The best of the South West were celebrating last night (6 February) at the South West Tourism Excellence Awards, held amidst a stunning light show in Exeter Cathedral.
After a record year for the Tourism Awards it was fitting for the annual celebration to return to the splendour of Exeter Cathedral to recognise the region’s most excellent tourism businesses.
With 374 guests booked, it was the biggest annual regional gathering of South West tourism businesses, with 107 different awards presented following a rigorous judging process in which a record 773 entries were considered. Before the awards commenced the audience were delighted to witness a ‘Haka’ from the children of Ilsington CofE Primary School and to hear about the Cathedral’s central role in the community from the Very Reverend Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter.
Given the South West’s position as England’s top region for rugby, guests were then treated to a conversation on ‘winning’ from Kai Horstmann and Greg Holmes, both of them Exeter Chiefs players and former internationals.
There was a special Outstanding Contribution award given to Martin Cox, Director of West Dorset Leisure Holidays, in recognition of his decades of support and innovation for the holiday park sector, Dorset and the wider South West region.
Entries into the awards broke all records, aided by a new easy-to-use online application process and a series of excellence workshops helping businesses take their businesses to new heights. Winners were spread across the whole region from Wiltshire and Dorset in the east, to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the west, and from Devon in the south to Somerset, Bristol, Bath and Gloucestershire in the north.
All entrants in the South West underwent a rigorous short-listing process with 559 being visited by a team of 50 mystery shoppers. Entry was free, and all entrants received feedback, valued by entrants as a top reason for taking part.
Top performers in matching categories will now go on to be nominated for the national VisitEngland Awards, with the potential to become national winners in summer 2020.
Jeremy Mitchell, marketing and communications director, St Austell Brewery – headline sponsor of this year’s South West Tourism Awards says: “There are so many businesses and individuals in our region that deserve to be recognised for their outstanding contribution and world-class hospitality. We’d like to congratulate those who were awarded for their best practice, hard work and excellent service.
“It was a fantastic night of celebration and all of the winners should feel extremely proud of all that they continue to achieve.”
Awards organiser, Robin Barker of Services for Tourism, said: “I never cease to be amazed by the innovation, dedication and imagination of our tourism businesses – not to mention their sheer hard work. It’s humbling to be part of this and I’d like to add my congratulations to all the winners.”
Dean of Exeter, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, a guest speaker at the awards, devised a special grace for the night:
“We welcome you all to the best building in Devon
And hope that our evening’s a foretaste of heaven
The whole of the country knows the south west
Exemplifies all that in tourism is best
We gather tonight and we celebrate
Those visitor services that are first rate
So thank you, dear Lord, for our drink and our dinner
And help everyone here to be a great winner.”