RECORD ENTRIES MEAN ANOTHER CHALLENGE FOR AWARDS JUDGES

Freda Newton, chair of Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards judging panel

Another record-breaking year; another record-breaking challenge for the judges.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards just keep getting bigger. This year we’ve received 232 nominations and entries – up 14 per cent on last year’s previous best-ever total, and an amazing 70 per cent rise since 2014.

This fantastic response demonstrates a confidence within the industry and highlights the growing number of high quality tourism establishments and services provided for our visitors.

HITA is one of the most well-respected award programmes and it is heartening to see so many businesses coming forward, or being nominated, to be open to scrutiny and ultimately try to be named as the best in the industry in this area.

As tourism is so vital to the Highlands and Islands, it is essential that we continue to improve standards and bring fresh ideas into the sector. HITA encourages and rewards good business practice, which provides visitors with high standards of service, and also innovation, which can elevate a business beyond the ever-increasing tourism expectations and demands.

For 2017 we have introduced a new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience, as part of the themed Year of History Heritage and Archaeology, and to celebrate the extraordinary wealth of historic assets we have in the Highlands and Islands.

Demonstrating the region’s strength in this particular sector of tourism, we have received 15 entries in the new category. Other categories have also attracted large entries, including Best Accommodation Provider with more than 30.

Judging this amount of entries, particularly as the standard just keeps getting higher, is an enormous task for our 12 judges who are drawn from all parts of the Highlands and Islands and from all sections of the industry.

So, how do we choose the winners?

Over the coming weeks, we will examine all these entries and start forming opinions on who we think deserve to pick up the trophies. Each judge marks the entries independently online, and can use personal knowledge, reviews and information from industry contacts to support details provided with the entry or nomination.

When we meet up on 13th September we will compare notes, discuss and debate our choices and come to a consensus on who should make the shortlist for each category, and who in our combined opinions have gone that little bit further to be crowned winners.

From experience, some of these decisions are easier than others and a few intense conversations await as we narrow down our choices. All, or nearly all, will be revealed on 29 September when we announce the shortlists.

Thank you to everyone for giving us this onerous but highly rewarding task, and good luck.

TOURISM AWARDS CELEBRATE RECORD ENTRIES HAT-TRICK

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.HITA statue

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.

NOTES TO EDITORS

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, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Loch Ness by Jacobite, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, System2, NorthLink Ferries, Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Provincial Press, Inverness Hotels Association, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, Caledonian Sleeper, Chivas Brothers, The Highland Council, the Federation of Small Businesses, J Thomson Colour Printers, Fishers and BidFood Scotland.

www.highland-tourism-awards.co.uk
Facebook – www.facebook.com/Highlands.and.Islands.Tourism.Awards
Twitter – @HiTourismAwards

The 2017 categories are –

Best Accommodation Provider
Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House
Most Hospitable Hotel
Best Cultural Event or Festival
Best Informal Eating Experience
Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience
Best Restaurant Experience
Best Sporting Event
Best Visitor Attraction
Best Bar/Pub
Innovation in Tourism
Highland Ambassador
Highland Rising Star
Tourism & Hospitality Hero
Working Together for Tourism
Best Heritage Tourism Experience

WOMEN GOLFERS KEEN TO TEE UP AT CASTLE STUART

Castle Stuart Golf Links is flagging up a rapid response to its forthcoming Highland Ladies Open, with just a few places left in the field.

The call for entries was only made on 6 June and already the capacity of 20 teams has almost been reached, with just a few places remaining.

To book a place in the event on 17 September contact Castle Stuart on 01463 796111 or bookings@castlestuartgolf.com 

Gillian Stewart coaching

Stefanie Whyte gets coaching tips from Gillian Stewart.

This year players have the added incentive of having one of the UK’s leading golf coaches help them prepare for the competition.

Former Curtis Cup player Gillian Stewart, a four-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, is now a respected coach based at Castle Stuart and will offer some tips on the putting green to help them maximise their performance.

Stefanie Whyte, Castle Stuart’s administration and marketing manager, said: “The response to this year’s event has been amazing. Within a matter of days of launching the event we had filled half the field and the enquiries have kept coming in.

“We still have a small number of places available, but I would encourage players to book quickly.”

Castle Stuart Golf Links, which has hosted the Scottish Open four times in the last seven years, is holding the Highland Ladies Open for the third time. The event attracts golfers from across the Highlands, with players from Sutherland, Caithness, Ross-shire, Inverness, the Black Isle and Grantown already booked to compete.

They include defending champions and 2015 runners-up Linsey Munro and Jackie Philips (from Inverness Golf Club)

The competition, which uses the Stableford scoring system, is limited to 20 teams, each of two women, resident in the KW, IV or PH19–41 postcode areas.

VIDEO REVOLUTION LEADS TO MERGER AND GROWTH

Two leading communication agencies are set to merge and create the next generation of news and PR services.

System2, experts in PR, corporate intelligence, social media and communication strategies, will now also provide and use video as one of its services following the merger with strategic partner DP Digital Media.

Ian Forsyth, Peter Kane, System2

Ian Forsyth (left) and Peter Kane of System2

The move will take System2 into the top 100 PR agencies in the UK outside of London and comes amid forecasts that video will account for 80 per cent of all internet traffic by 2019.

The merger creates a joint team of eight staff, with operations in Inverness and Glasgow, and film studio facilities in Dingwall to provide a wide variety of media content.

Peter Kane, Director at System2, said: “We’re delighted to announce this growth and expansion through an equal merger of the two teams. Video and film is of vital importance and is crucial to businesses and organisations that want to engage with customers and audiences.

“The world of news, media and engaging with customers online is clearly changing. Newspapers, social media platforms and how people search out information about news and their interests continue to go in new directions. That’s why it’s important for public relations and film companies to respond and change too, as well as businesses. That’s what we’re doing, and in the process, we’ve created the next generation PR company.”

Ian Forsyth, Director at System2, said: “System2 is a new type of PR agency which delivers ‘full circle’ communications. We can identify customer targets, provide corporate intelligence, design communication strategies and deliver them through a variety of channels, ranging from news and social media through to film for multiple platforms. 

“This merger works because we have the same approach and work ethos, as well as a unique range of services.” 

Ian Forsyth, along with Peter and Suzanne Kane, are the leading directors of System2 and their combined client list includes national and international brands in golf, IT, oil and gas, aviation, healthcare, music, tourism and other sectors, with activity in the UK, Europe and the USA.

FREE GOLF OFFER AT ROYAL DORNOCH AS GLENMORANGIE LINKS EXTENDED

Golfers lining up to experience Royal Dornoch’s renowned Championship Course in a forthcoming open event are being given the chance to prepare by playing its sister course for free.

The Glenmorangie Open, an 18-hole stroke play competition – which has new headline sponsors this year – is being held on the world-famous links on Sunday 20 August for male golfers with handicaps of 13-27.

Royal Dornoch logoThe Par 70 Championship Course was ranked No.5 in the world and No.1 in Scotland by Golf Digest in 2016.

To encourage entries from as far afield as possible, Royal Dornoch Golf Club is offering a free round on Saturday, 19 August on the adjacent Par 71 Struie Course, which Golf Digest has also ranked among the Top 50 links courses in the UK & Ireland.

The tournament’s new sponsor was confirmed this week and extends Royal Dornoch’s long-running association with Glenmorangie, whose distillery is in nearby Tain on the Dornoch Firth. Established in 1843, the distillery is famed for having the tallest stills in Scotland.

It has created a limited-edition single malt, Glenmorangie Dornoch, to raise awareness of the conservation of the firth, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Last year it produced 500 bottles of a single cask 16-year-old malt to commemorate 400 years of golf being played in Dornoch.

Glenmorangie is also known as the ‘Spirit of the Open’ through a partnership with the R&A and The Open Championship.

Neil Hampton, Royal Dornoch’s general manager, said: “Glenmorangie is a long-time and highly valued partner and we are extremely pleased to be extending our relationship through this new sponsorship.

“The event attracts interest from across the country and beyond. Those who travel to Dornoch often spend the weekend here so we felt we could offer them a free round to maximise their time and be prepared for the Sunday competition.

“Our website www.royaldornoch.com offers advice on accommodation in the area.

“Local players will also be able to take advantage of this offer and enjoy the Struie Course ahead of the event.”

Players wishing to enter the event can book online – https://glenmorangie2017.eventbrite.co.uk/

During July and August, junior players (aged under 18 on 1 January 2017) will also be able to play the Struie for free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Neil Hampton added: “We are a community club and like to give something back when we can.

“The Struie is an excellent links course in its own right and one that our members and visitors enjoy playing when visiting Dornoch.

“It provides a goods challenge for all abilities. Our offer gives junior players an incentive to play a fine course and gain experience and hone their skills in links golf.”

HEBCELT LAUNCHES GLOBAL AUGMENTED REALITY CAMPAIGN

An award-winning Celtic music festival has added another string to its bow by using augmented reality to bring the event closer to its audience.

The technological innovation will allow people across the world to interact with the Hebridean Celtic Festival using just their smart phone or tablet.

Visitors to this year’s HebCelt, from 19-22 July in Stornoway in the isle of Lewis, will be able to use the technology on site. But those unable to attend the festival can also catch online sights and sounds of the popular event, which is being headlined by The Waterboys, Imelda May, Dougie MacLean and Lucy Spraggan.

It can work with signs, posters, adverts and on buildings – anywhere the festival’s 2017 logo is featured – bringing printed materials to life and allowing music fans to learn more about the event on the spot.

Layar appBy simply downloading a free recognition software app, mobile devices can trigger videos of the festival, artists, programming information and even be used as a virtual box office to buy tickets.

The app, called Layar, can be downloaded free to IOS or Android devices. Once installed the app ‘reads’ the logo and reveals a computer-generated image or video to the user’s screen.

See

How to use Augmented Reality  https://youtu.be/jHo6p-rN1_M

HebCelt Augmented Reality https://youtu.be/rjRRNIoS3RM

HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “We are offering the new augmented reality experience as an extra feature to add to the enjoyment of visiting the festival this year. But it will also mean people around the world can interact with the festival and capture a flavour of its atmosphere at any time.

“The message will be updated in the run up to HebCelt and during the event, allowing people to instantly access information and interviews, buy tickets and also get a taste of our unique festival wherever they are.”

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeill praised the initiative. He said: “The introduction of Augmented Reality technology is an exciting addition to this year’s festival and will further enhance the HebCelt experience for both local people and visitors.

“It is another example of HebCelt’s innovative and forward-thinking approach to improve the audience’s enjoyment of this popular and important event.”

Rachel Mackenzie, area manager at Highlands and Islands Enterprise in the Outer Hebrides, added: “The use of augmented reality will hugely benefit local people and visitors to the festival. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for people around the world to access the exciting line up.

“We are delighted to support the event again this year and it’s great to see digital technology being used as a way to present new opportunities.”

  • Tickets for this year’s HebCelt can be booked here – www.hebceltfest.com
  • Tickets are available for the main arena, An Lanntair, late night ceilidhs/clubs and the community events
  • HebCelt has again teamed up with Pitch Village to provide ticket and accommodation packages. See  http://pitchvillage.com/festivals/hebcelt

Stay connected with all the festival’s news:

* on Twitter  https://twitter.com/hebcelt
* on Instagram https://instagram.com/hebcelt
* on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HebCelt
* online https://www.hebceltfest.com
*
YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/hebceltfest
*
Spotify https://open.spotify.com/user/hebcelt.festival
* Sponsors https://www.hebceltfest.com/backstage/sponsors

NOTES TO EDITORS

The Hebridean Celtic Festival is a not-for-profit charitable event firmly rooted within its community and is almost entirely managed and produced by voluntary effort.

The festival has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music. It is estimated it has generated more than £20 million for the local economy over two decades.

The 2016 HebCelt was the most successful in the event’s 21-year history. An independent visitor survey and economic impact report showed it generated more than £2.2 million for the islands’ economy and helped safeguard 40 tourism-related jobs.

In 2015 HebCelt was selected as one of the top 10 UK summer festivals for the fifth year in succession by influential publication Songlines.

In 2014 HebCelt was voted Best Event or Festival at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.

It has also been ranked Best Large Festival at the industry-sponsored Scottish Event Awards and won Best Event of the Year honours at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.

HEBCELT AWAITS DOUGIE MACLEAN AS HE PLANS AHEAD

It’s typical of Dougie MacLean that, when one door temporarily closes, he finds the keys to two other openings.

The time he (with wife and festival director Jenny) would normally spend on preparing for the annual Perthshire Amber Festival, which they have shelved this year after 12 successful events, will instead be used to put the finishing touches to a new CD and continuing to work on the songs and script for a musical.

That’s in addition to his ongoing writing and touring, as well as recording programmes on his own TV station for his legions of fans around the world.

The new CD, entitled ‘New Tomorrow’ is a family affair, recorded and produced by son Jamie M

acLean in their Butterstone Studios, while daughter Julia is responsible for the artwork. It features songs written over the last 3-4 years and will be released while Dougie is on tour in the UK and the US this year.

These dates will include two solo headline gigs later this month at the award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway, which Dougie helped to launch more than two decades ago.

In 1996, he was among the first acts to perform at the inaugural HebCelt and has returned a number of times since, most recently in 2013 when he played with the nine-piece MacLean Project. The same year he was i

nvited into the festival’s Hall of Fame, shortly after receiving the BBC Radio 2 Lifetime Achievement Award.

 “It was great to be involved in that first festival and to be involved in the beginning of something”, he said. “It was a big learning curve for everyone, but they’ve done a brilliant job balancing the need to get headliners that get the attention, but also staying true to the roots of the event.

“Much of the ‘festival experience’ is to do with the place, the community and the people, as muc

h as the music on the stage. Lewis has such a great musical heritage; the setting is unique and the adventure of going to a festival on an island all adds to the experience.”

Songs from the new CD are sure to feature in the HebCelt gigs on Thursday, 20 July on the main stage, and the following afternoon, at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway for the show ‘Story Behind the Songs’ which will give an insight into the inspiration for some of his huge back collection of work.

“People are interested in what made you write certain songs. Sometimes you don’t want to give t

oo much away because people have their own stories connected to songs and it can de-mystify the mystery of what it’s about, but there are plenty of stories to tell in the show.

“There is something lovely about the communication you can get with the audience when you are up there on your own. I performed in bands for much of my career, but I also love playing solo. I’m an old hippy and fromthat generation where playing solo at a festival is quite a big thing – you get that rapport and interaction with the crowd.”

The featured songs could range from ‘New Tomorrow’, the title track of the new CD and written for his new-born grandson (“I just wanted to tell him who I was”), to ‘Shadow of the Mountain’, inspired by a volcano erupting while he was playing a concert in Anchorage in Alaska in 2009.

“At the time I got stuck in Anchorage for four days. The city was covered in volcanic ash and everyone at the gig had masks on.

“I wrote the song as I thought it was a great metaphor for life – as humans we think everything is in place and then we wake up one morning and it’s all pear-shaped. So, we travel through life in the shadow of a volcano.”

Or, he may describe writing ‘Distant Son’, about living in the west side of Lewis where he and Jenny have had a home for more than 20 years.

“My grandparents were native Gaelic speakers and one of the reasons I ended up there was to better understand the Gaelic culture. I’ve got inspiration for songs there, but it’s also a place I can clear my head and get in touch with another part of me.”

While a ‘re-invented’ Perthshire Amber will probably return in 2018, its absence this year has also allowed Dougie time to develop another project, his planned ‘folk musical’, set in Perthshire in AD83 and based on a love story between a Roman soldier and an Iron Age girl.

“You can probably guess the title”, he said of the show that will feature both old and new songs, including his most famous creation ‘Caledonia.

“It’s amazing as a songwriter to take one of your well-known songs, put it into a different context and see how it can have a whole different life.

I’ve had great fun doing it. I love musicals and I have been wanting to do this for years, it’s just taken a long time to find the right story.

“I live just along the road from the remains of a Roman fort and up on the ridge there are also remains of an Iron Age community. I just imagined these people in their roundhouses waking up one morning and seeing 10,000 Roman soldiers down by the River Tay. It must have been like spacemen arriving.

“I love that kind of history- if I hadn’t been a musician I may have been an archaeologist. And there are so many parallels to the modern world. It’s about the big corporation and the wee guy and it’s interesting to use an historical story that also has a resonance with modern society.”

After 43 years as a professional singer songwriter, it’s clear Dougie still has the desire to write and sing as much as ever: “I’m very lucky to have that longevity and I’m very grateful.

“It’s a precarious business, but fortunately I’ve been able to build up a public that allows me to do concerts in places like Anchorage, or Sydneyor Stornoway.

This year’s HebCelt will run from 19-22 July in the island of Lewis and will also be headlined by The Waterboys, Imelda May and Lucy Spraggan.

• Tickets for this year’s festival can be booked here – www.hebceltfest.com

• Tickets are available for the main arena, An Lanntair, late night ceilidhs/clubs and the community events.

• HebCelt has again teamed up with Pitch Village to provide ticket and accommodation packages. See http://pitchvillage.com/festivals/hebcelt

 Stay connected with all the festival’s news:

* on Twitter https://twitter.com/hebcelt

* on Instagram https://instagram.com/hebcelt

* on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HebCelt

* online https://www.hebceltfest.com

* YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/hebceltfest

* Spotify https://open.spotify.com/user/hebcelt.festival

* Sponsors https://www.hebceltfest.com/backstage/sponsors

NOTES TO EDITORS

The Hebridean Celtic Festival is a not-for-profit charitable event firmly rooted within its community and is almost entirely managed and produced by voluntary effort.

The festival has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music. It is estimated it has generated more than £20 million for the local economy over two decades.

The 2016 HebCelt was the most successful in the event’s 21-year history. An independent visitor survey and economic impact report showed it generated more than £2.2 million for the islands’ economy and helped safeguard 40 tourism-related jobs.

In 2015 HebCelt was selected as one of the top 10 UK summer festivals for the fifth year in succession by influential publication Songlines.

In 2014 HebCelt was voted Best Event or Festival at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.

It has also been ranked Best Large Festival at the industry-sponsored Scottish Event Awards and won Best Event of the Year honours at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards.