Tag: tourism


Winners Announced In Highland Tourism ‘Oscars’

The best places in the Highlands and Islands to eat, drink, stay and enjoy the area’s wildlife, culture and scenery have been rewarded in the annual tourism ‘Oscars’.

The winners of this year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) range from a seafood stall to a shark spotting experience and from the UK’s first crowdfunded bar to a centre showcasing traditional skills.

In all, winners were announced in 14 categories which had attracted entries and nominations from 163 businesses and individuals.

HITA chairman Craig Ewan said: “Many congratulations to all our winners and those who were shortlisted for awards. It has been another highly successful year for tourism in the Highlands and Islands and this is reflected in the quality of entries and nominations we received.

“The standard rises year on year which shows the strength and confidence of the industry and the level of service provided to visitors.”

For the first time the ceremony was held without a professional host. Instead, Annie Bonney and Fraser Szymborski-Welsh, who are studying BA (Hons) Drama and Performance at Inverness College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, jointly anchored the event after winning a competition held during the Year of Young People.

The awards finale, held in front of 300 industry representatives at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, was addressed by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.

She said: “I’d like to offer my congratulations to the finalists and winners of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) for their fantastic work in encouraging people to visit the area by providing high quality visitor experiences.  It’s no wonder Lonely Planet recently named the Highlands and Islands as one of the top regions in the world for travellers in 2019.

“I was particularly pleased to see the awards pay tribute to Scotland’s Year of Young People with the impressive young presenters and recognition for young marketing talent. I look forward to working with the industry to build on this tremendous success.

“I also hope the news that hotels across Scotland will benefit from a cap to their business rates until 2022 will be welcomed and will help create a more secure, sustainable future for Scotland’s hospitality sector.”

Inverness and Argyll and the islands enjoyed the most success with five trophy winners, while others went to Ross-shire, Moray, Strathspey and Sutherland.

HITA, which was held in association with SSE for a sixth successive year, is recognised as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland.

Mike Seaton, SSE’s Director of Development, said: “SSE is now in its sixth year of sponsoring the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards and the quality and calibre of the winners and nominees this year have once again demonstrated that business, talent and innovation are thriving in this region.

“Energy and tourism are two of the most important sectors for the Highland economy. By working together we are able to create a lasting legacy for Highlands and Islands through projects like the South Loch Ness Trail and events like the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.”

HITA winners (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

Rebecca Brooks, Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards industry panel, said: “On behalf of the panel, I would like to congratulate all the winners of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.

“It is fantastic to see businesses and individuals have their commitment and dedication to tourism in the local region recognised at these prestigious awards, especially coming just a week after the Highlands & Islands was named in the top 10 Best in Travel destinations for 2019 by Lonely Planet.

“I’d like to wish all the HITA winners, the very best for the national final.”

HITA board director Elizabeth Mackintosh, who has made an outstanding contribution to tourism in the north of Scotland for more than five decades was named the 2019 Highland Ambassador.

The owner of Achmony Holidays, which provides self-catering accommodation at Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, was a pioneer in the self-catering sector and a founding member of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers. She was a member of the board of Inverness and Nairn area Tourist Board and also of the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board.

She was the inaugural chairperson of HITA, a post she held for five years, and was also on the steering group to set up VisitInvernessLochNess (VILN) Tourism BID.

Presenting the award, Craig Ewan, the HITA chair, said: “Elizabeth has been a driving force in collaborative thinking and in getting destinations to work together in Highland Tourism for more than 50 years.

“In that time, she has been a guide and a mentor for those setting up a tourism business for the first time, a ‘go-to’ person for advice and someone who is totally passionate about promotion of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland”.

MacGregor’s Bar, in Inverness, which has been operating for only a year and was set up by crowdfunding, took the title for Best Bar/Pub. Judges said: “Appealing to all ages, the history-focused Scottish bar has a great beer garden in the city centre, a menu bursting with unique food and drink combinations and a team dedicated to ensuring that customer satisfaction is at an all-time high”.

The Best Visitor Attraction award went to Cruise Loch Ness, which has taken more than 1.5 million passengers onto the famous waterway since 1968. Judges said: “The continuous re-investment in the business has allowed it to thrive in recent years.  Whilst it has certainly made the most of digital opportunities, other highlights include the commitment to staff training and effective collaboration with others”.

Inverness Taxis picked up the Innovation in Tourism award. Judges said the company, which has a fully-computerised system, GPS tracking, free booking app, baggage drop-off service and rucksack and bike forwarding, is a “great example of a company seeking new and innovative ways to benefit the business and the customer”.

The Working Together for Tourism category was won by Mull Eagle Watch, which started in 2000 at Loch Frisa to allow people to get great views of sea eagles without disturbing them. It is now a credited 5-star VisitScotland attraction and works in partnership with a local golf club. Judges said: “The collaboration shows how two very different companies can come together and offer a superb tourism experience.”

Another wildlife company, Basking Shark Scotland, took the Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience title.Based in Oban, it runs boat tours from April to October. Judges said their focus on the wider environment inspires guests who come on their trips to follow their lead in keeping the local area clean: “An active science programme culminated in them having their first scientific paper published in ground-breaking basking shark research.  They also found the time to organise a successful beach clean after discovering a remote beach on the Isle of Mull covered in plastic”.

Oban Live, formed in 2016 and the biggest live music event in Argyll & Bute, won the Best Cultural Event or Festival crown. HITA judges said: “The professional team who run the event have demonstrated dedication and commitment, as well as injecting an economic boost of £1.4 million to the area.”

The Purvai Festival, in Stornoway, which celebrates Asian arts and culture, received a commendation in this category.

Emma Clark, from Glenegedale House in Islay, was named Tourism and Hospitality Hero. Judges said Emma builds up a rapport with each guest long before they set foot over the threshold of the hotel: “This personal touch, from the initial enquiry to the moment they arrive, ensures that all guests feel at home the minute they enter Glenegedale House”.

The Seafood Shack, set up in Ullapool by two local women, won the award for Best Eating Experience. Judges said the team “work hard to ensure customer satisfaction is key with sustainability and provenance at the core of their offering.  With passion, care and enthusiasm, they produce fresh, locally sourced, award winning food every day”.

Also in Wester Ross, Pool House, at Achnasheen, won the title of Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House. Judges said “a truly wonderful experience” awaits guests at Pool House. “A historic house dating back 300 years which provides a truly unique stay for their guests”.

Links House at Royal Dornoch was crowned Most Hospitable Hotel, with judges praising the 15-bedroom luxury hotel’s “bespoke customer experience”.

The Best Self Catering/Alternative Accommodation Experience accolade went to self-catering business Where Stags Roar, in Newtonmore, with judges enthusing: “The level of attention to detail, customer satisfaction and repeat business is exemplary and has helped grow this impressive self-catering experience”. 

The Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, in Craigellachie, the only working cooperage in the UK where visitors can experience the ancient art of coopering, won the Best Heritage Tourism Experience award. The five-star credited VisitScotland attraction welcomes people from over 70 counties and the judges said it appeals to a mass of ages due to its unique blend of traditional rituals and modern-day technology.

During the Year of Young People, three winners were chosen for the Highland Rising Star award – Brian Sharp, from tour company Scottish Routes; John McNulty, from the Etive Restaurant in Oban; and Euan Walker, from Achnagairn Estate Kirkhill, near Inverness.

The HITA judges said: “We were delighted with the calibre, and emerging talent, of the young people who applied for the Rising Star award.  They showed true commitment and passion, striving to make the Highlands and Islands a world class destination. The three nominees were all so deserving that the unanimous decision was made to award all three as Highland Rising Stars 2018.”

Awards were also presented to students from Inverness College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, who won competitions organised in partnership with HITA.

As well as Annie Bonney and Fraser Szymborski-Welsh, who presented the awards, Leanne Munro, a 3rd year BA (Hons) Visual Communication and Design student at Inverness College UHI won a separate competition to create a marketing campaign aimed at attracting the next generation of visitors to the Highlands and Islands. Her design was on display at the awards ceremony.

The full list of winners is

Best Self-Catering/Alternative Accommodation Experience

Where Stags Roar, Newtonmore

Best Cultural Event or Festival 

Oban Live
Commended -Purvai Festival, Stornoway

Best Heritage Tourism Experience

Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, Craigellachie

Best Eating Experience 

The Seafood Shack, Ullapool

Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience 

Basking Shark Scotland, Oban

Best Pub/Bar 

MacGregor’s Bar, Inverness

Best Visitor Attraction 

Cruise Loch Ness, Inverness

Innovation in Tourism

Inverness Taxis

Most Hospitable B&B / Guest House 

Pool House, Achnasheen, Wester Ross

Most Hospitable Hotel 

Links House at Royal Dornoch, Sutherland

Working Together for Tourism 

Mull Eagle Watch

Highland Rising Star 

John McNulty, Etive Restaurant in Oban
Euan Walker, Achnagairn Estate, Kirkhill, Inverness
Brian Sharp, Scottish Routes

Tourism and Hospitality Hero 

Emma Clark, Glenegedale House, Islay

Highland Ambassador 

Elizabeth Mackintosh




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 finalists in the prestigious Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards have been announced with more than 40 businesses and individuals shortlisted for honours.

The annual awards recognise and reward the best places to stay, eat, drink and enjoy the area’s sporting, historic and cultural events, as well as its nature and scenery.

Scottish music festivals will compete against a celebration of Asian arts and culture in one category, while hotels, guest houses, restaurants, small food outlets, heritage centres, wildlife spotting tours and others will also battle it out for the coveted piper trophies.

Leading the way is Argyll and the Isles, with 16 finalists, with 11 from Inverness/ Inverness-shire and four each from Strathspey and Skye. Sutherland, Ross-shire, Moray, Lochaber and the Outer Hebrides are also represented on the shortlist.

Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) chairman Craig Ewan said: “Congratulations to all our finalists. Given the quality of the entries, the businesses and individuals who have made the shortlist can be really proud of their achievement.

“It was another extremely difficult task for the judges to narrow the entries to just 43 contenders and they have another huge challenge ahead in picking our eventual winners.

“The awards showcase the best of the tourism industry in the Highlands and Islands and also inspire operators to continue to raise standards and provide excellence at all times to our visitors.”

Winners will be announced at a ceremony on 2 November in the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, which will be attended by Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.


The HITA awards scheme, 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.

Some 163 businesses and individuals have entered or been nominated in 14 categories this year.

The awards scheme is free and is open to people operating in the Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Argyll & Bute (excluding G postcode areas) local authority areas.

HITA winners (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

HITA is an industry-led project representing all sectors of tourism. It is overseen by a voluntary board of directors and the independent judging panel is drawn from experienced industry professionals working across the region.

This year’s sponsors also include – VisitScotland, Loch Ness by Jacobite, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Port of Cromarty Firth, Developing the Young Workforce, Royal Bank of Scotland, Scottish Provincial Press, Inverness Hotels Association, The Highland Council, the Federation of Small Businesses, J Thomson Colour Printers, Caledonian Sleeper, Fishers, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and NorthLink Ferries. 

The 2018 shortlist is –

Best Self-Catering/Alternative Accommodation Experience

Where Stags Roar, Newtonmore
Portavadie Loch Fyne, Argyll
Clan Cottages, Oban
Morag’s Lodge, Fort Augustus

Best Cultural Event or Festival

Oban Live
Isle of Jura Music Festival
Purvai Festival, Stornoway

Best Heritage Tourism Experience

The Highlanders Museum, Fort George, Inverness
Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, Craigellachie
Elgin Museum
Go to St Kilda, Skye

Best Eating Experience

The Seafood Shack, Ullapool
Toravaig House Hotel, Skye
Ninth Wave Restaurant, Mull

Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience

Glenlivet Hill Trek
St Hilda Sea Adventures, Oban
Basking Shark Scotland, Oban
Nature Scotland, Mull
Majestic Line, Argyll

Best Pub/Bar

MacGregor’s Bar, Inverness
Black Isle Bar and Rooms, Inverness
Castle Tavern, Inverness

Best Visitor Attraction

Johnstons of Elgin
Dolphin Spirt, Inverness
Cruise Loch Ness, Inverness

Innovation in Tourism

Portavadie Loch Fyne
Cruise Loch Ness
Inverness Taxis

Most Hospitable B&B / Guest House

Glenegedale House, Islay
Pool House, Achnasheen, Wester Ross
RossMor Guest House, Grantown

Most Hospitable Hotel

Uig Hotel Ltd, Skye
Skeabost Hotel, Skye
Links House at Royal Dornoch, Sutherland

Working Together for Tourism

Fort William Accommodation Marketing Group
Mull Eagle Watch
Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative Ltd

Highland Rising Star

John McNulty, Taynuilt Hotel, Argyll
Euan Walker, Achnagairn Estate, Kirkhill, Inverness
Brian Sharp, Highland Experience Tours

Tourism and Hospitality Hero

Emma Clark, Glenegedale House, Islay
Alice Gill, Lodge on Loch Goil, Argyll
John Easson, Culloden Battlefield

Highland Ambassador

To be announced on the night



Businesses and individuals are being encouraged to put forward their nominations and entries for the prestigious Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards with the deadlines just days away.

The annual tourism ‘Oscars’, which were launched in March, celebrate and honour the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s history and culture.

This year 14 honours will be presented in what is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland.

Friday, 22 June is the closing date for nominations in three categories – Tourism and Hospitality Hero, Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador.

The deadline for entries in all other categories is Monday, 2 July.

To nominate a deserving business or individual, or enter your own business without being nominated, visit the HITA website www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk

The awards scheme, which is being held in association with SSEfor a sixth successive year, is free and is open to people operating in the Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Argyll & Bute (excluding G postcode areas) local authority areas.

The 2018 HITA aims to build on the success of last year’s awards which attracted a record 232 entries and nominations – an increase of more than 14 per cent on the 2016 figure and up 70 per cent on 2014.


HITA Chairman Craig Ewan said: “The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards represent a mark of excellence for businesses and individuals working in this important sector.

“We want to ensure that everyone has a chance to be recognised for the tremendous work they do in welcoming our visitors and that means getting nominations and entries in by the deadlines. Good luck to everyone.”

The contest will culminate at a ceremony in the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, on Friday,2 November and winners (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.



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.



Andy Maxtone, Programme Manager at Developing the Young Workforce (Inverness & central highlands)

In the Year of Young People 2018 we are proud to be a new sponsor of HITA and help recognise all the opportunities, experience and skills the dynamic tourism industry presents to the region’s young people.

Tourism in the Highlands is experiencing impressive growth, buoyed by favourable rate exchange and the impressive scenery and attractions the region has to offer. In turn, this is opening up boundless opportunities for young people to embrace – right on their doorstep.

From weekend jobs and apprenticeships to graduate schemes and managerial experience, a career in hospitality continues to provide countless young people with the chance to become work-ready, increase their employability skills and benefit from a career with real prospects.

Since the DYW Inverness & Central Highland programme began in 2016, we’ve enjoyed tremendous support from local hotels and tourism businesses who recognise the valuable contribution young people make to their business. This support has in turn helped us engage with thousands of young Highlanders, education providers and parents.

School partnerships, work experience and hospitality careers days help highlight prospective career paths, and we’ve been consistently impressed by the variety of traineeships and apprenticeships on offer in areas including management, chef training and operations.

DYW Inverness and Central Highland, which forms part of the Scottish Government’s Youth Employment strategy, ensures our young people have the skills and confidence they need to make the seamless transition between school and the workplace.

One area in which we are supporting and encouraging students is in learning a second language. With much of the growth in tourism in the Highlands and Islands fuelled by overseas visits, it is vital the industry adapts to meet expectations. Having a second language can open up new opportunities for individuals and also give them and their businesses a competitive advantage.

Our partnership this year with HITA extends our involvement in tourism and hospitality to help young people pursue a career in such an important sector.

We look forward to seeing our young workforce thrive this year and perhaps see some feature in the HITA honours list.

Good luck to everyone who enters or is nominated





Charlotte Davies, Sommelier & Assistant Restaurant Manager at The Three Chimneys, Isle of Skye, and winner of HITA’s 2017 Rising Star Award

During the Year of Young People 2018, it is really important that more of my contemporaries are given the recognition they deserve and opportunities to advance their careers, across all sectors.

We are the new generation that will be setting the bar even higher for standards and innovative new ideas to ensure that Scotland as a whole continues to thrive.

It is also a time to demonstrate that the tourism and hospitality sector is no longer a ‘stepping stone’ job that you do just to earn a bit of pocket money (although that is fine too if that’s your reason for doing it). It’s a career with incredibly fulfilling job prospects that can take you anywhere in the world if you work hard enough.

There are so many qualifications and apprenticeships that you can take now if you like to learn in a college setting or if, like me, you can dive straight in and learn on the job with the right mentoring and practical skills.

There has been a gradual shift over the past few years, but I’m really hoping that, with schemes like HITA, the general attitude and assumptions about hospitality will be seen in a completely new light.

I love my role in hospitality and working with wine (and other beverages!) and I love that every day is different and comes with new challenges.

Hospitality is a career for people who are innately caring and want to create an impeccable experience for their guests. Hospitality is a career for those who want to help make incredible memories.

I hope that more young people will see tourism and hospitality as a career choice and also more will be recognised for the important role they play in the sector.

Winning the prestigious HITA Rising Star award last year was a major achievement for me and has given me the extra motivation to pursue new challenges and goals.

I recently entered the Gold Service Scholarship 2018, the UK’s most prestigious Front of House award. Like HITA, it was a great experience and provided a fantastic opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues within the sector. It was also amazing to represent the whole of the country as the only Scottish finalist.

As well as representing Scotland, I have been given access to incredible opportunities that, without these types of awards, I would never get the chance to experience. For example, this year I will be visiting the famous sweet wine area of Tokaji in Hungary, visiting Mosel in Germany and get to enjoy a chocolate master class.

The HITA honour also gave me the incentive to pursue my next level of wine qualification, the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced. It will be a tall order to achieve but, having a few people around you that believe in your capabilities, can make all the difference.

The Three Chimneys, and particularly General Manager Paul Hughes, have been incredibly supportive of my involvement in all of these competitions and helping to train and prepare me for them.

There has been a lot of hard work and travelling involved, but it has been worth every minute of the extra time and all the miles.”

I would encourage any young person working in the sector to enter for HITA – and also businesses to nominate members of their young workforce. It could be a milestone in an incredible career journey.




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.






Rebecca Brooks, VisitScotland Board Member and Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel.

To win a Highlands and Islands Tourism Award is something to be proud of. Not only are you the best in the region but you have the honour of representing the area at the glittering national final.

The 2017/18 Scottish Thistle Awards National Final, which marked the competition’s silver anniversary, was a time to reflect on those individuals, events and businesses who have shown leadership in the sector.

To have four HITA winners pick up national Thistle Awards was a fantastic achievement for the individua businesses and for the region. My congratulations to Eilean Donan Castle, the Hebridean Celtic Festival, the Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and Portavadie for their success, and to all those who won through to the national final.

The Scottish tourism industry and hospitality sector prides itself on delivering a rewarding experience for visitors.

Our reputation as a world-class destination relies on continued investment and innovation and for the past 25 years the Scottish Thistle Awards has shone a spotlight on the success, innovation and excellence that our Scottish tourism industry delivers.

We need to think bigger about Scotland as a tourism destination to ensure we fulfil our potential – every visitor must get a quality experience every single time.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) is an important part of that drive for excellence and last year’s winners reflected the strength and depth at both a regional and national level.

This year is the 2018 Year of Young People. Over the 12 months Scotland will offer inspiration through its young people by celebrating their achievements, valuing their contributions to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine on a local and global stage.

As well as providing opportunities for the industry to engage with families and younger visitors through a year-long programme of events, it is also a time to celebrate the young talented individuals within Scottish tourism. For they are our aspiring Scottish Thistle Award winners of the future.

Good luck to everyone who enters or is nominated for HITA recognition this year and we look forward to seeing you at the Thistles.



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.

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