The owner of a Loch Ness boat cruise company has taken the top award at a prestigious Scottish tourism awards scheme.
Freda Newton MBE, who owns and manages Loch Ness by Jacobite, was rewarded for her role in tourism with the prestigious Caledonian MacBrayne Silver Thistle Award which was presented by tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop.
She received the prize for her “pivotal role in their region’s tourism industry” including her work as an ambassador for Scotland on international business trips and was described as “an inspirational role model to women” and “mentor to young entrepreneurs”.
Ms Newton’s award was one of 13 handed out last night at the Scottish Thistle Awards national final.
The glittering ceremony, held during Scottish Tourism Week, took place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre hosted by TV presenter and Deacon Blue drummer, Dougie Vipond, and presenter and former Miss Scotland, Jennifer Reoch.
Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge Hotel and Restaurant on Skye, owned by Lady Claire Macdonald with her husband, Lord Godfrey, chief of the Clan Donald, was named Most Hospitable Hotel at the event.
In the north-east, the head housekeeper at Jurys Inn (Aberdeen Airport), No. 10 Bar & Restaurant and Mill of Nethermill Holidays also took awards.
Jean Ryrie picked up the Tourism & Hospitality Hero gong, while the No. 10 Bar & Restaurant took home Best Informal Eating Experience and Mill of Nethermill Holidays near Fraserburgh took Best Accommodation Provider
VisitScotland’s Scottish Thistle Awards recognise innovation, excellence and success in the hospitality and tourism industry – rewarding hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, visitor attractions, events and individuals who go that extra mile to provide customers with exceptional service.
Ms Ryrie, head housekeeper at Jurys Inn, said: “I am very humbled winning this reward as I feel very natural in looking after the customers at all times. I feel it is a big part of my job to respond to the needs and request of the customers and treat them as I would like to be treated.”
No. 10 Bar & Restaurant, in the city’s Queen’s Terrace, was described by Thistle judges as “outstanding”. They commended their “courageous business strategy” and “excellent customer service”.
Alan Aitken, operations director at No. 10 Bar & Restaurant, said: “We are absolutely delighted to win the award for best informal dining experience. Since we first launched the business, our team has worked tirelessly to provide the North-east with the best customer service and quality produce so they can enjoy eating local and they have truly made the business the success it is today.
“Aberdeen is facing a tough time right now but we were determined to create something exciting for the city and winning this award helps to shine a spotlight on the north-east’s tourism sector and what it has to offer. We also have to say a big thank you to our loyal customers who have embraced the new style No.10 and supported us from day one.”
Thistle judges commended Mill of Nethermill Holidays in Fraserburgh for its focus on sustainability and “active engagement with local groups” resulting in “impressive results” on customer feedback.
Bill Pitt who owns Mill of Nethermill with his wife Lynn, said: “We are thrilled to have received the Scottish Thistle Award for Best Accommodation Provider. Representing Aberdeenshire in this category was an honour in itself, and to have won on a national basis is more than we could have ever imagined.
“Our guests helped to make this award possible, and we would like to thank them for choosing stay at Mill of Nethermill Holidays. We also believe that working closely with other businesses in our local tourism industry helped us to shape our business in a positive way.”
A total of 14 awards were handed out on the night including Caledonian MacBrayne Best Cultural Event or Festival, Best Restaurant Experience and Best Visitor Attraction.
Rebecca Brooks, chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards industry panel and VisitScotland board member, said: “Congratulations to all of the winners at the 2016/17 Scottish Thistle Awards National Final. They represent the best of the best in Scotland and epitomise the strength and depth of the tourism and hospitality experience across the country.
“The Scottish tourism industry and hospitality sector prides itself on delivering a rewarding experience for visitors and all of our finalists should be proud of their achievements in reaching the final – which, in itself, is both a recognition of excellence and innovation, and a sign of quality.
“Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy – supporting communities and creating jobs throughout the year in every corner of the country. We look forward to the 2017/18 Scottish Thistle Awards when we will celebrate the achievements of our industry colleagues during our 25th anniversary year.”
Jo Robinson, regional director at VisitScotland, said: “Huge congratulations to Mill of Nethermill Holidays, Jean Ryrie and the No. 10 Bar & Restaurant for being crowned the best in Scottish tourism.
“Tourism is more than a holiday experience – it creates jobs and sustains communities across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and all finalists should be proud of their achievements in reaching this stage.
“These awards recognise the drive and passion the industry has for creating an unforgettable experience for visitors and I’m delighted that some of Scotland’s top businesses are found right here on our doorstep.”
This year the Scottish Thistle Awards received a record-breaking number of entries, totalling 715, amounting to a 16% increase on last year.
The flagship tourism awards are led by several organisations, including VisitScotland, Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards, Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards, the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland, Scotland Food and Drink, Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, sportscotland and Wild Scotland.