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.

14 categories

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.

Rewarding excellence

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.

Joint accolade

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.




Shirley Spear, owner and retired head chef of The Three Chimneys Restaurant with Rooms in Skye and former HITA Ambassador of the Year.
I greatly support the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards as the scheme encourages and rewards our best business operators. Awards help to push the quality bar higher by focusing on excellence at every level.  HITA rewards success, but also inspires our industry to constantly seek business improvements, which in turn, benefit their employees and enhance the wider visitor experience.
How times have changed throughout my business lifetime. This year Eddie and I celebrate 32 years running a small business and exactly 18 years since we opened our luxury bedrooms in The House Over-By and were awarded a 5-Star grading by VisitScotland, one of the very first in the Highlands and Islands.
This was the beginning of a whole new era for the region; the beginning of a new approach towards creating a unique, high-quality destination, open all-year-round and an unmissable experience for visitors coming to Scotland.
Our tourism and hospitality industry had been more of a poor relation in the economic scheme of things prior to this change of heart.  A whole new emphasis was placed upon the importance of small business in rural areas.  A new drive to develop the standards of accommodation, customer service, food, drink and overall visitor experience everywhere, soon followed.  Along with this we were encouraged to join new schemes and compete for awards, which all helped to drive forward our reputation.
In my opinion, this new emphasis was a great move and long overdue.  I was delighted that tourism and hospitality was being treated on a much more serious scale, offering great employment and career development for young people and opportunities for those with entrepreneurial spirit to gain a step on the ladder to success.
Today, tourism in the Highlands and Islands remains a crucial element of the on-going Scottish success story, with a wealth of businesses of many kinds and many hundreds of people directly employed throughout our diverse sector. We play a very important role, supporting the nation’s economy and in many places, building micro-economies on a significant scale.
Accommodation at every level, food and drink service of all kinds, visitor attractions large and small, adventurous and explorative outdoor activities, all combine together to create a unique visitor experience.
We must never forget how dependent we are upon one another in business. The overall visitor experience is a combination of everything our customers and guests experience throughout their stay in the Highlands and Islands.  It is so important that we all work hard together, collaborating with one another, to create the best visitor experience we can.
This is why it is also important for all of us to work at the top of our game in every way, in order to maintain the Highlands and Islands as a fantastic destination.
We should be proud to recognise and reward our best tourism operators and that is what schemes like the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards are all about. I hope everyone will feel encouraged to highlight their own success stories by entering an award category this year.
Also, as it is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there may be a particular business or person you wish to nominate for the role they have played over the years towards building the region’s profile as a special destination experience.
The Highlands and Islands is thriving in 2017 as a great destination experience and we should continue to work hard and raise our game towards a very positive future.
Be proud to play your part and enter this year’s awards!



Sixteen outstanding tourism businesses and individuals were revealed on Friday at the eighth annual Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) ceremony and gala dinner at the Drumossie Hotel in Inverness.  HITA recognises and rewards businesses and individuals offering superior service levels and customer awareness throughout the Highlands and Islands tourism industry.

Amongst the list of outstanding winners, owner and managing director of the Cobbs group, based at Loch Ness, Fraser Campbell, was awarded the coveted HITA Highlands and Islands  Ambassador of the Year award.

The 2013 Awards were opened by HITA Chairperson, Marina Huggett, Minister of Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing and Chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, Stephen Leckie, following entertainment from magician, Clive Grewcock, the Black watch 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and Pipe major Richard Grisdale, and musicians, Ruairidh McDonald and Colin and Alan Train, before the winners were announced. The awards were presented by the master of ceremonies, Robert Lovie.

The full list of HITA 2013 winners are Best Bar, Café or Restaurant Award winner – Café Artysans, Inverness, Best Cultural Event Award winner  – Tiree Music Festival, Tiree, Best Sporting Event Award winner – Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland’s Culloden Run, Inverness, Best Shopping Experience – Johnstons of Elgin, Elgin, Best Guest House or B & B Award  Wemyss House, Tain, Best Hotel Award winner  – Duisdale House Hotel, Isle of Skye, Best Self-Serve Accommodation Award – Whitefalls Spa Lodges, Isle of Lewis, Best Tour Operator Programme award winner – Wilderness Scotland, Aviemore , Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award – Boots N Paddles / TreeZone, Inverness, Marketing Campaign of the Year  Award – Wilderness Scotland, Aviemore, Best Partnership in Tourism award winner – Highland Experience Tours, Highland-wide operation, Best Nature Based Experience Award – Aigas Field Centre, Inverness-shire, Best Visitor Attraction Award – The Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre, Ballindalloch and the winner of the Training and Skills Development Award – Frankie’s Fish & Chips, Shetland.  Andrew Whitehouse, Café Artysans, Inverness and Gordon Pearson, WOW Scotland, Inverness were awarded HITA Best Young Ambassador of the Year 2013.

Each of the HITA winners* were automatically given a place on the shortlist of VisitScotland’s national tourism awards scheme, the Scottish Thistle Awards, providing the opportunity for HITA winners to be acknowledged nationally for their achievements. The Scottish Thistle Awards will be held on 15 November this year.

Marina Huggett, chairperson of HITA said: “In this our eighth year of operation, the HITA Board is delighted to report our biggest number of registrations for the awards. This high level coupled with the excellent quality of applicants made the task of our independent judging panel even more challenging.

We would like to say “well done” to every one of our finalists and to the winners “congratulations”. The hard work and determination of businesses like theirs is what puts Scotland on the map and helps us become a “must visit” destination.”

For more information please log on to www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk

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