ONE of the country’s best-known wildlife attractions and the group that created the ‘BLiSS Trail’ are in the running for multiple tourism awards, as the Scottish Thistle Awards celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Blair Drummond Safari Park and Loch Earn Tourism Information are among 12 Stirling businesses and individuals who have made it through to the regional final of the Scottish Thistle Awards. Winners will be announced at the Central, Fife & Tayside Regional Final held at Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh on 23 November.

The safari park has been shortlisted twice as a regional finalist in the Scottish Thistle Awards, earning nods in the Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience and the ScotRail – Best Visitor Attraction categories.

Loch Earn Tourism Information is the only nominee for the Innovation in Tourism award, having put together a highly popular sculpture trail which focused on Scotland’s history, heritage and archaeology, as well as innovation, architecture and design. Their chair, Kim Proven, is also up for the Regional Ambassador award.

This year marks the ‘silver’ anniversary for the prestigious competition, which celebrates success, innovation, excellence and best practice in the country’s tourism and hospitality industry. Over the past 25 years, the Scottish Thistle Award has crowned over 350 national winners.

Other shortlisted finalists from the Stirling area include Go Ape Aberfoyle, Allanwater Brewhouse, Lochend Chalets, Cromlix in Dunblane, Gillian Brymer of the Stirling-based Scottish Tourism Alliance, Venachar Lochside (LV Weddings and Hospitality Ltd), Mhor, Callander and Forest Holidays Strathyre, Callander.

Successful finalists in each category will then go on to represent their respective region in the glittering national Scottish Thistle Award final next year.

2017 saw a record breaking 734 entries submitted, including hundreds of nominations from members of the public keen to recognise hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, visitor attractions and individuals who go the extra mile to provide customers with exceptional service.

Rebecca Brooks, Chair of the Scottish Thistle Awards Industry Panel, said: “It’s fantastic that in this special anniversary year, we’ve had such an overwhelming response to this year’s competition. These awards aim to find the crème de la crème of Scotland’s tourism industry, to recognise the shining lights who have shown real commitment and dedication to the industry.

“From the sheer volume and calibre of entries, it is clear that this year’s competition will be the fiercest yet and on behalf of the panel I’d like to congratulate all the shortlisted entrants and wish each and every one of them the very best of the luck at the regional finals.”

The Scottish Thistle Awards is led by a panel of industry experts from several organisations including VisitScotland, Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards, Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards, the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland, Scotland Food and Drink, Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, sportscotland and Wild Scotland.

Liz Buchanan MBE, VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director said: “It’s thrilling to see so many businesses from across the Stirling area reaching this year’s regional finals. These awards are a celebration of innovation and excellence in our industry, and for as many as 12 to reach the shortlist is a real credit to Stirling as quality destination for visitors. My congratulations go to everyone behind each of these applications, and best wishes for further success at the awards ceremony on 23 November.”

Four regional ceremonies will be held in: Central, Fife & Tayside and Lothians & Borders; West; Highlands and Islands, which will be organised by the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards; and Aberdeen City and Shire, which will be organised by Aberdeen City and Shire Tourism Awards.

Regional finalists will battle it out across 16 different categories including Fishers - Most Hospitable Hotel, Best Pub/Bar, Best Visitor Attraction and Tourism Hospitality Hero. In celebration of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017, the new award will honour those who excel in bringing to life Scotland’s rich history, heritage and traditions.

The full 16 regional categories are:

• Fishers - Most Hospitable Hotel

• Most Hospitable B&B/Guest House

• Best Accommodation Provider

• Historic Environment Scotland – Best Heritage Tourism Experience

• Innovation in Tourism

• Best Informal Eating Experience

• Best Restaurant Experience

• Best Pub/Bar

• Regional Ambassador

• Caledonian MacBrayne - Best Cultural Event or Festival

• Best Sporting Event

• Best Outdoor/Adventure Experience

• HIT Scotland Regional Rising Star

• Working Together for Tourism

• ScotRail - Best Visitor Attraction

• Tourism & Hospitality Hero