The biggest ever battle to find the best tourism businesses in the Highlands and Islands has started, with the number vying for honours reaching an unprecedented level.
For the third year in succession, the competition has scaled new heights with entries and nominations surpassing previous record-breaking levels.
A total of 232 businesses or individuals will compete in the 2017 Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) – more than 14 per cent up on last year’s figure.
The number of entries and nominations for the prestigious competition has now risen by a remarkable 70 per cent since 2014 as a growing number of tourism operators bid to get their hands on the coveted piper trophies.
Judging got under way this week to determine the winners in 16 categories with the best places to stay, eat and drink and enjoy the area’s sporting and musical culture among those to be honoured.
Craig Ewan, the HITA chairman, said: “The growth of HITA over the last three years has been amazing, with unparalleled numbers of people entering or being nominated. It demonstrates the strength of the industry in this region where tourism is so vital. It also reflects a confidence among operators who are providing an ever-improving quality of service for our visitors.
“I am delighted that so many businesses and individuals are in the running for recognition and I wish everyone good luck in what will be the toughest competition in HITA’s history.”
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey MP Drew Hendry, the SNP’s shadow spokesperson on business, energy and industrial strategy, praised the ongoing success of the awards. He said: “Tourism is such a key sector for the Highlands and Islands and awards schemes like HITA are important to help raise standards and reward excellence.
“HITA has enjoyed remarkable growth in the last three years and it is extremely encouraging that the spotlight is being shone on more of our hard working and dedicated tourism operators. I wish everyone al the best for the competition.”
HITA is regarded as one of the premier industry hospitality awards programmes in Scotland, where the tourism sector is worth more than £4.5 billion to the economy.
The awards scheme, which is held in association with SSE, 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.
Winners will receive the famous piper trophies at a ceremony in the Drumossie Hotel, Inverness, on Friday,3 November and (with the exception of the Highland Rising Star and Highland Ambassador) go on to compete at the glittering Scottish Thistle Awards next year.