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.