Outer Hebrides Tourism ‘utterly blown away’ by response to first-ever Community Awards

Outer Hebrides Tourism’s Sarah Maclean says they expected a few hundred votes for their inaugural Community Awards – only to get more than 7,000.

The winners of the Tourism Community Awards were announced in Outer Hebrides Tourism’s bi-annual conferences earlier this month.

The public voted for their favourite businesses in both Uist and Barra and Lewis and Harris, across four separate categories.

And, despite this being the awards’ first ever year, Outer Hebrides Tourism’s chief executive, Sarah Maclean, says the public response has been “brilliant”.

“We certainly didn’t know what expect,” she says. “I think we were expecting to get a few hundred votes. So when it was over 7,000 people […] that was fantastic.”

The team was “utterly blown away” by the number of votes.

‘It’s been a really tough few years for people’

“I think that in the islands, we’re not always very good at celebrating the way we do things,” Sarah says. “So I think [the awards] weren’t something that had ever really occurred to us to do before.”

And they have come at an especially important time, she says.

“It’s been a really tough few years for people. The blows have kept coming, and the tourism and visitor sector has been on the sharp end of that.”

The awards, Sarah says, were designed to inspire local people to feel “pride” in the businesses they have built.

A woman with blonde curly hair smiles while holding an award.
Miriam Hamilton, owner of award-winning business The Weaving Shed. Photo supplied by: Miriam Hamilton

Miriam Hamilton, whose business The Weaving Shed lets visitors get a behind-the-scenes look at traditional tweed making, says she was “over the moon” to win Best See and Do Experience in Lewis and Harris.

“It’s an incredible honour to have won and means so much after all the hard work we have put in.

“I couldn’t have done this without my family and wonderful customers,” she added.

Who won the Outer Hebrides Tourism Community Awards?

Iain Faller runs The Island Spirit Whisky Shop, which won for Best Food & Drink in Lewis and Harris.

He says the award is only the latest way Outer Hebrides Tourism has helped his business, thanking them for “all the support and networking opportunities we have received through them since we started our business in 2020.

“I would encourage any local business to join Outer Hebrides Tourism and get involved.”

‘We’ve set the hares running’

After the success of the first ever Tourism Community Awards, Sarah is confident they’ll keep going.

“I think we’ve probably set the hares running,” she says, noting that the awards have ignited “a healthy level of competition”.

Outer Hebrides Tourism is already considering their options for what they might look like in the future.

“There’s loads of potential to expand the categories,” Sarah says. “We used a very light touch this time, because we didn’t really know what we were doing!

“I think our confidence has grown with it now.”

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