Freda Newton, chair of Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards judging panel
In the next few days, judging for this year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awardswill be drawing to a close and we will move nearer to finalising the 2018 shortlist.
It’s been another fantastic competition with 163 businesses and individuals entering or being nominated for awards. The standard keeps improving, making the job of the judges more difficult every year.
HITA is rightly regarded as one of the most prestigious award programmes and those fortunate enough to be among the finalists when we announce them on 27 September will know they have earned a place amongst the elite.
The quality of the entries and nominations in each of the 14 categories was again outstanding. We know we have a wonderful product in the Highlands and Islands and a workforce that is dedicated, resourceful, innovative and talented.
However, it is always a delight to be reminded just how high the quality bar is set and how well our valued visitors are served by the industry.
As we know, tourism is vital to this area. It is a highly competitive market and we have to continue to improve and update our offering to ensure we keep pace with customer requirements.
Awards schemes like HITA play an important role in rewarding excellence and new thinking in the industry, but also in encouraging tourism operators to take stock of what they are providing and seeking improvements.
We have had a very healthy entry in each of the categories, indicating the strength of the offering in all aspects of tourism in this area, including accommodation, food and drink, culture, outdoor activities and visitor attractions.
Of particular interest is the high numbers that have entered or been nominated in the Best Eating Experience and Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House and hotels categories, which highlight the fact these sectors are well catered for in the region and our reputation for providing good Highland hospitality remains.
Year of Young People
It is also heartening that, in the Year of Young People, so many nominations were made in the Highland Rising Star category. This illustrates that the industry is in good hands with the next generation and that tourism and hospitality is seen as an appealing and rewarding career choice by young, talented people.
Our judging panel has been considering all these entries and nominations for just over two months. Each judge has been marking the businesses and individuals independently and can use personal knowledge, reviews and information from industry contacts to support details provided with the entry or nomination.
The next stage will see them meet as a team and compare notes, discuss and debate the choices and come to a collective decision on who should make the shortlist for each category.
We have the even more onerous task of choosing the ultimate winners, such a difficult job when the candidates are of such high quality. For those who take the prizes, there is the joint accolade of not only being voted the best in the Highlands and Islands, but also being chosen to represent the area in the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
It’s a daunting prospect for us, but one we always relish and are excited about as we’ve proven again this year the industry is being well looked after.
Thank you everyone who entered the awards or nominated someone. See you all at the awards ceremony on 2 November.
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.
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.