Scottish Tourism and Hospitality Awards back for second year

Rory and Vicki Steel Cross Keys Inn Scottish Thistle Awards 2023 Chris Watt Photography

After a hugely successful first year, the South of Scotland’s regional Thistle Awards are back for 2024, showcasing the finest in Scottish tourism and hospitality across the region, with nominations open from 1 March and a dedicated online session on offer to help businesses craft a winning entry.

Spearheaded at national level by VisitScotland, in collaboration with regional partners, the 2024 awards commemorate the 30th anniversary of the esteemed Scottish Thistle Awards Programme. 

Last year saw the first ever South of Scotland Thistle Awards take place, culminating in a fabulous awards celebration at the Cairndale Hotel in Dumfries attended by the leading lights of tourism and hospitality from right across the region. 

The success didn’t end there, either – the South of Scotland triumphed at the national finals, taking home six Scottish Thistle Awards, double the number scooped by any other single region. 

Nominations open on Friday 1 March – and entries on 18 March – for the regional 2024 South of Scotland Thistle Awards, again proudly sponsored by Caledonia Park and Fishers and delivered by the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA), supported by South of Scotland Enterprise.

Through this initial stage, members of the public can show their support and appreciation for a hotel, restaurant, visitor attraction or event whose quality and excellence makes them a prime contender for an award by nominating businesses to consider applying once direct entries open on 18 March.

Entries must be submitted by the closing date of 28 April 2024, with the regional shortlist due to be announced in July.

Plans are already well under way for this year’s awards celebration on Thursday 3 October, with the venue to be announced in the coming weeks.

Showcasing the very best in tourism and hospitality across the South of Scotland, the 2024 Thistle Awards feature a new ‘Rising Star’ award category for 2024, recognising emerging talent shaping the future of tourism in the region. 

Last year, the South of Scotland Thistle Awards saw 112 entries and more than 200 nominations.

To help businesses craft a winning Thistle Awards application, the SSDA are hosting a free webinar on 7 March, guiding participants through the nomination process for the 2024 Thistle Awards. 

David Hope-Jones OBE, Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA) said: “Last year’s inaugural South of Scotland Thistle awards were a brilliant success, and it was wonderful to see so many quality businesses from the South of Scotland being recognised by their industry peers in the region and throughout Scotland. If you know a tourism or hospitality business in your local community that deserves to be celebrated for excellence and innovation, then this is the time. Get your nomination in and show them your support!”

Rory Steel, owner of The Cross Keys Inn, Ettrickbridge, which won Best Bar or Pub at both the 2023 South of Scotland Thistle Awards and the national Scottish Thistle Awards, said: “Being nominated for a Thistle Award was a thrill in itself, but winning the Best Pub accolade was a different level.  The whole team is still buzzing from it, and the impact it’s had on the profile for the Cross Keys Inn has been dramatic.  We have a lot to live up to in 2024, and it’s a challenge we are relishing!

“If any businesses are pondering whether or not to apply this year, I’d tell them to do it in a heartbeat. It’s a huge boost to your organisation’s morale being involved in the Thistle Awards process and a great way to meet and learn from the excellent businesses working to make the South of Scotland the incredible destination it is.”

Melanie Allen, owner of Nithbank Country Estate, won two national Scottish Thistle Awards in 2023, including Tourism Individual of the Year. She said:

“I am thrilled to see the launch of the Thistle Award nominations for 2024, inviting individuals across the South of Scotland to acknowledge and nominate the outstanding tourism businesses, enterprises, and individuals who epitomise authenticity and excellence in their field. Being honoured with both regional and national Thistle Awards in 2023 was an immensely gratifying experience, personally and for my business. These awards not only distinguish your contribution but also foster invaluable connections and partnerships within industry.

“Whether as a winner, finalist, or nominee, the Thistle Awards provide a platform for reflection, recognition, and connection. They stand as a testament to the tireless efforts of our tourism community and the enduring spirit of hospitality that defines Scotland’s identity. Celebrate the remarkable achievements of Scottish tourism talent and nominate those who deserve to be honoured. Let us make 2024 another year of unparalleled success for the South of Scotland!”

Caledonia Park Centre Director Scott Wells said: “We are incredibly proud to sponsor and support the South of Scotland Thistle Awards. This platform allows us to recognise and celebrate the excellence and success of outstanding individuals, businesses, and partnerships within our tourism, hospitality, and events industry. 

“At Caledonia Park Designer Outlet, Gretna, we understand the importance of acknowledging and championing the very best that the South of Scotland has to offer. We are honoured to be a part of an event that showcases the exceptional innovation and quality that our region has to offer.”

Gordon Smith, VisitScotland Destination Development Director – South of Scotland, said: “The Scottish Thistle Awards champion the very best of the Scottish tourism and events industry. It was fantastic to have so many regional finalists go on to become national winners. This testament to the passion and dedication of those who work tirelessly to ensure the South of Scotland is a must-visit destination.

“By winning a Scottish Thistle Award, tourism businesses join a prestigious roll of honour, earning recognition as one of the best in the country and gaining support to maximise the opportunity and support responsible tourism growth. As nominations open, this is a chance for everyone across the region to recognise their tourism heroes and give them a vote of confidence to enter this year’s Scottish Thistle Awards.”

All South of Scotland tourism and hospitality businesses are eligible to join the SSDA’s free webinar on writing a winning application on Thursday 7 March, from 3pm to 3.30 pm. 

To find out more about the South of Scotland Thistle Awards, including nomination guidelines and information about the entry process, visit the SSDA’s online Thistles hub.

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