More than 50 tourism businesses have taken a step nearer being crowned the best in the Highlands and Islands after being named as finalists in the industry’s annual ‘Oscars’.

On Skye, there is a range of contenders. These include Go to St Kilda, which operates out of Uig, in the Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience category; Charlotte Poynton, of The Three Chimneys, in Colbost in the Highland Rising Star category; and – in the Most Hospitable Hotel Category – the totally rejuvenated Skeabost Hotel, near Portree, owned and run by Anne Gracie and Ken Gunn whose accolades include Scottish Hoteliers of the Year and a Gold Laurel as two of Scotland’s ‘most visionary entrepreneurs.’

In the Outer Hebrides, finalists include Hebridean Celtic Festival, Stornoway, as Best Cultural Event or Festival and Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd, Tarbert as Best Visitor Attraction.

Competition to win a Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA) trophy reached a new high with entries and nominations this year surpassing previous record-breaking levels.

The 232 businesses and individuals vying for honours was more than 14 per cent up on last year’s figure.

Judges had the arduous task of narrowing down contenders to a 55-strong shortlist in 16 categories.

Among those to be recognised will be the best places to stay, eat, drink and enjoy the area’s sporting and cultural events, as well as its wildlife and scenery.

A new category, Best Heritage Tourism Experience, was introduced in 2017 to mark the Year of Heritage History and Archaeology.

The finalists represent the entire length and breadth of the region – from Shetland to Argyll and from Moray to the Outer Hebrides – and range from castles to pubs and from internationally renowned visitor attractions to remote getaways.

Craig Ewan, the HITA chairman, said: “Congratulations to everyone who has made the shortlist which is a fantastic achievement given the unprecedented number of quality entries and nominations we received this year. The geographical spread of finalists demonstrates the strength of tourism facilities across the Highlands and Islands.”

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 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 Scottish Thistle Awards next year.

FINALISTS

Best Accommodation Provider

Cuil Moss Cottage, Ardgour, by Fort William
Knoydart Hide, Inverie, Knoydart
Morag’s Lodge, Fort Augustus
Portavadie, Loch Fyne

Best Bar/Pub

Ferry Inn, Stromness, Orkney
Johnny Foxes and The Den, Inverness
The Lord of the Isles, Craobh Haven, Argyll
The Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore

Best Cultural Event or Festival

Findhorn Bay Arts, Forres
Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair, Fochabers
Hebridean Celtic Festival, Stornoway
Oban Live

Best Heritage Tourism Experience

Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, Inverness
Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, by Kyle of Lochalsh
Glenlivet Hill Trek, Ballindalloch
The Highland Folk Museum, Kingussie

Best Informal Eating Experience

Coll Hotel, Isle of Coll
Duart Castle Tearoom, Isle of Mull
Gordon Castle Walled Garden, Fochabers

Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience

Ace Adventures, Forres
Active Outdoor Pursuits, Newtonmore
Go to St Kilda, Uig, Skye
Scapa Scuba, Stromness, Orkney

Best Restaurant Experience

Links House at Royal Dornoch
Ninth Wave, Isle of Mull

Best Sporting Event

Fort William UCI Mountain Bike World Cup
Highland Golf Links
Skyline Scotland
Strathpuffer24, Strathpeffer

Best Visitor Attraction

Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, Inverness
Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd
Orkney Brewery and Visitor Centre
The Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie

Highland Rising Star

Euan Walker, Achnagairn Estate, near Inverness
Charlotte Poynton, The Three Chimneys, Skye
Neil Slessor, The Station Hotel, Rothes
Rosie Wilkins, The Torridon Hotel

Innovation in Tourism

Ghillie Basan, food and travel writer and cook, Moray
Gordon Castle Walled Garden, Fochabers
MotoScotland, Inveraray, Argyll
Scottish Wildlife Trust, Ullapool

Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House

Daviot Lodge, Inverness
Inverglen Guest House, Inverness
Loch Ness Guest House, Fort Augustus
RossMor Guest House, Grantown on Spey

Tourism and Hospitality Hero

Emma Clark, Glenegedale House, Islay
Ewen Macpherson, Clan Macpherson Museum, Newtonmore
Jodie Bramall, Portavadie, Argyll
Peter Cowe, Culloden Battlefield, Inverness

Working Together for Tourism

Sharing Shetland
The Malt Whisky Trail, Aberlour
The Shetland Times
Visit Inverness Loch Ness

Most Hospitable Hotel

Skeabost, Skye
The Torridon, Ross-shire.

Highland Ambassador - Winner announced on the evening