recognised.”

HITA, which is run in association with SSE, is recognised 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.

The famous piper trophies will be awarded in 16 categories, with winners going on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

This year, in line with Scotland’s themed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there is a new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience.

Nominations and entries can be made from today via the HITA website www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk

Nominations close on 23 June and the entries deadline is 30 June. The event will culminate in a grand ceremony for finalists at the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, on 3 November.



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

Previous Next
Test Caption
Test Description goes like this