Sep 152017
 

By Fin Hall.

At the end of July, my wife and I went looking for a cheap, last minute all inclusive holiday. Finding Europe still overpriced, we opted for two weeks in Cuba.
We flew out from Manchester to the beautiful island of Caya Coco. This gorgeous forested resort has only 4 or 5 hotels, and has the most gorgeous beaches and very uncommercial. Our first week was spent in an idyllic and restful state.

As we were on holiday, we avoided Facebook and other social media sites. However, I did go online quickly to check on something at the weekend, and saw a message from one of my sisters in law telling me that there was a possibility of a hurricane coming our way.

Then on Monday when I phoned my daughter, her husband also pointed out there was a hurricane coming our way.

I then switched on the television and looked at CNN and heard about Irma heading up towards us. We then realised that things could get difficult. As time went on the situation became more and more serious.

On Tuesday it was announced that the area was on an official hurricane watch. That changed on Thursday when were told that we had to meet in the main hotel lobby at 1330 with all our suitcases packed and that the whole island was going to be evacuated up north, a 7 1/2 hour drive to Valadero.

Canadian tourists had been flown back home, but for some reason Thomas Cook decided not to fly us home; in fact they still flew the latest batch of tourists into Caya Coco on theWednesday.

After hours of delay we set off on this road trip. Crossing, for the last time, the 17km causeway, with pink flamingos resting in the water, that joined the island onto the mainland, stopping only once, at a petrol station, where the shop basically only sold coffee, beer and cracker biscuits.

Arriving just after midnight at the Iberis Starfish hotel, we all alighted he bus and were given our rooms. Tired and weary, and a bit hungry, we made our way to our room. On entering, we discovered it was ant infested, on the floor, in fact everywhere. The hallway leading to the room looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned since Castro officially opened it in 1977. Holes in the ceiling, dog ends on the threadbare carpet and mould were only some of the defects found.

We headed back down to reception to complain only to find the around 3/4 of the 20 bus loads of people were in the same situation. In protest, we all decided to spend the night in the public areas of the hotel, snatching only small stretches of sleep.

About 6.30am, we decided to go up to our rooms to quickly shower and change, a nap was put on hold when my wife saw ants on one of the beds.

Mid morning, after a bit of breakfast, we were allocated another room. This one totally opposite in quality, being utterly five star.

It wasn’t empty yet as the guest within hadn’t checked out. We returned after 2.30 pm to find that she decided not to check out, and the hotel staff had neglected to inform us.

They then gave us another room, actually a bungalow outside the main building, in the gardens near one of the pools.
So around 4.30pm, twenty four hours after we left the island, we eventually went to bed.

A good bit past midnight we awoke, having missed dinner, to the sound of the wind blowing a hooley outside. Looking out the windows, the trees had already begun to lose some of their fruits.

Just after 7 am, I saw that the buffet breakfast area was open. After eating we had a meeting to attend in the main building, walking up to it through puddles of water and broken branches lying strewn the gardens and footpaths. At the meeting we were informed that those guest who were in the bungalows were being moved to the main building, and that all the guests were being confined to their bedrooms to ride out the hurricane.

Each section of the hotel had a staff member on hand to assist. On entering our room. We saw that the sliding patio door type windows, had broken seals and that there was was gaps between the glass and the frame. We immediately took the mattress off one of the beds and placed it in front of one of the doors, and then took the bottom of the bed and placed it in front of the other door.

Getting towels from the maid, we placed them in front of the window on the floor, and the same in the bathroom.

It was a case from there on in of wringing the towels out and mopping the floor, until we gave it up as a bad job, and joined some of the other people in the corridor along with Maria, the customer service assistant, who proceeded to give us free salsa lessons.

Around this time, another member of the hotel staff came up and told us all to get our necessary belongings, not our cases, and get into the hallway. So, chairs, pillows, food, towels etc were removed from the rooms to the safety of the aforementioned corridor.

The category 5 hurricane was well taking hold in this part of the country, after demolishing our previous holiday destination.

After being out of our rooms for a couple of hours, we heard a crash from within our room, and when I tried to get in, even with two of us pushing, we couldn’t open the door. The window had obviously been blown in, and the wind was swirling round it.

Later a male staff member arrived, and we managed to get into the room, where our suitcases were rescued from the safety of the cupboard they resided in. It transpired that the window with the mattress in front of it had blown in, and broke, but the only thing that stopped it shattering, was the fact it had fallen on the mattress that wa placed in front of it. The one with bed was still holding up. Water was all over the floor, and the television was rescued in case it blew away.

We immediately took the mattress off one of the beds and placed it in front of one of the doors.

And so the long and hot vigil continued.

Around 11pm, we were allowed back into our rooms; or to be more precise, those on the left side as the other side, our side, was deemed too dangerous.

A Canadian couple gave us their room as they were going to share with their teenage daughters.

We just had time to clean our teeth and we were called out again, as a window in a room on the ‘safe’ side had blown in.

Fortunately it was just a store room, but people’s safety was paramount.

Just before 1am, the door to our damaged room was opened a tad and a small wedge was put in place so fresh air was able to circulate along the passageway. Much to everyone’s relief.

Every action has an opposite reaction they say, because just as it became easier to breath, the power went out.

Eventually sleep came to all, some on chairs, some on suitcase tables, my wife and I on a blanket on the ground.

Daylight came and the rain had ceased but the wind, although lessened, was still blowing hard. Looking around the outside, the devastation was unmissable. Trees down, roof tiles shattered, many windows smashed and water in places water wasn’t meant to be.

Areas inside, which had openings to the outside were as badly damaged. Ceiling liners all over the walkways, electric lights also. Vegetation had found its way into the interior as well. Within hours though,such was the efficiency of the staff, that all of the interior debris, in public places had been cleared and people were able to move about freely. Some exterior areas had been made accessible too.

Food was still being delivered to the guests.

Normality resumed later that evening. Despite being informed that we would be under lockdown from 10pm, the bar, which had only been serving coffee or tea and soft drinks, started serving beers at the back of nine, and remained doing so until 11.

Food was no longer being delivered, but was being distributed in the bar area. Sunday saw things return to some semblance of normality, well as of normal as possible. The buffet restaurant reopened for lunch, it had its own generator. The fridges/freezers however were still down as they were on the grid of the local town.

A lot of the main footpaths were being cleared by hand, with the only extra being a lorry was deployed to pull the trees away from the walkways.

News was given that the airport had re-opened and all the Canadian tourists were going home on Tuesday along with 3 three flights of the Thomas Cook ones. Our flight, which was due to depart on Wednesday, appeared to be on schedule.

So as I finish writing this, I have just returned from the bar where a trio of elderly Cuban men played some Cuban music, and, yes I did get up and dance, the first up. After all it was my birthday on the day of Hurricane Irma.

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Sep 152017
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR

Two leading lights of the north-east tourism industry have been shortlisted for an award recognising those who dedicate their time and energy to giving visitors exceptional experiences. Peter Walker, general manager of luxury venue Meldrum House Country Hotel, and restaurateur and chef Craig Wilson from Eat on the Green are finalists in the ambassador of the year category of the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards (ACSTA).

Peter has overseen the multi million pound redevelopment of Meldrum House, growing it into one of the region’s most popular hotels, while also supporting initiatives to train young entrants into the hospitality sector.

Craig – better known as The Kilted Chef – has put the region on the radar of foodies nationwide. He is passionate about using local produce, and is a tireless supporter of charities.

Craig is also nominated for the hospitality hero award, while Meldrum House is a contender for most hospitable hotel – an accolade which it has won on three occasions in the past.

The pair are among 46 finalists announced today (September 15, 2017) in the ACSTA 2017 shortlist. Peterhead Prison Museum has scored three nominations in the best visitor attraction, innovation in tourism and working together in tourism categories, while No 10 Bar & Restaurant is up for two awards. The Aberdeen venue will be hoping to retain the best informal eating experience title that it won last year, and add to it with the best restaurant award.

Alison Christie, chairman of ACSTA, says the shortlist reflects the wide and varied nature of the tourism sector in the city and shire, and the hard work that takes place across the region to ensure that both leisure and business tourists enjoy the best possible experiences.

“Once again this year the judging panel has been very impressed by the many examples of excellent customer service and commitment to ensuring guests are very well looked after when they visit,” she adds.

“It has been particularly heartening to see entries from so many operators and individuals who have not entered before, along with those who have been shortlisted in previous years of ACSTA and are continuing to enter because of the added value the awards bring to their business.

“It does sound like a cliché, but the judging panels do have a very difficult task in whittling down the entries into category shortlists. Every year we see evidence of standards further improving and even more satisfied customers leaving with very happy memories, and it is extremely difficult to narrow it down when the industry is performing so well across the board.”

The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony and gala dinner at Ardoe House Hotel in Aberdeen on November 24.

The winners of ACSTA 2017 will then go on to represent the region in the national tourism Oscars, the Scottish Thistle Awards, which take place in the spring. Further information is available at www.acsta.co.uk

The full shortlist is:

Most Hospitable Hotel – Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course; The Aberdeen Altens Hotel; Tor-Na-Coille Hotel.
Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House – Callater Lodge; The Mill of Dess Lodge; Lys-Na-Greyne.
Best Accommodation Provider – Ballater Hostel; Buttermere Cottage; Down on the Farm
Best Bar/Pub – Revolution Bar Aberdeen; The Grill; McGinty’s Meal An’ Ale
Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience – Lochter Activity Centre; Stonehaven Open Air Swimming Pool; Deeside Activity Park
Best Visitor Attraction – Peterhead Prison Museum; Transition Extreme Sports Ltd; DogWalk Brewery Tour
Working Together for Tourism – Aberdeen Festivals / Skene House Apartment Hotels; Discover Fraserburgh Tourism Group; Peterhead Prison Museum
Innovation in Tourism Award – Peterhead Prison Museum; Aberdeen International Airport; Grampian Transport Museum
Tourism and Hospitality Hero – Craig Wilson – Eat on the Green; Colin Gunn – Holiday Inn Aberdeen West; Elma McMenemy – Elma McMenemy Tourism Marketing + PR
Regional Rising Star (Age -30) – Rebecca Forno – Holiday Inn Westhill; Hannah Beedie – Castle Fraser, Garden & Estate; Julia Hays – VisitAberdeenshire
Regional Ambassador (age 31+) – Peter Walker – Meldrum House Country Hotel; Craig Wilson – Eat on the Green
Best Cultural Event or Festival – The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival; SPECTRA, Aberdeen’s Festival of Light; True North – Aberdeen’s Festival of Music and Song
Best Sporting Event – Baker Hughes 10k Running Festival; Scottish National Age Group Swimming Championships
Best Informal Eating Experience – The Cape Horn Bar; No.10 Bar & Restaurant; The Cock and Bull
Best Restaurant Experience – No.10 Bar & Restaurant; India on the Green; The Davron Hotel
Best Heritage Tourism Experience – Braemar Castle; Glen Garioch Distillery; Maggie’s Hoosie

Apr 072017
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Sen. Account Executive, Tricker PR.

The Federation of Chefs Scotland has appointed its youngest ever President.

David Littlewood (34), chef proprietor of both The Tor Na Coille Hotel in Banchory and The Kildrummy Inn by Alford, was elected President at the organisation’s AGM in Glasgow.

Littlewood takes over from previous president Ian McDonald, Executive Chef, St Andrews Links Trust.

David’s culinary titles include Scottish Chef of the Year, Grampian Chef of the Year, Grampian Young Chef of the Year and the SHA Awards Medaille d’Or.

He has also held the accolade of Grampian Restaurant of the Year, was a member of the Scottish Culinary Team and is a Masterchef of Great Britain.

Under the ownership of David and his family, The Kildrummy Inn has been named Rising Star Scottish Restaurant of the Year in 2014 and was runner up in The Observer Food Monthly, UK Restaurant of the Year in 2014. David’s team took over The Tor Na Coille hotel in Banchory in March this year.

David says of his appointment,

“I was very lucky to be mentored by great chefs in my early career; they inspired me and challenged me and through this, they showed me the immense value in supporting the next generation of great Scottish chefs. I feel that it’s incumbent upon all of us who have learned from other professionals to continue this tradition.

The Federation of Chefs Scotland is an important organisation in driving up standards and our current members play an influential role in enthusing young people about Scottish food and to work in our industry.”

The Federation of Chefs Scotland (FCS) – run exclusively by Scottish chefs – exists to promote excellence in the industry across Scotland through supporting and developing young chefs through training. Alongside David, Jav Aziz, Executive Chef at Rangers, has been appointed Vice President. Robbie Penman and Vikki Munro have also joined the board.

The FCS encourages participation in culinary competitions, and fundraises to support young chefs to undertake national and international learning experiences. The Scottish Culinary Championships at ScotHot and the Scottish Chef of the Year are organised by the FCS, and the not-for-profit organisation also champions helping Scottish pupils to know more about their food through the Chefs@School project.

There are currently 100 Scottish chefs volunteering their time to work with 15,000 pupils.

Outgoing FCS President Ian MacDonald says of David’s appointment,

“David is the youngest president of the Federation of Chefs Scotland. He’s achieved his success with his passion and drive, not only for his own work but for the development of youngsters in our industry through his supportive mentoring.

“I believe that David’s focus on attracting young talent and developing and challenging them to achieve is the way forward for the Federation. I know that David will make the Federation stronger in all different areas of our work and I wish him well during his tenure.”

The 25-bedroom Tor Na Coille Hotel has been a landmark building on Royal Deeside since the reign of Queen Victoria. David and his team, which includes 2017 Scottish Culinary Championships Scottish Chef of the Year bronze winner Colin Lyall, have begun to develop the hotel restaurant as a must visit foodie destination. More about the Tor Na Coille can be found at www.tornacoille.com.

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Dec 062016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

nikki-morris-laingAn initiative designed to help tourism businesses across the area attract more visitors has been launched by tourism body VisitAberdeenshire.

The ‘A Shared Story for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’ toolkit is supplied to businesses free of charge so that they can deliver consistent marketing messages to potential visitors in order to inspire them to come to the region.

The toolkit offers suggestions and tips on how businesses can use common themes, words and phrases, imagery and tone in their marketing materials.

It was developed following in-depth research and a series of industry discussions and workshops carried out by independent consultants, Blue Sail.

It is described as a ‘recipe book’ where businesses can follow the recipe word for word or can adapt the recipes to suit the ingredients they have. The toolkit, which contains some example imagery from the local area, will be further augmented by access to a photographic and video library. This will again be supplied free to businesses when it becomes available.

Blue Sail identifies the key features which are unique and special to the area as:

  • It is ‘true’ – a place which is authentic and real
  • Doric culture – everyday language and music in particular
  • The scale of the place – its landscapes and seascapes
  • Location and latitude – big skies, clarity and changing light
  • Long history – characterised by multitude of castles and royal associations as well as golf and whisky distilleries
  • A proud international city – unique architecture, with global connections
  • Importance of the natural world – the elements, wildlife and plant life

“The most successful tourism destinations have a simple story to tell,” says Nikki Morris-Laing (pictured), marketing director of VisitAberdeenshire.

“The ‘Shared Story’ toolkit gives a way of describing the area with a few simple themes and messages.

“It also uses third party endorsements of the area such as National Geographic describing The Cairngorms as ‘one of the last great places on earth’ and The Scotsman newspaper describing the city of Aberdeen as ‘one of the most architecturally distinctive in Europe’.

“It’s important that we identify and all work towards marking out our unique and special qualities to attract an increasing proportion of Scotland’s visitors to our region. We need to reposition our area in the minds of the travelling public so that they see beyond the ‘oil and gas capital of Europe’ nametag; our area is definitely worth visiting for its own sake and we all need to confidently portray this to potential visitors.”

The toolkit gives one over-arching story for the region and also shared stories for Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and the Banffshire coast, Royal Deeside, castles, whisky, golf, festivals and events, food and drink, and outdoor activities.

Carol Benzie of Aberdeen International Airport says,

“The toolkit is an excellent resource for tourism businesses in the area. It gives everyone a clear direction for how we can all support the key messages being promoted by VisitAberdeenshire by focusing on what is unique and special. We will definitely be using the toolkit to help shape our marketing efforts in the future.”

Giving guidance on tone of voice, the toolkit recommends a conversational tone which is clear and direct; welcoming and approachable; and positive and confident. Businesses are encouraged to use the stories to inspire content in their marketing campaigns including in their websites, across social media platforms, leaflets and brochures and press releases.

Key focuses from the individual shared stories are:

  • Aberdeen – proximity to the sea, a special light, the city’s two old ‘towns’, off the tourist map
  • Aberdeenshire and Banffshire coast – a strong community feel, theme of people and place
  • Royal Deeside – feeling encircled and embraced, majestic scale and natural beauty, royal associations
  • Castles – range of types/settings, famous and inspirational, strong royal connections
  • Whisky – sense of place, bringing natural elements to life, off the tourist track
  • Golf – sense of drama and importance of links and parkland courses, space and light
  • Festivals and Events  – how names of festivals evoke wider themes of latitude, light, royal, coast, nature, culture and belonging
  • Food and Drink – big brand names, top quality, traditional to contemporary, alchemy of resourceful people and bountiful place
  • Outdoor activities – abundance of outdoor pursuits, quality of light and air, roam free in all seasons

VisitAberdeenshire, which was created from the merger of three previous destination management/marketing organisations VisitAberdeen, Banffshire Coast Tourism Partnership and Visit Royal Deeside, as well as the Aberdeen City & Shire Tourism Partnership, in April this year prioritised key segments of visitors. These segments, based on VisitScotland research, include natural advocates, engaged sightseers, curious travellers and business extenders.

Focus will be on those visitors who have direct access, including access by flight routes, from the UK, Norway, Germany and The Netherlands. 

VisitAberdeenshire is funded by Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council, and Opportunity North East, with additional support from Scottish Enterprise. For further information or a copy of the toolkit, contact VisitAberdeenshire on 01224 900490, email info@visitabdn.com or visit www.visitabdn.com.

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Nov 282016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

acsta-logo-adaptStalwart of the north east tourism industry Roger Goodyear was honoured on Friday (November 25) by his peers at the 2016 Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards (ACSTA).

Mr Goodyear joined 15 other winners, who lifted their trophies at the ceremony held at Ardoe House Hotel and Spa.

Mr Goodyear, who last year was made an MBE for his services to tourism in Banffshire, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the gathering which celebrated Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s finest tourism achievements.

Closely linked with the tourism industry for several years, Mr Goodyear – who is Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire – was named Regional Ambassador of the Year by ACSTA in its inaugural year in 2013. His work as chairman of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy and involvement in local tourism initiatives has led him to become a well-liked and much-respected member of the north east tourism industry.

Amongst the other winners were Deeside Activity Park, which held onto its title of Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience for the second year running, Glen Tanar Estate’s Claire Bruce who was named Regional Ambassador, and Gemma Cruickshank of VisitAberdeenshire who was crowned Regional Rising Star. Drum Castle also scooped two awards – the Innovation in Tourism award, and the Working Together for Tourism award in association with Aberdeen Art Gallery.

ACSTA chairman Peter Sangster says,

“2016 has been a fantastic year for tourism in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and it has been brilliant to be able to celebrate such a diverse range of providers – from global brands to family-run outfits, there is a place for all in the north east tourism industry. I am proud that the entire spectrum of tourism is represented in this year’s winners.

“Every year it becomes more difficult to choose the winners in each category. So many tourism professionals in the region are finding new and innovative ways in which to provide world-class service to their customers – it’s very inspiring. It really is an exciting time to be part of the tourism industry in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.”

The winners will now go on to represent Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire at the national Scottish Thistle Awards in 2017, against regional winners from across Scotland.

Jo Robinson, regional director at VisitScotland, adds,

“A huge congratulations to all of the winners at the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards. I wish them the best of luck as they move forward to represent the region in the Scottish Thistle Awards National Final next year.

“Tourism is the driving force for providing the jobs of today and tomorrow and these awards recognise the tireless effort that goes into creating a memorable experience for visitors to the region.”

The winners of the 2016 Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards are:

  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Roger Goodyear
  • Most Hospitable Hotel sponsored by Fishers Services Ltd – Holiday Inn Aberdeen West
  • Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House sponsored by Aberdeen City and Shire Hotels Association – Callater Lodge
  • Best Accommodation Provider sponsored by Northlink Ferries – Mill of Nethermill Holidays
  • Friendliest Pub/Bar sponsored by Brewdog – The Grill
  • Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience sponsored by Aberdeenshire Council – Deeside Activity Park
  • Best Visitor Attraction sponsored by The Chester Hotel – Royal Lochnagar Distillery
  • Working Together for Tourism sponsored by The Marcliffe Hotel & Spa – Aberdeen Art Gallery and NTS at Drum Castle
  • Innovation in Tourism sponsored by Marriott Hotels – NTS Drum Castle, Gardens and Estate
  • Tourism and Hospitality Hero sponsored by VisitAberdeenshire – Jean Ryrie, Jurys Inn
  • Regional Rising Star sponsored by Ardoe House Hotel and Spa – Gemma Cruickshank, VisitAberdeenshire
  • Regional Ambassador sponsored by Aberdeen International Airport – Claire Bruce, Glen Tanar Estate
  • Best Cultural Event or Festival sponsored by Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre – Celebrate Aberdeen
  • Best Sporting Event sponsored by Active Aberdeen Partnership – Braemar Gathering
  • Best Informal Eating Experience sponsored by Jury’s Inn – No. 10 Bar & Restaurant
  • Best Restaurant Experience sponsored by RBS Leisure – Eat on the Green

For further information on the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards, please visit www.acsta.co.uk  

Follow the awards on Twitter @ACSTourismAward or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/acstourismawards

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Nov 282016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

jenni_head-and-shoulders-2A programme designed to encourage professionals and academics to bring high profile conferences and exhibitions to the north east of Scotland will be expanded at an event held on November 30.

The reach of the Aberdeen Ambassador Network (AAN) will be widened at a reception held in the Malmaison Hotel to build on the work undertaken by ambassadors in the region’s business tourism industry.

Industry leaders and academics currently acting as ambassadors promote Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to professional organisations around the world looking for venues and facilities in which to hold conferences and events.

These ambassadors are all highly respected in their fields, and have the potential to influence the organisers of international conferences and events to bring them to the north east. But lead AAN partner VisitAberdeenshire believes there is potential to expand the programme further.

Jenni Fraser (pictured), business development manager at VisitAberdeenshire, says,

“When people think of business tourism in the north east, they often think only of the energy industry – but our ambassadors work across a wide spectrum of fields, and bring an incredible variety of events to the region.

“The world-leading research carried out in the city’s higher education facilities, agencies and institutes makes our area unique in terms of excellence in a wide variety of disciplines. Organisers are attracted to a region which is a centre of excellence in their field where their delegates will also be able to network with our local professionals and academics. Our ambassadors do a brilliant job encouraging and nurturing relationships with key figures to bring these events to the north east.

“By expanding the Aberdeen Ambassador Network, we will  increase the number of ambassadors promoting the region and to bring even more high-profile conferences and events to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. This in turn will have a knock-on benefit not just for conference venues, but also for accommodation providers, restaurateurs and tourist attractions as visitors to the area discover all it has to offer.”

The Aberdeen Ambassador Network will focus on attracting new ambassadors over the coming months, encouraging and supporting them in bringing high-profile business and academic events to the region. Through the AAN, partner organisations will support ambassadors by providing a range of services to help at every stage of the process – from BID support and an accommodation booking portal, to pre-event marketing support and visitor information.

One ambassador who has experienced the benefits of the AAN is Professor John Watson, who for the last 10 years has used his work at the University of Aberdeen to bring numerous conferences and events to the region. Earlier this year he received a special recognition award for his work as an ambassador, having attracted major events including the European Optical Society 2012, 3DTV 2013, EurOCEAN 2007, and IEEE Oceans 2007 and 2017 conferences.

Professor Watson says,

“Organising major international conferences requires support and experience, and the Aberdeen Ambassador Network is incredibly forthcoming with both. They have always been very encouraging, and willing to help when bringing any event to the area.

“It is encouraging to hear that the AAN is actively looking for new ambassadors, as Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have so much to offer and we are currently just scratching the surface. By regularly communicating with colleagues and partners around the world, we can continue to bring international conferences and events to the region.”

The Aberdeen Ambassador Network is a partnership between VisitAberdeenshire, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University and the James Hutton Institute. For more information, visit www.visitabdn.com/AAN

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Nov 172016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

volunteers-end-of-2016-season

Volunteers from Braemar Castle celebrate the end of their successful 2016 season, during which they attracted over 12,000 visitors.

A Deeside visitor attraction run entirely by volunteers hopes to get its 10th anniversary celebrations off to a flying start by picking up one of the region’s top tourism awards. Braemar Castle is in the running for the visitor attraction of the year accolade at the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards (ACSTA), which will be announced next week.
It would top off an incredible run of successes for the venue, which is operated as a not-for-profit charity by the community for the community.

Locals were granted a 50-year lease on the property in 2007 and have almost tripled the number of visitors since its first season.

This season 12,045 visitors walked through the doors of Braemar Castle – compared to just over 4,000 in the opening season – and it hopes to hit a target of welcoming 20,000 people to the historic property by 2020.

ACSTA judges shortlisted Braemar Castle for the award after learning how the community had transformed the property, which had closed in 2004, into a focal point to provide entertainment and education to tourists, and bring business into the village.

The group responsible for running the castle has been able to appoint a full-time manager – while still undertaking the lion’s share of work – and have also raised over £440,000 to carry out repairs to the roof and chimneys.

Doreen Wood, vice chairman of Braemar Community Ltd, says everyone is keeping their fingers crossed for the big awards night taking place at Ardoe House Hotel in Aberdeen on Friday, November 25.

The castle will battle it out in the best visitor attraction category with Royal Lochnagar Distillery and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh. The winner will go on to represent the region in that category at Scotland’s national tourism awards – The Scottish Thistle Awards – which are announced in the spring.

Doreen adds,

“We want to give our visitors the very best experience of Highland Scotland in an authentic setting.  And we want the Castle to act as a magnet to bring visitors to this area.  

“The castle is operated by the community for the community and its success is down to the hard work and commitment of our local volunteers.  With our 10th anniversary on the horizon, it’s a real accolade to be recognised and shortlisted for this award.”

Visitors who arrive at the castle can have a personal guided tour with a local volunteer, and an audio tour in both English and German is also available. They find the rooms presented as though the occupants have just stepped out – they can handle the artefacts and sit on chairs as though they were guests.

Volunteers work in partnership with local tourism businesses and events to cross-promote the area, and also stage exhibitions at the castle which change on an annual basis. They held re-enactments and events to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the 1715 Jacobite uprising, and even found time to revive a local hill race.

In addition, the castle has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence by interactive travel forum Trip Advisor, and has been rated the top thing to do in Braemar by the site’s many users.

“Over the past eight years we have refined our brand and we are confident in our distinctive product,” says Doreen.

“We aim to support and complement the current and future village offerings to establish Braemar as a destination.”

ACSTA aims to celebrate the very best of tourism businesses and individuals who help make stays in the region a memorable experience for guests. Awards will be presented in 15 different categories from most hospitable hotel to friendliest pub and from regional tourism ambassador to rising star.

Further information about the awards is available at www.acsta.co.uk

Braemar Castle photos – Credit: Angus McNicol.

Oct 272016
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

Sir Edward Bradford

Crates of furniture, textiles and gifts are being unpacked at a Deeside castle this week, more than a century after the
owners’ forebears lost similar items when they were shipwrecked in the Mediterranean.

Kincardine Castle on Royal Deeside is being transformed into an Eastern bazaar as it welcomes Scottish home furnishing, textile and gift company The Nomads Tent.

The Edinburgh-based firm is holding a 10-day pop-up shop at the castle from Friday, 28 October.

Visitors to the Victorian property, four miles east of Aboyne, will be able to purchase a range of authentic items from the Orient.

Had a boat journey nearly 130 years ago turned out differently, those attending would have been able to see the modern objects for sale against a backdrop of Indian antiques.

On April, 17 1887, Sir Edward Bradford, the great-grandfather of the current owner of Kincardine Castle, Andrew Bradford, was onboard SS Tasmania along with his wife Elizabeth. The pair were returning to Britain with their possessions after two decades in India.

As SS Tasmania passed Corsica in the early hours it was caught in a fierce storm and struck a rock. The P&O steamship with 144 passengers and 161 crew onboard became stranded.

In the hours that followed, 35 passengers and crew, including the captain, would lose their lives. The vessel’s cargo and shipment of mail were also lost to the sea. The Bradfords escaped the wrecked steamer with their lives, but all their worldly goods amassed in India were consumed by the swell.

Sir Edward had served in the Indian Army before becoming the general superintendent of the Viceroy’s Secret Police in 1874. In 1878, he was appointed governor-general’s agent for Rajputana and chief commissioner of Ajmer, with special responsibility for relations with the Rajput Princes. Prior to their departure, the Bradfords were presented with many elaborate gifts by the Indian Princes, but within days all of these mementos would be gone.

Nicky Bradford of Kincardine Castle said:

“Sir Edward and Lady Elizabeth’s return from India is a remarkable tale. They were extremely lucky to escape from the wreckage of SS Tasmania with their lives, but there must have been great pain knowing that all of their possessions were gone. Many of these pieces would have been very ornate and a real testament to the craftsmen and women of the country at that time.”

Although the Indian furniture, textiles and souvenirs amassed by the Bradford family in the mid-19th century failed to reach Kincardine Castle, the Deeside residence will welcome modern day treasures from the Orient into its rooms until Sunday, 06 November.

As The Nomads Tent pitches up at Kincardine with an authentic range of Indian, Turkish, Vietnamese and Moroccan goods for sale, visitors will get the chance to see inside this private family residence free of charge. Sourced from markets and bazaars, the items include carpets, rugs, furniture, pottery, lanterns, Christmas decorations, scarves and jewellery.

Nicky Bradford added:

“The Nomads Tent is bringing a real taste of the Orient to Deeside with its fantastic array of textiles, pottery, homewares and gifts.  For 10 days this autumn, Kincardine will be awash with vibrant colours both inside and out. It will be wonderful to see the interior bedecked in Middle and Far Eastern objects and bring part of the Bradford family’s story full circle.

“Throughout the decades, Kincardine has come to life when it has been full of guests. Today is no different, and we’re really looking forward to opening our doors and welcoming guests into our home and sharing some of its fascinating history.”

Alongside the pop-up Eastern bazaar, tea, coffee and light lunches will be available in the castle each day during the event, while Kincardine’s monthly pop-up café with its more extensive lunch menu will take place on Friday, 04 November. Two half-day cookery classes, run by Kincardine Cookery, will also be held at the castle on Saturday, 05 and Sunday, 06 November.

The Nomads Tent Roadshow will take place at Kincardine Castle from Friday, 28 October until Sunday, 06 November, opening daily between 10:00am and 5:00pm, except on Sundays when it will open from 11:30am.

Kincardine Castle is the centrepiece of the 3,000-acre Kincardine Estate, which is owned and managed by Andrew and Nicky Bradford. The estate was bought in the 1880s by Andrew’s great-grandmother and the castle remains a private family residence. 

Built in 1894, the castle was designed by architects David Niven and Herbert Wigglesworth.

The building incorporates elements of five centuries of castle architecture in its design, starting with the 14th century style square keep tower. Kincardine Castle is available for hire for a range of events, including meetings, conferences, dinners and weddings. Sixteen bedrooms in the castle provide overnight accommodation for groups of six or more. For further information Kincardine Castle, visit www.kincardinecastle.com or telephone 01339 884225.

More about Sir Edward Bradford:

Born in 1836, Sir Edward Bradford saw active service with the Indian Army before becoming political assistant in West Malwa. 

In 1863, he was mauled by a tiger whilst hunting, which led to a roadside operation in which a surgeon removed his left arm at the shoulder. He continued to ride and whilst hunting he controlled his horse by holding its reins with his teeth. In 1866, he married Elizabeth Knight, the grand-niece of Jane Austen.

On returning to Britain in 1887, Sir Edward Bradford was appointed secretary of the Political and Secret Department of the India Office. He revisited India in 1889 to conduct a tour by Prince Albert Victor, the eldest son of the future King Edward VII. The following year he became chief commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, and during his 13 years in the role oversaw a reduction in crime levels in the capital and the introduction of the city’s first motor taxi.

Upon his retirement in 1903, and until 1910, he served as an extra equerry to King Edward VII and King George V. Sir Edward died in 1911.

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Sep 232016
 

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

banchory-lodge-hotel-over-the-river-view

Over the river view of Banchory Lodge which has been shortlisted in the category of ‘Most Hospitable Hotel’

The diversity of the north east’s tourism industry and the strength of the role it plays across the region has been highlighted in the shortlist of finalists announced in the Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards. From luxury hotels to camper vans, from sports events to cultural festivals, from chefs to shop owners, 45 tourism businesses and individuals are in the running for awards to be announced at a ceremony later this year.

Those who pick up one of the regional titles will go on to represent the area at the national tourism Oscars – the Scottish Thistle Awards – when they next take place in 2017.

Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards chairman Peter Sangster says the shortlist underlines how people from a range of backgrounds and businesses play an essential part in a visitor’s experience.

He adds,

“When we think about tourism, we often think about hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts but the reality is that a huge number of different businesses can and do influence the experience of a visitor to the area.

“We are thrilled to be able to showcase the restaurants, events, bars, shops, attractions and people who are so essential to our tourism industry. Whether they are winners on the night or not, they should be proud of the role they play.

“As always, the judging panel has had a very hard task in whittling down the entries. We look forward to celebrating everyone’s success at the awards ceremony in November.”

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony and gala dinner at Ardoe House Hotel in Aberdeen on November 25, 2016. Information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities is available at www.acsta.co.uk

The full list of finalists is as follows:

  • Most Hospitable Hotel – Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course; Banchory Lodge; Holiday Inn Aberdeen West.
  • Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House – Lys-Na-Greyne; Shorehead Guesthouse; Callater Lodge.
  • Best Accommodation Provider (previously Best Holiday Accommodation) – Deeside Classic Campers; Mill of Nethermill Holidays; High Seas Hobbits.
  • Best Informal Eating Experience – Merchant Bistro; No.10 Bar & Restaurant; Mains of Drum
  • Best Restaurant Experience – Eat on the Green; Banchory Lodge; Luigi’s Italian Restaurant, Holiday Inn Aberdeen West.
  • Friendliest Pub/Bar – Feughside Inn; McGinty’s Meal An’ Ale; The Grill.
  • Best Cultural Event or Festival – Celebrate Aberdeen; Scottish Traditional Boat Festival; Taste of Grampian.
  • Best Sporting Event – Aboyne Highland Games; Braemar Gathering; Baker Hughes 10K Running Festival.
  • Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience – Go Ape Crathes Castle; Glen Tanar Estate; Deeside Activity Park.
  • Working Together for Tourism – Aberdeen Art Gallery and NTS at Drum Castle; VisitAberdeenshire; The Spotty Bag Shop.
  • Best Visitor Attraction – Royal Lochnagar Distillery; Braemar Castle; Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
  • Tourism and Hospitality Hero – Jean Ryrie, Jurys Inn Aberdeen Airport; Aamir Mir – Ardoe House Hotel; Elma McMenemy – Elma McMenemy Tourism.
  • Innovation in Tourism Award – The World’s Only Aberdeen Angus Trail; NTS Drum Castle Gardens and Estate; High Seas Hobbits.
  • Regional Rising Star (age -30) – Craig Rochester – Eat on the Green; Kadri Soerunurk – Sound Festival; Gemma Cruickshank, VisitAberdeenshire.
  • Regional Ambassador (age 31+) – Des Cheyne -Spotty Shop; Claire Bruce – Glen Tanar Estate; Elma McMenemy – Elma McMenemy Tourism.
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Sep 162016
 

peter-medley2With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

VisitAberdeenshire will swap the north east coast of Scotland for the Nevada desert this October, as the tourism organisation visits IMEX America.

The exhibition, which takes place from 18-20 October in the newly renovated Sands Expo and Conference Centre, will bring the meetings, incentive travel, conferences and events (MICE) markets together with tourism operators from across the globe.

This will be the first time VisitAberdeenshire has exhibited at the renowned American business travel event, allowing the organisation to network with 3000 hosted buyers and 2000 attendees to show what Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have to offer.

Peter Medley (pictured), business development director at VisitAberdeenshire, says,

“There has never been a better time for us to promote business travel to Aberdeen from the USA. Icelandair’s new flight routes via Reykjavik have opened up a more flexible travel schedule to visitors, alongside existing routes via traditional international hubs in London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.

“We’ll be showcasing Aberdeen as a centre of excellence for far more than oil and gas.  For example, the research conducted at the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University extends far beyond oil, gas and renewables. We can attract further conferences and events to the area by underlining the city’s expertise in key areas including the life sciences.

“At IMEX America, we will stress this diversity of knowledge with key buyers and organisers looking for suitable destinations which have access to world class professionals to host their future conference and event needs. We have previously exhibited at IMEX Frankfurt predominately reaching the European markets, but with improved access to Aberdeen via new flights, the time is right for us to exhibit at IMEX America.

“As with everything in Vegas, it’s on a whole new level with 3,100 exhibitors, 3,000 hosted buyers and 2,000 delegates attending, which makes it a fantastic opportunity for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.”

VisitAberdeenshire will have much to discuss with those attending the conference, not just about Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s far-reaching wealth of expertise but also the region’s developments in meetings and conferencing facilities.

The area’s rejuvenation, he says, shows that despite the current downturn in oil and gas, Aberdeen is still a force to be reckoned with in the meetings and events industry.

He continues,

“Across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, venues and suppliers are continually improving the quality of their offering, and providing new and valuable services to those looking to organise meetings, events and conferences.

“Work is now underway on a £333 million transformation of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC) which will have a significant impact on the MICE industry. Relocating to a site near Aberdeen International Airport, the venue’s facilities for conferences, exhibitions and meetings will be greatly improved, and will be augmented by a state of the art performance arena, hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities.

“The airport itself is also in the midst of a £20 million expansion programme, featuring new passenger lounges, baggage claim and security services. This is an important step in improving the north east of Scotland’s infrastructure for delegates visiting the area.

“Venues which are traditionally associated with the region’s rich culture – including Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Music Hall – are also currently being renovated and expanded. These two developments, worth £37 million in total, will provide unique locations for meetings, gala dinners and drinks receptions in the heart of Aberdeen city centre.”

At a time when Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s room rates are at their most competitive level in recent memory, the region has become incredibly attractive not just to meetings and event organisers, but also to those looking to offer incentives to their clients and colleagues. The area’s many historic castles provide a stunning backdrop for hosting dinners for conference and incentive groups, and nearby whisky distillery tours are consistently a hit with visitors.

Peter adds,

“Conferences today are not just about spending the whole day in a meeting room, and there is increasingly a requirement to offer delegates the chance to get out and about, to network informally and relax between sessions.

“The north east of Scotland, for example, is home to some of the best golf courses in the world – from Royal Aberdeen and the Trump International Golf Links to Braemar, the highest 18-hole course in the UK.

“In addition to our wonderful choice of 56 golf courses, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire offer plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors, and for team building events to be organised at one of the region’s outdoor centres.”

For more information about Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and the facilities on offer to the meetings, incentive travel, conferences and events market, please visit www.visitabdn.com

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