The contest to find the best tourism operators in the Highlands and Islands is hotting up with just a quarter of the original record-breaking entries now selected to challenge for the coveted trophies.
In all, 203 businesses or individuals entered or were nominated in 15 categories this year in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, the biggest ever response in the event’s 12-year history.
Judges have now reduced the number of competitors to a 50-strong shortlist, revealed today (Friday 30 Sept).
The finalists stretch across the entire length of the region – from Shetland to Dunoon – and represent the best of the industry in areas such as hospitality, catering, innovation, hosting sporting events and managing tours and activities.
Argyll leads the way with 16 entries making the shortlist, with eight from Strathspey, six from Ross-shire, five from Skye and four from Inverness.
Entries range from large Highland estates to the only café on the small island of Canna; from small pubs to internationally-renowned eating establishments and from adventure holidays to get-away-from-it-all accommodation. Categories also recognise individuals who champion hospitality or are young ambassadors for the industry.
Craig Ewan, HITA chairman, said: “It’s been an extremely difficult task for our judges to narrow down a record breaking entry of more than 200 to a shortlist of 50 finalists.
“The standard of entries rises every year and so everyone who has made the shortlist should be extremely proud. They represent all aspects of the Highlands and Islands tourism industry and demonstrate the quality of businesses and individuals that are working every day to improve the visitor and guest experience.
“Picking winners from this list will be a real challenge for our judging panel.”
HITA, which is run in association with SSE, is recognised as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland. The awards highlight and reward excellence throughout the sector which is worth more than £4.5 billion to the Scottish economy.
The competition will culminate in a grand ceremony at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness, on 4 November. Winners, with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador categories, will go on to represent the region at the glittering national final of the Scottish Thistle Awards next year.
This year’s shortlist is –
Best Accommodation Provider
Ardgour Estate, Lochaber
Knoydart Hide, Lochaber
The Majestic Line, Dunoon
The Brochs of Coigach, Ross-shire
Best Cultural Event or Festival
Piping at Forres, Moray
Cowal Highland Gathering, Dunoon
Oban Winter Festival
Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival
Best Informal Eating Experience
Mountain Café , Aviemore
Tralee Bay Fish and Chips, Oban
Applecross Inn, Ross-shire
Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience
Craggan Outdoors, Grantown
Wilderness Scotland, Aviemore
Go To St Kilda, Nethy Bridge
Best Restaurant Experience
Inver Restaurant, Argyll
Kinloch Lodge Hotel & Restaurant, Skye
The Three Chimneys, Skye
Best Sporting Event
Highland 2015, Scottish Orienteering Association
Etape Loch Ness cycle sportive
Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair, Moray
Best Visitor Attraction
Glen Ord Distillery, Muir of Ord
Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, Skye
Speyside Cooperage Visitor Centre, Craigellachie
The Barn Bar, Oban
Highland Rising Star
Gillian Ross, MacGochans
Jon-Paul Saint, Links House at Royal Dornoch
Jamie Duncan, Argyll Cruising, Dunoon
John McNulty, Taynuilt Hotel, Argyll
Rachael Gavan, Wilderness Scotland, Aviemore
Innovation in Tourism Award
WOW Scotland Tours, Inverness
Mull Eagle Watch
Isle of Mull Cottages
Most Hospitable B&B or Guest House
Lochshore House B&B, Skye
The Grange, Fort William
Old Drynie House B&B, North Kessock
Glenegedale House, Islay
Most Hospitable Hotel
Inver Lodge House, Lochinver
The Pierhouse Hotel, Port Appin, Argyll
Tourism and Hospitality Hero
Emma Clark, Glenegedale House, Islay
Gordon Pearson, WOW Scotland Tours, Inverness
Andrew Jones, Highland Experience Tours, Inverness
Working Together for Tourism
The Shetland Times Ltd
Scotland’s Best B&Bs, Nairn
Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative Ltd
There is no shortlist in the Highland Ambassador category. The winner will be announced on the night.