wilma and david finlay of ethical dairy

Record-breaking South success at Scottish Thistle Tourism Awards

Businesses and individuals working within the tourism and events industry in the South of Scotland have received recognition at Scotland’s premier tourism and events awards.

The South of Scotland scooped six awards at the Scottish Thistle Awards national final that took place at the Glasgow Hilton on Friday 1 December.

Who won awards from the South?

  • Silver Award - Wilma and David Finlay, Ethical Dairy, Gatehouse of Fleet
  • Best Bed and Breakfast or Guest House experience - Nithbank Country Estate, Thornhill
  • Best Bar or Pub - Cross Keys, Ettrickbridge
  • Best Luxury Experience - Airhouses, Lauder
  • Best Self Catering Experience - Arden Holiday Cottage, Dumfries
  • Tourism Individual - Melanie Allen, Nithbank Country Estate

The Scottish Thistle Awards are delivered by VisitScotland with support from headline sponsor Johnstons of Elgin.

The awards, which also include a media partnership with News Scotland, celebrate the very best of tourism in Scotland and the excellence, collaboration and innovation that is helping to support the responsible growth of the industry.

Professor Russel Griggs, South of Scotland Enterprise, who joined the regional finalists and winners at the Scottish Thistle Awards said:

“From being named one of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel destinations, to successfully hosting the UCI World Cycling Championships, 2023 has been stellar year for tourism in the South of Scotland.

“For the South to now pick up six Scottish Thistle Awards, including the prestigious Silver title for the Ethical Dairy, is testament to the hard work, dedication and passion our tourism and hospitality sector has. All of our winners, and finalists should be rightly proud of their efforts.

“The South’s success highlights that Scotland really does start here, and we look forward to working with partners in 2024 to ensure our region becomes a leading responsible tourism destination.”

Ethical Dairy

Wilma and David Finlay received the prestigious Silver Thistle Award which recognises an individual or individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to tourism over many years.

The couple are partners in family farm Rainton Farm in Dumfries & Galloway – home of The Ethical Dairy. They also built up a successful food product range and visitor attraction at Cream o’ Galloway that they recently retired from and sold.

They were praised for their groundbreaking work in adopting the principles of responsible tourism within their business, bringing benefits to the wider community and visitor economy. 

On presenting their award, VisitScotland Chair Lord Thurso said:

“Congratulations to Wilma and David Finlay on receiving this year’s Silver Thistle Award.

“Described as pioneers in their industry, they have demonstrated the principles of responsible tourism throughout their career and continue to inspire and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

"They have not only made a huge impact on their local community in Dumfries & Galloway, but their pioneering work has had a lasting effect on farming, agritourism and responsible tourism in Scotland as a whole.”

Melanie Allen and Nithbank Country Estate

Melanie Allen took home the Tourism Individual of the Year award, sponsored by HIT Scotland, in recognition of the positive impact she has made on the visitor experience at a regional and national level in Scotland.

Melanie Allen said:

“Winning this prestigious award is such a wonderful accolade that I dedicate to all the inspiring people I have had the pleasure to work with.

"Success in tourism is always at its best when it’s achieved in collaboration with other like-minded people who work with a shared vision to be world leaders in 21st century tourism.

Melanie is proprietor of Nithbank Country Estate in Dumfries & Galloway, alongside husband John, which was named Best B&B or Guest House Experience, sponsored by Abbey UK.

The historic country house operates as an exclusive B&B set in an 11-acre estate and was praised by judges for its focus on local first and responsible tourism.

Arden Holiday Cottage

Arden Holiday Cottage in Dumfries & Galloway received the Best Self Catering Accommodation Experience award.

The rural self catering cottage aims to offer something a little different to guests with the owners drawing on their skills in education and in mental health by helping people to switch off from their everyday lives and social media.

Judges praised the business for ‘thinking outside of the box’ to continue to offer the best of what customers want.

Owner Hester Binge said:

"We are just one of many self-catering cottages who go that extra mile to ensure the experiences we offer are memorable and unique.

"Our Escape Room is based on local folklore which celebrates the rich tapestry of Dumfries & Galloway encouraging guests to explore all our beautiful region has to offer.

"This award means we can highlight Dumfries & Galloway and bring more guests to our often-overlooked region benefitting all tourism providers.”


Airhouses in the Scottish Borders received the Best Luxury Experience Award, sponsored by The Macallan Estate. Airhouses offers quality, luxury, self catering experiences in the heart of the Scottish Borders countryside.

They aim to give their guests the best experience whilst adhering to the values of great customer service, outstanding cleanliness, a peaceful, respectful environment and responsible tourism.

Judges praised Airhouses for their community engagement and fair employment, which will ‘help to inspire other businesses in the Scottish tourism industry.”

Elisabeth and Damian Kelly, partners in Airhouses, said:

“We are delighted that our team's hard-work and dedication to customer service, excellent cleanliness and providing each guest with a unique and bespoke experience, has been recognised by this award.

"We would like to thank our wonderful team and our fantastic guests for making Airhouses such a special place.”

Cross Keys

The Cross Keys Inn in Ettrickbridge, the Scottish Borders, was named Best Bar or Pub, sponsored by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

The Inn came under new ownership in February 2023 and, after a major refurbishment, the management team is committed to creating a warm, welcoming hub for visitors and locals.

Judges praised the Cross Keys Inn for its very active programme of engagement with the local community and groups.

A grant from South of Scotland Enterprise helped the pair acquire the freehold and carry out extensive refurbishments.

Rory and Vicki Steel, owners of the Cross Keys Inn said:

"We can’t thank our whole team and our local community in Ettrickbridge enough for all their support and we’re looking forward to building on this success throughout 2024!”

VisitScotland Destination Development Director Gordon Smith said:

“The Scottish Thistle Awards celebrate innovation, collaboration and sustainable practices, supporting the ambition of the national tourism strategy, Outlook 2030, for Scotland to be a world leader in 21st century tourism.”

David Hope-Jones, Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance said:

“We’re absolutely thrilled with this record-breaking result for the South of Scotland. 

“Previously, the South of Scotland’s most successful night at the Thistles had been 1996, when we picked up three national awards, so doubling this in 2023 is a huge achievement for the South. 

“It couldn’t be better timed, with a new responsible tourism strategy soon to be launched, setting a bold, ambitious vision for the future of tourism in the South. 

"Under our shared banner of ‘Scotland Starts Here’, we are keen to tell a new story about the South of Scotland, as an exciting destination offering a quality rural experience for the discerning visitor.”