Region is proving magnet for visitors

The Winners with Kate Forbes MSP. Photograph: Callum Mackay.

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The people behind a thriving tourism industry in the Highlands and Islands have been celebrating their success at a glittering awards ceremony.

Businesses and individuals working in the sector across the area were recognised at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA), which took place at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel in Inverness recently.

One of the top awards handed out on the night was that of Highland Ambassador, which is particularly prestigious, defined as a ‘representative of the highest rank’, the tourism ambassador is always someone who achieves success in their own business, but also gives their time and skills they have gained over many years of voluntary service to the industry.

This year, the winner was Anne Gracie Gunn of Skye. Anne has had a successful career in the tourism industry with her accommodation offerings – she is the owner of the Sonas Collection, a group of three stylish family-run boutique hotels on the Isle of Skye – and she has also won many awards and been part of many boards including Skye Connect.

Other businesses celebrating on the night included the Sligachan Hotel on Skye, which won best par/pub; Cowal Highland Gathering scooped best cultural event or festival, with Tiree Music Festical being commended; Etive restaurant in Oban scooped best restaurant experience, with The Pierhouse Hotel in Appin being commended; Isle of Raasay distillery was named best visitor attraction; while Glenegedale House on the Isle of Islay won most hospitibal B&B/Guest House.

The region was given a boost earlier this year when it was listed as one of the top 10 places to visit in the world by Lonely Planet.

The high standard of hospitality on offer in the area now shows why it is held in such esteem across the globe, with entrepreneurs building on the success of the North Coast 500 and other ventures.

Rebecca Brooks, chairwoman of the Thistles and a Scottish Tourist Board member, who opened the awards said: ‘As chair of the industry panel, I am constantly impressed and amazed by the quality and entrepreneurism of the Highlands and Islands, punching well above your weight every year.
‘The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards continue to celebrate the very best of tourism and on behalf of the Scottish Thistle Awards industry panel I would like to congratulate all of the finalists.’

Laurence Young, chairman of the HITA board, also commented: ‘In recent years, tourism has been thriving across the Highlands and Islands and it just gets more and more important for the economy and for communities.

‘Visitors are the lifeblood of remote and rural populations – and all those who work in tourism and support them are heroes in my eyes. That’s why these awards are such a key part of the tourism industry in the Highlands and Islands, and why it’s absolutely imperative that we celebrate the effort, skill and success ofthose driving it forward.’

MSP Kate Forbes, Scotland’s minister for public finance and digital economy, addressed the audience at the ceremony. She said: ‘We need to continue to invest in our unique culture and heritage infrastructure which is key to attracting visitors. In some of our remote and rural areas, you are the ones creating jobs, creating local employment and ensuring that there is local economic growth.

‘We have a thriving tourism industry and there are real opportunities on the horizon – including the 2020 Year of Coast and Waters, to highlight those attributes.’

Winners of HITA awards – with the exception of the Highland Ambassador and Highland Rising Star – automatically qualify for a place in the nationals in March 2020.