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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 23/04/2024

30 years of celebrating tourism excellence

For over 30 years, the Scottish Thistle Awards have celebrated excellence, innovation and collaboration within Scotland's tourism industry.

When it started in 1992, there were just six categories. Now, with more than 400 past winners and boasting eighteen categories this years, the Scottish Thistle Awards marks its 30th anniversary. 

Those looking to be among the best of the best in tourism have until 23:59 on Sunday 28 April to enter. So, as the deadline looms, we caught up with some of our past and present winners to find out why taking part is so important.

Celtic Connections

Celtic Connections is the UK's premier celebration of celtic music and this year celebrated its 30th anniversary. The festival is among the most prolific Scottish Thistle Award winners taking home six awards in the past twenty years. 

 Festival Manager Lesley Shaw is in no doubt about the importance of the awards.

"Our first Scottish Thistles success was back in 2008 and through the years Celtic Connections has won awards in the Best International Event, Best Cultural Event, and Outstanding Cultural Event or Festival categories.  

Participating in the Scottish Thistles Awards has been great for benchmarking that process. And of course, every award win is a great boost for our small, hard-working festival team.  

Putting yourself forward for consideration and finding out how you are judged by industry leaders helps you gauge your performance against others in your sector, and being shortlisted, commended or winning an award is a seal of approval demonstrating that you are a leader in your field. You can take advantage of that to raise your event or business profile. As the Scottish Thistles Awards are so well established, widely recognised and respected, being involved gives you a strong foundation on which to build future success.”  

A crowd watching a music performance at Celtic Connections

Credit: Glasgow Life / Gaelle Beri

Auchrannie Resort

Another frequent winner has been Auchrannie Resort, a luxury resort on the Isle of Arran. They most recently were named as a regional winner in the Best Hotel Experience category. 

Co-founder and Executive Chairperson, Linda Johnston offers this advice for those looking to enter.

“Entering the Thistle awards is a great opportunity to take a step back and identify what’s special and unique about you or your business. Even if you don’t win an award, your business will benefit from the process and you will probably get some new ideas for the future too. 

Don’t be put off entering because you think you are not good enough, you may surprise yourself, gain some new ideas and meet other likeminded individuals in the process.  Winning an award gives our team a boost and allows us to celebrate and acknowledge their impact on the excellence of the business.”  

Image of exterior Auchrannie Resort behind a lavish garden with hedges lining a small pond and water feature.Credit: VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Visitor attraction Camera Obscura & World of Illusions in Edinburgh took home the Innovation in Tourism award last year. General Manager Andrew Johnson says the award not only increased interest in the attraction but the judge’s feedback provided useful tips to improve its visitor experience. 

“We decided to enter the Scottish Thistle Awards to showcase the unique experiences and hands-on fun that we offer at Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. Our dedication to providing innovative and engaging experiences for our visitors aligns with the awards' emphasis on excellence and innovation in the tourism and hospitality sector.  

We find entering the awards a fantastic opportunity for reflection, analysis and benchmarking of our work so that we can continue to improve. Being nominated for and winning a Scottish Thistle Award had a positive impact on our business. The recognition helped enhance our reputation, leading to increased visibility and interest in our attraction.  

The process of application, reflection, analysis and feedback from the judging panel gave us useful insights to continue improving our offer. The accolade also boosted team morale and provided outside acknowledgement that what we do and how we do it is outstanding and special – quite something when you see the high standard of other entrants.” 

A man looking over sphere with lighting bolts, and illuminated bright neon green.

Credit: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Wilderness Scotland

Responsible tourism principles run through all categories and the Climate Action Award returns, having made its first appearance last year, demonstrating the sector’s commitment to making Scotland a sustainable tourism destination.  

Wilderness Scotland picked up the inaugural climate award last year. The travel company specialises in customised adventure holidays.  Ben Thorburn, Head of Marketing for the organisation, offers this advice:  

“Identify and celebrate what makes you different. We all put so much of our heart and soul into making a positive impact on the environment and the rural communities in which we visit that, in the case of the Climate Action award, it was a real sense of satisfaction that the hard miles are recognised as really making a difference.”  

A person standing on rocks, looking across to mountains while on the West Highland Way

Credit: Wilderness Scotland

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