A record number of tourism businesses in the Highlands and Islands have entered or been nominated for a prestigious award this year.
Judging began this week on the 190 entries and nominations which have been received for the 2015 Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA).
The total has been boosted this year with the inclusion of part of Argyll, but even without the boundary change the figure is nearly 40 per cent up on 2014.
It will mean strong competition over 15 categories for the coveted piper trophies which are sought after by operators across the region who are providing the best service and visitor experience.
Past HITA winners say their success in the annual competition has not only raised awareness of their businesses, but has also been an inspiration to further improve their operations.
The awards were launched in April by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop. Judging will continue over the summer ahead of a shortlist being announced on 18 September.
The competition will culminate in a grand ceremony at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness on 13 November and HITA winners will go on to represent the region at the glittering national final of the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
Marina Huggett, Chair of HITA, said: “The number of entries and nominations has grown steadily over five years and now has leapt to an all-time high. We are delighted that so many tourism operators have entered or been nominated for awards.
“Even without the inclusion of Argyll this year, the numbers showed a sizeable increase which is extremely encouraging.
“There is clear evidence that the award scheme helps to improve relationships within the industry and also promotes friendly competition which helps businesses push for even greater improvements to the benefit of visitors.
“Good luck to all involved. The judges now have a very difficult task ahead.”
The HITA competition, which is held in association with SSE, is free to enter and businesses or individuals could put themselves forward for recognition, while visitors and peer nomination groups were encouraged to propose businesses they felt deserved an honour.
The categories have developed and evolved each year in line with feedback within the industry and to reflect factors aimed at helping its growth and sustainability. New categories this year are Friendliest Pub, Best Sporting Event, Hospitality Hero and the Innovation Award.
The categories are –
Most Hospitable Hotel
Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House
Best Holiday Accommodation
Best Informal Eating Experience
Best Restaurant Experience
Best Event or Festival
Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience
Tourism Everyone’s Business
Best Visitor Attraction
Best Sporting Event
Regional Young Ambassador Award
Regional Ambassador Award
Facebook – www.facebook.com/Highlands.and.Islands.Tourism.Awards
Twitter – @HiTourismAwards